George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys

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The Lord Jeffreys
George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem by William Wolfgang Claret.jpg
Lord Chancellor
In office
28 September 1685 December 1688

In 1667, he married Sarah Neesham or Needham, by whom he had seven children; she died in 1678. She was the daughter of the impoverished vicar of Stoke d'Abernon, Thomas Neesham. A story is published, that Jeffreys sought to marry a daughter of a rich City merchant and had a secret correspondence with her, through Sarah, her kinswoman and companion. When the merchant discovered the plot he refused his home to Sarah and George did a noble act by marrying her. [13] They married in the church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower in the City of London.

He married secondly, in 1679, Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Bloodworth, who was Lord Mayor of London, 1665–66; she was the widow of Sir John Jones of Fonmon Castle, Glamorgan. Being only 29 at the time of her second marriage, she was described as a 'brisk young widow' and there were some rumours about her. She was said to have a formidable temper: Jeffreys' family went in awe of her, and it was said she was the only person he was afraid of. A popular ballad joked that while St. George had killed a dragon and thus saved a maiden in distress, Sir George had missed the maiden and married the dragon by mistake.

Fall, death and burial

During the Glorious Revolution, when James II fled the country, Jeffreys stayed in London until the last moment, being the only high legal authority in James's abandoned kingdom to perform political duties. When William III's troops approached London, Jeffreys tried to flee and follow the King abroad. He was captured in a public house in Wapping, [14] now named The Town of Ramsgate. Reputedly he was disguised as a sailor, and was recognised by a surviving judicial victim, who claimed he could never forget Jeffreys' countenance, although his ferocious eyebrows had been shaven. Jeffreys was terrified of the public when dragged to the Lord Mayor and then to prison "for his own safety". He begged his captors for protection from the mob, who intended "to show him that same mercy he had ever shown to others".

St Mary Aldermanbury in 1904 StMaryAldermanbury.jpg
St Mary Aldermanbury in 1904

He died of kidney disease (probably pyelonephritis) while in custody in the Tower of London on 18 April 1689. He was originally buried in the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula in the Tower. In 1692 his body was moved to St Mary Aldermanbury. [15]

In his London Journal, Leigh Hunt gives the following account of Judge Jeffreys' death and burial:

Jeffreys was taken on the twelfth of September, 1688 [sic]. He was first interred privately in the Tower; but three years afterwards, when his memory was something blown over, his friends obtained permission, by a warrant of the queen's [16] dated September 1692, to take his remains under their own care, and he was accordingly reinterred in a vault under the communion table of St Mary, Aldermanbury, 2nd Nov. 1694. In 1810, during certain repairs, the coffin was uncovered for a time, and the public had sight of the box containing the mortal remains of the feared and hated magistrate. [17]

During the Blitz, St Mary Aldermanbury was gutted by a German air raid and all traces of Jeffreys' tomb were destroyed. (The remains of the church were transported to the United States in 1966 and re-erected in Fulton, Missouri, as a memorial to Winston Churchill.)


Jeffreys's only son by Sarah Neesham, John (or Jacky as he was called at home) succeeded to his father's peerage. He married Charlotte, a daughter of Philip Herbert, 7th Earl of Pembroke, and Henrietta de Kérouaille, sister of the Duchess of Portsmouth, a mistress of Charles II and a supporter of Jeffreys in the early stages of his career. [18] John and Charlotte Jeffreys had one daughter, named Henriette-Louise after the two Kérouaille sisters, but no son, so that the male line of George Jeffreys became extinct. There are descendants through his daughter and granddaughters. John Jeffreys retained his father's loyalty to the Stuart cause. In 1701 he was one of five peers of the realm who voted against the Act of Settlement in the House of Lords, and felt strongly enough to enter written protests in the House of Lords Journal. All five, including Jeffreys, were Jacobite sympathisers who felt that it was wrong to exclude the Stuarts from the throne. [19]


Black and white oval frame portrait of Jeffreys Jeffry1753n061.jpg
Black and white oval frame portrait of Jeffreys

Jeffreys' reputation today is mixed. Some say he was a personally vengeful man. He had bitter personal and professional rivalries with Sir William Williams. His political animus was displayed during his legal career. He suffered from a painful kidney disease that may well have affected his unbridled temper and added to this reputation, and his doctors apparently recommended alcohol to dull the pain, which may have explained his often shocking conduct in court.

In The Revolution of 1688, the historian J. R. Jones refers to Jeffreys as "an alcoholic".

G. W. Keeton in Lord Chancellor Jeffreys and the Stuart Cause (1965) claimed the historical Jeffreys "to be a different person from the Jeffreys of legend".[ specify ]

After reviewing the Lisle case and contemporary opinion Brian Harris QC concludes that 'Given that [Jeffreys] had to administer a largely inchoate criminal procedure and impose the bloody sentences that the law then required, a balanced judgement would regard Jeffreys as no worse, perhaps even a little better than most other judges of his era.' [20]


One session of the Bloody Assizes was held in Dorchester on 5 September, in the Oak Room (now a tea room) of the Antelope Hotel. Jeffreys lodged nearby at 6 High West Street, and is said to have used a secret passage from his lodgings to the Oak Room. In 2014 the passage was discovered and was found to be wide enough for three judges to walk through side by side. [21]

After his fall from power, a portrait of Jeffreys was taken from Gray's Inn and left in the cellar of Acton Hall (the family home). When Acton Hall was demolished in the 1950s, that painting and one of his brother Thomas were acquired by Simon Yorke, Squire of Erddig and hung in the entrance hall of Erddig Hall. They can still be seen there. Both portraits are reproduced in Keeton's Lord Chancellor Jeffreys and the Stuart Cause.


Jeffreys was portrayed by Leonard Mudie in Captain Blood (1935) Michael Kitchen in Lorna Doone (2001), Christopher Lee in The Bloody Judge (1969) and by Elliot Levey in Martin's Close (2019).

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  1. Tyler Bryant, Ruth. "George Jeffreys, first Baron Jeffreys of Wem". Donald E. Wilkes, Jr. Collection: Chief Justice George Jeffreys. University of Georgia School of Law . Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  2. "Jeffrys, George (JFRS662G)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. H. Montgomery Hyde, Judge Jeffreys, London, Butterworth & Co, 1948 p. 62
  4. Patrick Medd,"Romilly", Collins, 1968, p149.
  5. The Complete Peerage, Volume VII. St Catherine's Press. 1929. pp. 83–84.
  6. Kenyon, J. P. The Popish Plot Phoenix Press reissue 2000 p. 289
  7. Popish Plot p. 289
  8. Judge Jeffreys p. 222–224
  9. Judge Jeffreys p. 215
  10. Welsh Biography Online
  11. Judge Jeffreys p.262
  12. Listed Buildings website
  13. Woolrych,Humphry William. . The Life of Judge Jeffreys, Chief Justice of the King's Bench Under Charles II and Lord High Chancellor of England During the Reign of James II 1852, reprinted 2006. See also: Montgomery Hyde, H. Judge Jeffreys London, Butterworth & Co, Ltd. 1948, pp. 27–28
  14. "No. 2409". The London Gazette . 13 December 1688. p. 2.
  15. Winn, p. 44.
  16. Mary II, daughter of the deposed James II. She ruled jointly with her husband William III, the former William of Orange.
  17. Leigh Hunt, "Memoirs of Judge Jeffries," in London Journal, Wednesday April 9, 1834. Vol I, p. 14.
  18. Wynne, S. M. "Kéroualle, Louise Renée de Penancoët de, suo jure duchess of Portsmouth and suo jure duchess of Aubigny in the French nobility (1649–1734)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 14 Nov 2010
  19. House of Lords Journal, Volume 16: 22 May 1701, in Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  20. 'Intolerance' published by Wildy, Simmonds & Hill, 2008.
  21. "Uncovered: hidden tunnel where the infamous Judge Jeffreys walked more than 400 years ago". Daily Echo.

Further reading

Legal offices
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Preceded by Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench
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Political offices
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The Lord Guilford
(Lord Keeper)
Lord Chancellor
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Honorary titles
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Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire
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Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire
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Peerage of England
New creation Baron Jeffreys of Wem
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Baronetage of England
New creation Baronet
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