Thomas Powys (judge)

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Thomas Powys (1649-1719) (Follower of Godfrey Kneller) Thomas Powys (1649-1719), by follower of Godfrey Kneller.jpg
Thomas Powys (1649-1719) (Follower of Godfrey Kneller)

Sir Thomas Powys (1649 – 4 April 1719), MP, was Attorney General to King James II. He was chief prosecutor at the trial of the Seven Bishops, June 1688; and MP for Ludlow. [1] He served as Justice of the King's Bench 1713–1714, but was dismissed. [2]

Seven Bishops

The Seven Bishops were members of the Church of England tried and acquitted for seditious libel in June 1688.

Ludlow (UK Parliament constituency) Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, 1868 onwards

Ludlow is a constituency represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2005 by Philip Dunne, a Conservative.

Justice of the Kings Bench

Justice of the King's Bench, or Justice of the Queen's Bench during the reign of a female monarch, was a puisne judicial position within the Court of King's Bench, under the Chief Justice. The King's Bench was a court of common law which modern academics argue was founded independently in 1234, having previously been part of the curia regis. The court became a key part of the Westminster courts, along with the Exchequer of Pleas and the Court of Common Pleas ; the latter was deliberately stripped of its jurisdiction by the King's Bench and Exchequer, through the Bill of Middlesex and Writ of Quominus respectively. As a result, the courts jockeyed for power. In 1828 Henry Brougham, a Member of Parliament, complained in Parliament that as long as there were three courts unevenness was inevitable, saying that "It is not in the power of the courts, even if all were monopolies and other restrictions done away, to distribute business equally, as long as suitors are left free to choose their own tribunal", and that there would always be a favourite court, which would therefore attract the best lawyers and judges and entrench its position. The outcome was the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, under which all the central courts were made part of a single Supreme Court of Judicature. Eventually the government created a High Court of Justice under Lord Coleridge by an Order in Council of 16 December 1880. At this point, the King's Bench formally ceased to exist.


Early years

Powys was the second son of Thomas Powys of Henley Hall in Shropshire, serjeant-at-law, a Bencher of Lincoln's Inn, [3] and the representative of one branch of the ancient Welsh family of Powys, by his first wife, Mary, daughter of Sir Adam Littleton, bart. He was the younger brother of Sir Littleton Powys (1648?–1732). Powys was educated at Shrewsbury School, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1673.

Shropshire County of England

Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands of England, bordering Wales to the west, Cheshire to the north, Staffordshire to the east, and Worcestershire and Herefordshire to the south. Shropshire Council was created in 2009, a unitary authority taking over from the previous county council and five district councils. The borough of Telford and Wrekin has been a separate unitary authority since 1998 but continues to be included in the ceremonial county.

Lincolns Inn one of the four Inns of Court in London, England

The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn is one of the four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belong and where they are called to the Bar. Lincoln's Inn is recognised to be one of the world's most prestigious professional bodies of judges and lawyers.

Sir Littleton Powys FRS was a Justice of the King's Bench.


Powys was chief prosecutor at the trial of the Seven Bishops. Trial of the Seven Bishops.jpg
Powys was chief prosecutor at the trial of the Seven Bishops.

He became solicitor-general, and was knighted on 23 April 1686, when Heneage Finch was dismissed. Having acquiesced in the appointment of Roman Catholics to office, and argued in favour of the king's dispensing power, he was promoted to be attorney-general in December 1687, the same year that he became treasurer of Lincoln's Inn.

Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Aylesford, PC, KC was an English lawyer and statesman.

Trial of the Seven Bishops

He conducted the prosecution of the Seven Bishops in June 1688. The charge was seditious libel, in presenting to the King a petition against the enforcement of his second Declaration of Indulgence. The acquittal of the Bishops was a disastrous blow to the Crown's prestige, and Powys was heavily criticised for incompetence: inexplicably he forgot to adduce evidence that the Petition had ever been presented, so that the trial almost collapsed at the outset. However, given the immense public sympathy for the Bishops, and that two of the four judges directed the jury to acquit, it is unlikely that any prosecutor could have secured a conviction.

Sedition and seditious libel were criminal offences under English common law, and are still criminal offences in Canada. Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order: if the statement is in writing or some other permanent form it is seditious libel. Libel denotes a printed form of communication such as writing or drawing.

The Declaration of Indulgence or Declaration for Liberty of Conscience was a pair of proclamations made by James II of England and VII of Scotland in 1687. The Indulgence was first issued for Scotland on 12 February and then for England on 4 April 1687. It was a first step at establishing freedom of religion in the British Isles, although part of the king's intention was to promote his own minority religion, Catholicism, reviled by most of his subjects.

Later years

During the reign of William III he acquired a reputation for fairness, especially in defence of state prisoners, among whom was Sir John Fenwick, 3rd Baronet, and at the bar of both houses of parliament. He sat in parliament for Ludlow from 1701 to 1713, and, in 1702, served jointly as an MP for Truro. During the period of 1707 to 1719, he served as recorder of Ludlow. He was made Serjeant-at-law and queen's serjeant at the beginning of Anne's reign, and on 8 June 1713 a judge of the queen's bench. [4] But as he and his brother, Sir Littleton Powys, too frequently formed judgments in opposition to the rest of the court, he, as the more active and able of the two, was removed, on Lord-chancellor Cowper's advice, when George I of Great Britain came to England (1714). Powys' rank of King's Serjeant was restored to him after an appeal, a position he held until his death. [5]

William III of England 17th-century Stadtholder, Prince of Orange and King of England, Scotland and Ireland

William III, also widely known as William of Orange, was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy".

Sir John Fenwick, 3rd Baronet was an English Jacobite conspirator, who succeeded to the Baronetcy of Fenwick on the death of his father in 1676.

Truro (UK Parliament constituency) Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, 1950-1997

Truro was the name of a parliamentary constituency in Cornwall represented in the House of Commons of England and later of Great Britain from 1295 until 1800, then in the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1918 and finally from 1950 to 1997. Until 1885 it was a parliamentary borough, electing two members of parliament (MPs) by the plurality-at-large system of election; the name was then transferred to the surrounding county constituency, which elected a single Member by the first past the post system. In 1997, although there had been no changes to its boundaries, it was renamed as Truro and St Austell, reflecting the fact that St Austell by then had a larger population than Truro.

Personal life

He lived in Shropshire prior to acquiring Lilford Hall in 1711, induced to inspect it by his friend, Sir Edward Ward. Powys is buried at Achurch. [6] He died in 1719, and was buried at Lilford. He was twice married: first to Sarah, daughter of Ambrose Holbech of Mollington, Warwickshire; and secondly, to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Philip Meadows. He had issue by both; and his great-grandson Thomas Powys, was created Lord Lilford in 1797. His portrait hangs at the Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas at Austin. [5]

Lilford Hall Grade I listed stately home in East Northamptonshire, United Kingdom

Lilford Hall is a Grade I listed stately home in Northamptonshire in the United Kingdom. It was started in 1495 as a Tudor building, with a major Jacobean exterior extension added in 1635 and a Georgian interior adopted in the 1740s, having a 55,000 sq ft (5,100 m2) floor area. The 100-room house is located in the eastern part of the County of Northamptonshire, south of Oundle and north of Thrapston. A Grade I listed building is considered by the UK government as of outstanding architectural and historic interest.

Edward Ward (judge) English judge

Sir Edward Ward (1638–1714) was an English lawyer and judge. He became chief baron of the exchequer, and is best known as the judge in the state trial for piracy of Captain Kidd.

Achurch village in United Kingdom

Achurch is a village in the civil parish of Thorpe Achurch, in the East Northamptonshire district, in the county of Northamptonshire, England. It was called Asechirce in the Domesday Book. The population of the civil parish of Thorpe Achurch at the 2011 census was 421.

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  1. "Biography of Sir Thomas Powys". Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  2. Sainty, p. 36
  3. Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (Great Britain) (1907). Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (Public domain ed.). Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. pp. 97–. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  4. "POWYS, Sir Thomas (c.1649-1719), of Henley, nr. Ludlow, Salop and Lilford cum Wigsthorpe, Northants". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  5. 1 2 "Sir Thomas Powys Justice of the King's Bench (1649-1719)". Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  6. Drewitt, Caroline Mary Powys (1900). Lord Lilford Thomas Littleton, fourth baron F. Z. S. president of the British ornithologists' union: A memoir by his sister (Public domain ed.). Smith, Elder, & co. pp. 3–. Retrieved 11 February 2012.

Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : "Powys, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.