Thomas Richardson (judge)

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Sir Thomas Richardson. SirThomasRichardsonCrop.jpg
Sir Thomas Richardson.

Sir Thomas Richardson (1569 – 4 February 1635) was an English judge and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1621 to 1622. He was Speaker of the House of Commons for this parliament. He was later Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench.

House of Commons of England parliament of England up to 1707

The House of Commons of England was the lower house of the Parliament of England from its development in the 14th century to the union of England and Scotland in 1707, when it was replaced by the House of Commons of Great Britain. In 1801, with the union of Great Britain and Ireland, that house was in turn replaced by the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

Chief Justice of the Common Pleas

The Chief Justice of the Common Pleas was the head of the Court of Common Pleas, also known as the Common Bench or Common Place, which was the second-highest common law court in the English legal system until 1875, when it, along with the other two common law courts and the equity and probate courts, became part of the High Court of Justice. As such, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas was one of the highest judicial officials in England, behind only the Lord High Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice of England, who headed the Queen's Bench.

Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales position

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales is the Head of the Judiciary of England and Wales and the President of the Courts of England and Wales.


Background and early life

Richardson was born at Hardwick, Depwade Hundred, Norfolk, and was baptised there on 3 July 1569, the son of William Richardson whose family were said to be descended from the younger son of a Norman family, John, who moved to county Durham in about 1100. Other branches of the family included the Richardsons of the Briary in county Durham, and the Richardsons of Glanbrydan Park and Pantygwydr, Wales. He was educated at Norwich School. [1] On 5 March 1587 he was admitted a student at Lincoln's Inn, where he was called to the bar on 28 January 1595. In 1605 he was deputy steward to the dean and chapter of Norwich, around which time he built Honingham Hall. [2] He was subsequently recorder of Bury St. Edmunds and then Norwich. In 1614, he was Lent Reader at Lincoln's Inn, and on 13 October of the same year became serjeant-at-law. At about the same time he was made chancellor to the queen.

Norfolk County of England

Norfolk is a county in East Anglia in England. It borders Lincolnshire to the northwest, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest, and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea and, to the north-west, The Wash. The county town is Norwich. With an area of 2,074 square miles (5,370 km2) and a population of 859,400, Norfolk is a largely rural county with a population density of 401 per square mile. Of the county's population, 40% live in four major built up areas: Norwich (213,000), Great Yarmouth (63,000), King's Lynn (46,000) and Thetford (25,000).

Norwich School (independent school) selective independent day school in Norwich, United Kingdom

Norwich School is a selective English independent day school in the close of Norwich Cathedral, Norwich. Among the oldest schools in the United Kingdom, it has a traceable history to 1096 as an episcopal grammar school established by Herbert de Losinga, first Bishop of Norwich. In the 16th century the school came under the control of the city of Norwich and moved to Blackfriars' Hall following a successful petition to Henry VIII. The school was refounded in 1547 in a royal charter granted by Edward VI and moved to its current site beside the cathedral in 1551. In the 19th century it became independent of the city and its classical curriculum was broadened in response to the declining demand for classical education following the Industrial Revolution.

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.

Speaker of the House of Commons

In 1621, Richardson was elected Member of Parliament for St Albans. [3] When parliament met on 30 January 1621, he was chosen Speaker of the House of Commons. The excuses which he made before accepting this office appear to have been more than formal, for an eye-witness reports that he 'wept downright.' On 25 March 1621 he was knighted at Whitehall when he brought King James congratulations of the commons upon the recent censure of Sir Giles Mompesson. In the chair he proved a veritable King Log and his term of office was marked by the degradation of Bacon. He was not re-elected to parliament in the next election.

St Albans (UK Parliament constituency) Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, 1885 onwards

St Albans is a constituency represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2005 by Anne Main, a Conservative.

Palace of Whitehall building in the City of Westminster, London

The Palace of Whitehall at Westminster, Middlesex, was the main residence of the English monarchs from 1530 until 1698, when most of its structures, except for Inigo Jones's Banqueting House of 1622, were destroyed by fire. It had at one time been the largest palace in Europe, with more than 1,500 rooms, overtaking the Vatican, before itself being overtaken by the expanding Palace of Versailles, which was to reach 2,400 rooms. The palace gives its name, Whitehall, to the street on which many of the current administrative buildings of the present-day British government are situated, and hence metonymically to the central government itself. At its most expansive, the palace extended over much of the area bordered by Northumberland Avenue in the north; to Downing Street and nearly to Derby Gate in the south; and from roughly the elevations of the current buildings facing Horse Guards Road in the west, to the then banks of the River Thames in the east —a total of about 23 acres (9.3 ha). It was about 710 yards (650 m) from Westminster Abbey.

Giles Mompesson English politician

Giles Mompesson was an English office holder and politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1614 and 1621, when he was sentenced for corruption. He was officially a "notorious criminal" whose career was one based on speculation and graft. His name came to be regarded as a synonym for graft and official corruption because he used nepotism to gain positions for licensing businesses by which he pocketed the fees. In the reaction against Charles I, Mompesson's name was invoked as a symbol of all that was wrong with aristocracy. Sir Giles Overreach, the anti-hero of Philip Massinger's 1625 play A New Way to Pay Old Debts, is based on Mompesson.

Judicial advancement

On 20 February 1625 Richardson was made king's serjeant. On 28 November 1626 he succeeded Sir Henry Hobart as Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, after a vacancy of nearly a year. His advancement was said to have cost him £17,000 and his second marriage (see infra). He judged on 13 November 1628, that it was illegal to use the rack to elicit confession from Felton, the murderer of Duke of Buckingham's. His opinion had the concurrence of his colleagues and marks a significant point in the history of English criminal jurisprudence. In the following December he presided at the trial of three of the Jesuits arrested in Clerkenwell, and secured the acquittal of two of them by requiring proof, which was not forthcoming, of their orders.

Serjeant-at-law Member of an order of barristers at the English bar

A Serjeant-at-Law (SL), commonly known simply as a Serjeant, was a member of an order of barristers at the English bar. The position of Serjeant-at-Law, or Sergeant-Counter, was centuries old; there are writs dating to 1300 which identify them as descended from figures in France before the Norman Conquest. The Serjeants were the oldest formally created order in England, having been brought into existence as a body by Henry II. The order rose during the 16th century as a small, elite group of lawyers who took much of the work in the central common law courts. With the creation of Queen's Counsel during the reign of Elizabeth I, the order gradually began to decline, with each monarch opting to create more King's or Queen's Counsel. The Serjeants' exclusive jurisdictions were ended during the 19th century and, with the Judicature Act 1873 coming into force in 1875, it was felt that there was no need to have such figures, and no more were created. The last Irish Serjeant-at-Law was Serjeant Sullivan. The last English Serjeant-at-Law was Lord Lindley.

Sir Henry Hobart, 1st Baronet English politician

Sir Henry Hobart, 1st Baronet, of Blickling Hall, was an English politician who succeeded Sir Edward Coke to become Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas.

John Felton (assassin) English assassin

John Felton was a lieutenant in the English Army who stabbed George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham to death in the Greyhound Pub of Portsmouth on 23 August 1628.

In the same year he took part in the careful review of the law of constructive treason This arose from the case of Hugh Pine who was charged with that crime for speaking words that were derogatory to the king's majesty. The result of Richardsons's review was to limit the offence to cases of imagining the king's death. He concurred in the guarded and somewhat evasive opinion on the extent of privilege of parliament which the king elicited from the judges after the turbulent scenes which preceded the dissolution of parliament on 4 March 1629. He was as lenient as he could be when he imposed a fine of £500 without imprisonment in the case of Richard Chambers, and his agreement with harsh sentences passed upon Alexander Leighton and William Prynne may have been dictated by timidity, and there contrast strongly with the tenderness which he showed Henry Sherfield, the iconoclastic bencher of Lincoln's Inn.

Constructive treason is the judicial extension of the statutory definition of the crime of treason. For example, the English Treason Act 1351 declares it to be treason "When a Man doth compass or imagine the Death of our Lord the King." This was subsequently interpreted by the courts to include imprisoning the king, on the ground that history had shown that when a king is held captive by a usurper, he often dies in captivity. Despite legislative efforts to restrict the scope of treason, judges and prosecutors in common law jurisdictions still succeeded in broadening the reach of the offence by "constructing" new treasons. It is the opinion of one legal historian that:

The word “constructive” is one of the law’s most useful frauds. It implies substance where none exists. There can be constructive contracts, constructive trusts, constructive fraud, constructive intent, constructive possession, and constructive anything else the law chooses to baptize as such. “Constructive” in this sense means “treated as.” ... Constructive treason wasn’t “real” treason but a vaguely defined, less potent category of conduct that the court deciding the particular case felt should be “treated as” treason. It was the perfect instrument of oppression, being virtually whatever the authorities wanted it to be.

Lèse-majesté Crime of insulting a monarch

Lèse-majesté is a French term describing the crime of violating majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.

Charles I of England 17th-century monarch of kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Charles I was the monarch over the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.

Chief Justice of the King’s Bench

Richardson was advanced to the chief-justiceship of the king's bench on 24 October 1631, and served on the western circuit. He was not a puritan but in Lent 1632 he made and order, at the instance of the Somerset magistrates, for suppressing the 'wakes' or Sunday revels, which were a fertile source of crime in the county. He directed the order to be read in church and this brought him into conflict with Laud, who sent for him and told him it was the king's pleasure he should rescind the order. Richardson ignored this instruction until the king himself repeated it. He then, at the ensuing summer Assizes (1633), laid the matter fairly before the justices and grand jury, professing his inability to comply with the royal mandate on the ground that the order had been made by the joint consent of the whole bench, and was in fact a mere confirmation and enlargement of similar orders made in the county since the time of Queen Elizabeth, all which he substantiated from the county records. This caused him to be cited before the council, reprimanded, and transferred to the Essex circuit. 'I am like,' he muttered as he left the council board, 'to be choked with the archbishop's lawn sleeves.'

Circuit courts are court systems in several common law jurisdictions. The core concept of circuit courts requires judges to travel to different locales to ensure wide visibility and understanding of cases in a region. More generally, some modern circuit courts may also refer to a court that merely holds trials for cases of multiple locations in some rotation.

Somerset County of England

Somerset is a county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. It is bounded to the north and west by the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, its coastline facing southeastern Wales. Its traditional border with Gloucestershire is the River Avon. Somerset's county town is Taunton.

William Laud Archbishop of Canterbury

William Laud was an English archbishop and academic. He was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633, during the personal rule of Charles I. Arrested in 1640, he was executed in 1645.

Richardson died at his house in Chancery Lane on 4 February 1635 and was buried in the north aisle of the choir of Westminster Abbey, beneath a marble monument. There is a bust by Hubert Le Sueur.

Judicial reputation

Richardson was a capable lawyer and a weak man, much addicted to flouts and jeers. 'Let him have the Book of Martyrs' he said, when the question whether Prynne should be allowed the use of books was before the court; 'for the puritans do account him a martyr.' He could also make a caustic jest at his own expense. 'You see now’ he dryly remarked, as he avoided a missile aimed at him by a condemned felon by stooping low, 'if I had been an upright judge I had been slain.' He possessed some polite learning, which caused John Taylor, the water poet, to dedicate to him one of the impressions of his Superbiae Flagellum (1621).

Family and posterity

Richardson married twice. His first wife, Ursula Southwell was the third daughter of John Southwell of Barham Hall, Suffolk. She was buried at St. Andrew's, Holborn, on 13 June 1624. His second wife, married at St Giles in the Fields, Middlesex, on 14 December 1626, was Elizabeth widow of Sir John Ashburnham and daughter of Sir Thomas Beaumont of Stoughton, Leicestershire. She was the first Duke of Buckingham's maternal second cousin once removed.

Richardson had twelve children by his first wife, of whom four daughters and one son, Thomas, survived him. By his second wife he had no issue. She was created on 28 February 1629 Lady Cramond in the peerage of Scotland, for life, with remainder to her stepson, Sir Thomas Richardson, K.B. Sir Thomas died in her lifetime on 12 March 1645 and his son Thomas succeeded to the peerage on her death in April 1651. The title became extinct by the death, without issue, of William, the fifth lord, in 1735.

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Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : "Richardson, Thomas (1569-1635)". Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.


Parliament of England
Preceded by
Thomas Perient
Henry Finch
Member of Parliament for St Albans
With: Robert Shute 1620–1621
Henry Meautys 1621–1622
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur Capell
Sir John Luke
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Randolph Crewe
Speaker of the British House of Commons
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Crewe
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Henry Hobart
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Heath
Preceded by
Sir Nicholas Hyde
Lord Chief Justice
Succeeded by
Sir John Brampston