Thomas Richardson (judge)

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Sir Thomas Richardson, Norwich Civic Portrait Collection. Arms: Argent, on a chief sable three lion's heads erased of the first Sir Thomas Richardson, Unknown artist, Norwich Civic Portrait Collection.jpg
Sir Thomas Richardson, Norwich Civic Portrait Collection. Arms: Argent, on a chief sable three lion's heads erased of the first

Sir Thomas Richardson (1569 – 4 February 1635) of Honingham in Norfolk, [2] 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.


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. However the History of Parliament biography of his grandson states that he was "of Norfolk peasant stock". [2] The coat of arms he used (Argent, on a chief sable three lion's heads erased of the first) was certainly that of the ancient gentry family of Richardson, of many branches. [3] He was educated at Norwich School, [4] and matriculated at Christ's College, Cambridge in June 1584. [5] 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 about 1600 he purchased the estate of Honingham in Norfolk, which he made his seat. [2]

In 1605 he was deputy steward to the dean and chapter of Norwich, around which time he built Honingham Hall. [6] 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.

Speaker of the House of Commons

In 1621, Richardson was elected Member of Parliament for St Albans. [7] 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.

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.

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.

Chief Justice of the King’s Bench

Memorial to Sir Thomas Richardson, Westminster Abbey. Memorial to Sir Thomas Richardson by James Cole, c 1720.png
Memorial to Sir Thomas Richardson, Westminster Abbey.

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.'

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).

Marriages and issue

Ledger stone to Mary Richardson (1600-1656) (a daughter of Sir Thomas Richardson) and her husband John Webb (1588-1658). Arms of Webb impaling Richardson. Breckles Church, Norfolk St Margaret's church Breckles Norfolk (264010538).jpg
Ledger stone to Mary Richardson (1600–1656) (a daughter of Sir Thomas Richardson) and her husband John Webb (1588–1658). Arms of Webb impaling Richardson. Breckles Church, Norfolk

Richardson married twice:

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  1. Burke, Sir Bernard, The General Armory, London, 1884, p.853, but with field or, and as sculpted on the ledger stone of his daughter Mary Richardson (wife of John Webb (1588-1658)) in St Margaret's Church, Breckles, Norfolk (see image File:St Margaret's church Breckles Norfolk (264010538).jpg
  2. 1 2 3 4 RICHARDSON, Thomas, 2nd Baron Cramond [S] (1627-74), of Honingham, Norf. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
  3. Burke, Sir Bernard, The General Armory, London, 1884, pp.852-3
  4. Harries et al. (1991), p. 174
  5. "Richardson, Thomas (RCRT584T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  6. History-The village & the people | Honingham Village website | Page 9 Retrieved 2016-10-13.
  7. Browne Willis Notitia parliamentaria, or, An history of the counties, cities, and boroughs in England and Wales: ... The whole extracted from mss. and printed evidences 1750 pp176-195
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Inscribed ledger stone in Breckles Church, NorfolkFile:St Margaret's church Breckles Norfolk (264010538).jpg
  9. 1 2 3 "Hundred of Humble-Yard: Braconash". An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 5. British History Online. 1806. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  10. "Hundred of Depwade: Tharston | British History Online". Retrieved 26 September 2020.

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 Member of Parliament for St Albans
With: Robert Shute 1620–1621
Henry Meautys 1621–1622
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Chief Justice
Succeeded by