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LORD CHANCELLORS OF ENGLAND.
LIFE OF SIR WILLIAM PAULET, LORD PAULET OF ST. JOHN BASING,
EARL OF WILTSHIRE AND MARQUESS OF WINCHESTER, LORD
of Winchester “a
As this individual held the Great Seal of England in his own right above seven months, — according to the plan of this work, I am called upon here to introduce a sketch of his life; Marquess but as he had little connection with the law, and was not a very interesting character, although for long tenure of high Willow, office he exceeded all the statesmen of the century in which he was not an lived, --my memoir of him shall be very brief. He accounted for his not being upset by any of the storms which assailed him, by saying that he was “ á willow, and not an oak,” and there would be no great pleasure or instruction in minutely observing his bendings.
He was born about the year 1476, and was the only son of His family. Sir John Paulet, of a very ancient family in Somersetshire. One of his ancestors was a serjeant at law in the reign of Henry V.* Having studied at the University, he was removed to the inns of Court, but more with a view to general education than to qualify him for the law as a profession; and it is doubtful whether he was ever called to the bar.
• Rot. C1, 3 len 5. m. 20.
A. D. 1514.
He was of a cheerful temper, pleasing manners, moderate
abilities, and respectable acquirements. Exciting no envy or His dispo- jealousy, he had every one's good word, and accommodating
himself to the humours of all, all were disposed to befriend him.
By his family interest he was soon introduced at Court, and gaining the favour of Henry VIII., was made by him Comptroller and Treasurer of the Household. He was thus near the person of the Sovereign, and had occasionally the honour to tilt with him and to play with him at primero, — taking care always to be worsted, after a seeming exertion of
his utmost skill. So successful were these arts, that without Knight of any greater service, on the 9th of March, 1539, he was raised the Garter. to the Peerage by the title of Baron St. John, of Basing, and
three years after he was made a Knight of the Garter.
He accompanied the King as an amusing courtier rather than as a military officer, in the expedition into France, in which Paris might easily have been surprised, but which terminated in the capture of Boulogne, and the fruitless siege of Montreuil. He was soon after promoted to the office of Grand Master of the Household.
When Henry's will was to be made for arranging the Hen. VIII. government of the country during the approaching minority,
both parties counted with confidence on the co-operation of Lord St. John; and his name was inserted with general approbation in the list of the Executors.
Guided by his principle of siding with the strongest, on the accession of the new Sovereign he supported the election of Somerset as Protector, and concurred in the measures by which Wriothesley was deprived of the office of Chancellor, and banished from the council.
The Protector, having got the Great Seal into his hands, difficulty in was in great perplexity as to how he should dispose of it. Great Seal. Wishing to depress the clergy, he was unwilling to recur to
the practice of giving it to an ecclesiastic; and he was determined to advance the Reformation, with the principles of which the blending of civil and spiritual employments was deemed incompatible. Besides, Archbishop Cranmer certainly would not have accepted the office of Chancellor him
A. p. 1546.
self, and probably would not have liked to see it bestowed on any other prelate who might thus have eclipsed him. Rich, who had gained such unenviable notoriety on the trials of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More, - a cunning and experienced lawyer, - had become Lord Rich, and one of the Executors; but there was the greatest reluctance to promote him farther, from his general bad character, and the special reasons which convinced Somerset that no confidence could be reposed in his fidelity.
There being no other producible lawyer belonging to the party, Somerset resolved to take time for consideration, and in the mean while, to place the Great Seal in the hands of some one who might do its routine duties, who could not be formidable to him, and from whom he might resume it at pleasure. Such a man was Paulet Lord St. John.
Accordingly, on the 7th of March, 1547, the Protector Marquess having received the Great Seal from the messengers he had of Winsent to demand it from Wriothesley, went through the cere- made Lord mony of presenting it to the infant King, and then, in his Keeper. Majesty's name, delivered it to St. John, with the title of “Lord Keeper," — to be held by him for a fortnight, with all the powers and emoluments belonging to the office of Lord Chancellor.*
In a few days after, the Lord Keeper, by order, put the Great Seal to the letters patent, setting aside the will of Henry VIII., and constituting Somerset Protector, with unlimited power, till the young King should reach his majority;
* The entry on the Close Roll, after stating the King's acceptance of the Great Seal (which must have been shown to him as a toy), thus proceeds: * Quo die circa horam primam post meridiem prefatus Dns Rex Sigillum suum prum apud Palm suum prum in sua privata camerâ in presencia &c. prfto nobili viro Willo Seynt John per spacium quatuordecim dierum prx sequent. sedm beneplacitum regium custodiend. exercend. et utend. comisit et tradidit, ipsumque Willm Dnm Seynt John adtunc et ibidem custodem Magni Sigilli Regii fecit ordinavit et constituit Hend pr termino et per spacm quatuordecim dier. sedm beneplacitum regium cum omnibus et singulis auctoritatibus, &c. que Cancellariis Anglie prtu officii sui fcre et excre consuerat posset et valeat.” It then goes on to record that the new Lord Keeper, in the King's presence, having taken the Seal from the bag and sealed a dedimus potestatem with it, returned it into the bag and carried it off with him. — R. CI. 1 Ed. 6.