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LIFE OF LORD KEEPER LANE.
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I HAVE now to introduce to the reader a man who although he never was installed in "the marble chair" in Westminster Hall, nor ever presided on the woolsack, was the legitimate successor of the illustrious Lord Chancellors and Lord Keepers whose names are known to fame. I regret that my researches respecting him have not been more successful, for all that I have discovered of him is to his honour. He was a very high royalist, but sincere, firm, and consistent.
His father was Richard Lane, of Courtenhall, in the county of Northampton, who, though of little wealth, was entitled to arms.* Young Lane seems to have raised himself from obscurity by talent, industry, and perseverance. Having never sat in parliament, nor been engaged in any great state [A. D. 1639.] prosecution, he had not much celebrity till the troubles were breaking out; but he was known to discerning men as an admirable lawyer as well as a steady friend of the prerogative, and in the hope that he might be useful to the Crown in the proccedings which were now anticipated, he was made Attorney General to the Prince of Wales.
Soon after this promotion the Long Parliament met, and Strafford was impeached for high treason. However much Charles wished to protect him, he could [MARCH, 1641. not be defended by Banks or Herbert, the Attorney and Solicitor General to the Crown,-and Mr. Lane was retained as his leading counsel, along with Gardiner, Recorder of London, a man of great eminence in his profession, and Loe and Lightfoot, two promising juniors.
An order being made by the House of Lords for assigning them and giving them access to their client, the Commons most unreasonably complained that such a step should be taken without their consent, and inveighed with much bitterness against those lawyers who durst be of counsel with a person accused by them of high treason. Nay, one member went so far as to move that they should be sent for and proceeded against for their contempt; but it was suggested that they not only were obliged to it by the honour and duty of their profession, but that they would have been punishable for refusing to submit to the Lords' order. It appeared too revolting to make this matter a breach of privilege, and the debate dropped. Such attempts at intimidation have ever been scorned by the bar of England, and Lane and his brethren were now only more eager and determined to do their duty at every hazard.
When Strafford was brought up to be arraigned, Lane made a
* Herald's Hist, of Northampton. A. D. 1618, c. 14.
heavy complaint of the length of the articles of impeachment, which contained the actions of the Earl's service for thirteen years. past, both in England and Ireland, and he prayed farther time to prepare the answer. This, after considerable difficulty, he ob
During the seventeen days which the trial lasted on matters of fact, Lane and the other counsel were not allowed in the slightest degree to interfere, and the noble prisoner, unassisted, carried on against the most distinguished lawyers and statesmen of the country party, and against public prejudice and passion, that heroic struggle which seemed to render the result doubtful, and which shed such a lustre on his closing scene.
"Now private pity strove with public hate,
He then prayed that he might be heard by his counsel upon the question, whether any of the charges amounted to treason in point of law? and in spite of a stout resistance by the managers of the Commons, who felt that the case was going against them, leave was given.
The 17th of April, 1641, was the most memorable day in the life of Lane. The Commons resentfully refused to [APRIL 17.] attend as a body, but almost all the members of the House were present from curiosity. The Scottish and Irish Commissioners filled the galleries; the King and his family were known to be in the royal closet, the Prince occasionally showing himself and nodding to his Attorney General; the uninclosed part of Westminster Hall was filled by an immense mass of anxious spectators from the city and from the provinces, once strongly incensed against Strafford, but now beginning to doubt his guilt, and strongly inclined to admire and to pity him. How insignificant in comparison was the trial of Warren Hastings, of which we have heard such boastful accounts from our fathers!
Lane surpassed all expectation. Knowing that a majority of Peers were now favourable to his client, and being unchecked by any opponents,—although he professed to carry himself with all content and satisfaction to the House of Commons, and to abstain from touching on the merits of the cause,-he said that it was impossible to argue the question of law without stating the facts (as he understood them) out of which that question arose. Accordingly he took a short, rapid, and dexterous view of the evidence adduced. Having then shown very distinctly and incontrovertably that none of the charges amounted to treason under the statute of Edward III., which provides against "compassing the King's death, levying war against him, violating his companion, and counterfeiting his Great Seal," but is entirely silent with respect to "subverting the fundamental laws of the kingdom," he came to the main point which had been urged by the Commons, "whether the salvo in that statute as to parliament de
claring a new case of treason could apply to a parliamentary impeachment?" and he argued to demonstration this power could only be exercised by parliament in its "legislative capacity,"that the House of Lords was then acting judicially according to promulgated law,-and that the Earl must be acquitted, unless he could be proved to have done an act which had been legislatively declared treason before it was committed. He finally contended that, assuming the subversion of the fundamental laws of the kingdom to be high treason, one or more acts of injustice, whether maliciously or ignorantly done, could in no sense be called the subversion of the fundamental laws; for otherwise, possibly "as many Judges, so many traitors," and all distinction and degrees of offences being confounded, every man who transgresses a statute may lose his life and his estate, and bring ruin on his posterity. He then went over all the cases supposed to be in point, from that of John de la Pole downwards, showing that, in the worst of times, no man had been convicted of treason except upon a specific charge of having violated one of the express provisions of the Statute of Treasons-a statute made to guard the subject from constructive and undefined offences against the government—a statute which had been the glory of Englishmen— for which respect had been professed by our most arbitrary sovereigns-but which was not to be swept away by those who avowed themselves the champions of freedom, and the reformers of all abuses.
He sat down amidst great applause; and, after a short address from the Recorder on the same side,—it being as late as between two and three o'clock in the afternoon, the House adjourned.*
An acquittal was now considered certain; but in the night the parliamentary leaders entirely changed their plan of proceeding. Instead of praying the judgment of the Lords upon the articles of impeachment, they said they intended not to offer any reply to the argument of the law made by Mr. Lane, it being below their dignity to contend with a private lawyer: and next morning, they put up Sir Arthur Hazelrig, "an absurd, bold man," a pupil of Pym, and employed by the party on any desperate occasion, to prefer a bill in the House of Commons "for the attainder of the Earl of Strafford of high treason."
This bill was opposed by Selden and the more moderate lawyers on the liberal side, and could hardly have been pushed through but for the newly-discovered evidence brought forward by Sir Henry Vane respecting Strafford's declaration in council, "that the King having tried the affection of his people, was absolved from all rule of government; and that the army from Ireland might reduce this kingdom to obedience." The effect was heightened by the disgraceful opinion obtained from the trembling Judges, that this charge amounted to high treason.
When the bill came up to the Lords, Lane having no longer
* 3 St. Tr. 1472, 2 Parl. Hist. 732.
an opportunity of being heard, Oliver St. John, who had accepted and retained the title of "King's Solicitor General," but was the most furious of the prosecutors of Strafford, boldly attempted to answer Lane's argument; and, feeling that he had failed, he unblushingly said, "that in that way of bill, private satisfaction to each man's conscience was sufficient; and why should they take such trouble about law in such a case? It was true we give laws to hare and deer, because they are beasts of chase; but it was never accounted either cruelty or foul play to knock foxes and wolves on the head, where they may be found, because they are beasts of prey. "'*
After Strafford's conviction, Lane remained in London quietly [1641. 1643.] pursuing his profession; and privately advising the [1641. 1643.] Royalists till the King, by proclamation under the Great Seal, having ordered all the law Courts to be adjourned to Oxford, and the parliament, by an ordinance, having required them to continue sitting at Westminster, the cavalier lawyers thought they could no longer publicly practise in the metropolis without acknowledging the usurped authority of the Roundheads. While some of them took to conveyancing and chamber business, Lane resolved to go to Oxford, where although there was not likely to be much pabulum for barristers, he should at least testify his respect for the King's proclamation, and his devotion to the royal cause. He had a strict private intimacy with Whitelock, afterwards Keeper of the Great Seal, although they were on opposite sides in politics; and to him he intrusted his books and the furniture in his chambers in the Inner Temple, which, in the disturbed state of the country he could not carry along with him. On his arrival at Oxford, his loyalty was rewarded with the honour of knighthood.
He found Lord Keeper Littleton, with the Great Seal sitting in the Philosophy Schools;-and two or three Judges having joined, they went through the form of holding the Courts to which they respectively belonged. But there was no one to represent the Exchequer, and the office of Chief Baron being vacant, it was offered to Lane, who was considered at the head of the Oxford Bar. He could not expect his salary to be very regularly paid, but he did not sacrifice a very lucrative practice, and he accepted the offer.
To be regularly installed as a Judge, he was first to be raised to the dignity of the coif; and, accordingly, in the roll of the proceedings under the Great Seal at Oxford, we have the following entry : "1643-4. January 25. Md. that Sir Richard Lane, Kt., the Prince's Highness' Attorney, made his appearance the first day of Hilary term at the Chancery bar in the Philosophy Schools at Oxford, and was there sworn a Serjeant-at-law, his writ being returnable Octobis Hillarij before the Right Honble Edward Lord Littleton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, in open.
3 St. Tr. 1477.
court, Sir J. Colepeper Master of the Rolls, Dr. Littleton and Sir Thomas Mainwaring, Masters of the Chancery, being present, and oaths of supremacy and allegiance, and the oath of a Serjeant-atlaw, were read to him by the Clerk of the Crown."
The following day he was sworn in as Chief Baron in a corner of the Schools called the "Court of Exchequer," and likewise received the honour of knighthood, the Lord Keeper complimenting him on his loyalty and learning, which had procured him such special marks of the King's favour,-and the new Chief Baron expressing a hope that notwithstanding the recent successes of the rebels in England, from the assistance of our loyal brethren in Scotland and Ireland*, they would speedily be put down, and his Majesty would be acknowledged as God's Vicegerent throughout all his dominions.
At this time there was a large batch of promotions at Oxford, -Hyde being sworn in Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cottington Lord Treasurer, Brerewood a Justice of the King's Bench, Colepepper Master of the Rolls and a Peer, Gardiner Solicitor General, to say nothing of several Masters extraordinary in the High Court of Chancery† ;—and, I dare say, on the first day of the following Term, (although I do not find the fact recorded, and therefore do not venture to assert it,) there was a grand levée at the Lord Keeper's rooms in Christ Church, and a procession from thence to the Philosophy Schools,-where the Courts were opened in due form, the Counsel were asked if they had anything to move, and the Judges rose early-having at least this consolation, that they could not be reproached with the accumulation of arrears.
But Lane was soon after employed in real and very serious business. After the battle of Marston Moor, the surrender of Newcastle, and the third battle of New. [DEC. 1644.] bury, the Royalists were so much disheartened that a regotiation for peace was proposed to the parliament, and Charles, instead of styling them as hitherto "the Lords and Commons of Parliament assembled at Westminster," was induced to address them as "the Lords and Commons assembled in the parliament of England at Westminster." The proposal could not be refused without incurring popular odium, and Uxbridge, then within the parliamentary lines, was named as the place of conference.
The King sent a list of his commissioners,-" Sir Richard Lane, Knight, Chief Baron of his Exchequer, Hyde, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gardiner, Solicitor General," and the others with the dignities latelyconferred upon them. The parliament took offence, having declared on Littleton's flight to York with the Great Seal, that all patients afterwards passing under it should be void, and they were particularly hurt that any one should be denominated "Solicitor General" except their beloved St. John, who under that title had been directing all their movements, and whom they intended to employ as their chief commissioner in this very
* Alluding to Montrose and Glamorgan.