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ART. 1.—The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the
Great Seal of England, from the Earliest Times till the Reign of George I V. The First Series, in three volumes. By John,
Lord Campbell, A.M., F.R.S.E. 8vo. London, 1845. W e have before us only three volumes of Lord Campbell's
work, and these bring us no lower than the Revolution of 1688. He announces his intention of continuing it down to the reign of George IV.; and under such circumstances we do not propose at present to enter on any serious discussion of his Lordship's views, as yet hinted rather than expressed, of the highest judicial office in this country, either as it has been or as it should be regulated. It is sufficient for us to thank him for the honest industry with which he has thus far prosecuted his large task, the general candour and liberality with which he has analysed the lives and characters of a long succession of influential magistrates and ministers, and the manly style of his narrative, often diversified with happy description and instructive reflection, and but rarely blemished by silliness of sentiment or finery of phrase. We well know that the majority of our readers would be less thankful to us for any disquisition, legal or political, of our own, than for a selection of specimens and anecdotes, sufficient to convey some notion at least of the variety and interest of the author's researches and lucubrations; and we fairly confess, too, that on closing the volumes we feel an additional motive to this course. We opened them with comparatively limited anticipations; and are willing to offer what seems the least ambiguous apology in our power.
It was reserved for the antiquarian explorers of our own time, and more especially for the acutest and profoundest of their number, Sir Francis Palgrave, to elucidate with any approach to distinctness the real origin of the Court of Chancery, and the position and functions of the Chancellor in the Anglo-Saxon and early Anglo-Norman periods. Lord Campbell has not added to the aggregate of their deductions, but he has arranged and classified them with skill; and the unprofessional reader will probably be VOL. LXXVII, NO. CLIII.
obliged to this work for his first clear notion of that antique system of things under which the chief priest of the royal chapel was ex officio the confessor of the sovereign, 'the keeper of the king's conscience;' and also, and as naturally, his chief secretary, intrusted with the Great Seal, the clavis regni, by which communications to foreign powers, or orders commanding particular courts or officers to attend to the cases of subjects who had petitioned the throne as the source of justice, were alike authenticated. The Chancellor had a place from the first in the Aula Regia, but his place there was a subordinate one until the abolition of the office of Great Justiciary: and even after that event, the importance and dignity of the custos of the Great Seal appear to have grown by not rapid steps, and to have reached their ultimate point solely in consequence of the commanding personal characters of some two or three among the Anglo-Norman churchmen who sat on the Marble Chair over against the middle of the Marble Table,' at the upper end of Westminster Hall-which chair and table were still extant in the days of Dugdale. The inferior clergymen of the chapel royal assisted the chief priest in all his various departments of duty, and it was with a view to the proper reward and advancement of these sub-chaplains, under-secretaries of state, and masters in chancery, that the Conscience-keeper was originally intrusted with the ecclesiastical patronage which still attaches to his office. He himself was considered as entitled, when he had filled the marble chair for some space, to be promoted to the mitre; in the majority of cases, however, he was already a Bishop, in not a few Archbishop, before he became Chancellor; and the office of Papal Legate was frequently superadded to all these weighty burdens.
The earliest recorded Chancellor, Augmendus, is supposed to have been one of the Italian priests who accompanied Augustine on his mission to the court of Ethelbert. The fourth after him, and the earliest of whose personal history we have any precise information was Swithin, ordained priest in A.D. 830, and selected by King Egbert for chaplain to himself, and tutor to his son Ethelwull. In the reign of the latter he was at once Chancellor and prime minister, and Bishop of Winchester, and (highest of all his distinctions) intrusted with the education of Alfred. Swithin is said to have given Alfred his taste for the poetry of the Scalds; and as he accompanied the prince on his pilgrimage to Rome, the seventeenth Bishop of Winchester may be supposed to have had some pretensions also to classical learning. About fifty years after his death he was canonized by the papal see, in grateful remembrance, no doubt, of his having established in England the payment of
Peter's • Peter's pence.' St. Swithin too has the credit of having procured the first Act of the Wittenagemot for enforcing universal payment of tithes; which circumstance may possibly account for the place he still occupies in our own Calendar. He died July 15th, A.D. 862; and his parting command was that he should be buried in the churchyard of Winchester, “ubi cadaver et pedibus praetereuntium et stillicidiis ex cælo rorantibus esset obnoxium ;' but upon his canonization it was thought proper to remove the relics to the high altar of his cathedral, and this violation of his injunctions was only averted by the direct interference of the Saint, who sent down a deluge of rain that lasted for forty days, and which, as we are all aware, is still repeated as often as the 15th of July is a wet day; whereas if St. Swithin's day be a fair one, we are sure of thirty-nine fine days more to succeed it.
Lord Campbell has been able to discover only one decision of Lord Chancellor Swithin's. The line was not as yet accurately drawn between equity and common law cases, for an old woman approached this high magistrate with a complaint, that on her way to market that morning a certain rude peasant had shoved her about, insomuch that every egg in her basket was broken. The right reverend holder of the Great Seal, instead of sending the case to a jury, was pleased to proceed in a summary manner• damnum suspirat, misericordiâ mentis cunctantem miraculum excitat, statimque porrecto signo crucis fracturam omnium ovorum consolidat. The reporter is William of Malmesbury (242); but we shall no doubt have more about the miraculous reconsolidation of the plaintiff's eggs in some early number of the Lives of the English Saints.
Chancellor Swithin was a man of peace; but for several centuries after him we find his office held, with rare exceptions, by eminent churchmen who were also, whenever occasion tempted, efficient leaders of armed men, not a few of them distinguished by personal acts of prowess in siege or battle. One of the most redoubted soldiers that ever rose to the marble chair was Lord Chancellor Thomas à Becket; but the noblest combination of military and legal renown was exhibited in the person of Ranulphus de Glanville, who as Great Justiciary of England overshadowed all that immediately followed à Becket as keepers of the Great Seal—for this magistrate not only commanded in chief when a king of Scotland was taken prisoner, but wrote a book on the Laws and Constitution of England, which must still be studied by all who would acquire a critical knowledge of them as they stood in the first century after the Conquest, before they were modified by the Magna Charta of King John. Lord Coke sums up his enthusiastic eulogy of Glanville in these words :'vir
præclarissimus genere, qui provectiore ætate ad terram sanctam properavit, et ibidem contra inimicos crucis Christi strenuissime usque ad mortem dimicavit.'
One of the Chancellors whom this really great lawyer and great man overshadowed was Geoffrey Plantagenet, natural son of Henry II. by Fair Rosamond, who was placed in the see of Lincoln while in the twentieth year of his age, and held it for seven years, during which he served gallantly in the wars at the head of 140 knights from his bishopric, but never would take holy orders, and the Pope insisting on ihis point, at last resigned his mitre rather than comply. To console and compensate him for the loss of Lincoln, his father made Geoffrey Chancellor. It was not till long afterwards that he laid aside his aversion to the priestly vows, and became in a regular manner Archbishop of York, in which dignity he died.
Another noticeable Chancellor of that age was Walter de Gray-honourably noticeable as having resigned his office rather than affix the Great Seal to the shameful deed by which John resigned his kingdom to the Pope-noticeable also as having been afterwards, when recommended for the mitre of York, strenuously objected to by the chapter as 'minus sufficiens in literaturâ. The Pope being appealed to, resisted also on the ground of the ex-chancellor's crassa ignorantia,' which the ex-chancellor seems to have admitted, pleading as a set-off nothing more than virgin chastity' and other virtues, which would not apparently have overcome the hesitation of the Holy Father, unless De Gray had superadded a present of 10001.—equal to not much less than 100,0001. now! It should be added, that this Archbishop lived afterwards a life of extreme mortification, and purchased by his savings, and bequeathed to his See, the manor and palace of Bishop Thorpe, where his successors still hold their provincial state, and York Place in Westminster, which they in like manner occupied till Wolsey resigned it to Henry VIII., when it was new-named Whitehall.
Among all these clerical Chancellors we think there occurs but one who did not ultimately reach the mitre. This was John Maunsel (A.D. 1246), who while holding the Great Seal became Provost of Beverley, his highest Church preferment—but not his only one. This personage, according to Matthew Paris, held at once 700 livings. He had, Lord Campbell presumes, presented himself to all that fell vacant, and were in the gift of the Crown, while he was Chancellor. The greatest pluralist on record thought himself nevertheless an ill-used Chancellor - and with some reason too, for it was during his occupance of the marble chair that a king of England (since the Conquest) first practised
the dispensing power— and it was he who introduced the non obstante clause into grants and patents.
In the reign of Henry III. we have the agreeable variety of a Lady Keeper. In 1253 the king, proceeding to Gascony, committed the Great Seal, with all the usual formalities, to his Queen, Eleanor of Provence, and though the sealing of writs and common instruments was left to Kilkenny, Archdeacon of Coventry, her Grace executed in person the more important duties of her new office. This judge began her sittings on the Nativity of the Virgin, and continued them regularly till the 25th of November, when the Court was interrupted by her accouchement. •The Lady Keeper had a favourable recovery, and being churched, resumel her place in the Aula Regia.'
Soon after the accession of Edward I. to the crown, she renounced the world and retired to the monastery of Ambres bury, where, in the year 1284, she actually took the veil. She had the satisfaction of hearing of the brilliant career of her son, and she died in 1292, when he was at the height of his glory, having subdued Wales, pacified Ireland, reduced Scotland to feudal subjection, and made England more prosperous and happy than at any former period.
' Although the temper and haughty demeanour of Eleanor were very freely censured in her own time, I believe no imputation was cast upon her virtue till the usurper Henry IV., assuming to be the right heir of Edmund her second son, found it convenient to question the legitimacy of Edward her first-born, and to represent him as the fruit of an adulterous intercourse between her and the Earl Marshal. Then was written the popular ballad representing her as confessing her frailty to the King her husband, who, in the garb of a friar of France, has come to shrive her in her sickness, accompanied by the Earl Marshal in the same disguise.
Oh, do you see yon fair-haired boy
And I love him the least of all.
Although none of her judicial decisions, while she held the Great Seal, have been transmitted to us, we have very full and accurate information respecting her person, her career, and her character, for which we are chiefly indebted to Matthew Paris, who often dined at