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These arts appear to have been successful, for he rose at a very early age into practice; and although he possessed no resources from his father, he was married, while yet in his minority, to Sarah, the daughter of Thomas Neesham, A.M. Such were his reputation and influence in the city, even at this early age, that upon the 17th of March, 1670, on the resignation of Sir Richard Browne, he was appointed common serjeant. This office he enjoyed for several years, till, finding that the seat of recorder was likely to become vacant, he did not hesitate to sacrifice his political principles to his hopes of advancement, and having contracted such an acquaintance with Chiffinch, the king's favourite page, as, to use the words of Roger North, “is apt to grow up between immane drinkers *, he obtained, through the influence of the court, the vacant appointment, and on the 22d of October, 1678, was elected recorder of London.
Being thus introduced to the court party, he was made solicitor to the Duke of York, and received various other appointments in rapid succession. On the 17th of February, 1680, he was called to the degree of serjeant at law, and about the same time was made a Welsh judge. On the 13th of April in the same year, he succeeded Sir Job Charlton as chief justice of Chester, on the 12th of May was made king's serjeant, and on the 17th of November, 1681, was created a baronet. The degree of influence which Jefferies possessed at court was displayed in his appointment to the chief justiceship of Chester. Sir Job Charlton, a venerable and learned man, was in possession of the office; but as the recorder was resolved to appropriate it to himself, Sir Job was told that it was necessary that he should accept the seat of a puisne judge in the common pleas. “ Sir Job,” says Roger North, “ laid this heavily upon his heart, and desired only that he might speak to the king, and receive his pleasure from his own mouth; but was diverted, as a thing determined. But once he went
* Life of Lord Guilford, vol. ii. p. 8.
to Whitehall, and placed himself where the king, returning from his walk in Saint James's Park, must pass, and there he set him down like hermit poor. When the king came in and saw him at a distance, sitting where he was to pass, he concluded that he intended to speak to him, which he could not by any means bear; he therefore turned short off, and went another way. Sir Job, seeing that, pitied his poor master, and never thought of troubling him more, but buckled to his business in the common pleas."
While filling the office of recorder, it became the duty of Sir George Jefferies, as counsel for the crown, to prosecute many of the persons accused of a participation in the popish plot. At first he did not exhibit that violence and rancour against the prisoners which afterwards distinguished him. He was probably aware that the court would gladly, had it been possible, have discountenanced the prosecutions; but at length, when the popular feeling had risen to such a pitch, that common sense and justice were forgotten in the excitement, Jefferies readily adapted his conduct to the prevailing sentiment, and urged the conviction of the unfortunate prisoners with brutal vehemence. It is difficult to discover whether Jefferies himself felt convinced of the guilt of the accused. His attachment to the church of England, which assumed almost the semiblance of a principle, might induce him to credit the reality of the plot; but even the most thorough conviction of its truth could not have excused the violence and injustice which he exhibited towards the accused. Nor was it in these trials alone that he manifested his disregard for the principles of truth and justice. The prosecutions for libels, which were at this time instituted by the court, afforded him an opportunity of promulgating certain unconstitutional doctrines which were doubtless intended to procure him favour from the government, and which probably led the way to his subsequent promotion.
* Life of Lord Guilford, vol. ii. p. 12.
At length the violence and intemperance of the recorder drew down upon him the reprehension of the party whose principles he had deserted. After the dissolution of the Oxford parliament in 1679, the country party petitioned for the calling of a parliament in terms offensive to the court; and in opposition to these petitions the prerogative party addressed the crown, expressing their abhorrence of the tumultuous proceedings of the petitioners. In encouraging these abhorrers, as they were termed, Jefferies rendered himself eminently conspicuous; and on the meeting of the new parliament, in 1680, he fell, with the rest of those who had opposed the petition for its assembling, under the censure of the commons. Accordingly, on the 13th of November, 1680, it was resolved, “ that Sir George Jefferies, recorder of the city of London, by traducing and obstructing petitioning for the sitting of this parliament, hath destroyed the right of the subject.” And it was ordered that an humble address should be presented to his majesty to remove Sir George Jefferies from all public offices. To this address his majesty replied that he would consider of it. Jefferies himself trembled at the prospect of popular indignation. Being brought to the bar of the house, he received a reprimand on his knees; and such was the effect of this discipline upon his spirits, that he immediately resolved to resign his office of recorder, which drew from the king the observation that “he was not parliament proof.” On the 2d of December the office was accordingly surrendered, and was immediately afterwards filled by George Treby, of the Middle Temple.
Of the character acquired by Jefferies while chief justice of Chester, some idea may be formed from the speech of Mr. Booth, afterwards Earl of Warrington, in which he denounces the profligate conduct of Jefferies in very severe terms. “ The county for which I serve is Cheshire, which is a county palatine, and we have two judges peculiarly assigned to us by his majesty: our
* North's Examen, p. 550.
puisne judge I have nothing to say against him, for he is a very honest man, for aught I know; but I cannot be silent as to our chief judge, and I will name him, because what I have to say will appear more probable. His name is Sir George Jefferies, who, I must say, behaved himself more like a jack-pudding than with that gravity which becomes a judge: he was mighty witty upon the prisoners at the bar; he was very full of his jokes upon people that came to give evidence, not suffering them to declare what they had to say in their own way and method, but would interrupt them because they behaved themselves with more gravity than he; and in truth the people were strangely perplexed when they were to give in their evidence; but I do not insist upon this, nor upon the late hours he kept up and down the city ; it is said he was every night drinking till two o'clock, or beyond that time, and that he went to his chamber drunk; but this I have only by common fame, for I was not in his company — I bless God I am not a man of his principles or behaviour— but in the mornings he appeared with the symptoms of a man that overnight had taken a large cup. But that which I have to say is the complaint of every man, especially of them that had any lawsuits. Our chief justice has a very arbitrary power in appointing the assize when he pleases, and this man has strained it to the highest point; for whereas we were accustomed to have two assizes, the first about April or May, the latter about September, it was this year, as I remember, the middle of August before we had any assize; and then he despatched business so well, that he left half the causes untried, and, to help the matter, has resolved that we shall have no more assizes this year."
Jefferies was too firmly seated in the favour of the court to suffer from these attacks, and continued to deserve the good opinion of his patrons by the zeal with which he conducted the many important matters in
# Chandler's Debates.
trusted to his hands. On the trials of Fitzharris * and of Plunket + he displayed great acrimony and violence; but the full tide of his insolent vituperation burst forth in the case of Colledge, the “protestant joiner.” He was also counsel for the crown in the prosecution of Pilkington and others for a riot, arising out of the attempt made by the court to secure the election of one of the sheriffs of Londong; in the celebrated case of the quo warranto against the city of London ||, and lastly in the prosecutions which followed the discovery of the Rye-house Plot. The good service which he did to government on these occasions, and especially on the trial of Lord Russell, in which he boldly endeavoured to pervert the rules of evidence, in order to procure a conviction, entitled him to some substantial mark of royal gratitude; and on the death of Sir Edmund Saunders [Note 42.], the chief justice of the king's bench, he was, on the 29th of September, 1683, appointed to the vacant office, and was soon afterwards sworn in as a member of the privy council. It was not until the 15th of May, 1685, that he was raised to the peerage, under the title of Baron Jefferies of Wem.
The temper which distinguished Jefferies, when counsel on the prosecution of Lord Russell, was again exhibited by him when he sate as judge on the trial of Algernon Sidney. The same desire to convict, the same eagerness to pervert the law, the same fierce animosity towards the prisoner, were again visible. The conclusion of this trial exhibited a singularly impressive
Jefferies had no sooner pronounced sentence than the prisoner exclaimed, “ Then, O God! O God! I beseech thee to sanctify these sufferings unto me, and impute not my blood to the country, nor the city through which I am to be drawn ; let no inquisition be made for it; but if any, and the shedding of blood that is innocent must be avenged, let the weight of it fall only upon those that maliciously prosecute me for righteous• State Trials, vol. viii. p. 223. + Id. p. 447. I Id. p. 549. s Id. vol. ix. p. 187. 'll Id. vol. viii. p. 1039.