A Man of Spotless Integrity: The Life and Legacy of the Lost Lord Keeper of the King’s Great Seal (Part I of III)

Foreword: This is the full article submitted for publication in the 2018 Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersisiase. This version includes significant additional content which could not appear in that publication, and benefits from the excellent editorial refinements of the editors at the Société Jersisiase. In this format, footnotes appear the end of the sections in which their references occur. 

A Man of Spotless Integrity: The Life and Legacy of Jersey’s Lost Lord Keeper of the King’s Great Seal

by Gregory Sherwood


Both visits of Charles II to Jersey in 1646 and 1649 have been described as being accompanied by an entourage of  “three hundred persons” whose accommodation for months was a significant burden borne by the people of Jersey. [1] But who were these people for whom beds, baths, breakfast, and respectful welcome was sustained for what must have seemed an unending passage of weeks?  Were they refugees?

It is certainly true that during his first, shorter visit to Jersey in 1646, the teenage Prince of Wales was seeking refuge. Pushed to the sea after a long fighting retreat down the peninsula of Cornwall, the prince and his battered household and council had barely escaped encirclement and capture at the Isles of Scilly. With nowhere else to go, the small escaping fleet sailed for Jersey, a small island outpost of the realm just off the coast of France.

But it was not stereotypical wartime refugees who stepped ashore in Jersey in 1646, and they could be forgiven for seeming at least somewhat bedraggled. Ironically, as the titans of political power struggled for control of the future of the three kingdoms, it generally wasn’t the underclasses who were displaced by the war. Instead, it was the royalist nobility and their families who were forced to abandon their comfortable homes and fortunes–fleeing to live for years in the packed enclaves still controlled by the forces of their royal master. As Oxford and other such enclaves eventually collapsed, a fabric of displaced and dispossessed royalist nobility began issuing from the English mainland, composing a significant portion of the entourage that arrived with Prince Charles in 1646. [2]

Charles’s second visit to Jersey three and a half years later was under very different circumstances. He was no longer a boy prince heeding his mother’s call to her side in France. He was now a young and desperate uncrowned king. Deprived of his birthright and stung by years of dependency and want, he was bent to the purpose of retaking the throne of England by force and paying his vengeance on those who had executed his father.  For five months, from September 1649 until February 1650, St. Helier became King Charles II’s war capitol on English soil.

Accordingly, the entourage with him was not a collection of refugees. Nor were they a cloud of ruffled hangers-on drawing sustenance from the King. [3] Three years before, as the first Civil War ground to its conclusion across England, many of the former officers of state had been denied pardon for their royalist loyalty by the victorious Parliament.  With or without their families, they had girded for hardship, departed their homes, and collected in a steady pattering around the remnants of the monarchy in exile–placing themselves and their withering fortunes in the service of their master’s son, Prince Charles. Stoically continuing their service in conditions that had long since degenerated to desperate poverty, these were the critical heart and backbone of King Charles II’s loyal government in exile–and his war council. [4]

At the head of this trusted council was a quiet and deeply capable man whose long service as a steady hand of counsel to King Charles II would come to an end in an honored grave under the floor of the Town Church of St Helier. From modest origins, Sir Richard Lane had risen on merit to become one of the most eminent legal minds of his time before he was recruited by the monarchy to be the Attorney General for the four-year old Prince Charles.  Circumstances would subsequently sweep Richard Lane into the drama of the Civil War where his courage, keen intellect, and loyalty would eventually propel him to the highest role in the monarchy a non-royal could hold: Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and first lord of the king’s Privy Council. But he would never return from exile with his king, and his fate would become a mystery to the outside world. [5] The task to emplace a commissioned memorial over his tomb in the floor of the church was never completed, and the sole surviving record of his death would lie dormant for more than 350 years–deep in the pages of an obscure local journal in St. Helier.

[1] Major NVL Rybot, The Islet of St. Helier and Elizabeth Castle, Jersey (States of Jersey, 8th ed. 1968) 61-62.

[2] Pried from a comfortable estate home and a refined life ‘at the pinnacle of the Stuart world’, young Ann Harrison and her family sheltered in Oxford for two years before finding themselves falling back place-to-place from Bristol to Scilly. All the while, they witnessed the steady diminishment of their family’s portable wealth by theft and need.  She declared, “I began to think we should all, like Abraham, live in tents all the days of our lives” (p22). Arriving in Jersey, the heavily pregnant Ann and her husband found they had been plucked starving from a foul, freezing bed in St. Mary’s, Scilly that was “near swimming with the sea”, to safety, food and the relative luxury of sharing a widow’s home near the marketplace in St. Helier.  Lucy Moore, Lady Fanshawe’s Receipt Book, 87-89.

[3] Quite the opposite in many cases – rather than living off the king, these were loyal men of great capability who had largely bled out their own fortunes to sustain the destitute king. See:  John Lord Campbell, The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England, From the Earliest Times Till the Reign of King George IV (John Murray, London  3rd ed. 1848) vol 2, 633.  Also, Lucy Moore, Lady Fanshawe’s Receipt Book, 5.

[4] Major NVL Rybot, The Islet of St. Helier and Elizabeth Castle, 61.

[5] In 1848 Lord Campbell relates in frustration, “I regret to say I can find no authentic trace of [Richard Lane] after the capitulation at Oxford.” Then, in a footnote confirming the confusion, he claims to have resolved the mystery in the discovery of a 1651 commission to widow Margaret Lane to, “…administer to [Richard Lane’s] effects, stating that he had died in France.” John Lord Campbell, The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal, vol 2, 636.  In his 1692 publication, Anthony Wood mentions and then disregards a reference to an obscure 1663 book indicating that Richard Lane died, “…in the isle of Jersey before the month of August 1650….” Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxienses (London, 1692) 720.

Richard Lane:  Attorney General to Prince Charles

Formerly an eminent professor of law at Middle Temple, Richard Lane was appointed Attorney General to four-year old Prince Charles in 1634.  This was an honored and important post.  In better times, serving the heir to the throne as such a close personal advisor would have ensured Richard Lane a clear path to an exceptionally rewarding career.  But the seeds of rising conflict had already been sown, and this fateful appointment would instead bind him to a monarchy destined to unravel in the decade ahead.

The Trial of Strafford: Harbinger of the coming Civil War

Desperate for funds, King Charles I was forced to end his eleven-year “Personal Rule” and reconvene parliament in 1640.  But the king quickly found the funds he sought would be held hostage to the redress of grievances by an openly hostile parliament.  Among the demands the king was forced to accept was the impeachment of the Earl of Strafford (a strong royalist supporter) for treason. Having personally assured Lord Strafford of his safety to entice him to return to London to face the charges, the king tasked his son’s Attorney General, Richard Lane, to lead his defense. But this was no modern court Strafford (Thomas Wentworth) was facing. It was a politically motivated assassination in the guise of a trial. In a statement that would echo through the ages, the unfortunate Strafford would later be heard to utter, “put not your trust in princes…” when he learned the king had approved his execution. [6]

Those assigned to defend Lord Strafford were also at risk.  Early on, there were attempts to bring charges against Richard Lane and his colleagues simply for daring to defend someone the Parliament had charged with treason. This attempt at intimidation backfired. Uncowed, Lane and his colleagues redoubled their determination to free their client. Hindered at every opportunity by determined members within the House of Commons, Lane’s team was even forced to justify their right to attend the proceedings and their need to be located near their client. Having eventually won a grudging place in the proceedings, Lane and his colleagues worked under threat of imprisonment should they interfere with the trial in any way. And so by day, Strafford’s counselors stood nearby within an improvised barrier; by night they coached him on the law in the Tower of London.

Observing from a seat beside the empty chair of the king at the other end of the packed hall, the 11-year old Prince Charles watched the proceedings, occasionally nodding to his Attorney General, Richard Lane. [7]

Figure 1 : Thomas Woolnoth’s dramatic 1844 depiction of “The Trial of Strafford” from the Parliamentary Art Collection, Westminster, London. The shadowed figure cradling a thick book in the lower left is believed to be Richard Lane, lead Counselor for the defense. The man seated and contemplating him from behind is the chairman of the committee managing the prosecution, Bulstrode Whitelocke.

For seventeen days the trial in the packed Westminster Hall continued with Lane unable to intervene as his untrained client grappled with the powerful legal minds arrayed against him. The unfairness of the contest wasn’t lost on onlookers and the trial was marked by a growing sympathy evoked by the unpopular Earl’s brave performance. Finally, as the trial reached its last days, Richard Lane prevailed in a petition to be allowed to speak on his client’s behalf, but only as an authority regarding points of law.

In a day later described by the historical biographer Lord John Campbell as “the most memorable day in the life of [Richard] Lane”, he took the floor of the cavernous, overflowing Westminster Hall. Greeting the assembled lords, the senior Master of the Bench of Middle Temple law inn proceeded to systematically dismantle the case against his client, reiterating the points he had coached Strafford on during the trial, and laying out the supporting case law behind them.  In a moment of most sublime punctuation, the collapse of the prosecution’s case was manifest as Richard Lane’s address concluded “amid great applause.” [8]

Clearly facing an impending acquittal, Strafford’s parliamentary enemies met overnight to change tactics. Justifiably fearing the powerful Earl’s retribution should he survive the attempt on his life, his enemies turned instead to a legal mechanism so dark it is specifically outlawed in the American constitution, and has long since been struck from English law. Strafford’s enemies effected the passage of a “bill of attainder” against him, declaring Strafford “attainted” as a legislative act: declaring him guilty of the crime without a trial.  Attempting to appease both the parliament and the mob, King Charles I ultimately signed the bill, sacrificing his loyal servant. The conflict, destined to escalate into the English Civil War in the coming year, claimed its first casualty as Lord Strafford was beheaded in a thronged spectacle three days later.

For his part, Richard Lane had proven himself to be a formidable and loyal weapon to the king. Over the course of the following year, he would be called upon to defend a series of similarly charged royalist supporters as the king’s emboldened parliamentary enemies sought the subjugation of the crown through the decimation of its power base.

[6] Strafford was quoting Psalms 143:3, which reads, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men, for in them there is no salvation.” Bulstrode Whitelocke, Memorials of the English Affairs (London, 1726) 46.

[7] John Lord Campbell, The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal, vol 2, 626-627.

[8] John Lord Campbell, The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal, vol 2, 628.

The Royalist Capitol at Oxford during the English Civil War

Eventually, the beleaguered and politically outmaneuvered King Charles I was forced to depart London to raise his standard against the rebellious parliament. Declaring Oxford his wartime capitol, the king ordered the members of his courts to join him there.  In response, parliament issued countermanding orders, and began arresting royalist supporters and confiscating their estates.  Caught in the middle, the influential elite were forced to choose sides–with dramatic personal outcomes in the balance. Well aware of the potential consequences, but unwavering in his loyalty to the crown, Lane arranged for the care of his chambers at Middle Temple and departed London to join his king in Oxford.

Life in Oxford with the growing multitude of royalists in “internal exile” must have been difficult, especially for the demographic involved. In some cases, the royalist nobility fleeing parliamentary retribution brought their families with them. Others arrived at the royalist enclaves by themselves, trusting that their families and homes would be protected among their relatives and friends.

A vivid insight into life in Oxford is given by Ann Harrison (the young high-born daughter of the arrested and dispossessed royalist Sir John Harrison) as she described her new circumstances:

“From as good a house as any gentleman of England had, we came to lie in a very bad bed in a garret [a cramped attic space], to one dish of meat…[there was] no money, for we were as poor as Job [and had] no clothes”. [9]

For Richard Lane, the harrowing step of bringing his family with him to Oxford was not necessary. Having fortuitously maintained dual careers in London and Northampton, Richard Lane’s family was situated among friends and extended family well out of London.  Although his prominence in the royalist cause would ultimately draw parliament’s vengeful sequestration upon his family (displacing Lady Margaret Lane and her children from their mansion home near the Cock Inn in Kingsthorpe), there there were many sibling families in the Northamptonshire area to take them in.

[9] Lucy Moore, Lady Fanshawe’s Receipt Book, 22.  Anne’s family would not be in Oxford when it was surrendered.  Her new husband, Richard Fanshawe, was appointed Secretary of War to Prince Charles, who was sent to Bristol to remove the prince from the deteriorating situation in Oxford. Following her husband to Bristol in 1645, Anne’s family would eventually find themselves among the grateful, exhausted entourage of Prince Charles’ first visit to Jersey in 1646.

An important digression: the origins of Richard Lane’s most enduring legacy

Figure 2 : The Title Page from the historic 1657 “Reports in the Court of Exchequer, Beginning in the third, and ending in the ninth year of the Raign of the late King James”, attributed posthumously to Richard Lane. This is the earliest such publication from this court which, together with its siblings from the other 3 courts of middle England, form the root of a body of published case law that would fill a small library today.

But Parliamentary retribution was quickly visited upon Richard Lane’s chambers at the law inn of Middle Temple. Along with other royalist lawyers residing at the inn, Lane’s chambers and all his goods within were “sequestered” (confiscated). 

As a Master of the Bench and former Treasurer, Richard Lane’s chambers in Middle Temple were enviable.  Serving as both his office and living space, his chambers included a garden and a small library.  On the shelves of this library were the seeds of what would be his most significant legacy: the notebooks of court case notes he’d taken down as a young law student in the years 1605-1612.

In a time before court reporters, there were no official records of the arguments that established how the laws were interpreted. Instead, lawyers built up their own private caches of case law notes, which they took down or copied from the notebooks of other lawyers. But the embryonic publishing world would soon recognize a lucrative market in these court “reports”. Fifty years after Lane’s time as a law student in the early courts of King James I, the first published book of court reports from the Exchequer Court of England would be drawn from his carefully taken notebooks. “Lane’s Reports” (as this book came to be known) contains some of the earliest precedents of case law concerning rights of property and the king’s prerogative. It is thus a root precedent document of English Common Law, and thus the laws of the United States as well.

The story of this book’s posthumous publication is possessed of its own mysteries and intrigues. Departing London for Oxford, Richard Lane arranged to leave his Middle Temple chambers in the care of a younger middle templar (described as an ‘intimate friend’) named Bulstrode Whitelocke. In time, Whitelocke (who had by that time ascended to prominence in the Commonwealth government) was given permission to occupy Lane’s sequestered chambers.

Years later, when Richard Lane’s son presented himself requesting the return of his father’s possessions at Middle Temple, Whitelocke turned him away, remarkably denying that he ‘ever knew the man.’ [10]  Did Whitelocke keep the notebooks and perhaps benefit from their publication in the historic 1657 “Lane’s Reports”–seven years after the exiled Sir Richard Lane himself died in Jersey? It is an interesting irony that this unscrupulous act may have ensured Richard Lane’s legacy by retaining those notebooks in the hands of one of the few people who could ensure their publication at the very zenith of the anti-royalist era.

[10] Anonymous, The Mystery of the Good Old Cause (London, 1660) 33. This is the original source of this story regarding Bulstrode Whitelocke’s possession of Richard Lane’s library. What can’t be denied is the survival of a specific receipt for Richard Lane’s library and other property Whitelocke was compelled to provide by Middle Temple benchers of the time. See: Humprey Woolrych, Lives of the Eminent Sejeant-at-Law of the English Bar (Allen & Company, London 1869) 321-322.  See also the Middle Temple Parliament minutes entry for 21 May, 1644. Lane’s fellow benchers were apparently unhappy with the well-connected Whitelocke’s parliamentary-ordered usurpation of Richard Lane’s belongings and privileged chambers. Charles Martin, Records of Middle Temple: Minutes of the Parliament of Middle Temple (Middle Temple, London, 1904) 930.

This article continues:  Part II

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