Sir John Holt


Sir John Holt

Sir John Holt (23 December 16425 March 1710) was Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 17 April 1689 to 5 March 1710.

He was born in Abingdon in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), the son of Sir Thomas Holt, MP for that town, and was educated at Abingdon School, Gray's Inn and Oriel College, Oxford. He purchased Redgrave Manor in Suffolk, which had been the seat of the Bacon family in 1702, when debts forced the fifth baronet, Sir Robert Bacon, to sell the estate. A letter in the Bodleian Library reads: "The celebrated Dr Radcliffe, the physician ... took special pains to preserve the life of LCJ Holt's wife, whom he attended out of spite to her husband, who wished her dead." Sir John Holt's sister Susan was married to Francis Levett (merchant), Esq., tobacco merchant and brother of Sir Richard Levett, Lord Mayor of London. [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=ozMEAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA337&lpg=PA337&dq=le+neve+knights+john+holt&source=web&ots=M7PaJIS6r_&sig=MsHWT_FoVHWPy5ExSkCoD6Upym4 Pedigree of Sir John Holt, LeNeve's Pedigrees of the Knights Made by King Charles II, Peter LeNeve, George Marshall, 1873] ]

His father, Sir Thomas Holt, possessed a small patrimonial estate, but in order to supplement his income had adopted the profession of law, in which he was not very successful, although he became sergeant in 1677, and afterwards for his political services to the "Tories" was rewarded with knighthood. After attending for some years the free school of the town of Abingdon, of which his father was recorder, young Holt in his sixteenth year entered Oriel College, Oxford. He is said to have spent a very dissipated youth, and even to have been in the habit of taking purses on the highway, but after entering Gray's Inn about 1660 he applied himself with exemplary diligence to the study of law. He was called to the bar in 1663. An ardent supporter of civil and religious liberty, he distinguished himself in the state trials which were then so common by the able and courageous manner in which he supported the pleas of the defendants. In1685-1686he was appointed recorder of London, and about the same time he was made king's sergeant and received the honour of knighthood. His giving a decision adverse to the pretensions of the king to exercise martial law in time of peace led to his dismissal from the office of recorder, but he was continued in the office of king's sergeant in order to prevent him from becoming counsel for accused persons. Having been one of the judges who acted as assessors to the peers in the Convention parliament, he took a leading part in arranging the constitutional change by which William III. was called to the throne, and after his accession he was appointed lord chief justice of the King's Bench. His merits as a judge are the more apparent and the more remarkable when contrasted with the qualities displayed by his predecessors in office. In judicial fairness, legal knowledge and ability, clearness of statement and unbending integrity he has had few if any superiors on the English bench. Over the civil rights of his countrymen he exercised a jealous watchfulness, more especially when presiding at the trial of state prosecutions, and he was especially careful that all accused persons should be treated with fairness and respect. He is, however, best known for the firmness with which he upheld his own prerogatives in opposition to the authority of the Houses of Parliament. On several occasions his physical as well as his moral courage was tried by extreme tests. Having been requested to supply a number of police to help the soldiery in quelling a riot, he assured the messenger that if any of the people were shot he would have the soldiers hanged, and proceeding himself to the scene of riot he was successful in preventing bloodshed. While steadfast in his sympathies with the Whig party, Holt maintained on the bench entire political impartiality, and always held himself aloof from political intrigue. On the retirement of Somers from the chancellorship in 1700 he was offered the great seal, but declined it. His death took place in London on the 5th of March 1710. He was buried in the chancel of Redgrave church.

Cases

*"Turberville v. Stampe" (1697) 91 ER 1072 (nuisance and vicarious liability)
*"Ashby v. White" (1703) 2 Ld Raym 938 (the right to vote)
*"Cole v. Turner" (1704) 87 ER 907 (definition of battery)
*"Smith v. Gould" (1705-07) 2 Salk 666 (antagonism to slavery)
*"Keeble v. Hickeringill" (1707) 11 East 574 (interference with property rights, "the duck pond case")

Reports of Cases determined by Sir John Holt (1681-1710) appeared at London in 1738; "John Paty and others", printed from original MSS., at London (1837). See Burnet's "Own Times; Tatter," No. xiv.; a "Life," published in 1764; Welsby, "Lives of Eminent English Judges of the 17th and 18th Centuries" (1846); Campbell's "Lives of the Lord Chief Justices;" and Foss, "Lives of the Judges.

References


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