King Henry Essay

3344 words - 13 pages

King Henry

The first problem was to get judges, or at least a sufficient number of judges, to preside over this irregular court. The initial drafts of the Bill had named the two Chief Justices (of the King's Bench and of Common Pleas), Henry Rolle and Oliver St John as well as Lord Chief Baron Wilde of the Exchequer Court to preside at the King's trial. All had refused to serve. Their names were therefore omitted. Although all of the named judges had lately been appointed by Parliament and were strong opponents of the King, each had long experience in the courts. Clearly each regarded the new "High Court of Justice" as outside the law because of the axiom of English law, universally accepted at that time, that all justice proceeded from the sovereign.

In the absence of Lord Chief Justice St John the Commissioners chose for the office of President one John Bradshaw. He had been a judge of the Sheriff's Court in London. He had recently been appointed the Presiding Judge in Chester and a Judge in Wales. Bradshaw protested the insufficiency of his experience for so great a task. But he was eventually persuaded to take the chair. He accepted the title of "Lord President" 13 . Four lawyers were chosen to prosecute the King. The most vigorous of these was the Solicitor-General John Cook, a barrister of Gray's Inn and a man of considerable education. He combined fervent religious faith with convinced republicanism and a considerable interest in moral and social reform. He was assisted by a distinguished scholar from the Netherlands, Dr Isaac Dorislaus, who had once been Professor of Ancient History at Cambridge University where he had expressed views subversive of monarchy. Cook and Dorislaus took great pains, and much time, in drafting the charge. It was decided that the King should be tried at the South End of Westminster Hall. To permit this to be done space was cleared by removing the partitions between the Court of King's Bench and the Court of Chancery which had for a long time been sitting there. The rest of the hall was cleared to accommodate the public. The King, who had spent his time at Windsor in meditation and prayer, was brought in a closed coach to the Palace of St James where he arrived on 19 January 1849.

The High Court of Justice to try the King assembled on Saturday 20 January 1849. A roll call was conducted. The Commissioners were a motley crew of the Commons - a kind of jury but a specially selected one 14 . Many absentees were noted at the first roll call. Mr Justice Bradshaw's chair was somewhat raised in the middle of the front row. Cook and his colleagues appeared attired in their black barristers' gowns. On the order of Bradshaw, the King was brought into the Hall. Until this moment he did not know who constituted the Court and what were the charges.

Cook rose to read the accusation to the King. It charged him with "high treason and high misdemeanours ... in the name of the commons of England" 15 . The King...

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