VERNON, George (1575/6-1639), of the Inner Temple, London and Haslington, Cheshire
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Family and Education
b. 1575/6,1 o.s. of Sir Thomas Vernon of Haslington and Dorothy, da. of William Egerton of Betley, Staffs.2 educ. I. Temple 1594, called 1603.3 m. (1) Jane, da. of Richard Corbet of Stoke upon Tern, Salop, 3da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) settlement 8 Sept. 1614 (with £1,300), Alice, da. of Sir George Booth, 1st bt. of Dunham Massey, Cheshire, s.p.4 suc. fa. 1616;5 kntd. 23 Dec. 1627.6 d. 16/17 Dec. 1639.7 sig. Geo[rge] Vernonn.
Commr. oyer and terminer, Mdx. 1628-d., London 1629-d., Northern circ. 1632-d.12
Member, High Commission, York and Canterbury provs. 1633-?d.13
The Vernons of Haslington were descended from a thirteenth-century chief justice of Chester, and included among their most illustrious ancestors the Speaker of the 1426 Parliament. An only son, Vernon inherited 3,300 acres east of Nantwich, Cheshire in 1616, but his main interests lay in London, where he pursued a legal career. In about 1612 he was imprisoned for questioning the jurisdiction of the Chester Exchequer, which probably explains the £50 fine imposed upon him by Star Chamber in Hilary term 1615. He clearly resented this verdict, clashing with the palatine law courts again in 1627, when he unjustly accused the vice-chamberlain, Roger Downes*, of misconduct in suppressing a set of depositions which were technically invalid, as they had been ordered under a writ issued in the last days of James’s reign but only taken after the king’s death.14
Even without this friction, Vernon would have found it difficult to gain a parliamentary seat in Cheshire due to its under-representation. The nearest parliamentary borough to his estates outside the county was Newcastle-under-Lyme, in Staffordshire, but since he had no personal ties with that town he was forced to look for a seat at the Shropshire borough of Bridgnorth in 1625 on the interest of his brother-in-law, John Smyth, a borough alderman whose son had sat there in 1624. However, he was involved in a double return with Sir George Paule, and the case remained undecided at the dissolution.15 He had better luck in 1626 when he was again returned for Bridgnorth, this time without opposition. However, the tensions generated by Buckingham’s impeachment encouraged him, like many other Members, to keep a low profile: he is not reported to have made any speeches, and was named to just four committees, two for bills concerning Exchequer procedure (11 Feb., 3 May), and two for private bills (11 Feb., 1 June).16
Vernon secured promotion as serjeant and Exchequer baron, together with a knighthood, in the autumn of 1627; his judgeship barred him from standing for election to the Commons thereafter. At his creation lord keeper Sir Thomas Coventry* ‘commended him for his abilities’, but two of his colleagues on the judicial bench tartly noted that he had paid Buckingham’s sister, the countess of Denbigh, between £1,000-£1,500 for his preferments.17 In 1631 he exchanged the Exchequer post for a more lucrative justiceship of Common Pleas, in which office he remained until his death, although he was said to have been a contender for the post of chief justice of King’s Bench in 1635.18 In 1633 he fell foul of Lord Deputy Wentworth (Sir Thomas Wentworth*) for a speech at the York assizes in which he urged strict enforcement of the recusancy laws, thus cutting across Wentworth’s policy of compounding for recusancy fines. Wentworth curtly demanded his removal from the northern circuit:
I disdain to see the gownmen in this sort hang their noses over the flowers of the Crown, blow and snuffle upon them till they take both scent and beauty off them, or to have them put such a prejudice upon all other sorts of men as if none were able or worthy to be entrusted with honour and administration of justice but them.
Wentworth also claimed that evidence from the Council in the North had been ruled inadmissible by Vernon at the Durham assizes, perhaps an echo of the latter’s earlier hostility to the Chester courts. Yet the quarrel was apparently a misunderstanding rather than a factional fight, and Vernon generally tried to avoid political controversy during his service on the bench. Indeed, on being required to give his verdict on the Ship Money case, he asked to defer because of ‘want of health and disability of body’. When this request was denied, however, he handed down a summary judgement for the Crown: ‘a statute derogatory from the prerogative doth not bind the king, and the king may dispense with any law in cases of necessity’.19
Vernon’s Ship Money judgment would unquestionably have resulted in his impeachment by the Long Parliament but for his death on 16/17 Dec. 1639; he was buried in the Temple Church on 18 December. One of his servants claimed executorship under the terms of a nuncupative will, but was foiled by his only surviving daughter, who had married a distant relative from Sudbury, Derbyshire, and inherited her father’s estates under the terms of his entail. Her son George Vernon represented Derby in the Exclusion Parliaments of 1679-81, and again in 1698.20
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. CHES 3/95/15.
- 2. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 243-4.
- 3. I. Temple Admiss.; CITR, ii. 2.
- 4. Vis. Cheshire, 243-4; WARD 7/94/212.
- 5. CHES 3/95/15.
- 6. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 193.
- 7. Les Reportes de Sir William Jones (1675), p. 450; CHES 3/105/9.
- 8. CITR, ii. 113-14, 124; Readers and Readings at Inns of Ct. and Chancery ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. xiii), 97.
- 9. Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 184.
- 10. Sainty, Judges, 32, 75.
- 11. J.S. Cockburn, Hist. Eng. Assizes, 271-2; Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 129.
- 12. C181/3, f. 244; 181/4, ff. 34, 119v.
- 13. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 326.
- 14. CHES 3/95/15; Barnes, Star Chamber Fines; CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 437; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1625-49, pp. 233, 236; W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 399.
- 15. C219/39/167; BRIDGNORTH.
- 16. CJ, i. 818a, 853b, 865b.
- 17. Order of Sjts.-at-Law, 364, 439; Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. o.s. lxx), 108.
- 18. T. Birch, Ct. and Times Chas. I, ii. 93; Sainty, Judges, 75; Strafforde Letters, i. 373, 413.
- 19. HMC Cowper, ii. 20; Strafforde Letters, i. 129-30, 295, 466-7; State Trials ed. T.B. Howell, iii. 1125.
- 20. Les Reportes de Sir William Jones, 450; CHES 3/105/9; CITR, ii. 358; PROB 6/17, f. 88v; PROB 11/183, f. 268v.