NORTH, Sir Francis (1637-85), of Chancery Lane, London and Wroxton, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. 22 Oct. 1637, 2nd s. of Dudley North I, 4th Lord North, and bro. of Sir Dudley North II and Hon. Roger North. educ. Isleworth (Mr Willis); Bury St. Edmunds g.s. c.1650; St. John’s, Camb. 1653; M. Temple 1655, called 1661. m. 5 Mar. 1672 (with £14,000), Lady Frances Pope, da. of Thomas, 3rd Earl of Downe [I] and coh. to her bro. Thomas, 4th Earl, 3s. 2da. Kntd. 21 May 1671; cr. Baron Guilford 19 May 1685.
Commr. for complaints, Bedford level 1663; bencher, M. Temple 1668, reader 1671, treas. 1671-2; standing counsel, Cambridge 1670; j.p. Ely 1671-d.; freeman, King’s Lynn 1671, Lyme Regis 1675, Portsmouth 1682; commr. for assessment, Mdx. 1673-9, Northants. 1673-4.1
KC 1668; solicitor-gen. 1671-3; attorney-gen. 1673-4; c.j.c.p. 13 Dec. 1674-82; PC 22 Apr. 1679-d.; ld. keeper 1682-d.
North’s first teacher was a rigid Presbyterian who inspired him with a life-long dislike of the sect. After gaining legal experience as steward of his grandfather’s manors, he rode the Norfolk circuit, and acquired an extensive practice. He appeared for the crown in the House of Lords in 1667 to defend the verdict obtained in the King’s bench against the leaders of the Opposition in 1629. Although the decision was reversed his conduct of the case was approved by the Duke of York, and he took silk. He succeeded Heneage Finch as solicitor-general in 1671 and acquired an estate in Oxfordshire by marrying an heiress. On the death of John Coke I he took out the freedom of Lynn, and his election was regarded as so certain that he was summoned to the meeting of the court caucus in December 1672. He was duly returned unopposed to the Cavalier Parliament in the following month on a writ issued by Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury during the recess, but the election was declared void and he was obliged to contest the seat with a local merchant, Simon Taylor. His expenses totalled a mere £300, but he professed himself highly obliged to his opponent for not petitioning, for, as his brother Roger later asked: ‘Who could not prove a petition against a declared courtier?’2
Although North found that he was expected to manage ‘little or nothing of the King’s business in the House of Commons’, he was very active both in committee and debate. In two sessions he delivered 16 recorded speeches and was appointed to 25 committees, including both committees of elections and privileges. He helped to draft the Commons addresses on the suspending power and the condition of Ireland. In the debate on the bill of ease for Protestant dissenters, he argued unsuccessfully that they should be specifically excluded from Parliament; he was appointed to the committee, nevertheless, and helped to draw up reasons for a conference. He also served on the committee to prevent the growth of Popery and reported a conference on the test. In November he was promoted attorney-general, a post that before Finch’s appointment had generally been regarded as incompatible with a seat in the Lower House, since it theoretically entailed attendance in the Lords; but the country party did not press the point. In his new capacity he was included in the Paston list. When Parliament met again William Sacheverell charged Lord Arlington with ‘lending the King’s stores to the French navy, and leaving ours empty’, which North pointed out amounted to treason, ‘the greatest aggravation that can be’. Several legal reforms came up for discussion in this session, and he was the first Member appointed to consider a bill to prevent vexatious suits. He was also named to the committees for the general test bill, for relief under habeas corpus, and for the prevention of imprisonment in secret places or overseas. In the debate on judges’ patents of 13 Feb. 1674 he declared that ‘there was never less interposition at this time, since they are durante bene placito, and no suspicion of influence on them’; but he was appointed to the committee to give them tenure during good behaviour. On the next day he was named to the inquiry into the constitutional status of commitment by order of the Privy Council.3
North succeeded (Sir) John Vaughan as chief justice of common pleas before the next session, and at once aroused the ire of the Opposition by his judgment in the Suffolk election case. Suspected as ‘a man of arbitrary principles’, he was threatened with impeachment in 1680 for drafting the proclamation against tumultuous petitioning. It was North who advised the King to combat the opposition press not by prosecution but by answering its arguments, a suggestion which produced the work of Roger L’Estrange, and in April 1681 he himself was responsible for drafting a declaration justifying the dissolution of the Exclusion Parliaments, so dexterously drawn up that it was believed to have paved the way for the Tory revival. He succeeded Finch as lord keeper in December 1682, and in the following year was active in the quo warranto proceedings against the corporation of London. At the accession of James II he exerted himself on behalf of the Court in the elections.
He got as many of his friends and relations to be chosen as he could ... and to make attendance easy for those gentlemen whose concerns were in the country, he took of them to rack and manger in his family, where they were entertained while the Parliament sat.
But James II had little confidence in him, and his removal was expected when he died on 5 Sept. 1685. Evelyn described him as
a most knowing, learned, ingenious gent, and besides an excellent person of an ingenuous, sweet disposition; very skilful in music, painting, the new philosophy and politer studies.
His grandson sat for Banbury as a Whig and his great-grandson was George III’s prime minister.4
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Basil Duke Henning
This biography is based on Roger North, Lives of the Norths.
- 1. Lynn Freemen, 180; C. H. Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iii. 543; Lyme Regis mss B6/11; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 365.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1672-3, p. 630; North, Examen, 511-12.
- 3. Grey, ii. 67, 415; CJ, ix. 275, 280, 308.
- 4. Examen, 252-5, 516; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 508-9; v. 96; Law Q. Rev. lxvi. 249; Dalrymple, Mems. i. 254; Evelyn Diary, iv. 299.