HAWLES, John (1645-1716), of Lincoln’s Inn
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Family and Education
bap. 18 Mar. 1645, 2nd s. of Thomas Hawles (d. 1678) of the Close, Salisbury, Wilts. by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Thomas Antrobus of Heath House, Petersfield, Hants. educ. Winchester; Queen’s, Oxf. 1662; L. Inn 1664, called 1670, bencher 1692, treasurer 1695, dean of chapel 1710. unm. ?1s. illegit. Kntd. 28 Nov. 1695.1
Freeman, Wilton, 1695, recorder, 1706–d.2
KC 1694–1702, solicitor-gen. 1695–1702; chairman, cttee. of privileges and elections 1695–Jan. 1696.
Hawles’s family originated in the Isle of Wight, whence they had moved to Salisbury by the 1640s. His father became one of the leading Clubmen in the town, and his political opinions may have influenced Hawles. Given a standard legal education, Hawles became a professional lawyer, and in 1680 published The Englishman’s Right, an examination of the use and privileges of the jury. By 1689 he had also published Remarks upon the Trials of Edward Fitzharris, in which he criticized certain judges in the reigns of Charles II and James II, and The Magistracy and Government of England Vindicated, on the trials of Lord Russell (Hon. William†) and Algernon Sydney†, publications which encouraged Anthony à Wood to describe Hawles as ‘a person of note in his profession, but ill-natured, turbulent and inclining to a republic’. An active Whig in the Convention, Hawles unsuccessfully contested St. Ives and Banbury in 1690, and in October of the following year failed to secure the recordership of London in competition with Sir Bartholomew Shower*. In July 1694 Lord Keeper Somers (Sir John*) wrote to the King:
The Duke of Shrewsbury and my Lord Sunderland do join with me in recommending one Mr John Hawles to you, to be made one of your counsel at law. I must own to you that there are too many who have that title; and yet it is most visible that there is a want of lawyers to carry on your service, both in the House of Commons and in Westminster Hall. This is but a titular thing, there being no profit going along with it, and the reason why you are troubled with it at present is, that there being some prospect that this gentleman may be chosen into the House of Commons (where he was much hearkened to formerly) it would be a good way to engage him into your service, by making him this compliment beforehand, and for this reason, if you should be disposed to it, there should be no time lost in signifying your pleasure.
Later in the 18th century Lord Chancellor Hardwicke (Philip Yorke†) endorsed this letter with the observation that Somers believed that Hawles ‘was not orthodox in criminal law, and would never let him be a judge’. Hawles was appointed in August 1694, and in the following October acted as one of the counsel for the crown in the trial of those involved in the ‘Lancashire Plot’, later being examined by the House over the proceedings. His rise to eminence in his profession culminated the next year in his being knighted and made solicitor-general.3
Hawles’s involvement with Wilton, a borough within a few miles of his family’s base at Salisbury, began informally in October 1693 when he gave advice regarding the status of its charter. In August 1694 he was elected freeman, although perhaps because of his commitments in London at that time he did not pay the fine for admission to the corporation until September the following year. Elected a Member for the borough in the 1695 election, having further ‘assisted’ the corporation with a gift of £40, in the Commons he was immediately appointed in third place to the committee of elections and privileges. He was subsequently elected chairman during the opening session and reported on six election cases before his replacement in January by Hon. John Granville. As a legal officer of the crown he was named to many drafting committees. There were 11 such in the 1695–6 session, usually relating to supply and the attempts to deal with the coinage crisis, but his managerial role in such legislation was limited to presenting the bill establishing the land bank (14 Mar.), legislation not favoured by the Treasury. On 14 Dec. 1695 he was appointed a manager of a conference with the Lords relating to the Company of Scotland, and later prepared impeachments against the Company’s directors (21 Jan.). Forecast as likely to support the Court in the division of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, Hawles spoke during the debate preceding the division on the matter of employing commissioners of accounts, and asserted that only one commissioner during the previous five years had been fit for the office to which he had been appointed. Hawles signed the Association in February, and voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s.4
In the next session Hawles was active in managing the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, being named on 6 Nov. 1696 to the committee drafting the bill, which he presented three days later. His office made this involvement obligatory but he did not share the doubts felt about the bill by the attorney-general, Sir Thomas Trevor*. In the debate on 13 Nov. he twice spoke against Fenwick’s request for more time to produce witnesses, arguing that if the bill had merely stated that Fenwick should be attainted for treason, then the defence
had some colour to say there were different species of high treason, and they could not tell to what particular facts they must apply themselves. But when the indictment is recited, which charges him with particular facts and tells him by what witnesses the bill was found, it was impossible not to know that this was the high treason you did intend to enact that he should be attainted for: but when they say they are not ready, truly there may be some reason for it, for I believe they never will be ready . . . He hath delayed his trial till one witness is withdrawn; if you give him longer time, he may have the good fortune to have the other gone too. I see no reason for you to forbear hearing the evidence.
Hawles made two further speeches against Fenwick, on the 16th and 17th, reiterating his belief in the validity of the attainder and reminding the House that Fenwick had been given a copy of it some days before. Incensed by the use made by defence counsel of arguments from his own book The Magistracy and Government Vindicated, he spoke ‘very well’ in favour of committing the bill, saying,
it hath been made a question by the gentlemen at the bar . . . whether this matter that Sir John Fenwick is indicted and accused of, is high treason or not? I must confess I heard something of it without door; and that they would make it out, that if he was guilty of the matter charged, it was not high treason . . . It seems they have the authority of a good lawyer in it, and they have quoted one learned author, as they please to call him, though I take that for a great compliment: I believe they may mean myself . . . Now he [defence counsel] hath read something at large out of that author he spoke of and challenges anyone to show any opinion that ever a conspiracy to levy war was high treason . . . Now I would give a challenge on the other side, that he would show me any opinion before that time, or since, that a design to depose the King is not high treason . . . The author that he speaks of says that expressly in the matter of my Lord Russell; . . . and in The Government Vindicated . . . there are several cases cited that a design to depose the King was high treason.
He went on to contrast the sketchy nature of the evidence against Russell with the positive and detailed evidence against Fenwick, who, with his confederates, had ‘consulted how to bring King James back again’ with the aid of 10,000 French troops, and that this must necessarily be a ‘design to depose King William . . . so that the matter is treason’. To opposition arguments that the attainder would establish an ‘ill precedent’, he replied ‘I must confess I am not afraid of a precedent of this kind’, and went on to emphasize that
Fenwick hath been heard, and that more than ever anyone in Parliament was before in a capital matter . . . and . . . you have allowed Sir John Fenwick counsel, not only to assist him in point of law, but to assist him in point of fact too. They have made answer for him; so that I say he hath been tried fairer than any man ever was in Parliament, be it upon bill or upon impeachment.
He dealt with complaints that the bill was contrary to the Treason Act, which required two witnesses to prove guilt, by saying that this rule only applied
to trials in the King’s bench, and commissioners of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery. And if you look upon those Acts, it is very plain, for they refer mostly unto the judges, what they shall do in such and such cases. But when you see what is the reason of making those rules; I think there was good reason that you should not put that power in persons below, that you have in yourselves. You give them rules to proceed by and they are to keep . . . strictly to them; you may act by other rules. It is one thing when I command my servant to do such a thing and another when I act myself. And there is a difference when a judicature is by few and when it is by many; the law puts a greater confidence in many than a few.
He finished by arguing that the House was acting not only as judge but also as jury,
so that if a juryman may make use of his private knowledge to acquit a prisoner, as (I think) nobody doubts but it is his duty to do, then every gentleman in this House may make use of his private knowledge to acquit the prisoner or convict him. I confess, for my part, I am satisfied that Sir John Fenwick is guilty of this crime for which he stands accused. I do think his crime is high treason; I think there is no danger of a precedent in this case, if you convict him, being convinced upon the evidence you have heard, that he is guilty . . . and therefore, am for committing the bill.5
Hawles was associated with the drafting stage of eight other bills in this session, six relating to supply and one to the continuing problems of the coinage. His other appointment concerned the bill to attaint those involved in the Assassination Plot, which he presented to the House on 2 Jan. 1697. On 24 Nov. 1696 Hawles had spoken in defence of the prerogative over the complaint of Mary Greibe that her husband had been arrested by order of Secretary Trumbull (Sir William*) and then sent to Brussels. However, ‘seeing the temper of the House’, he did not oppose the appointment of a committee to investigate the matter. In December there were unfounded rumours that Hawles would succeed Sir Charles Porter* as lord chancellor of Ireland. In February 1697 Hawles’s determination to oppose the granting of bail to the Earl of Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) gives a flavour of his character. According to Ailesbury, Hawles ‘was as fierce as a bulldog, laying out the horrid crime of high treason, as if I had been at my trial’. When Hawles cited the case of Sir Richard Muddiford, governor of the West Indies, who had served two years in prison before his acquittal, the lord chief justice, Sir John Holt†, criticized him for drawing attention to Muddiford’s case, since proceedings against the latter had been deemed unjust. When Hawles then asked for Ailesbury to be remanded, the lord chief justice reprimanded him in open court, saying, ‘Good God, Mr Solicitor-General, that ever I should hear from your mouth such doctrine! . . . I am really out of countenance for to hear such poor things come out of the mouth of a learned lawyer, and that was in time past so great a stickler for the liberty of the subject.’6
In the third session Hawles spoke on 10 Dec. 1697 against the motion to disband all forces raised since 1680. Again, he was frequently included on the drafting committees of bills, the vast majority of which concerned supply or related financial matters. However, his most important work was probably that connected with his nomination on 1 Feb. to the drafting committee for the bill punishing (Sir) Charles Duncombe* and others for falsely endorsing Exchequer bills. He was ordered to deliver a message to the Lords regarding evidence against Duncombe (10 Feb.), and subsequently spoke in favour of the bill (26 Feb.), answering the attorney-general, who had opposed it. His involvement with proceedings against Duncombe continued into March, when he managed conferences with the Lords to debate a possible punishment.7
On two lists of 1698 Hawles was named as a placeman, but this did not seem to affect his electoral interest. Although he unsuccessfully contested St. Mawes at the general election, he was returned for Mitchell and Bere Alston, retaining both seats throughout the Parliament, no doubt as a means of insurance, since he faced petitions following both contests. Classified as a Court supporter in an analysis of the new House in about September 1698, he voted against the army disbanding bill on 31 Jan. 1699, having spoken during the debate on the 4th, when he urged for further intelligence on the matter, commenting that ‘a standing army may be on the borders or in Scotland, [and] your ships burnt at Chatham for want of ships’. In this session his involvement in financial legislation was much lessened, being limited to a drafting committee for the land tax on 9 Mar. On 21 Mar. he was ordered to prepare a bill to continue the imprisonment of those involved in the Assassination Plot, which he presented the following day. In the next session, on 7 Dec. 1699, after revelations of Captain Kidd’s piracy, and in response to Sir Bartholomew Shower’s speech attacking grants made to the Junto lords, Hawles spoke in favour of allowing pirates’ goods to be appropriated and granted out by the crown – despite an existing statute disallowing the grant of felons’ goods before conviction – on the grounds that such grants had been made to the lord high admiral for three centuries, and that the King reserved the right to dispose of these goods himself. In March 1700 Hawles managed through the House a bill to punish in England crimes committed by governors in the plantations.8
In an analysis of the Commons in the first half of 1700 Hawles was marked as a follower of Charles Montagu*. Not surprisingly, therefore, with the disintegration of the Junto administration, the Tories began pressing for Hawles’s replacement as solicitor-general. James Vernon I* told Shrewsbury in June 1700 of a discussion with Robert Harley* in which
we talked . . . about Mr Harcourt [Simon I*], whom they would make solicitor, by removing Sir John Hawles to be a judge. I desired him to consider what they would gain by such a step; that I always understood it was his opinion the Whigs should not be made desperate; and I asked him if any act could go further towards it . . . and that not in a very natural way, since the solicitor had no inclination to be removed.
The King ‘showed no inclination to make these steps and said my Lord Sunderland was very much against running from one extreme to the other’.9
Hawles was not returned in the general election of February 1701, but gained a seat in the following month at a by-election for Truro. On 16 May he was drawn to comment in the debate on the distribution of grants, asserting that though detrimental to the welfare of the crown, the taking and passing of grants was not a crime, and that if the Lords viewed them as such they should themselves consider returning their own estates gained by these means. Hawles was alleged to have ‘made the same speech word for word in two Parliaments’ when the content of this speech was compared with the one he made in December 1699. On 22 May he joined the debate on whether the Earl of Stamford should be removed as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster for negligence. In December 1701 he was returned for St. Ives on the interest of the Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett I*), although the validity of his election was again questioned. Listed as a Whig by Harley, Hawles was appointed to drafting committees for bills to provide for and employ the poor and to two supply bills. On 21 Mar. he was named in first place to draw up a clause for insertion in the abjuration bill. He was also involved in the preparation of two private relief bills on Irish forfeitures.10
On the accession of Queen Anne Hawles was dismissed from office but continued to sit in Parliament, being returned for Wilton in 1702. He was named to committees to draft a bill setting the poor to work (9 Nov.) and to redraft the Lords’ amendments to the occasional conformity bill (10 Dec.). He voted on 13 Feb. 1703 for agreeing to the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the Abjuration, and on 25 Jan. 1704 made a long speech on the Aylesbury case, supporting the appeal to the Lords, on the grounds that
we have always allowed them [Lords] a right to hold plea of writs of error . . . in general, upon a judgment given in Westminster Hall . . . Some things are not to be come at otherwise than by a writ of error in the House of Lords; and I believe, if you look a little back, there have been judgments given in Westminster Hall, not only in matters of, but against, the privilege of the Commons, and these judgments stand unreversed, and I know no other method to do it, but by writ of error in the House of Lords.
He went on to argue that to deny the jurisdiction of the Lords in all election cases meant that an injured party could only obtain redress through the Commons, and that, although the Commons had power to punish, it could not grant damages to the injured party. Having conceded the right of the Lords to give judgment, he concluded by agreeing with their verdict:
I think the plaintiff in this case was damnified and the court of Queen’s bench ought to have given judgment against those who did him the injury for the damage he sustained, and the Lords have done right in reversing the judgment and in giving such as the court of Queen’s bench ought to have given.
On 28 Nov. 1704, during the crucial debate on the Tack, it was commented that Hawles
perceiving that many Members had left the High Church party, did wittily expose them by saying that for his own part, he had been against this bill from the beginning, but he wondered that those gentlemen, who had all along pretended that the Church of England was on the brink of ruin, unless such a bill should pass, did not pursue the only method that might secure the passing of that bill. ‘I put it . . . to the conscience of those gentlemen, who are come over to us, whether they were before satisfied as to the reasonableness and necessity of this bill, since they now desert their own friends? I wish they had voted on our side two years ago, for ’twould have saved us a great deal of uneasiness, and themselves the confusion of abandoning their party at a pinch.
Not surprisingly, he did not vote for the Tack.11
Hawles’s election for Stockbridge in 1705 was classed as a ‘gain’ by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), and he was classed as a ‘Churchman’ in an analysis of that year. He duly voted on 25 Oct. 1705 for the Court candidate as Speaker. In November he was involved in a fracas with one William Lowin, who assaulted Hawles and one of his servants while ‘overcome with drink’, an incident which led to a breach of privilege complaint. On 4 Dec. Hawles spoke against the Tories’ ‘Hanover motion’, and four days later intervened in the debate on the resolution against anyone who should say that the Church was ‘in danger’. Between 19 Dec. 1705 and 21 Jan. 1706 he made six recorded speeches on the regency bill. In the last he departed from the Court line to join Tories and Country Whigs in supporting the ‘whimsical clause’, and he was not listed as supporting the Court in the division on this clause on 18 Feb. His other recorded activity this session related to the drafting of a bill to make more effectual the Act for preventing the growth of popery, and several conferences with the Lords. Later in 1706 he appeared at Queen’s bench as counsel for the Tory pamphleteer Dr James Drake, the author of the Memorial of the Church of England, in connexion with passages printed in his Mercurius Politicus asserting that the crown was accountable to the people. In answer to the lord chief justice, Hawles claimed that Drake’s ‘revolutionary principles’ were ‘new and have as yet obtained no fixed and general construction.’ In the 1706–7 session he was included on two committees to bring in bills in which he may have had a personal interest: to allow the sale of Sir Seymour Pile’s estate at Axford, Wiltshire, which he presented on 1 Feb., the same day in which he was named to bring in a bill for beautifying Lincoln’s Inn Fields. In the last session of this Parliament Hawles was named to only two drafting committees, one of which was for the bill completing the Union. Early in 1708 his name appears on two lists as a Whig.12
Returned for Stockbridge in 1708, Hawles was again named to only two drafting committees during the session, including that to standardize interpretations of treason in the Union. He spoke against the Court on the treasons trial bill on 5 Apr. 1709. This occasional departure from the Court line was either the cause or the product of his failure to achieve office, particularly after the triumph of the Junto in 1708: in 1705 Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) had pressed for Hawles to receive the lord keepership, and when William Cowper* was promoted to this post in October it was rumoured that Hawles would instead replace a retiring judge in the court of common pleas. In January 1706 Cowper, having himself proposed Hawles as a judge, noted that Queen Anne ‘had reason not to have too good an opinion of Sir John Hawles (meaning, I suppose, his late foolish speech for the clause against officers in the House of Commons)’, and he was again sidestepped when another vacancy appeared in May 1710. Nevertheless, he was still sufficiently regarded by the Whigs to be entrusted with a leading role in the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. He was named to the committee which drew up the articles (14 Dec. 1709), and was appointed a manager for the trial. Yet the long speech which he made on 28 Feb. 1710, on the presentation of the first article, proved a disappointment to the more extreme Whigs. A Tory observer remarked that Hawles ‘could not easily be heard, but I think showed himself as much a gentleman as any of them’. The speech began by saying that Sacheverell’s aim had been to
lay odious colours upon the Revolution, or the means whereby it was brought about; he knowing that the means whereby the Revolution was brought about was by force, and he knew it was so declared by Act of Parliament made in the first year of King William and Queen Mary for preventing vexatious suits against such as acted in order to bring in the late King and Queen. And he . . . strongly insinuates it was not done by force, when he asserts, though untruly, that the late King disclaimed any resistance upon his coming.
Hawles moved on to the question of the doctor’s assertion of unconditional obedience and non-resistance. He conceded that there was a supreme power in the state to which absolute obedience was due, which ‘much disgusted his friends’, but added:
perhaps the doctor and I differ in the persons in whom the supreme power is lodged, for the doctor has not mentioned that matter either in his sermon or in his answer to the articles . . . I’ll tell him in whom I think it’s lodged, I think it is lodged in the Queen’s Majesty, the lords spiritual and temporal and the Commons in Parliament assembled . . . Having thus stated the matter of the subjects’ obedience to the supreme power, in which I have agreed with the doctrine set forth in the sermon, I can’t imagine how the doctor can justify himself, in declaring against the Revolution, as he has done, when he knows that the Revolution has been justified by the supreme power in the Acts of Parliament mentioned: for certainly it must be granted that the doctrine that commands obedience to the supreme power . . . must needs be understood to forbid the doing or saying anything to disturb the government . . . and the doctor’s refusing to obey that implicit law, is the reason for which he is now prosecuted, though he would have it believed that the reason he is now prosecuted, was for the doctrine he asserted of obedience to the supreme power, which he might have preached as long as he had pleased, and the Commons would have taken no offence at it, if he had stopped there, and not have taken upon him . . . to have cast odious colours upon the Revolution . . . He hath charged the Prince of Orange with an act of the highest treachery in pretending peace when he actually made war.
Hawles’s next point was equally unacceptable to many Whigs. He claimed that whereas Anne had an hereditary as well as a parliamentary right to the crown, the right of William and Mary had been conferred by the Bill of Rights, ‘which was done only by the people of England, under the determination of the lords spiritual and temporal and Commons in Parliament assembled’ and this he admitted was a somewhat irregular proceeding:
but the truth is, that when a government is brought out of France by the extraordinary steps of a prince [James II], ’tis a vain thing to hope it can ever be set right by regular steps, this never was done, nor ever will be done; but those methods which were necessary to set the government in a right frame again, have been always taken to be legal, though by the nicety of law it could not well be justified.
He finished his speech by reminding the Lords that the Commons had
indeed demanded judgment against this person of your lordships, but they have done it in mercy, for they might have charged those matters against the doctor as high treason . . . yet the Commons have called the matters of this impeachment only high crimes and misdemeanours and it is a rule in our law, that the court, in which a prosecution is had, cannot call the crimes greater than what the prosecutor thought fit to charge them, and cannot adjudge a greater punishment to the crimes than usual, but in some cases may lessen the punishment for such crimes; and whatsoever censure your lordships shall pass upon this criminal, the Commons of England will acquiesce in and be well satisfied with the same.
An observer noted that ‘this notion gave offence to his friends’. Altogether Hawles had made too many concessions to the other side to please the Whigs, and he took no further part in the trial, although he voted for the impeachment. Not surprisingly, given the importance of the trial, his other activity in the House was limited to drafting two other bills.13
The Sacheverell affair marked the end of Hawles’s parliamentary career. He was not returned in 1710, even though Henry St. John II* had written ‘very sanguinely of [his] success’. Nor did he contest a seat in 1713, and he took no benefit from the changes in 1715, possibly due to ill-health. Although he had at some time lived at Upwimborne, Dorset, a property bought by a branch of the family, his main residence continued to be at Lincoln’s Inn. As late as March 1712 he and other benchers petitioned against the building of a church along one empty side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, claiming that the structure would obscure the view. He continued practising law, and in 1714 gave opinion on the powers of Salisbury’s deputy-mayor following the death of Charles Mompesson*. He wrote his will on 21 Jan. 1712, leaving all his property to one John Johnson of Lincoln’s Inn, possibly his natural son, and died on 2 Aug. 1716, ‘after a long decay in a good old age’.14
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Paula Watson / Henry Lancaster
- 1. Salisbury Cathedral, Reg. 1 (unfol.); PCC 141 Reeve; Hoare, Wilts. Salisbury, 402; Aubrey, Brief Lives, i. 305; R. L. Antrobus, Antrobus Peds. 11.