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his own, that he might no more be exposed to such squabbles; CHAP. but the Lord Chancellor claimed the appointment as


CXXIX. patronage, - and he was at this time all powerful, both with the King and the minister. Philip Yorke had joined the Western Circuit during this a.d. 1720.

Yorke is controversy, little thinking that he had any personal interest

appointed in it, but while he was attending the assizes at Dorchester, he Solicitor received the two following letters. The first was from the and knightLord Chancellor, and was directed to “ Philip Yorke, Esq., ed. Counsellor at Law, M.P., at the Assizes at Dorchester."

« Sir, “ The King having declared it to be his pleasure that you be his Solicitor General in the room of Sir Wm. Thompson, who is already removed from the office, I with great pleasure obey his Majesty's commands; to require you to hasten to town immediately upon receipt hereof, in order to take that office upon you.

I heartily congratulate you upon this first instance of his Majesty's favour, and am with great sincerity,

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Your faithful and obedient Servant,


The second was from Mr. Secretary Craggs.

“ Dear Sir, “ You will be informed from other hands of what has happened between the Attorney and Solicitor General. In the squabble the latter has lost his employment, and the first, I believe, will not succeed in his recommendation of Mr. Denton to be his successor, for I believe the King has resolved to appoint you, which I am glad of, for his service, and for my particular satisfaction: Who am entirely,

“ Your most faithful Servant,

“ J. CRAGGS. Cockpit, March 17, 1719 (1720).”

• ment.

CHAP Mr. Yorke on reading these letters, after receiving the CXXIX.

hearty congratulations of his brother circuiteers, who rejoiced sincerely in the elevation of such a formidable competitor, returned his briefs and set off post for London. On the 22d of March he was sworn in Solicitor General before Lord Macclesfield, and a few days after, on being presented

by him to the King, he received the honour of knighthood. Envy cre- With the exception of the members of the Western ated by this appoint- Circuit, the profession considered Sir Philip's appointment a

very arbitrary act. He was only twenty-nine years of age, and had been little more than four years at the bar. He had displayed great talents, but Wearg and Talbot, who were considerably his seniors, and had always deserved well of the Whig party, were men of distinguished reputation, and qualified to do credit to any office in the law, however exalted. Others of inferior merit were disappointed, and the blame being all laid on the Lord Chancellor, the resentment which he had before excited by his partiality for the tutor of his

sons was greatly exasperated. At first not It is said that even the attorneys and solicitors looked employed in the

askance at the new law officer, though disposed to be proud Court of

of the elevation of a gentleman so closely connected with Chancery.

them. Very much run after as a junior, he as yet had not got into any leading business, and they were alarmed by seeing him with so little experience suddenly put over the heads of the gentlemen with silk gowns, whom they had been accustomed to employ.

When Easter Term came round and he took his place within the bar in the Court of Chancery, he was left out of most of the new causes which came on to be heard, and some of his discontented rivals were

sanguine enough to hope that his premature elevation had Soon in any ruined him for ever. But by the exertions of his personal

friends among the solicitors, by being supposed to have " the ear of the Court,” by his own great talents, by his indefatigable industry, by the gentleness of his manners, and by the insinuating complacency of his address, he rapidly overcame these prejudices, and was retained in every suit. *


One account of his debut as Solicitor General says, “ The storm which was raised by his premature promotion fell wholly on his patron.”- Cooksey, 73.


Sir R.

His acceptance of office having under the recent statute CHAP

CXXIX. vacated his seat in the House of Commons, he was reelected for Lewes without opposition. He afterwards sat He is refor Seaford, being always returned without trouble or elected for expence, which was considered by some of his contemporaries as an instance of his luck, and by others as a proof of his management, in having so effectually insinuated himself into the good graces first, of Lord Macclesfield, and then of the Duke of Newcastle. But for some years to come his name is never mentioned in printed parliamentary debates, and we are left in great doubt as to the part he acted in the House of Commons.

It happened in little more than a year, that Lechmere re- May, 1720. tiring from the bar with a peerage, there was a vacancy in Raymond the office of Attorney General, and some supposed that the Attorney

General. Chancellor would recklessly thrust his juvenile favourite into it although only thirty years of age; but prudence prevailed, and it was filled up with the experienced Sir Robert Raymond, afterwards Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench.

Sir Philip Yorke continuing Solicitor General, first gained great public applause on the trial of Christopher Layer for high treason in conspiring to bring in the Pretender. The prisoner, after being ably defended by counsel, himself spoke so clearly and ingeniously in his own defence as to make a considerable impression on the jury, and to endanger the conviction-then considered of the last consequence not only to the safety of the ministry, but of the family on the throne. The Solicitor General rose to reply when it was late at His speech

on the pronight, and delivered a speech between two and three hours long, which, during the whole of that time, rivetted the Layer for attention of all who heard it, and was most rapturously

high treapraised as a fine specimen of juridical eloquence. Certainly it is what is technically termed a “hanging speech ” — very quiet and dispassionate; seemingly candid, and even kind to the accused; but in the most subtle manner bringing forward all the salient points of the evidence against him-and, by insinuation and allusion, taking advantage of the prepossessions of the Jury. He thus concluded : “ It has been

secution of


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CHAP. said, indeed, that he is but an inconsiderable man — of no CXXIX.

rank or fortune fit to sustain such an undertaking. That observation may be true; but since it is plain that he did engage in it, this with other things clearly proves that he was set on work and supported by persons of more influence. And, gentlemen, this is the most affecting consideration of all. But I would not even in this cause, so important to the King and to the State, say any thing to excite your passions: I choose rather to appeal to your judgments; and to these I submit the strength and consequence of the evidence you have heard. My Lord, I ask pardon for having taken up much of your time. I have only farther to beg, for the sake of the King, for the sake of the prisoner at the bar, and for the sake of myself, that if through mistake or inadvertency I have omitted or misrepresented any thing, or laid a greater weight on any part of the evidence than it will properly bear, your Lordship will be pleased to take notice of it, so that the whole case may come before the Jury in its just and true light.” The conviction was certainly according to law,

and if Layer's head had been immediately placed on Temple Bar, his execution, though lamentable, might have been thought a necessary severity — but all concerned in the prosecution and the punishment incurred and deserved obloquy — by the delay interposed with a view to elicit from the prisoner the accusation of others — and by his execution long after the verdict, when he had disappointed the hope of further disclosures.


* 16 St. Tr. 319.




A.D. 1723.


An ex


On the 31st of January, 1723, Sir Robert Raymond being CHAP:

CXXX. promoted to be Chief Justice of the King's Bench, Sir Philip Yorke, with general applause, succeeded him as Attorney General. This situation he held above thirteen years, moted to be exhibiting a model of perfection to future law officers of the Attorney crown. He was punctual and conscientious in the discharge of his public duty, never neglecting it that he might under- cellent law. take private causes, although fees were supposed to be particularly sweet to him, and, having felt the ills of penury, he was from the commencement to the close of his professional career eager to accumulate wealth. Considering this propensity, he had likewise great merit in resisting the temptation to which others have yielded of accepting briefs in private causes, when he could not be present at the hearing of them, or could not do fair justice to the client who hoped to have the benefit of his assistance. I may likewise mention, that although he was afterwards supposed to have become stiff and formal in his manners, - while he remained at the bar he was affable and unassuming, courteous to his brethren of longer standing, making himself popular with the juniors, and trying to soften the envy excited by his elevation. In parliament he never displayed any impatience to gain distinction, but he was regular in his attendance, and he was always ready to render fair assistance to the government, and to give his opinion on any legal or constitutional question for the guidance of the House. Without being a “prerogative lawyer,” he stood up for the just powers of the Crown, and without being a “patriot,” he was a steady defender of the rights and privileges of the people.

As public prosecutor in Revenue cases in the Exchequer, His mode

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