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Bedingfield, Henry (1633-1687) (DNB00)


BEDINGFIELD, Sir HENRY (1633–1687), chief justice of the common pleas for nine months in James II's reign, was fourth son of John Bedingfield, of Halesworth, in Suffolk, and a nephew of Sir Thomas Bedingfield [q. v.]. Sir Henry's mother was Joyce, daughter and coheiress of Edmund Morgan of Lambeth, and he was born about 1633. The family mansion at Halesworth is described by Suckling (ii. 335) as being, in spite of modern alterations, 'still indicative of former consequence.' He became a student of Lincoln's Inn, of which his father was a bencher, in May 1650, was called to the bar just seven years later; received the coif in 1683, and was shortly after knighted and made king's serjeant. In 1684 he was elected sub-steward of Great Yarmouth. From Roger North we learn almost all that is known of his character and professional reputation. That writer tells us how the proposal to appoint him to a seat on the bench was seized by Lord Jeffreys as an opportunity of thwarting and humiliating Lord Keeper Guilford. 'There was one Serjeant Bedingfield, a grave but rather heavy lawyer, but a good churchman, and loyal by principle. His lordship (Guilford) had cast his eye upon him, and intended to nominate him to the king for supplying a place in one of the benches then vacant, but thought fit first to speak with him. Being sent for he came, and was told what was designed for him. He was exceeding grateful in acknowledgments of so great a favour and honour done him by his lordship in thinking of him without his seeking, and said he should ever own his preferment as long as he lived to his lordship, and to no other person whatever. All which was well. This serjeant had a brother, a woollen draper in London (afterwards lord mayor), who was a creature and companion of the Lord Jeffreys. That chief, understanding some way that his friend's brother was to be a judge by the lord keeper's means, sent for the draper, and told him plainly that if his brother would not take the judge's place, as of his provision and interest, and not my lord keeper's, or if he so much as went to the lord keeper on such an account, he would oppose him, and he should not be a judge at all. After this the poor serjeant, against his desire, was forced to conform; his spirits were not formed for the heroicks.' He was not, in fact, appointed until February 1686, after Lord Guilford's death. In April of the same year he was further promoted, upon Jeffreys's recommendation, to the chief-judgeship of his court, in the room of Sir Thomas Jones. As the latter was, according to Bramston, removed, with three other judges, on account of his 'opinion as to the dispensing power with the test,' we must infer that Sir Henry raised no objection to that exercise of the royal prerogative. During the nine months that he presided in the common pleas he does not seem to have left any mark on the legal or general history of his time. He died suddenly, 'in a fitt of apoplexie,' on Sunday, 6 Feb. 1687, while in the act of receiving the sacrament in Lincoln's Inn chapel. A mural monument, erected by his widow, in Halesworth church, enumerates his virtues, and informs us that his wife bore him two daughters. They both died unmarried. He had several brothers, one of whom, Sir Robert, was lord mayor of London in 1707.

[Foss's Lives of the Judges of England; North's Life of Lord Guilford, 246; Suckling's Suffolk, ii. 337, 342; Bramston's Autobiography, 221, 223, 268.]

G. V. B.