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Bedingfield, Thomas (1593?-1661) (DNB00)


BEDINGFIELD, Sir THOMAS (1593?–1661), was one of the justices of the common pleas appointed by the two houses of parliament in 1648. The Bedingfields are mentioned by Camden (i. 371) as 'a famous and ancient family.' They claim to have come in with William of Normandy, from whom they received lands in Suffolk and elsewhere. The judge's father, Thomas, belonged to a younger branch of this family, and lived at Darsham Hall, in Suffolk, which he had purchased. Philip, the eldest son, succeeded to Darsham, but sold it to his younger brother, the subject of this article. The date of his birth is uncertain, but in 1608 he was admitted a student at Gray's Inn, was called to the bar in 1615, and appointed Lent reader in 1636. He was knighted by the king on his appointment as attorney-general of the duchy of Lancaster. In 1642, the House of Lords paid him a higher though less welcome compliment in assigning to him the delicate and important task of defending Sir Edward Herbert, the attorney-general, impeached by the commons for his share in the attempt to arrest the five members. In obedience to the lords, Bedingfield, Gardiner, and others appeared as counsel on the first day of the trial; but Mr. Serjeant Wylde, the manager of the impeachment, objected to counsel being allowed in a case of privilege. These objections were overruled by the lords, and next day Sir Edward's counsel were peremptorily ordered 'to begin with assisting him in his defence, upon their perils.' Either from a wholesome fear of the commons' vengeance, or from want of sympathy with their client's cause, counsel endeavoured to excuse themselves on the plea of not having come prepared, the question being one of privilege. Being a second time commanded to plead, 'Sir Thomas Bedingfield, one of the counsel, answered that he desired some time to prepare for it, not being now provided.' Gardiner gave a similar reply; whereupon the lords, having deliberated in private, ordered the two counsel to be committed to the Tower for contempt of the house in refusing to plead (State Trials' iv. 127). Clarendon (v. 47) says that counsel 'positively refused to meddle further in the business or to make any defence for the attorney,' in consequence of the threat of the commons that 'whoever presumed to be of counsel with a person accused by the commons of England should be taught better to know his duty, and should nave cause to repent it.' But, from the subsequent attitude of the two houses towards Sir Thomas, it seems unlikely that mere cowardice could have been the full explanation of his refusal. Had this been his character, the one house would not have so persistently voted for his promotion, nor would the other have as persistently vetoed it. Thus, in the years 1646-7, we find him three times proposed by the commons as one of the commissioners of the great seal, and each time rejected by the lords (Whitelocke, 224, 234, 240). However, in October 1648, the commons voted that Sir Thomas Bedingfield and others should be called to the degree of serjeant-at-law, and that he should also be made a justice of the common pleas. To this the lords assented, and he was sworn in a month later. This position he held only for about two months, for he was one of the six judges who, after the king's execution, 'were not satisfied to hold' under the new commissions from the parliament, and he accordingly retired from the bench. How he spent the eleven years of the interregnum is not recorded, but on the restoration of the monarchy Sir Thomas Bedingfield was among the first batch of serjeants-at-law appointed by Charles II. He died in less than a year after this appointment, 24 March 1661, and was buried in Darsham church. Darsham Hall remained for some time in his family, but passed to the Rous family before the end of the century.

[Foss's Lives of the Judges of England; Whitelocke's Memorials, 224, 234, 240, 342, 348, 356, 378; Suckling's Suffolk, ii. 222; State Trials, iv. 127.]

G. V. B.