Cornish, Henry (DNB00)

CORNISH, HENRY (d. 1685), alderman of London, executed under James II, was a well-to-do merchant of London, and alderman of the ward of St. Michael Bassishaw, In the 'London Directory' for 1677 he is described as a 'factor' residing in 'Cateaton Street, near Blackwelhall Gate.' He was inclined to presbyterianism in religion, and in politics was a confirmed whig. On 24 June 1680 he was chosen sheriff of London in conjunction with Slingsby Bethel [q. v.] It was afterwards discovered that Cornish and his colleague had not taken the oath according to the Corporation Act, and the election was declared void. A second election was fixed for 17 July, when Cornish and Bethel took the oath under the Corporation Act, and claimed the appointment. The court, which regarded the city's choice with disgust, resolved to force the city two sheriffs of its own choosing named Box and Nicolson. The latter demanded a poll, which lasted, amid great excitement, until 22 July, and on the 29th following Cornish and Bethel were declared elected. Cornish headed the poll with 2,400 votes. 'He was,' says Burnet, writing of these events, 'a plain, warm, honest man, and lived very nobly all this year.' On 14 May 1681 Cornish, with other members of the corporation, went to Windsor to present a petition to the king for the summoning of parliament, but Charles declined to receive the deputation. Cornish appeared as a witness for the defence at the trial of Fitzharris, a papist informer (9 June 1681); and this conduct, which seems to have been due to a misconception, brought him into no little temporary odium. On 18 Jan. 1681-2 he was one of the five aldermen on the committee of defence 'against the quo warranto brought against the charter of the city.' On 3 July 1682 proceedings were taken against him by the court for rioting and abetting riots in the city on the occasion of the election of sheriffs in the preceding June, when the lord mayor, a friend of the court, had been roughly handled. After scandalous delay, on 8 May 1683, Cornish was convicted, and on 26 May was fined a thousand marks (the account of the trial is printed in Howell's 'State Trials,' ix. 187-293). In October 1682 the city whigs desired to choose Cornish as lord mayor; three candidates were nominated for the office, but by the wholesale rejection of votes Cornish was defeated. He polled only forty-five votes below the successful candidate, although he stood at the bottom of the poll. John Rumsey, a fellow arrested on suspicion of complicity in the alleged Rye House plot in 1683, was aware of Cornish's unpopularity with the authorities, and offered to produce evidence implicating the alderman in the conspiracy. The offer was not accepted, because no other testimony against Cornish was forthcoming. But Cornish was narrowly watched by the agents of the court, and since he proved himself no more conciliatory to James II than to his brother, it was deemed advisable in 1685 to remove him. Goodenough, an attorney whom Cornish had made his enemy by declining to make him his deputy-sheriff in 1680, arranged with Rumsey to corroborate the false testimony with regard to the Rye House plot, and to add evidence proving an attachment for the Duke of Monmouth. In the middle of October 1685 Cornish was arrested suddenly, and committed to Newgate on a vague charge of high treason. The trial took place at the Old Bailey on Monday, 19 Oct.; Rumsey and Goodenough gave evidence, and Cornish was convicted and condemned to death. Benjamin Calamy attended him in prison. Four days later he was executed in Cheapside, at the corner of King Street, within sight of his own house. The indignation which he displayed in his speech from the scaffold led his enemies to state that he died drunk. But William Penn, who witnessed the execution, declared that Cornish only showed the honest resentment natural to an outraged man (Burnet). After his body had been cut down and quartered it was delivered up to the relatives and buried in the church of St. Lawrence by the Guildhall. On 30 Jan. 1688-9 an act of parliament was passed reversing the attainder of Cornish. An account of Cornish's trial appeared in 1685; his last speech in the press-yard of Newgate was issued, together with the last words of Colonel Rumbold. 'Remarks on the Tryal of Henry Cornish,' an attack upon the judicial procedure at the trial, was written by Sir John Hawkes, solicitor-general under William III, and was several times published.

[Luttrell's Relation, vol. i. passim; Burnet's Hist. Own Times, Oxford edit. ii. 243, 271, in. 61; State Trials, ix. 187-293, xi. 382-466; Echard's Hist. p. 1069; Macaulay's Hist.; Brit, Mus. Cat.]

S. L. L.