Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davenport, Humphrey

DAVENPORT, Sir HUMPHREY (1566–1645), judge, third son of William Davenport of Bromhall, Cheshire, by Margaret, daughter of Richard Asheton of Middleton, Lancashire, entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1581, but left without taking any degree, studied law at Gray's Inn, being called to the bar there on 21 Nov. 1590, and elected reader in Lent 1613. He took the degree of serjeant-at-law on 26 June 1623, and was knighted at Greenwich on 17 June 1624. On the accession of Charles I he became king's serjeant (9 May 1625). In March 1628–9 his advice was sought by the king as to the limits of parliamentary privilege on the eve of the proceedings against Elliot, and in the following year he appeared for the crown, with Sir Robert Berkeley [q. v.], to argue the sufficiency of the return to the writ of habeas corpus sued out by Elliot, Selden, and other members of parliament who had been committed to prison at the close of the last parliament without any specific cause assigned in the warrant. His argument is reported at some length in the ‘State Trials.’ In 1630 he was appointed to a puisne judgeship in the common pleas, which in the following year he exchanged for the presidency of the court of exchequer. His tenure in both cases was durante beneplacito, not, as his predecessors' had been, during good behaviour. In 1633 he was placed on the high commission. In the ship-money case (1637) he gave judgment for Hampden upon a technical point, at the same time arguing elaborately in favour of the legality of the impost. For this, and for various illegal acts done on the bench, particularly the committal of one Vassal, M.P., for refusing to pay tonnage and poundage in 1627, and the sequestration of the property of one Maleverer in 1632 for refusing knighthood, he was impeached by the Long parliament in 1641, Hyde (afterwards Lord Clarendon) opening the case against him. He was ordered to give security for his attendance to stand his trial in the sum of 10,000l. The proceedings were, however, allowed to drop. Having joined the king at Oxford he resigned his office, Sir Richard Lane being appointed his successor on 25 Jan. 1644. His patent, however, was not revoked until the following year, in the course of which he died. In 1651 appeared ‘An Abridgement of Lord Coke's Commentary on Littleton, collected by an Unknown Author, yet by a late edition pretended to be Sir Humphrey Davenport's, knight,’ 8vo. Another edition of the same work was issued in the following year with the title ‘Synopsis, or an Exact Abridgement of the Lord Coke's Commentaries upon Littleton, being a Brief Explanation of the grounds of the Common Law, composed by that famous and learned lawyer, Sir Humphrey Davenport, knight,’ 8vo.

[Ormerod's Cheshire (Helsby), iii. 827; Dugdale's Orig. 296; Dugdale's Chron. Ser. 105, 106, 108; Autobiography of Sir John Bramston (Camden Soc.), 49, 77; Nichols's Progresses (James I), iii. 979, 1045; State Trials (Cobbett), iii. 250; Sir William Jones's Reports, p. 230; Rymer's Fœdera (Sanderson), xix. 133, 254; Cal. State Papers (Dom. 1633–4), p. 326; Rushworth, iv. 320, 333–8; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 183; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

J. M. R.