Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hyde, Nicholas

HYDE or HIDE, Sir NICHOLAS (d. 1631), chief justice of England, was the fourth son of Lawrence Hyde of West Hatch, Tisbury, Wiltshire, and of Gussage St. Michael, Dorsetshire, by Anne, widow of Matthew Colthurst of Claverton, near Bath, and daughter of Nicholas Sibell of Chimhams, near Farningham, Kent. His grandfather was Robert Hyde of Norbury, Cheshire; Edward Hyde, first earl of Clarendon [q.v.], was his nephew, and Alexander Hyde [q.v.], Edward (1607–1659) [q.v.] , and Sir Robert [q.v.], were his nephews. As a younger son he took under his father's will only a small portion of 30l. per annum, and accordingly entered the Middle Temple, where he was called to the bar. He was returned to parliament for Andover in 1601, and for Christchurch in 1603–4, and became one of the leaders of the popular party, opposing the great contract and the prerogative of imposition in the debates of 1610. He was also one of the speakers in the conference of the houses on impositions in 1614. He must be carefully distinguished from another Nicholas Hyde, or Hide, of Aldbury, Hertfordshire, who was created a baronet in 1621 (Cussans, Hertfordshire, iii., ‘Hundred of Dacorum,' 30, 33; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23, p. 307). His career at the bar was undistinguished. Nevertheless in 1626 he was retained by Buckingham to draft the defence to the articles of impeachment exhibited against him. The sudden removal of Sir Ranulphe Crew [q.v.] from the chief justiceship of the king's bench, 9 Nov. 1626, was followed within a month by the death of his successor-designate, Sir John Davies [q.v.] Hyde, who had changed his political principles, was nominated in his place, was knighted at Whitehall on 28 Jan., was called serjeant-at-law on 31 Jan., and was appointed to the chief justiceship on 6 Feb. 1626–7 (Whitelocke, Mem. p.8; Metcalfe, Book of Knights; Parl. Hist. ii. 167; Rymer, ed. Sanderson, xviii. 835). This unexpected advancement created much indignation in Westminster Hall, which vented itself in the following 'significant tetrastich,' which Sir Simonds D'Ewes heard whispered in court at the Bury Lent assizes:—

Learned Coke, Court Montague,
The aged Lea, and honest Crew;
Two preferred, two set aside,
And then starts up Sir Nicholas Hyde.

(Sir Simonds D'Ewes, Autobiog. ed. Halliwell, ii. 49; Walter Yonge, Diary, Camd. Soc. pp. 100–1.). The first case that came before Hyde was that of the five knights [see Darnell, Sir Thomas]. He was summoned with his colleagues to the bar of the House of Lords to answer for the refusal of the habeas corpus, appeared, and after some demur alleged precedents in justification. No further proceedings followed (Parl. Hist. ii. 288).

In Lent 1629 Hyde tried a strange murder case, curiously illustrative of the superstitions of the time. A woman named Johan Norkot, wife of Arthur Norkot, had been found dead in her bed, her throat cut from ear to ear and her neck broken, the print of a thumb and four fingers of a left hand on her left hand, and a bloody knife sticking in the floor a short distance from the bed. The coroner's jury had found a verdict of suicide, and the body was buried. Thirty days afterwards, however, it was disinterred, and certain persons on whom suspicion had fallen touched it in the presence of two parish priests and other witnesses. The suspected murderers were indicted at the Hertfordshire assizes and acquitted, upon which an appeal of murder was brought in the king's bench, Hyde presiding. The principal evidence was that of two aged parish priests, who deposed to having seen the body when touched by the prisoners change colour, sweat, open and shut its eyes three times, and three times extend and withdraw its ring or marriage finger. This evidence Hyde admitted without comment, and left the case to the jury, who convicted three of the prisoners (Gent. Mag. 1851, pt. ii. p. 13). When required by the king to give an extrajudicial opinion on any important matter, it was Hyde's practice to do so only in concert with his colleagues, who would assemble at Serjeants' Inn for the purpose. This was done on two great occasions viz. in 1628, just before the granting of the Petition of Right, and in the following year, after the arrest of Sir John Eliot and the other members of parliament who had been concerned with him in the violent scene which preceded the dissolution. On the former occasion the question was as to the legality of arrest by general warrant, and the probable effect of the petition on that practice. The judge advised discreetly that, as a rule, general warrants were invalid, but that the courts had a discretion to allow them in cases requiring secrecy, and there was no reason to apprehend that this would be prejudiced by the petition. On the latter occasion the question was whether privilege of parliament protected members from punishment after a dissolution for offences committed in the preceding parliament, The judges answered that, as a rule, privilege of parliament protected members from punishment out of parliament for things done in parliament in a parliamentary course, but it was otherwise when things were done exorbitantly. Personally, Hyde was opposed to proceeding against the members, thinking it would be better to leave them to languish in gaol 'as men neglected until their stomachs come down.' In the result, however, an information was filed by Attorney-general Sir Robert Heath [q. v.) in the king's bench, upon the hearing of which Hyde disallowed the defendants' plea to the jurisdiction, and passed sentence of fine and imprisonment upon them.

Hyde presided in Lent 1631 at the Star-chamber trial of Francis Annesley, lord Mountnorris [q. v.], Sir Arthur Savage, and others, for conspiring to slander Lord Falkland [see Cary, Sir Henry] while lord deputy in Ireland. The case ended in the acquittal of Mountnorris and most of the defendants. He also presided over the judicial assessors in the House of Lords on occasion of the trial of Lord Audley for abominable offences on 13 April of the same year, which terminated in the execution of the prisoner. He died of gaol fever on 25 Aug. following (Life of Edward, first Earl of Clarendon, ed. 1827, i. 12; Croke, Reports, Car. 225). Hyde was not a great judge, and displayed more prudence than independence. His manner was reserved and cold, and being sallow and 'of a mean aspect' and neglectful of his dress, he was thought to have lowered the dignity of his office (Whitelocke, Mem. p. 1; Sir Simonds D'Ewes, Autobiography, ed. Halliwell, p.51). He married Margaret, daughter of Sir Arthur Swayne of Sarson in the parish of Amport, Hampshire, by whom he had several children (Hoare, Modern Wiltshire, iv., 'Hundred of Dunworth,' 131).

[Campbell's Lives of the Chief Justices, i. 384; Foss's Lives of the Judges; Reports of Cases in the Courts of Star-chamber and High Commission (Camd. Soc.), vol. i. et seq.; Cobbett's State Trials, iii. 235 et seq., 402 et seq.; Hoare's Modern Wiltshire, iv. `Hundred of Dunworth,' 16, 131; Life of Edward, first Earl of Clarendon, ed. 1827, i. 1-3; Hasted's Kent, i. 304; Hutchins's Dorset, ii. 494; Ormerod's Cheshire, ed. Helsby, iii. 810; Dugdale's Orig. pp. 219, 221; Parl. Debates, 1610 (Camd. Soc.), pp. 120, 130; Spedding's Life of Bacon, iv. 365, 370; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603-10 p. 621, 1629-31 pp.77, 79; Sir James Whitelocke's Lib. Fam. (Camd. Soc.), p. 42.]

J. M. R.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.163
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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400 ii 8f.e. Hyde, Sir Nicholas: after p. 42 insert Gardiner's History of England, vii. 87, 109