Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, Henry (1620-1668?)

620314Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53 — Smith, Henry (1620-1668?)1898Bertha Porter

SMITH, HENRY (1620–1668?), regicide, born in 1620, was the only son of Henry Smith of Withcote in Leicestershire, descended from the family of Smith, alias Heriz or Harris, in Nottinghamshire, to which belonged Erasmus Smith [q. v.] and Henry Smith (1550?–1591) [q. v.] His mother was daughter of Henry Skipwith of Cotes, Leicestershire. Henry the elder dying in 1623, the future regicide became a ward of the king. He matriculated at Oxford from Magdalen Hall (now Hertford College) on 26 Jan. 1637–8, and graduated B.A. from St. Mary Hall on 9 June 1640. In the same year he became a student of Lincoln's Inn. He represented the county of Leicester in the parliament of 1640 as a ‘recruiter;’ he was probably elected in the place of Henry, lord Grey de Ruthin [q. v.], who was called to the upper house as Earl of Kent in November 1643. Attaching himself to the cause of the parliament, Smith received a place in the six clerks' office, and was added to the committee for compounding on 18 Dec. 1648. He joined in a protest against the votes for a treaty with the king in the Isle of Wight on 20 Dec. 1648. Smith was one of the judges at the trial of Charles I, attended all the sittings (10–29 Jan. 1648–9), both in the Painted Chamber and in Westminster Hall, and signed the death-warrant. He sat as a recruiter in the restored Rump of 1659.

At the Restoration he was excepted from the general act of oblivion (9 June 1660), but surrendered himself in pursuance of the king's declaration (6 June), and was put into the charge of the serjeant-at-arms on 19 June. He was excepted from the Indemnity Bill of August 1660, with the saving clause of suspension of execution till a further act should have passed. He was arraigned at the Sessions House, Old Bailey, on 10 Oct. 1660, when he pleaded not guilty, and appeared to defend himself on 16 Oct. He pleaded youth and ignorance, and asserted that he had no recollection of having signed the death-warrant. When confronted with his signature, he was unable to say whether the writing was his own or not, but confessed that it resembled it. He handed in a petition for life, in which the part he had taken in the proceedings against the king were attributed to ‘ye threatenings of those that then ruled ye army with noe less than loss of life and estate, and incessant importunity off such as had relacon to him and power over him.’ He was included in the act of attainder of December 1660, as one of those condemned but under respite. On 25 Nov. 1661 a bill for the execution of the attainted persons was read in the commons, and Smith (with others) was called to the bar of the house. He threw himself on the mercy of the members, begged for their mediation with the king, and for the benefit of the king's proclamation, upon which he had surrendered himself, having been advised that by so doing he would secure his life. On 7 Feb. 1661–2 he was brought to the bar of the House of Lords, when he again pleaded compelling circumstances and his surrender. Smith was not executed, and is usually stated to have died in the Tower of London; but he had probably left the Tower before November 1666, as his name is not included in a list of thirty-eight prisoners confined there at the time (Cal. State Papers, 1666–7, p. 235). He appears to have been in the Old Castle at Jersey in February 1667–8. His wife, a daughter of Cornelius Holland [q. v.], the regicide, died of the plague in rooms attached to the six clerks' office in August 1664. Smith is believed to have left an only daughter.

Smith seems to have been weak and cowardly. His entry at Lincoln's Inn would point to some legal education; but in his speech of 16 Oct. 1660 he disclaimed all knowledge of the law. Heath (Chronicle, p. 200) speaks of him as ‘Henry Smith, a lawyer, but a mean one.’

[Nichols's Leicestershire, ii. 391, 889, iii. 626; Nichols's Topographer and Genealogist, iii. 255–260; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Official Lists of Members of Parliament, i. 490; Walker's Hist. of Independency, ii. 49; Masson's Milton, iii. 533–4; Cal. of Comm. for Compounding, p. 135; Commons' Journals, iii. 594, viii. 61, 68, 139, 319; Lords' Journals, xi. 380; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. pp. 155–6, 11th Rep. ii. 4; Cal. State Papers, 1660–1 p. 558, 1667–8 p. 229; Noble's Lives of the Regicides; Nalson's Trial of Charles I, passim; Exact and Impartial Accompt of the Trials of Twenty-nine Regicides, pp. 28, 254.]

B. P.