Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thornton, Gilbert de

THORNTON, GILBERT de (d. 1295), judge, was engaged as a crown advocate in 1291. Pursuant to the statutes of Gloucester, 1278, all who claimed liberties and franchises were called upon to prove their claims before the justices in eyre. Among the professional lawyers to whom was entrusted the protection of the interests of the crown was Gilbert de Thornton, who received in 9 Edward I (1280–1) the sum of 10l. for the prosecution and defence of matters concerning the king (Liberate Roll, 529). On 2 Oct. 1284, on being sent to Ireland on the king's service, Thornton appointed Hugh de Cardoyl to be his attorney. Five days later he was granted letters of protection during his absence. For his expenses in Ireland he was allowed the sum of 20l. (Liberate Roll, 542). On his return in 1285 he was again employed as one of the king's advocates, and received an annual salary of 20l. No entry of any payment of this sum appears on the liberate rolls after that which records the payment of the half-yearly instalment due at the beginning of the Michaelmas term of 15 Edward I (1286–1287). It is possible, however, that it was paid to him otherwise than by writ of liberate. Early in 18 Edward I (1289–90) Hengham, chief justice of the king's bench, with nearly all the judges of that court and of the common bench, was dismissed from office, and Thornton was appointed to be his successor. The writ appointing him and his colleagues is not enrolled, but the appointment was probably made about 16 Jan. 1290, on which day the new judges of the common bench were appointed.

Thornton presided over the king's bench until the end of Trinity term in 1295, when he was succeeded by Roger de Brabazon. He was never a justice in eyre, and, although sometimes placed in special commissions of oyer and terminer, he was but very rarely assigned to take particular assizes. After his elevation to the bench he received an annual salary of sixty marks.

Thornton was summoned to parliament on 7 June 1295 (Close Rolls, 117), and probably died a few months later, as his name does not appear on any of the public records after this date. As a messuage and two carucates of land at Caburn were conveyed to him in 17 Edward I (1288–9) by John Priorell (Coram Rege Rolls, 118 Rot. 33), and in 19 Edward I (1290–1) he held some lands to farm in Roxby, he may have been connected with the county of Lincoln. Possibly Alan de Thornton, who witnessed a deed (Assize Rolls, 541 b, Rot. 10 d) relating to the lands in Roxby, was his son.

Thornton's title to fame rests not so much on his judicial career as on a compendium which he made of the great work of Henry de Bracton. It seems to have contained no original matter, all reference even to the statutes which were enacted after the death of Bracton being omitted. The manuscript was discovered in the ‘Bibliotheca Burleiana’ by Selden, who thought that it was penned during its author's lifetime. It is clear, however, that it was not so. In the beginning of the compendium the statement is made that Master Gilbert was at that time eminently conspicuous for his knowledge, goodness, and mildness. This is obviously the addition of a transcriber writing some time after the date of the original manuscript. The compendium was divided into eight parts, of which three only were complete in Selden's time. No manuscript or transcript of it now exists. Our knowledge of it is derived solely from a description of it printed in the ‘Dissertation’ at the end of Selden's ‘Fleta’ (1647).

[Plea Rolls; Chancery Rolls; Foss's Judges; Selden's Fleta.]

G. J. T.