Heath, Robert (1575-1649) (DNB00)

HEATH, Sir ROBERT (1575–1649), judge, son of Robert Heath of Brasted, Kent, a member of the Inner Temple, by Anne, daughter of Nicholas Posyer, was born at Brasted on 20 May 1575, and educated at Tunbridge grammar school and St. John's College, Cambridge, which he entered on 26 June 1589, and where he spent three years, but took no degree. In 1591 he entered Clifford's Inn, and on 23 May 1593 the Inner Temple, where he was called to the bar in 1603. He was reader at Clifford's Inn for two years (1607–9), was appointed clerk of the pleas in the king's bench for life in 1607, and on 7 July 1612 had a grant in trust for Robert Car, viscount Rochester, afterwards Earl of Somerset, of a moiety of the office of chief clerk of the inrolments in the king's bench, with a twelfth of the emoluments in reversion expectant on the death of the then holder, Sir John Roper. When Roper was raised to the peerage as Lord Teynham (19 Nov. 1616), Heath was appointed trustee of the same moiety for George viscount Villiers during Teynham's life. He was elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1617, and by recommendation of the king recorder of London on 10 Nov. 1618, was autumn reader at the Inner Temple in 1619, was returned to parliament for the city of London on 20 Nov. 1620, and appointed solicitor-general on 22 Jan. 1620–1, when he resigned the recordership. He was knighted at Whitehall on 28 Jan., and soon afterwards obtained a grant of the reversion of the mastership of the rolls, expectant on the death of Sir Julius Cæsar. He sat in parliament for East Grinstead, Sussex, in 1623–4 and 1625, taking a prominent position in the house as one of the staunchest supporters of the royal prerogative. He was elected treasurer of the Inner Temple in 1625, and on 31 Oct. of that year was appointed attorney-general. His accession to office was marked by a more stringent enforcement of the laws against recusants. In May 1626 he opened the case against John Digby, earl of Bristol [q. v.], on his impeachment. The proceedings terminated on the dissolution of parliament on 15 June. In November 1627 he argued the case for the crown on the habeas corpus sued out by Sir Thomas Darnell [q. v.] and the other knights imprisoned with him for refusing to contribute to the forced loan, and obtained a remand. In April and May following he argued, with much ingenuity and learning, in support of the royal prerogative before the committees of both houses appointed to consider its limits in regard to the liberty of the subject, and on 1 June laid before the council an elaborate answer to the Petition of Right. On 15 March 1627–8 he ordered, under a privy council warrant, the arrest of the jesuits discovered at Clerkenwell. In the autumn he was busy with the case of Felton, the murderer of the Duke of Buckingham. In December Heath consented to the release on bail of some of the jesuits arrested in March, for which he was severely censured in the ensuing parliament, but pleaded the command of the king. An account of this affair, written by Sir John Coke [q. v.], is printed in ‘Camden Miscellany,’ vol. ii. (see also Parl. Hist. ii. 473; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1628–9, pp. 53, 472). After the dissolution of 10 March 1628–9, and the subsequent committal of Holles, Eliot, Selden, and other members, Heath obtained the opinion of the judges that privilege of parliament did not protect a member from prosecution after the close of the session for offences committed during it. He then instituted proceedings against the imprisoned members, and obtained judgment against them of imprisonment during the king's pleasure, Eliot being also fined 2,000l. and the others in lesser amounts (Hasted, Kent, i. 379; Chester, London Marriage Licenses, p. 662; Heath, Autobiography in Philobiblon Soc. Misc. vol. i.; Add. MS. 6118, p. 712; Wood, Fasti, ed. Bliss, ii. 45; Inner Temple Books; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–10 p. 362, 1611–18 pp. 410, 433, 595, 1619–23 pp. 215, 298, 1628–9; Dugdale, Orig. 167, 171; Chron. Ser. 103, 105; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 168; Whitelocke, Lib. Fam., Camd. Soc., pp. 46, 57, 75, 101; Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, v. 227; Commons' Debates in 1625, Camd. Soc.; Gardiner, Hist. of England, 1603–42, vols. iv–vii.; Remembrancia, p. 50 n.; Parl. Hist. ii. 79–194, 292 et seq.; Cobbett, State Trials, iii. 3–59, 135 et seq., 235–335; Sir John Bramston, Autobiography, Camd. Soc., 49).

Heath also conducted the principal Star-chamber prosecutions of the period, viz. of Richard Chambers [q. v.], a London merchant, in May 1629, of Dr. Alexander Leighton [q. v.] in 1630, and of the Earls of Bedford, Clare, and Somerset, Sir Robert Cotton, Selden, and Oliver St. John, charged in 1630 with writing and circulating Sir Robert Dudley's pamphlet on the ‘Impertinence of Parliament’ [see Dudley, Sir Robert, and Cotton, Sir Robert Bruce] (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1629–1631, pp. 55–6, 95; Heath, Speech on the Case of Alexander Leighton, in Camd. Misc. vol. vii.; Cobbett, State Trials, iii. 374–99; Add. MS. 23967, ff. 24–33). In Easter term 1631 Heath appeared for the plaintiff in the case of Lord Falkland, the late lord deputy of Ireland, against Francis Annesley, Lord Mountnorris [q. v.], and others, who had charged Falkland with perverting justice as lord deputy. The case broke down against Lord Mountnorris, but was sustained against the other defendants (Cases in the Star-chamber and High Commission, Camd. Soc., 1 et seq.)

On 24 Oct. 1631 Heath was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law; on the 26th he was raised to the bench as lord chief justice of the common pleas (Croke, Rep. Car. I, p. 225; Diary of John Rous, Camd. Soc., 63; Court and Times of Charles I, ii. 137; Rymer, Fœdera, ed. Sanderson, xix. 346). One of the first cases that came before him was the Star-chamber prosecution of Henry Sherfield, a bencher of Lincoln's Inn and recorder of Salisbury, against whom Heath had himself, while attorney-general, issued an information for defacing a stained-glass window in St. Edmund's Church, Salisbury. Heath took a lenient view of the case, and thought a fine of five hundred marks sufficient; but the judgment of the majority of the court was for a fine of 500l. and a public confession of error in the presence of the Bishop of Salisbury. Heath concurred in the savage sentence passed on Prynne for the publication of ‘Histrio-Mastix’ on 17 Feb. 1633–4 (Cobbett, State Trials, iii. 519–62; Documents relating to the Proceedings against William Prynne, Camd. Soc., p. 17). Nevertheless Heath was suspected of a secret sympathy with puritanism and the popular party, and was removed from office without cause assigned on 14 Sept., and replaced by Sir John Finch (1584–1660) [q. v.] He obtained leave from the king to practise as a serjeant in all courts except the Star-chamber, and on 12 Oct. 1636 was appointed king's serjeant. In this capacity he appeared to prosecute Thomas Harrison, a clergyman, indicted in Trinity term 1638 for publicly charging Sir Richard Hutton [q. v.], justice of the common pleas, while sitting in court at Westminster, with high treason. Harrison was convicted. In May 1640 Heath examined the ringleaders in some anti-papistical riotous assemblies held in Lambeth and Southwark.

On 23 Jan. 1640–1 Heath was appointed to a puisne judgeship in the king's bench, and on 13 May following to a mastership in the court of wards and liveries. The latter appointment was cancelled a few days later. He attended the king to York in May 1642, and was ‘sent for by parliament’ as a delinquent, but took refuge in Lord Strange's house in Lancashire. He rejoined the king at Oxford in the autumn, and in October was appointed chief justice of the king's bench in succession to Sir John Bramston, though, according to Dugdale, his patent was not issued until 31 Oct. 1643. In this capacity he tried, at the Oxford Guildhall on 6 Dec. 1642, four prisoners of war, viz. Captain John Lilburne [q. v.] and three other officers of the parliamentary army, on a charge of high treason, in that they had borne arms against the king. The parliament threatened retaliatory measures, and the proceedings were abandoned. On 4 July 1643 he received a commission of oyer and terminer to go circuit in Oxfordshire and the neighbouring counties, with liberty to avoid disturbed districts. He held an assize at Salisbury in the autumn, accompanied by Sir John Bankes [q. v.] and Sir Robert Foster [q. v.], at which the Earls of Northumberland, Pembroke, and Salisbury were indicted for high treason. The grand jury, notwithstanding the utmost pressure from the judges, threw out the bill, no offence being shown but that of assisting the parliament. Heath also tried about the same time Captain Turpin, a parliamentary sea-officer taken by the royalists in their recent attempt to relieve Exeter, and sentenced him to death as a traitor. Though reprieved, Turpin was kept close prisoner by Sir John Berkeley (d. 1678) [q. v.], the governor of Exeter, who in July hanged him by way of retaliation for the execution of Captain Howard, a deserter from the parliamentary army. The House of Commons thereupon impeached Heath and his colleagues of high treason (22 July). In October 1644 he was placed on the list of those to be condemned before the passing of the Act of Oblivion, and in the following December was excepted from pardon. His place was declared vacant, as if he were dead, by ordinance of 22 Nov. 1645, and his estates were subsequently sequestered. He fled to France in 1646, and died at Calais on 30 Aug. 1649. He was buried in Brasted Church, beneath a stately monument.

During his residence in France Heath wrote the brief autobiography published in the ‘Philobiblon Society Miscellany,’ vol. i.; probably also a curious catena of the virtues of a judge twenty-four in number, to correspond with the links of his collar of SS, and each, from studiousness to sanctity, denoted by a term beginning with the letter s, discovered among his autograph papers in the possession of his descendant, Lord Willoughby de Broke, by E. Shirley, esq., and by him communicated to ‘Notes and Queries’ in 1854 (1st ser. x. 357). Heath is the author of a formal treatise on pleading, published under the title of ‘Maxims and Rules of Pleading in Actions Real Personal and Mixt Popular and Penal,’ &c., London, 1694, 8vo. As a constitutional lawyer he was distinguished by learning and ability. He exhibited rare constancy to his principles, and seems to have been sincerely religious and benevolent to the clergy (Proceedings in Kent in 1640, Camd. Soc., 126, 129). He was a friend of learning, and in 1630 showed his attachment to his college by presenting some books to the library (Baker, Hist. of St. John's College, Cambridge##, 340, 498). His portrait in ruff and robes, by an unknown hand, is in St. John's College; an engraving of the same by Hollar, done in 1664, adorns the 1680 edition of Dugdale's ‘Origines Juridiciales’ (Chron. Ser. 110); an etching from the engraving by Richard Sawyer (1820) is in the British Museum (Add. MS. 32351). The features are regular, the brow broad and massive, the eyes dark and penetrating.

Heath married, on 10 Dec. 1600, Margaret, daughter of John Miller, by whom he had five sons and one daughter, who survived him. Mary, the daughter, married Sir William Morley of Halnaker, Sussex. The eldest son, Edward, was created a knight of the Bath at the Restoration, recovered his father's estates, and also the fees which he ought to have received as chief justice of the king's bench, but which had been appropriated by the prothonotary of that court. He married a daughter of Ambrose, brother of Sir George Croke [q. v.], through whom he acquired the manor of Cottesmore in Rutlandshire. The second son, John, was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1634, and became attorney-general of the duchy of Lancaster on the Restoration, was knighted at Whitehall 27 May 1664, and sat in parliament for Clitheroe from 1661 to 1679. He married Margaret, daughter of Sir John Mennes, by whom he had an only daughter, Margaret, who married George Verney, fourth lord Willoughby de Broke.

[Besides the authorities cited in the text, see Campbell's Lives of the Chief Justices; Foss's Lives of the Judges; Hacket's Scrinia Reserata, ii. 116; Rushworth's Hist. Coll. ii. 253, v. 685; Diary of John Rous, Camd. Soc., 77; Croke's Rep. Car. I, p. 375; Dugdale's Chron. Ser. 106, 109, 110; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1634–5 p. 209, 1640 pp. 171, 192, 335, 1644 p. 351; Speciall Passages, 13–20 Sept. 1642; A Continuation, &c., 22–30 Dec. 1642; Cobbett's State Trials, iii. 1370; Rymer's Fœdera, ed. Sanderson, xx. 448, 517; Lords' Journals, v. 113, 123–124, vi. 643, vii. 287, x. 559; Sir John Bramston's Autobiography, Camd. Soc., 87; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 259; Gardiner's Hist.; Perfect Passages, 23–9 Oct. 1644; Mercur. Brit. 9–16 Dec. 1644; Thurloe State Papers, i. 80; Wood's Annals of Oxford, ed. Gutch, ii. 45; Clarendon's Rebellion, ed. 1849, bk. xiv. § 50; Commons' Journals, iii. 567, iv. 350; Hasted's Kent, i. 379; Nicolas's Hist. of British Knighthood, vol. iii. Chron. List, xvii.; W. Nelson's Rep. 75; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1661–2, p. 342; Le Neve's Pedigrees of Knights, Harl. Soc.; Wright's Rutland, p. 40; Evelyn's Diary, 14 Aug. 1654; Collins's Peerage, ed. Brydges, vi. 701; Douglas's Peerage of Scotland, i. 323.]

J. M. R.