Kenyon, Lloyd (DNB00)
KENYON, LLOYD, first Lord Kenyon (1732–1802), master of the rolls, the second son of Lloyd Kenyon of Gredington, Flintshire, a landed proprietor and farmer of good education but limited means, by his wife Jane, eldest daughter of Robert Eddowes of Gredington and of Eagle Hall, Chester, was born at Gredington on 5 Oct. 1732. He was educated under Dr. Hughes—whom in after-life he appointed preacher at the Rolls Chapel—at first at his day-school in the neighbouring village of Hanmer, and afterwards at Ruthin grammar school, of which Hughes became head-master. He learnt a little Latin—though his bad Latin was always jeered at when he was a judge—and enough French to be subsequently improved into tolerable French scholarship, but no Greek. Being a younger son, he was at seventeen years of age articled to a solicitor of Nantwich, Cheshire, named Tomkinson, in whose office he remained even after his elder brother had died, and he had been entered as a student of the Middle Temple on 7 Nov. 1750. His mental alertness soon showed itself, and he made great progress, so that, upon Tomkinson's refusal to take him into partnership, he left Nantwich in February 1755 a rapid and accurate conveyancer. He proceeded to London, and was called to the bar on 10 Feb. 1756. (Lord Campbell, however, rightly points out that his reports of cases begin with Easter term 1753, and thence infers, with some probability, that he must have been resident in London from that time.). For some years he had no practice. He lived on the 80l. a year furnished by his father, lodged frugally near the Temple in Bell Yard, by day took notes of Lord Mansfield's judgments (from 1753 to 1759) in the king's bench, which were published posthumously by J. W. Hanmer in 1819, and read law sedulously by night. At last he obtained a little conveyancing, and contrived to pay the expenses of going the North Wales circuit and the Stafford, Oxford, and Shrewsbury sessions by the briefs procured for him by friends. The friendship of John Dunning (afterwards Lord Ashburton), which he obtained in 1759 and kept till Dunning's death in 1782, first brought him regular employment, and while acting as Dunning's ‘devil’ he obtained a junior practice of his own. He was retained for the Duke of Portland in election contests in Cumberland, was introduced to Thurlow, and supplied by his industry the defects of Thurlow's indolence, and in his turn became the patron and helper of John Scott (afterwards Lord Eldon). His fee-book shows both his rise and the gains of lawyers in his day. Till 1764 he made nothing. In that year he received 80l.; in 1770 1,124l.; in 1771 2,487l.; in 1772 3,134l.; in 1775 4,225l.; in 1776 5,008l.; in 1780, the year in which he became a king's counsel, 6,359l.; in 1781 7,437l.; and in 1782, having become attorney-general, 11,038l. He made 80,000l. in sixteen years; his fees for opinions on cases alone were in 1780 2,578 guineas, in 1781 2,936 guineas, and in 1782 3,020 guineas. On the death of his father in 1775 he succeeded to the family estates at Gredington, and, marrying his cousin Mary, daughter of George Kenyon of Peel Hall, Bolton, Lancashire, went to live in Lincoln's Inn Fields. On the death of Sir R. Aston in 1778 he was sounded by Thurlow and Wedderburn about taking the vacant judgeship, but on the advice of Thurlow refused it; and he again declined a similar offer in 1780, on the death of Sir William Blackstone. He was now leader of his circuit, received a silk gown on 30 June 1780, and was the same year appointed chief justice of Chester, a post which he much coveted and prized. On the trial of Lord George Gordon (5 Feb. 1781) he was briefed with Erskine, and, though the latter had been called only two years, Kenyon yielded to him, as the first orator at the bar, the lead in the case, and supplied him with learning and experience. He opened the defence in a speech which Lord Campbell calls ‘very honest but very inefficient,’ and cross-examined most of the witnesses, but left to Erskine the reply (see State Trials, vol. xxi.) At the general election of 1780 he was returned, through Thurlow's influence, for the borough of Hindon in Wiltshire, and took his seat on 31 Oct. He acted with the opposition, but until Lord North's fall only spoke once, on a motion to expedite the hearing of an election petition. He was, in fact, a very bad speaker, thick and hurried in his utterance, awkward in delivery, obscure in expression, and irritable under opposition or interruption. With some hesitation, and acting as usual upon the advice of Dunning and Thurlow, he accepted the offer of the attorney-generalship which Lord Rockingham made him on taking office (23 April 1782). He set himself, against the wish of his colleagues, to remedy the abuse which permitted the receivers of the funds in the different government offices to retain balances in their hands for long periods together without accounting for them, and proposed resolutions calling on Rigby, late paymaster-general, and Welbore Ellis, late treasurer of the navy, to file statements of the balances, said to amount to 1,100,000l., which were in their hands on quitting office. His resolutions were rejected, but he pressed the matter till a subsequent ministry introduced a bill to pay exchequer auditors and tellers by salary and not by fees. When Lord Shelburne came in, Kenyon adhered to him, and, quitting office with him, resigned on 15 April 1783. He resumed it reluctantly under Pitt (26 Dec. 1783), for he disliked both the business of his office and the duties of parliament. His health was impaired, and accordingly, upon the death of Sewell, master of the rolls, shortly before parliament was dissolved, he yielded to the pressure of Pitt and Shelburne, resigned his chief-justiceship of Chester, accepted the mastership of the rolls, small as its emoluments were, was sworn in on 30 March 1784, became a member of the privy council 2 April 1784, and was knighted. As master of the rolls, and sitting often for the lord chancellor, he was one of the most expeditious judges who ever sat in chancery, and cleared off many arrears of causes. He avoided enunciating principles, and was content to decide each case barely on its merits. Retaining his right to sit in parliament, and being returned for Tregoney in Cornwall, he was entrusted by Pitt with the task of justifying the conduct of the high bailiff in the case of the Westminster scrutiny, and in the result the previous question was carried by 233 votes to 136. During the debates upon the motion for the impeachment of Warren Hastings he was a constant speaker in his defence, and especially (May 1786) resisted the motion for production of Hastings's correspondence with Middleton, minister at Lucknow, upon the ground that in a quasi-criminal proceeding discovery of documents ought not to be ordered. His best speech was made in defence of his old friend Sir Elijah Impey [q. v.] On 28 July 1784 he was created a baronet, and was already understood to be designated as Lord Mansfield's successor; but Lord Mansfield, who wished Buller to have the chief-justiceship, clung to office until 1788, when on 9 June Kenyon was sworn in as chief justice, with the title of Baron Kenyon of Gredington, and was installed in November. The appointment was not popular. His manners were rough, blunt, and somewhat boorish. ‘Little conversant with the manners of polite life,’ says Wraxall (Memoirs, 1st ser. p. 165), ‘he retained all the original coarse homeliness of his early habits. Irascible, destitute of all refinement, parsimonious even in a degree approaching to avarice,’ he was the subject of innumerable jests and stories. It was said of him by Lord Ellenborough that the words on his tomb, ‘mors janua vita,’ were not the result of a blunder, but of an attempt at thrift by sparing the expense of a diphthong. But his life was, and had been from youth, strict and temperate, and his integrity was as undoubted as his learning, quickness, and industry were great.
He was much consulted by Pitt and Thurlow upon the regency question during the king's illness in 1788, and was even summoned to attend cabinet councils. His principal trials were Rex v. Stockdale (State Trials, xxii. 253), in which he ruled in favour of making the question of libel or no libel a question for the jury, a view which he tenaciously opposed in the subsequent debates on Fox's Libel Act in 1792; the trials of Frost and of the publishers of the ‘Morning Chronicle’ for seditious libels in 1794, in which he pressed somewhat hardly upon the prisoners, though in the year following he voted with Thurlow against the Treasonable Attempts and the Seditious Meetings Bills; the trial of Reeves in 1796 for libelling the constitution by describing the House of Commons as a mere adjunct of monarchy (ib. xxvi. 590); the trial of Thomas Williams in 1798 for publishing Paine's ‘Age of Reason’ (ib. 703); and the trial of Hadfield for attempting the life of George III. Like Mansfield, Holt, Loughborough, and Eyre, he attended the examinations before the privy council of state prisoners, whom in many instances he afterwards tried (Lord Colchester, Diary, ii. 42). He took up the position of a judicial censor of public morals, denounced gaming, directed heavy damages in actions of crim. con., and in 1800 charged grand juries, by way of remedy for the prevailing scarcity, to present indictments under the long obsolete laws against regrating and forestalling. Both as master of the rolls and as chief justice he set his face against the practice of selling offices in his gift, by which his salary, which during the fourteen years that he held the chief-justiceship averaged only 6,500l., might have been much increased; and though he successfully urged Pitt to raise the salaries of puisne judges to 3,000l., he refused any increase of his own, and himself brought in a bill to abolish sinecure clerkships of assize. He did, however, bestow valuable sinecures—those of custos brevium and of filazer of the king's bench—upon his two eldest sons as they attained their majority. George III honoured him with his particular friendship, constantly asked his advice, and visited him at his house at the Marshgate, Richmond Park. He was commissioned by the king to endeavour to make peace between Pitt and Thurlow on several occasions between 1789 and 1792, and was much consulted by him in 1795 on the extent to which the coronation oath would forbid the royal assent to any relaxation of the laws against Roman catholics. Attendance in the House of Lords became increasingly distasteful to him, and he almost ceased to speak in debate. In 1794 he presided in the House of Lords during Lord Loughborough's illness and at Hastings's trial, which he in vain endeavoured to shorten and bring within reasonable bounds. The death of his eldest son in 1800 so distressed him that he was all but compelled to resign the chief-justiceship. In the autumn of 1801 his health failed; he in vain tried to sit in court during Hilary term 1802, and, dying at Bath on 4 April, was buried at Hanmer Church—where there is an effigy of him by Bacon—and was succeeded in the barony by his eldest surviving son, George.
In person he was about five feet ten inches in height, spare of figure, stern in countenance, chary of speech. He was a pure lawyer, rarely wrong, but rarely venturing on any broad exposition of the law, and always leaning to the strictness of law rather than to the flexibility of equity. No judge who presided so long in the king's bench has been as seldom overruled; yet he hardly ever consulted a book, and could dispose of a score of cases in a day. He was no statesman and disliked politics. His gains, which were large, and his savings, which were larger, he invested in land in Wales, often buying estates on indifferent titles; for, as he said, if he bought property he would find law to keep it till twenty years' occupation gave him a title better than deeds. He became lord-lieutenant of Flintshire in 1797. There are two portraits of him by Romney and one by Opie.
[The principal authority is G. T. Kenyon's Life, published 1873, which corrects the errors of Townshend's anecdotic life in the Lives of Twelve Eminent Judges, and of Lord Campbell's very hostile life in the Lives of the Chief Justices. See, too, Foss's Lives of the Judges; Espinasse's Note-book of a Retired Barrister; Twiss's Life of Lord Eldon; Campbell's Lives of the Lord Chancellors, vol. v. (Lord Thurlow's Life); Wraxall's Posthumous Memoirs; Stevens's Memoirs of Horne Tooke.]