King, Peter (1669-1734) (DNB00)

KING, PETER, first Lord King, Baron of Ockham in Surrey (1669–1734), lord chancellor, son of Jerome King, grocer and drysalter, of Exeter, by Anne, daughter of Peter Locke, uncle of the philosopher John Locke, was born in Exeter in 1669. He was educated in Exeter at the nonconformist academy kept by Joseph Hallett (1656–1722) [q. v.] and bred to his father's business, but showed a studious disposition, and spent all his pocket-money in buying books. He was trained as a presbyterian, and interested himself in the early history of the Christian church. In 1691 he published anonymously ‘An Enquiry into the Constitution, Discipline, Unity and Worship of the Primitive Church that flourished within the first three hundred years after Christ. Faithfully collected out of the extant Writings of those Ages,’ London, 12mo. Locke was interested by the treatise, and persuaded King's father to send him to the university of Leyden, where he spent about three years. He was entered as a student at the Middle Temple on 23 Oct. 1694, and was called to the bar on 8 June 1698 by the recommendation of Chief-justice Treby [q. v.] He rapidly made his way both on circuit and at Westminster, and on 10 Jan. 1700–1 was returned to parliament in the whig interest for the close borough of Beeralston, Devonshire. The election gave the whigs an immense majority, and King, by Locke's advice, sacrificed the spring circuit to remain in town and watch the course of events. He made his maiden speech in the house in February 1702, and was, according to a congratulatory letter from Locke, well received. His first reported speech, however, was delivered in the debate on the Aylesbury election case in 1704, when he ably vindicated the rights of the electors. In 1705 he was appointed recorder of Glastonbury, and on 27 July 1708 recorder of London. He was knighted at Windsor on the ensuing 12 Sept., after conveying to the queen the congratulations of the city upon the battle of Oudenarde. At this time he was regarded as one of the mainstays of the whig party. In 1710 he was one of the managers of the impeachment of Sacheverell, and aggravated the doctor's peevish censure of the Toleration Act into a ‘malicious, scandalous, and seditious libel.’ On their return to power after the general election, the tories retaliated by moving (10 June 1712) that the preface to the recently published sermons of Fleetwood, bishop of St. Asaph, deserved burning by the common hangman, a motion which King stoutly, but in vain, resisted. He defended gratuitously William Whiston [q. v.], on his trial for heresy in July 1713 (Whiston, Memoirs, 1749, p. 227). On the arrival of George I in the country, King, as recorder of London, attended with the mayor and corporation to receive him at St. Margaret's Hill, Southwark, on his progress from Greenwich to St. James's (20 Sept. 1714). Soon afterwards, at the suggestion of Lord Cowper [q. v.], he was designated to succeed Lord Trevor [q. v.] in the common pleas, and accordingly on 26 Oct. 1714 he took the degree of serjeant-of-law, and on 22 Nov. the oaths, as chief justice of the common pleas. His salary was fixed at 2,000l., double that of his predecessor. On his consequent resignation of the recordership of London he was presented by the mayor and corporation with a piece of plate ‘as a loving remembrance of his many good services done to the city.’ On 29 March 1715 he was sworn of the privy council (Boyer, Polit. State of Great Britain, ix. 238). During the tenure of his new office King gained the reputation of an eminently able, learned, and impartial judge, but, as the business of his court was entirely civil, had not much opportunity of trying notorious cases. He tried the commoners implicated in the rebellion of 1715; but these cases are not reported, though, from some excerpts printed by Lord Campbell from his manuscript report to the secretary of state, he appears to have been lenient. In a case tried by him in 1722 King has been censured for putting too liberal a construction upon the Coventry Act (22 & 23 Car. II. c. 1), which made malicious maiming or wounding, with intent to disfigure the person, felony, without benefit of clergy. A man had been left for dead by his intending murderers, but had recovered. King directed the jury that the intent to murder included the intent to maim or wound, and the prisoners were convicted and executed.

In January 1717–18 King concurred with the majority of his colleagues in advising George I that the custody of the royal grandchildren was vested not in their father, but in the crown, a fact which was probably not forgotten when the Earl of Macclesfield resigned the great seal in January 1724–5 [see Parker, Thomas, Earl of Macclesfield, 1666–1732]. King was at once commissioned to supply the late chancellor's place as speaker of the House of Lords, in which capacity he presided at his trial on the articles of impeachment subsequently exhibited against Macclesfield, and read the sentence of the house on 25 May. On 28 May he was raised to the peerage as Lord King, baron of Ockham, Surrey, and took his seat in the House of Lords on the 31st. On 1 June the king delivered to him the great seal, and he was forthwith sworn lord chancellor and appointed one of the lords justices in whom the regency was vested during the king's approaching visit to Hanover. A patent of the office of lord chancellor was also made out to him in the form ‘quamdiu se bene gesserit,’ and besides the ordinary emoluments of his office, which then consisted chiefly of fees, a pension of 6,000l. a year was settled upon him, with an additional 1,200l. a year in lieu of the profits arising from the sale of offices, then for the first time expressly declared illegal. He resigned the chief justiceship on 2 June. On the occasion of George I's last visit to Hanover he was again nominated one of the lords justices, 31 May 1727 (Boyer, Polit. State of Great Britain, xxix. 500, 553, xxxiii. 516). On 16 June following he surrendered the great seal to George II on his accession, but immediately received it back, and took the oaths as lord chancellor, being informed by George (8 July) that he intended to nominate to all benefices and prebends that were in the gift of the chancellor. This pretension King quietly, but firmly and successfully, resisted, hoping his majesty ‘would not put things out of their ancient course,’ and after some discussion the matter dropped.

Few chancellors ever took their seat on the woolsack with greater reputation than King, and quitted it with less. An admirable common lawyer, he was little versed in either the theory or the practice of equity; and though he diligently studied abridgments and reports, and even took private lessons from eminent counsel, he was never able to acquire a competent knowledge of the law he had to administer. He was morbidly diffident, and inclined to defer judgment as long as possible, thus grievously aggravating the dilatoriness of chancery procedure. Arrears multiplied exorbitantly, and King was compelled to prolong his sittings far into the night. Still the arrears were not overtaken, and the decrees thus tardily pronounced were only too frequently reversed by the House of Lords. During the last few years of his life he became so drowsy and inattentive that the suitors were left almost entirely at the mercy of the leading counsel, the decrees being usually settled by Attorney-general Yorke and Solicitor-general Talbot.

Nevertheless King established some important legal principles, e.g. that a will of English land, though made abroad, must be made according to the formalities of English law; and that, where a husband had a legal title to his wife's personal estate, a court of equity would not help him to ‘reduce it into possession’ without compelling him to settle a part of it upon her, which did something to mitigate the harshness of the old law. He was the author of the act which substituted English for Latin as the language of writs and similar documents, and also of the statute 12 Geo. I, c. 32, which, by requiring masters in chancery to pay all sums deposited with them in their official capacity into the Bank of England as soon as received, rendered impossible a recurrence of the frauds perpetrated during Lord Macclesfield's tenure of office. He is charged by Whiston, whom he had offended by refusing to join his Society for Promoting Primitive Christianity, with being wholly guided by worldly considerations in dispensing church patronage, and with justifying subscription by unbelievers on the ground that ‘we must not lose our usefulness for scruples’ (Whiston, Memoirs, pt. i. pp. 35, 162). As a minister he made no considerable figure. He was an F.R.S., a friend of Newton and one of his pall-bearers, a governor of the Charterhouse, a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and of a commission for the building of new churches.

A paralytic stroke compelled King to resign the great seal on 19 Nov. 1733. He was offered a pension of 4,000l., or a capital sum of 20,000l., and chose the latter. He died on 22 July 1734 at his seat at Ockham, and was buried in the parish church, where a splendid monument by Rysbrach perpetuates his memory. Lord Hervey has left a clever and ill-natured character, or perhaps caricature, of him in his ‘Memoirs,’ i. 280–1; an extravagant panegyric by the Duke of Wharton, written while he was still lord chief justice of the common pleas, will be found in the ‘True Briton,’ No. xxxix. (See also an absurd adulatory ‘Letter to the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Justice King on his Lordship's being designed a Peer,’ London, 1725, 4to.) King married, in September 1704, Anne, daughter of Richard Seys of Boverton, Glamorganshire, by whom he had four sons—John, Peter, William, and Thomas—and two daughters. Each of his sons in turn succeeded to the title. King's portrait by Daniel de Coning, painted in 1720, is in the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1702 King published a ‘History of the Apostles' Creed: with Critical Observations on its several Articles.’ It was received more favourably abroad than at home, and was highly praised in Bernard's ‘Nouvelles de la République des Lettres’ (November and December 1702). A Latin translation by Gottfried Olearius was published at Leipzig in 1706, and reprinted at Basel in 1750. Later English editions appeared in 1703, 1711, 1719, and 1737. This, the first attempt to trace the evolution of the creed, gave a great impulse to research, and determined the main lines upon which it was to be conducted. The creed, according to King, was originally a baptismal formula, which varied in different churches, and did not assume its present shape till four centuries after the close of the apostolic age. Later writers (see Schaff, Creeds of the Greek and Latin Churches, p. 52) have given 750 as the approximate date. John Simson, professor of divinity in Glasgow, accused of Arianism in 1727, tried to shelter himself behind some words in King's ‘History.’ King made no reply to this misrepresentation of his views, but was defended in a ‘Vindication’ by an anonymous author in 1731. Joseph Bingham in his ‘Antiquities’ frequently refers to King, and with invariable respect, though without accepting all his conclusions.

In 1712 and 1713 King published a second edition of his early ‘Enquiry,’ with a second part treating of ceremonies and worship. The book, though intended to promote the comprehension of the dissenters, is impartial and critical. A correspondence with Edmund Elys [q. v.] upon liturgical forms, occasioned by the first edition, is printed in Elys's ‘Letters on several Subjects’ (1694). In 1717 King was attacked by the anonymous author of ‘The Invalidity of the Dissenting or Presbyterian Ordination,’ and by William Sclater, a nonjuring clergyman, in his ‘Original Draught of the Primitive Church.’ Charles Daubeny [q. v.], in his ‘Eight Discourses, &c.,’ 1804, declares, but without justification, that King was himself converted by this work. John Wesley in 1746 read the ‘Enquiry,’ and, in spite of his high church prejudices, admitted it to be an ‘impartial draught’ (Journal). It was reprinted in 1839 and 1843, with an abridgment of Sclater by way of antidote, and was not really superseded until the publication in 1881 of the Bampton lectures of Edwin Hatch [q. v.] on ‘The Organisation of the Early Christian Churches.’

King was erroneously identified by Mosheim with a ‘Mr. K——,’ who defended the legend of the thundering legion in correspondence with Walter Moyle [q. v.] The real author was a London clergyman named Richard King.

During his tenure of the great seal King kept a diary chiefly of affairs of state, which was printed by his descendant, the seventh baron, as an appendix to his ‘Life of Locke’ [see King, Peter, seventh Lord King].

The reports of Peere Williams, W. Kelynge, and Mosely (the two latter works of slight authority) contain King's decisions while lord chancellor.

[Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xi. 327; Hist. Reg. Chron. Diary, 1734; Chaufepié's Nouveau Dict. Hist.; Biog. Brit.; Biog. Univ.; Lord King's Diary; Campbell's Lives of the Lord Chancellors; Foss's Lives of the Judges; Welsby's Lives of Eminent English Judges; Parl. Hist. vi. 294, 1155; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs; Hearne's Collect. ed. Doble (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), ii. 32; Howell's State Trials, xv. 134 et seq., 418 et seq., 1222, 1323–1404, xvi. 767 et seq.; Lord Raymond's Rep. ed. Gale, 1318, 1319; Lords' Journ. xxii. 377; Collins's Peerage, ed. Brydges, vii. 223; Burke's Peerage, ‘Lovelace;’ Brayley and Britton's Surrey, iii. 112 et seq.]

J. M. R.