the following year (14 Jan.) he failed to get a verdict against Henry Booth, second lord Delamere, who was prosecuted in connection with Monmouth's rebellion.
Sawyer's ‘bias was to loyalty, which had been the character of his family’ (Roger North), but he was also firmly attached to the church, and he was not prepared to go all lengths with James II in civil matters. When the question of the dispensing power arose, he told James that ‘in point of law the power was not in the king,’ and gave written reasons for refusing to pass Sir Edward Hales's patent of dispensation. Finally, however, he deferred to the opinion of the judges and signed the patent ‘as a ministerial officer.’ When the patent for the confirmation of Obadiah Walker [q. v.], a Roman catholic, as master of University College, Oxford, was subsequently brought to him, he objected to it ‘as being against all the laws since the days of Elizabeth’ (Reresby, Memoirs, ed. Cartwright, p. 361), and ‘begged on his knees for his dismissal.’ Subsequently he refused to pass a patent to the Duke of Berwick as lieutenant and custos of the forest (Parl. Hist. v. 326 et seq.). In spite of Sawyer's resistance, James retained him in office till December 1687, employing him as attorney-general when government wished to enforce the law, and Sir Thomas Powis, who had replaced Finch as solicitor-general, when the law was to be broken (Macaulay, ii. 343). Early in 1688 Sawyer acted as counsel to the queen-dowager in her suit against Henry Hyde, second earl of Clarendon (Clarendon, Diary 23 Jan. and 10 Feb. 1688; cf. art. Catherine of Braganza).
In June 1688 Sawyer appeared as senior counsel for the seven bishops, and in Macaulay's opinion did his duty ‘ably, honestly, and zealously.’ A summary of his arguments is given by Eachard (Hist. 3rd ed. p. 1105).
Sawyer was elected to the Convention parliament for Cambridge University on 17 Jan. 1689, and took an active part in its early proceedings. He contended that James II by leaving the country had ipso facto abdicated, but that the ‘vacancy of the throne makes no dissolution of government neither in our law nor any other’ (Parl. Hist. v. 47–8); and moved that the house should vote it ‘inconsistent with a protestant government to have a popish prince’ (ib. pp. 51, 62; Macaulay, Hist. ii. 597–8). Sawyer, however, being of opinion that the Convention could not grant money, moved, on 19 Feb. 1689, ‘that the king be advised to issue out new writs to call a parliament’ (Parl. Hist. v. 119–20). On 17 June, during the debate on the heads of a bill of indemnity, he gave a full explanation of his attitude towards James II, and declared he had ‘never had a pardon, nor ever desired it’ (ib. p. 326, quoted above). But in January 1690 Sawyer was attacked by Hawles and others for his conduct in the case of Sir Thomas Armstrong. On the 20th Mrs. Matthews, Armstrong's daughter, came to the bar and testified to Sawyer's part in the prosecution, but admitted that he had denied at the time his power as attorney-general of granting a writ of error to stay the proceedings, and she was, moreover, unable to say that he had demanded execution before the judges had declared themselves. On her withdrawal Sawyer contended that he had only done his duty in putting Armstrong on trial. He then retired from the house. In the debate which followed the lawyers seem to have been divided in their opinions, but violent speeches were made against Sawyer by John Hampden the younger [q. v.] and others; and a motion was finally carried by 131 to 71 to expel him the house (Parl. Hist. v. 516–27; cf. Kennet, iii. 547; Ralph, ii. 178). Hallam applauds the decision, but Macaulay thinks that ‘calm and impartial judges’ would have decided in Sawyer's favour (Hallam, Const. Hist. pop. edit. p. 683 n.; Macaulay, iii. 528). A month later Sawyer was again returned for Cambridge University, Sir Isaac Newton being among his supporters. He took part in the debates on the Recognition Bill and on the Regency Bill in April and May 1690 (Parl. Hist. v. 582, 613, 617). In June 1691 he ‘putt in to succeed’ Pollexfen as lord chief justice, and in March of the next year was thought likely to become lord chief baron (Luttrell); but he died on 30 July 1692 in his house at Highclere, Hants. He was buried in the church which he had built there in the preceding year. By his wife Mary, daughter of Ralph Suckles of Canonbury, Middlesex, he had one daughter. She married Thomas Herbert, eighth earl of Pembroke, and died in 1706. Her second son inherited the estate in accordance with his grandfather's will. After his death in 1769 Highclere reverted to the elder branch, and finally became the property of the earls of Carnarvon .
Roger North, who often assisted him when attorney-general, describes Sawyer as ‘a proper, comely gentleman, inclining to the red; a good general scholar, and perhaps too much of that, in shew at least, which made some account him inclined to the pedantic.’ Though ‘proud, affected and poor spirited,’