cester, on 4 March 1650–1, was brought up by his father's sister at Whiteladies, and educated at the Worcester cathedral school, at private schools at Walsall, Staffordshire, and Sheriff Hales, Shropshire, and at the university of Oxford, where he matriculated from Trinity College on 23 May 1667, but did not graduate. There is, however, no reason to believe that Somers wasted his time at Oxford. On the contrary, it is probable that, with his friend Henry (afterwards Sir Henry) Newton (1651–1715) [q. v.], he there laid the basis of that large and exact accomplishment in the Italian and other foreign languages and literature which is celebrated in the courtly alcaics of Filicaia—
septem ferme idiomatum
Per ostia intras, Nili ad instar,
Immodicæ maria alta famæ
(Poes. Toscan. 1762, ii. 50). There also, in all likelihood, he began those philosophical and theological studies in which Burnet (Own Time, fol. ii. 107) attests his proficiency. He was admitted on 24 May 1669 a student at the Middle Temple, was called to the bar on 5 May 1676, and elected a bencher on 10 May 1689. During his pupilage he resided in Elm Court, afterwards in Pump Court. Among his early patrons were Sir Francis Winnington, solicitor-general 1675–9, and Charles Talbot, twelfth earl (afterwards duke) of Shrewsbury, whose estates his father managed. By Shrewsbury he was introduced to William, lord Russell, Algernon Sidney, and other eminent whigs. He did not, however, allow the distractions of society to wean his mind from the severe studies proper to his profession. After exploring the entire field of English law and equity, he made himself an adept in the civil law, and prepared himself for political action by a close study of the constitution of his country.
Somers appeared as junior counsel for the seven bishops, 29–30 June 1688, being retained against the wish of the defendants at the instance of Henry Pollexfen [q. v.], afterwards chief justice of the common pleas, who refused to plead without him. The event proved that the old lawyer had not misplaced his confidence. Somers showed to no less advantage in court than in consultation. His learning furnished him with a precedent exactly in point, the exchequer chamber case of Thomas v. Sorrel (Vaughan, p. 330), in which it was held that no statute could be suspended except with the consent of the legislature, and his powerful appeal to the jury, which closed the pleading, virtually decided the case. He was shortly afterwards elected recorder of London, but declined the office.
The important rôle assigned to Somers by Lord Campbell in the negotiations with the prince of Orange (November–December 1688) is ignored by the contemporary authorities. But on his return to parliament, 11 Jan. 1688–9, for Worcester, which he continued to represent until his elevation to the woolsack, he at once took the lead in the critical debates on the settlement of the monarchy. Brushing aside the pedantic quibbles of more timid constitutionalists, he maintained with irrefragable logic that the desertion of the kingdom by James II was in fact an abdication of the throne. In this he carried the commons with him, but in the subsequent conference with the lords he encountered an opposition which yielded rather to stress of circumstances than the cogency of his arguments. If not exactly the author of the ‘Declaration of Rights,’ he presided over the committee which framed it, and doubtless had the principal share in its composition. In the debate on the coronation oath he supported an amendment which, if carried, would have relieved George III of one of his scruples in regard to the emancipation of his catholic subjects; otherwise he took comparatively little part in the discussion of the details of the new settlement, being fully engrossed by the office of solicitor-general, to which he was appointed on 4 May 1689. On 31 Oct. following he was knighted. He drafted the declaration of war against France (7 May), took part in the debate on the bill of rights (8 May), and at the conference with the lords on the bill to reverse the sentence against Titus Oates nobly vindicated the right of even the worst of mankind to evenhanded justice (July). In the debate on the revenue bill (17 Dec.), he opposed the grant to the Princess Anne. He was probably the author of the able ‘Vindication of the Proceedings of the late Parliament of England, An. Dom. 1689, being the first in the Reign of their present Majesties King William and Queen Mary,’ which was published at London in the following year, 4to (see Somers Tracts, ed. Scott, x. 257; Parl. Hist. vol. v. app. iv.). In the debates of the ensuing session on the indemnity bill and the bill for restoring corporations he advocated an assignment of the grounds of exception from the one, and the exception from the other of all persons who had been concerned in procuring the corrupt surrender of charters. In the prosecution of the Jacobite Lord Preston and his associates, 16–19 Jan. 1690–1, Somers discharged his duty with a temperate firmness in happy con-