Open main menu

POWELL, Sir JOHN (1633–1696), judge, a member of an old Welsh family, son of John Powell of Kenward, Carmarthenshire, was born in 1633. He was taught as a boy by Jeremy Taylor (see Heber, The Whole Works of Taylor, ed. 1822, i. xxvi), and afterwards proceeded to Oxford. Possibly he may be the John Powell of Jesus College who matriculated in 1650, graduated B.A. in 1653, and M.A. in 1664 (Foster, Alumni Oxon.) In 1650 he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn; he was called to the bar in 1657, and became an antient in 1676. The extent and nature of his practice at the bar are not recorded, but on 26 April 1686 he was knighted and appointed a judge of the common pleas. In the following Trinity term he was, with the rest of the judges, called upon for his opinion as to the king's dispensing power, and prudently reserved his judgment; but as he escaped dismissal, he cannot have indicated any decided opinion against it. In 1687 he was, on 16 April, removed to the king's bench, and during James's reign always accompanied Sir Robert Wright, the chief justice of the king's bench, on circuit. Accordingly he participated in the responsibility for the sentence passed upon the Earl of Devonshire for his assault on Colepeper, for which, after the Revolution, he was summoned before the House of Lords, but received no punishment. On 29 June 1688, upon the trial of the seven bishops, he expressed, both during its progress and in his judgment, his opinion that the Declaration of Indulgence was a nullity, and his inability to see anything seditious or criminal in the conduct of the bishops. In consequence he, with Mr. Justice Holloway, who expressed the same views, was dismissed on 7 July. At the beginning of the next reign he declined the offer of the post of lord keeper of the great seal, and he was restored to the bench in May 1689, but was placed in the common pleas. He was sworn in on 11 March 1689, and died at Exeter, of the stone, on 7 Sept. 1696. He was buried at Broadway, near Llangharne, Carmarthenshire, where he had a country seat, and left a son Thomas (d. 1720) of Broadway, Carmarthenshire, who was created a baronet in 1698. The title became extinct on the death of Sir Thomas's son Herbert in 1721. His epitaph is given in Heber's edition of Taylor's ‘Works,’ 1822, i. cccxv. His portrait, by an unknown hand, is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

[Foss's Judges of England; State Trials, xi. 1198, 1369, xii. 426; Parl. Hist. v. 311, 333; Bramston's Autobiography (Camden Soc.), pp. 225, 278; Luttrell's Diary, i. 447, 449, iv. 108; Gent. Mag. 1839, pt. ii. p. 22; Macaulay's Hist. ed. 1875, ii. 204, iv. 32; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vii. 263, 359.]

J. A. H.