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SAUNDERS, Sir EDMUND (d. 1683), judge, was born of poor parents in the parish of Barnwood, near Gloucester. According to Roger North, ‘he was at first no better than a poor beggar boy,’ obtaining a living in Clement's Inn by ‘courting the attorney's clerks for scraps. The extraordinary observance and diligence of the boy made the society willing to do him good. He appeared very ambitious to learn to write, and one of the attorneys got a board knocked up at a window on the top of a staircase; and that was his desk, where he sat and wrote after copies of court and other hands the clerks gave him. He made himself so expert a writer that he took in business, and earned some pence by hackney-writing. And thus by degrees he pushed his faculties and fell to forms, and by books that were lent him became an exquisite entering clerk’ (The Lives of the Norths, 1890, i. 293–4). In this way he managed to acquire sufficient means to become a member of the Middle Temple, to which he was admitted on 4 July 1660, being described in the entry of his admission as ‘Mr. Edmund Saunders of the county of the city of Gloucester, gentleman.’ Though the usual term of study was seven years, the benchers had power to abridge it on proof of proficiency. This proof Saunders must have furnished, as he was called to the bar on 25 Nov. 1664. Two years afterwards he commenced his famous ‘Reports’ in the king's bench. These ‘Reports,’ which were of peculiar value to the special pleader, and extend from Michaelmas 1666 to Easter 1672, were first published in 1686, with the records in Latin and the arguments in French (London, fol. 2 parts). In the second edition, published in 1722, an English translation of the arguments was also given (London, fol). The third edition, in English, with very valuable notes by Serjeant John Williams, appeared in 1799 and 1802 (London, 8vo, 2 vols.); the fourth, by the same editor, in 1809 (London, 8vo, 2 vols.); the fifth, edited by J. Patteson and E. V. Williams, in 1824 (London, 8vo, 2 vols.); the sixth, by E. V. Williams alone, in 1845 (London, 8vo, 2 vols.). An edition of the ‘Reports’ was published in Dublin in 1791 (8vo, 3 vols.), and several editions have appeared in America. The concise and lucid manner in which these ‘Reports’ were compiled by Saunders led Lord Mansfield to call him the ‘Terence of reporters,’ and Lord Campbell to say that no other work of the kind afforded ‘such a treat for a common lawyer’ (Lives of the Chief Justices, 1858, ii. 62). ‘Notes to Saunders's Reports, by the late Serjeant Williams, continued to the present time by the Right Hon. Sir E. V. Williams,’ were published in 1871 (London, 8vo, 2 vols.).

It is evident from a perusal of these ‘Reports’ that Saunders rapidly acquired a large practice at the bar. In his person, says North, Saunders ‘was very corpulent and beastly; a mere lump of morbid flesh,’ owing to ‘continual sottishness; for, to say nothing of brandy, he was seldom without a pot of ale at his nose or near him. That exercise was all he used; the rest of his life was sitting at his desk or piping at home; and that home was a tailor's house in Butcher Row called his lodging, and the man's wife was his nurse or worse.’ ‘As for his parts,’ North adds, ‘none had them more lively than he. Wit and repartee in an affected rusticity were natural to him. He was ever ready, and never at a loss. … His great dexterity was in the art of special pleading. … But Hales could not bear his irregularity of life; and for that, and suspicion of his tricks, used to bear hard upon him in the court. But no ill-usage from the bench was too hard for his hold of business being such as scarce any could do but himself. With all this, he had a goodness of nature and disposition in so great a degree that he may be deservedly styled a philanthrope. … As to his ordinary dealing, he was as honest as the driven snow was white. … In no time did he lean to faction, but did his business without offence to any’ (North, Lives, i. 294–5). In 1680 Saunders defended Anne Price, who was indicted for attempting to suborn one of the witnesses of the ‘popish plot’ (Cobbett, State Trials, vii. 906), and in the same year was ‘assigned to be of counsel with’ William Howard, Viscount Strafford, and the four other popish lords accused of high treason (ib. vii. 1242). In 1681 he appeared on behalf of the crown against Edward Fitzharris (ib. viii. 270) and Anthony Ashley Cooper, earl of Shaftesbury (ib. viii. 779), both of whom were indicted for high treason. In May 1682 he moved the king's bench for the discharge of Lord Danby (ib. xi. 831), and in the following month he defended William Pain against the charge of writing and publishing letters importing that Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey had ‘murdered himself’ (ib. viii. 1378). In November 1682 he was elected a bencher of the Middle Temple. On the institution of the proceedings on quo warranto against the city of London, Saunders, who had advised the proceedings and settled all the pleadings, was appointed lord chief justice of the king's bench in the place of Pemberton, who was removed to the common pleas, as he was supposed to be less favourable to the crown.

Saunders was knighted at Whitehall on 21 Jan. 1683, and on the 23rd took his seat in the king's bench for the first time, having previously been made a serjeant-at-law (London Gazette, No. 1793). The case of the king against the mayor and the commonalty of the city of London was argued before Saunders both in Hilary and in Easter term. On 8 May Saunders presided at the trial of the sheriffs of London and others for a riot at the election of new sheriffs, and succeeded in obtaining a verdict for the crown (Cobbett, State Trials, ix. 187–298). On the 19th he tried Sir Patience Ward for perjury in the Duke of York's action against Thomas Pilkington (ib. ix. 299–352). On the 22nd he was taken ill while sitting on the bench. The judgment of the court in the quo warranto case was given on 12 June, while Saunders was on his deathbed, by Mr. Justice Jones, who announced that the chief justice agreed with his colleagues in giving judgment for the king and declaring the forfeiture of the charter (ib. viii. 1039–1358). Saunders died on 19 June 1683.

Saunders was an admirable lawyer, and ‘never in all his life betrayed a client to court a judge, as most eminent men do. If he had any fault, it was playing tricks to serve them and rather expose himself than his client's interest. He had no regard for fees, but did all the service he could, whether feed double or single’ (Lives of the Norths, iii. 91). During the short time he presided at the king's bench ‘he gave the rule to the general satisfaction of the lawyers’ (ib. i. 296). In private life he appears to have ‘addicted himself to little ingenuities, as playing on the virginals, plantings, and knick-knacks in his chamber.’ He took great pleasure in his garden at Parson's Green, and ‘would stamp the name of every plant in lead, and make it fast to the stem’ (ib. iii. 92). He was never married. His age was not known, but ‘he was not supposed to be much turned of fifty’ (Campbell, Lives of the Chief Justices, ii. 72). By his will, dated 23 Aug. 1676, republished on 2 Sept. 1681, and proved in the prerogative court of Canterbury on 14 July 1683, Saunders gave to Mary Gutheridge his lease of the bishop's land, ‘which will come to her by special occupancy as being my heir-at-law.’ He bequeathed legacies to his mother and stepfather Gregory, his sister Frances Hall, his aunt Saunders, and his cousin Sarah Hoare. Among other charitable bequests, he left the sum of 20l. to the poor of his native parish of Barnwood. He appointed Nathaniel Earle and Jane, his wife (his former host and hostess of Butcher Row), his residuary legatees ‘as some recompense for their care of him and attendance upon him for many years,’ and appointed them executor and executrix of his will. His judgments will be found in the second volume of Shower's ‘King's Bench Reports’ (1794). He was the author of ‘Observations upon the Statute of 22 Car. II, cap. 1, entituled an Act to prevent and suppress Seditious Conventicles,’ London, 1685, 12mo.

[Authorities quoted in the text; Foss's Judges of England, 1864, vii. 160–4; Law Magazine and Review, xxii. 223–35; Luttrell's Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, 1857, i. 185, 204, 247, 250, 251, 257, 259, 261, 262; Burnet's History of his own Time, 1833, ii. 341–8, 442; Granger's Biographical History of England (1804), iii. 367–8; Law and Lawyers, 1840, i. 44–5; European Mag. lvii. 338–40; Lysons's Environs of London, 1792–1811, ii. 363–4; Townsend's Catalogue of Knights, 1833, p. 60; Wallace's Reporters, 1855, pp. 213–17; Marvin's Legal Bibliography, 1847, pp. 629–30; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ii. 231, 294, 8th ser. ix. 127, 276; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.