Corbet, Miles (DNB00)

From Wikisource
 
Jump to: navigation, search

CORBET, MILES (d. 1662), regicide, was the second son of Sir Thomas Corbet, knight, of Sprowston, Norfolk, and Anne, daughter of Edward Barret of Belhouse, Essex (Burke, Extinct Baronetage). He became a barrister, entered Lincoln's Inn, and was appointed recorder of Great Yarmouth, which place he represented in the parliaments of 1628 and 1640. In the civil war he took part with the parliament, and became a member of the committee for the county of Norfolk. According to Whitelock, Corbet was chairman of the committee for managing the evidence against Laud, and was very zealous in the prosecution of the archbishop (Whitelock, Memorials, p. 75). But he was specially notorious as chairman of the committee of examinations, whose arbitrary and inquisitorial procedure gained him great unpopularity. In that capacity Corbet examined the papers of James Howell (Epistolæ Ho-elianæ, ed. 1754, p. 285), and came into collision with John Lilburne and Clement Walker, who have left detailed accounts of their controversies with him (Lilburne, Innocency and Truth justified, p. 13; Walker, History of Independency, i. 52). ‘The committee of examinations, where Mr. Miles Corbet kept his justice seat,’ writes Holles, ‘was worth something to his clerk if not to him; what a continual horse-fair it was, even like dooms-day itself, to judge persons of all sorts and sexes!’ (Memoirs, p. 128). In May 1644 parliament appointed Corbet to the post of clerk of the court of wards (Whitelocke, p. 87), and on 7 March 1648 he was made one of the registrars of the court of chancery in place of Colonel Long, one of the impeached members (ib. 294). In the following December Corbet acted as one of the king's judges, to which he thus refers in his dying speech: ‘For this for which we are to die I was no contriver of it; when the business was motioned I spoke against it, but being passed in parliament I thought it my duty to obey. I never did sit in that which was called the high court of justice but once.’ But from the table of attendances in Nalson's edition of the ‘Journal of the High Court of Justice,’ it appears that Miles Corbet was present at five meetings, and in addition to this signed the death-warrant. Ludlow (Memoirs, p. 378) and the author of ‘Regicides No Saints’ (p. 91) agree in affirming that he did not sit till the day of sentence was pronounced, and it is possible that he has been confounded with John Corbet. In October 1650 Corbet was nominated one of the four commissioners appointed by parliament for settling the affairs of Ireland; his instructions are printed in the ‘Parliamentary History’ (xix. 406). During the remainder of the commonwealth and the protectorate he continued to be employed in Ireland. On 13 June 1655 he was appointed chief baron of the exchequer in Ireland (State Papers, Dom.) Ludlow states that he manifested such integrity in his different employments in Ireland that ‘he improved his own estate for the public service whilst he was the greatest husband of the treasure of the commonwealth’ (Memoirs, p. 378). In December 1659 Dublin was surprised by a party of officers, and Corbet was arrested by Major Warren as he was coming from church (ib. p. 299). He soon after returned to England, but on 19 Jan. 1660 a charge of high treason was presented against him by Sir Charles Coote and others (Kennet, Register, p. 24). Ludlow, who was involved in the same accusation, encouraged Corbet to appear in spite of it in the House of Commons, and the house fixed a day for the two to make answer to the charges (Ludlow, p. 312; Kennet, p. 46). But the hearing of this defence was adjourned, and a few days later Corbet was called before the council of state and obliged to enter into an engagement not to disturb the existing government (Ludlow, p. 331). He succeeded in getting returned to the Convention parliament for Yarmouth, but there was a double return, and on 18 May his election was annulled, and he thought it best to fly from England. In 1662 Corbet, in company with Barkstead and Okey, was seized by Sir George Downing in Holland, and shipped over to England (Heath, Chronicle, p. 842). As Corbet, like his companions, had been excluded from the act of indemnity, it was sufficient to prove his identity to obtain a sentence of death against him. He was executed on 19 April 1662 (Heath, Register). In his dying speech Corbet protested that a sense of public duty, not self-interest, had been the inspiring motive of his political life. ‘When I was first called to serve in parliament I had an estate; I spent it in the service of the parliament. I never bought any king's or bishop's lands; I thought I had enough, at least I was content with it; that I might serve God and my country was that I aimed at.’

[Ludlow's Memoirs, 1751; Heath's Chronicle, 1663; Kennet's Register; Noble's Lives of the Regicides. A list of contemporary pamphlets dealing with the trial and execution of Corbet is appended to the life of John Barkstead in vol. iii.]

C. H. F.