Gilbert, Geoffrey (DNB00)

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GILBERT, Sir GEOFFREY or JEFFRAY (1674–1726), judge, was the son of William Gilbert and Elizabeth, sister of a certain Mistress Gibbons, who was housekeeper of Whitehall in the time of Cromwell (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. 244b). Attempts have been made, but without success, to connect him with Sir Humphrey Gilbert the navigator [q. v.] Nichols (Literary Anecdotes, i. 408) says that he was a relation and an intimate friend of the nonjuring divine, Thomas Brett, D.D. [q. v.], though himself a whig. He was admitted a member of the Inner Temple on 20 Dec. 1692, and was called to the bar in June 1698. His rise in the profession was rapid. On 4 Feb. 1714–15 he was appointed a puisne judge of the king's bench in Ireland, and by patent dated 5 July following he was created chief baron of the court of exchequer in that country. His name is connected with the celebrated constitutional case of Annesley v. Sherlock, in which a conflict occurred between the English and the Irish House of Lords. The Irish house had, in 1703, solemnly and unanimously resolved (1) ‘that by the ancient known laws and statutes of this kingdom her majesty hath an undoubted jurisdiction and prerogative of judging in this her high court of parliament in all appeals and cases within her majesty's realm of Ireland; (2) that the determinations and judgments of this high court of parliament are final and conclusive, and cannot be reversed or set aside by any other court whatsoever.’ These pretensions were so far from being admitted by the English House of Lords that in 1717–18, having reversed on appeal the decision of the Irish house in Annesley v. Sherlock—a case relating to real property in Ireland—they ordered the court of exchequer in that country to give effect to their decree. The court accordingly (Gilbert presiding) issued, on 22 Feb. 1717–18, an injunction commanding the sheriff of Kildare to reinstate the plaintiff Annesley in the possession of certain lands which the Irish house had adjudged to belong to Sherlock, and, on the sheriff neglecting so to do, and alleging in justification the prior order of the Irish house, imposed on him sundry fines, and ultimately issued an attachment against him; whereupon he absconded, and afterwards (28 July 1719) petitioned the Irish house on the subject. The Irish house resolved that Gilbert and his colleagues in the court of exchequer were ‘betrayers of his majesty's prerogative,’ and committed them to the custody of the usher of the black rod. Thereupon the English house resolved that the barons had ‘acted with courage according to law in support of his majesty's prerogative, and with fidelity to the crown of Great Britain,’ and ordered that an address should be presented to his majesty recommending them for special distinction. An act of parliament followed, declaring the pretensions of the Irish house to independent jurisdiction to be null and void, which act remained in force until the concession of Grattan's parliament in 1782. Gilbert resigned the office of lord chief baron on 18 May 1722, and was appointed on the 24th to a seat on the English exchequer bench. On 7 June he took the degree of serjeant-at-law, and on the 9th his seat in the English court. On the resignation of Thomas Parker, lord Macclesfield, he was appointed a commissioner for the custody of the great seal, and was knighted (7 Jan. 1724–5). The commissioners delivered the seal to Lord King on 1 June. On 3 June Gilbert was appointed lord chief baron of the court of exchequer. On 12 May 1726 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He was prevented from presiding in the court of exchequer by a severe illness, of which he died at Bath on 14 Oct. 1726. He was buried in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, commonly known as the Abbey Church, Bath. A monument to his memory was placed in the Temple Church, with an elaborate inscription said to have been written by one of his executors, Phillips Gibbon. He left no children, and probably did not marry.

Gilbert is said to have beguiled his leisure with mathematical studies. As a legal author he achieved permanent though only posthumous distinction. Among his papers were found the following works, which were published at various dates during the last century: 1. ‘Law of Uses and Trusts,’ London, 1734, 1741, 1811, 8vo. The last edition was by E. B. Sugden, afterwards Lord St. Leonards. 2. ‘Law and Practice of Ejectments,’ London, 1734, 1741, 1781, 8vo (the last edition being by Runnington). 3. ‘Reports of Cases argued and decreed in the Courts of Chancery and Exchequer from 4 Queen Anne to 12 Geo. I,’ London, 1734, 1742, fol. 4. ‘History and Practice of Civil Actions in the Common Pleas,’ London, 1737, 1761, 1779, 8vo. A brief treatise on the constitution of England is prefixed to this work. 5. ‘Historical View of the Court of Exchequer,’ London, 1738, 8vo, a first instalment of a work published in its entirety in 1758 under the title of ‘A Treatise on the Court of Exchequer,’ London, 8vo. 6. ‘Treatise of Tenures,’ Dublin, 1754; another edition in 1757; the 5th edition, in 1824, by Charles Watkins, and R. S. Vidal, 8vo. 7. ‘Law of Devises, Revocations, and Last Wills,’ London, 1756, 1773. 8. ‘Treatise on Rents,’ London, 1758, 8vo. 9. ‘History and Practices of the High Court of Chancery,’ London, 1758, 8vo; an edition also appeared in Ireland in the same year. 10. ‘Cases in Law and Equity, argued, debated, and adjudged in the King's Bench and Chancery in the 12th and 13th years of Queen Anne, during the time of Lord-chief-justice Parker. With two treatises, the one on the Action of Debt, the other on the Constitution of England,’ London, 1760, 8vo. 11. ‘The Law of Evidence,’ London, 1761, 8vo. An edition, known as the 4th, enlarged, appeared in 1777, others in 1791, 1792, 1796, the last in four volumes, royal octavo, by Capel Lofft, with a life of the author prefixed, also, by way of introduction, an abstract of Locke's ‘Essay concerning Human Understanding.’ The first volume was reprinted in 1801, with notes and references to contemporary and later cases by J. Sedgwick, 8vo. 12. ‘The Law of Executions, with the History and Practice of the Court of King's Bench, and some cases touching Wills of Lands and Goods,’ London, 1763, 8vo. 13. ‘Law and Practice of Distress and Replevin,’ London, 1780, 1794 (ed. Hunt), 1823 (4th edit. by Impey). Gilbert also wrote ‘A History of the Feud,’ which came into the possession of Hargrave, but has remained in manuscript. A manuscript treatise on ‘Remainders’ has also been ascribed to him.

Gilbert's published works are marked by precision and lucidity of style, and very considerable mastery of his subject, and evince a real desire to exhibit it in a logical shape. The treatise on evidence, which is referred to by Blackstone as a classic, ‘which it is impossible to abstract or abridge without losing some beauty and destroying the chain of the whole’ (Comm. 12th edit. bk. iii. c. 23, p. 367), remained the standard authority on the subject throughout the eighteenth century. Blackstone also praises the ‘History and Practice of Civil Actions in the Court of Common Pleas’ as a work which ‘has traced out the reason of many parts of our modern practice from the feudal institutions and the primitive construction of our courts in a most clear and ingenious manner’ (ib. c. 18, p. 272). There is evidence in the ‘History and Practice of the High Court of Chancery’ (1758) of some acquaintance with Roman law, and of a very clear perception of the analogy between the prætorian code and English equity. Gilbert may thus fairly claim to have used, with eminent success, both the historical and the analytic methods, and even to have discerned the importance of the study of the Roman law, then generally neglected in England.

[Howell's State Trials, xv. 1302–23; Lords' Journ. (Ireland), ii. 625–7; Hist. Reg. Chron. Diary (1720), pp. 85–108, (1722) pp. 28–9, (1725) p. 28, (1726) p. 39; Bunbury's Rep. p. 113; Lord Raymond's Rep. 1380–1, 1420; Life by Capel Lofft, prefixed to Law of Evidence, ed. 1796; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

J. M. R.