Pratt, John (1657-1725) (DNB00)

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PRATT, Sir JOHN (1657–1725), judge, son of Richard Pratt of Standlake, Oxfordshire, and grandson of Richard Pratt of Carswell Priory, near Collumpton, Devonshire, was born in 1657. After matriculating at Oxford, from Magdalen Hall, on 14 March 1672–3, he migrated to Wadham College where he was elected scholar in 1674, and fellow in 1678. He graduated B.A. in 1676, and proceeded M.A. in 1679.

Pratt was admitted on 18 Nov. 1675 a student at the Inner Temple, where he was called to the bar on 12 Feb. 1681–2. He appeared for the crown before the House of Lords in Sir John Fenwick's case, 16–17 Dec. 1696, and before the House of Commons for the new East India Company in support of the petition for a charter on 14 June and 1 July 1698 [see Wright, Sir Nathan, (1653–1714)]. He was made serjeant-at-law on 6 Nov. 1700, was heard by a committee of the House of Commons as counsel for the court of exchequer against a bill for curtailing the fees of the officers of that court on 25 Feb. 1705–6, and on 17 Jan. 1709–10 was assigned, with Sir Simon (afterwards Viscount) Harcourt [q. v.], as counsel for Dr. Sacheverell, but declined to act. On 20 Dec. 1711 he appeared before the House of Lords in support of the patent conferring an English dukedom on James Douglas, fourth duke of Hamilton [q. v.] On 28 Dec. 1711 he was returned to parliament for Midhurst, for which he sat a silent or all but silent member until the dissolution which followed the accession of George I. Meanwhile, on Lord Cowper's recommendation, he was raised to a puisne judgeship in the court of king's bench, and was sworn in accordingly on 22 Nov. 1714 and knighted.

On the question of prerogative submitted to the judges in January 1717–18, whether the custody of the royal grandchildren was vested in the Prince of Wales or the king, Pratt concurred with the majority of his colleagues in favour of the crown. He was one of the commissioners of the great seal in the interval (18 April–22 May 1718) between the resignation of Lord-chancellor Cowper and the seal's transference to Lord-keeper Parker, afterwards earl of Macclesfield. He succeeded the latter, 15 May, as lord chief justice of the court of king's bench, being sworn of the privy council on 9 Oct.

Pratt was a sound lawyer, and not without conscience. In the case of Colbatch v. Bentley, in 1722 [see Colbatch, John], he resisted the combined influence of Sir Robert Walpole and Lord Macclesfield, which Bentley had enlisted in his interest, with an inflexibility which Walpole could only explain by supposing that he was conscious of having ‘got to the top of his preferment.’ His brutal usage of the Jacobite Christopher Layer [q. v.], whom he kept in heavy irons in the Tower pending his trial, though he was suffering from strangury, is an indelible stain on his memory.

Pratt bought, about 1705, the manor of Stidulfe's Place, which he renamed Wilderness, in the parish of Seal, Kent; to this he added, in 1714, Bayham Priory, in the parish of Frant, Sussex, the ancient church of which he wantonly disroofed. He died at his house in Great Ormond Street, London, on 24 Feb. 1724–5. Pratt married twice. By his first wife Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Gregory, rector of Middleton-Stoney, Oxfordshire, he had issue, with four daughters, five sons. By his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Wilson, canon of Bangor, he had four sons and four daughters. His heir was John, his fourth son by his first wife [see Tracy, Robert, 1655–1735]. Charles, his third son by his second wife, eclipsed his fame as a lawyer, and was created Lord Camden [see Pratt, Camden, first Earl Camden]. Of Pratt's daughters by his first wife, the second, Grace, married Sir John Fortescue Aland [q. v.]; Jane, his second daughter by his second wife, married Nicholas Hardinge [q. v.]; Anna Maria, his third daughter by the same wife, married Thomas Barrett Lennard, sixteenth lord Dacre [see Lennard, Francis, fourteenth Lord Dacre, ad fin.]

A portrait of Pratt, by Thomas Murray, is in the National Portrait Gallery.

[Collins's Peerage (Brydges), v. 264; Hasted's Kent, i. 337, ii. 379; Harris's Life of Lord Hardwicke, i. 125, 149, 167; Wynne's Serjeants-at-Law; Howell's State Trials, xv. 1216, xvi. 94; Burnet's Own Time (8vo), vi. 80 n.; Lord Raymond's Reports, 1319, 1338 et seq. and 1381; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs; Hardy's Cat. of Lord Chancellors; Sussex Archæolog. Collect. ix. 181; Campbell's Chief Justices; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

J. M. R.