Scroggs, William (DNB00)
|←Scrivener, Matthew||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51
SCROGGS, Sir WILLIAM (1623?–1683), lord chief justice, was born at Deddington in Oxfordshire about 1623. The status of his parents is somewhat doubtful, but his father, who is described as William Scroggs of Deddington ‘pleb.’ (Foster, Alum. Oxon. 1500–1714, iv. 1326), was probably a retired butcher of considerable means. Dugdale told Wood that Scroggs ‘was the son of an one-ey'd butcher near Smithfield Bars, and his mother a big fat woman with a red face like an ale-wife’ (Athenæ Oxon. 1820, iv. 119). North and Luttrell also state that he was a butcher's son (Lives of the Norths, 1890, i. 196; A Brief Relation of State Affairs, 1857, i. 74), and the squibs with which he was assailed in after life constantly alluded to his father's business as that of a butcher.
At the age of sixteen young Scroggs matriculated at Oxford from Oriel College on 17 May 1639. He subsequently removed to Pembroke, where he became ‘master of a good Latin stile, and a considerable disputant’ (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. iv. 115). He graduated B.A. on 23 Jan. 1640, and M.A. on 26 June 1643. Wood says that Scroggs was intended for the church, and that his father had ‘procured for him the reversion of a good parsonage,’ but that having fought for the king as ‘a captain of a foot company, he was thereby disingaged from enjoying it’ (ib. iv. 116). It is clear, however, that Scroggs had chosen the profession of the law before the civil war broke out, as he was admitted a member of Gray's Inn on 22 Feb. 1641. In the entry of his admission he is described as ‘William Scroggs of Stifford, Essex, gent.’ (Foster, Register of Admissions to Gray's Inn, 1889, p. 229). He was called to the bar on 27 June 1653, and his name appears for the first time in the ‘Reports’ as counsel for the defendant in Campion's case, which came before the upper bench in Trinity term, 1658 (Siderfin, ii. 97). According to North, ‘his person was large, visage comely, and speech witty and bold. He was a great voluptuary and companion of the high court rakes. … His debaucheries were egregious, and his life loose, which made the lord chief justice Hales detest him’ (North, Lives, i. 196). He was knighted by Charles II not long after the Restoration, but, greatly to Dugdale's annoyance, refused to pay the fees which were due to the college of arms (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. iv. 119). The exact date of his knighthood is not known. He is, however, designated by his title in a petition which he presented to the king in April 1665, alleging that he had been suspended from his place as ‘one of the city of London's council,’ on account of his inability to walk before the lord mayor on certain days of solemnity owing to the wounds which he had sustained in the cause of the late king (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1664–5, p. 310). In January 1667 he appears to have impressed Pepys by his arguments in the House of Lords in the Duke of Buckingham's claim to the barony of De Ros (Diary and Correspondence, 1848–9, iii. 380). In April 1668 he was assigned as counsel for Sir William Penn, but the impeachment was not proceeded with (Cobbett, State Trials, vi. 876).
On 23 June 1669 Scroggs was elected a bencher of Gray's Inn. He took the degree of the coif in October 1669, and on 2 Nov. following he was made a king's serjeant (Siderfin, i. 435; Wynne, Miscellany, 1765, p. 297). On one occasion after he had become a serjeant, Scroggs was arrested on a king's bench warrant for assault and battery. Scroggs pleaded the privilege of his order, but Hale and the other justices of the king's bench decided against him. It would seem, however, that upon appeal to the exchequer chamber North gave his opinion that serjeants had a privilege to be sued in the court of common pleas only (North, Lives, i. 90; Levinz, ii. 129; Keble, iii. 424; Freeman, i. 389; Modern Reports, ii. 296).
Through the influence of the Earl of Danby, Scroggs was appointed a justice of the court of common pleas, in the place of Sir William Ellis. He took his seat on the bench on 23 Oct. 1676, and ‘made so excellent a speech that my lord Northampton, then present, went from Westminster to Whitehall immediately, told the king he had, since his happy restoration, caused many hundred sermons to be printed, all which together taught not the people half so much loyalty; therefore as a sermon desired his command to have it printed and published in all the market towns in England’ (Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, &c., 1828, i. 2). On the removal of Sir Thomas Rainsford, Scroggs was rewarded for his subserviency to the court by his appointment as lord chief justice of Eng- land. He took his seat in the court of king's bench for the first time on 18 June 1678 (Hatton Correspondence, Camden Soc. Publ. new ser. xxii. 162). He was summoned to the assistance of the House of Commons on 24 Oct., while Oates was detailing his lying narrative of the ‘popish plot.’ In reply to the speaker Scroggs said that he would use his best endeavours, ‘for he feared the face of noe man where his king and countrie were concerned,’ and, withdrawing into the speaker's chamber, ‘he tooke informations upon oath, and sent out his warrants’ (Autobiography of Sir John Bramston, Camden Soc. p. 179; see also Journals of the House of Commons, ix. 521; Journals of the House of Lords, xiii. 301).
The first victim of the ‘popish plot’ was William Stayley, who was tried in the king's bench by Scroggs for treasonable words against the king on 21 Nov. Scroggs repeatedly put questions to the prisoner in order to intimidate and confuse him, and, when the verdict of guilty was pronounced, brutally exclaimed, ‘Now you may die a Roman catholic, and when you come to die, I doubt you will be found a priest too’ (Cobbett, State Trials, vi. 1501–12). Edward Coleman, the next victim, was tried before Scroggs in the king's bench, for high treason, on 27 Nov. Oates and Bedloe were the chief witnesses against the prisoner, and Scroggs in his summing up had the indecency to declare that ‘no man of understanding but for by-ends would have left his religion to be a papist’ (ib. vii. 1–78). At the trial of William Ireland, Thomas Pickering, and John Grove, for high treason, at the Old Bailey on 17 Dec., though it was clear that the testimony of Oates and his associates was perjured, Scroggs insisted that ‘it is most plain the plot is discovered, and that by these men; and that it is a plot and a villainous one nothing is plainer.’ In summing up the evidence Scroggs said: ‘This is a religion that quite unhinges all piety, all morality … They eat their God, they kill their king, and saint the murderer.’ When the three prisoners were found guilty, Scroggs, turning to the jury, said: ‘You have done, gentlemen, like very good subjects and very good Christians—that is to say, like very good protestants—and now much good may their thirty thousand masses do them’ (ib. vii. 79–144). On 10 Feb. 1679 Scroggs presided at the trial of Robert Green, Henry Berry, and Laurence Hill, in the king's bench, for the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. He made a violent harangue against popery, declared his implicit belief in Prance's story, and expressed his ‘great satisfaction that you are, every one of you, guilty’ (ib. vii. 159–230). On the following day Samuel Atkins, a servant of Samuel Pepys, was tried before Scroggs in the king's bench as an accessory before the fact of Godfrey's murder. Atkins, however, established an alibi to the satisfaction of Scroggs, who declared that the prisoner appeared ‘to be a very innocent man in this matter’ (ib. vii. 231–50). The next victims of the ‘popish plot’ were five jesuit priests—Thomas Whitebread, William Harcourt, John Fenwick, John Gavan, and Anthony Turner. They were tried for high treason before Scroggs at the Old Bailey on 13 June. Fenwick and Whitebread had been previously tried for high treason, along with Ireland, Pickering, and Grove, but Scroggs had discharged the jury of them, as there was only one witness against them. Though Whitebread urged that no man could be put in jeopardy of his life the second time for the same cause, the objection was overruled by the court. In his summing up Scroggs declared that Dugdale's evidence gave him ‘the greatest satisfaction of anything in the world in this matter,’ and, turning to the prisoners, exclaimed, ‘Let any man judge by your principles and practices what you will not do for the promoting of the same’ (ib. vii. 311–418). On the following day he presided at the trial of Richard Langhorne at the Old Bailey for high treason. Though Langhorne produced several witnesses to disprove the evidence of Oates, Scroggs felt bound by his conscience to remind the jury that ‘the profession, the doctrines, and the discipline of the church of Rome is such that it does take away a great part of the faith that should be given to these witnesses.’ The jury found Langhorne guilty, and he was sentenced to death with the five jesuits who had been tried on the previous day (ib. vii. 417–90).
On 18 July Sir George Wakeman, William Marshal, William Rumley, and James Corker were tried at the Old Bailey before Scroggs for high treason. On this occasion Scroggs disparaged the testimony of Oates and Bedloe, and implored the jury ‘not to be so amazed and frightened with the noise of plots as to take away any man's life without any reasonable evidence.’ Bedloe had the impudence to complain that his evidence was ‘not right summed up’ by Scroggs, but the jury, taking their cue from the chief justice, brought in a verdict of not guilty (ib. vii. 591–688). By this sudden change of front Scroggs at once lost all the popularity which he had gained by his brutal zeal for the protestant cause. Oates and Bedloe were furious, and he was assailed on every side by broad- sides sides and libels, in which he was commonly designated by the nickname of ‘Mouth.’ The popular opinion was that Scroggs had been bribed by Portuguese gold (Luttrell, i. 17–18; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. pp. 474, 495, 12th Rep. App. vii. 160). This he solemnly denied, but the worth of his denial is questionable. Wood says that Scroggs mitigated ‘his zeal when he saw the popish plot to be made a shooing-horn to draw on others’ (Athenæ Oxon. iv. 116). One of his reasons for changing sides in this case was doubtless the implication of the queen in the charge brought against her physician, Wakeman; another, the discovery that Shaftesbury had not ‘really so great power with the king as he was thought to have’ (North, Lives, i. 196). At the Hereford assizes Scroggs tried Charles Kerne for high treason as a popish priest; the evidence, however, was insufficient, and the prisoner was acquitted (Cobbett, State Trials, vii. 707–16). Andrew Bromwich and William Atkins, who were tried before Scroggs at the Stafford assizes, were not so fortunate, and both were condemned to death. To Bromwich Scroggs playfully said: ‘Come, jesuit, with your learning, you shall not think to baffle us; I have of late had occasion to converse with your most learned priests, and never yet saw one that had either learning or honesty.’ To the jury in the same case he significantly pointed out that they ‘had better be rid of one priest than three felons’ (ib. vii. 715–26, 725–39). After the assizes were over Scroggs visited Windsor, where he was received with great favour by the king, who ‘tooke notice to him how ill the people had used him in his absence. “But,” said he, “they have used me worse, and I am resolv'd we stand and fall together”’ (Hatton Correspondence, i. 192).
On the first day of term (23 Oct. 1679) Scroggs in the court of king's bench made an exceedingly able speech in vindication of his own conduct. He declared that he had followed his conscience according to the best of his understanding in Wakeman's trial, ‘without fear, favour, or reward; without the gift of one shilling, or the value of it, directly or indirectly, and without any promise or expectation whatever’ (Cobbett, State Trials, vii. 701–6). On 25 Nov. Scroggs presided at the trial of Thomas Knox and John Lane, who were convicted of a conspiracy to defame Oates and Bedloe, but he declined to sum up the evidence, as the case was too clear (ib. vii. 763–812). In the following month Scroggs unexpectedly met Shaftesbury at the lord mayor's dinner-table, and, to the confusion of the exclusionists present, proposed the Duke of York's health (Hatton Correspondence, i. 207–10). He took part in the trial of Lionel Anderson, James Corker, William Marshal, William Russell, and Charles Parris, who were convicted at the Old Bailey of high treason as Romish priests on 17 Jan. 1680. Corker and Marshal had been acquitted with Wakeman of the charge of being concerned in the ‘popish plot.’ The principal witnesses against the prisoners were Oates, Bedloe, and Prance, but Scroggs on this occasion made no attempt to disparage their testimony (Cobbett, State Trials, vii. 811–66).
Meanwhile Oates and Bedloe exhibited before the privy council thirteen ‘articles of high misdemeanors’ against Scroggs, charging him, among other things, with setting at liberty ‘several persons accused upon oath before him of high treason;’ with depreciating their evidence, and misleading the jury in Wakeman's case; with imprisoning Henry Carr for printing the ‘Weekly Packet of Advice from Rome, of the History of Popery;’ with refusing to take bail in certain cases; with being ‘much addicted to swearing and cursing in his discourse,’ and to drinking in excess; and with daring to say in the king's presence that the petitioners ‘always had an accusation against anybody.’ Scroggs having put in an answer, the case was heard on 21 Jan. 1680 before the king and council, who were pleased to rest satisfied with Scroggs's ‘vindication, and leave him to his remedy at law against his accusers’ (Luttrell, i. 32; see North, Lives, i. 196; Cobbett, State Trials, viii. 163–74). He presided at the king's bench on 3 Feb., during the greater part of the trial of John Tasborough and Anne Price for attempting to suborn Dugdale, of whom he thought ‘very well’ (Cobbett, State Trials, viii. 881–916). At the trial of Elizabeth Cellier, who was acquitted of the charge of high treason in the king's bench on 11 June, Scroggs refused to receive Dangerfield's evidence, and after exclaiming ‘What! Do you with all mischief that hell hath in you think to brave it in a court of justice?’ committed him to the king's bench prison (ib. vii. 1043–55). Scroggs presided at the trial for high treason of Roger Palmer, earl of Castlemaine [q. v.], in the king's bench on 23 June. Though Dangerfield on this occasion was allowed (after a consultation with the judges of the common pleas) to give evidence, Scroggs again attacked his credibility, and summed up in favour of the prisoner, who was acquitted by the jury (ib. vii. 1067–1112). An application having been made in this term to the king's bench that the ‘Weekly Packet’ was libellous, Scroggs and his colleagues granted a rule absolute in the first instance forbidding the further publication of the newspaper. On 26 June Scroggs and the other justices of the king's bench gave the crowning proof of their servility to the court in frustrating Shaftesbury's attempt to indict the Duke of York as a popish recusant by suddenly discharging the grand jury (Journals of the House of Commons, ix. 688–9). At the trial of Henry Carr for libel at the Guildhall on 2 July, Scroggs still professed his belief in the ‘popish plot,’ which he described to the jury as ‘the certainest of anything of fact that ever came before me.’ Carr had attacked the chief justice in one of the numbers of the ‘Weekly Packet,’ which had appeared soon after Wakeman's trial, but this did not prevent Scroggs from taking part in the proceedings, and Carr was duly found guilty by the jury (ib. vii. 1111–1130; Luttrell, i. 50–1; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. p. 479).
On 23 Nov. the House of Commons, after hearing evidence of the proceedings in the king's bench on 26 June, resolved that ‘the discharging of a grand jury by any judge before the end of the term, assizes or sessions, whilst matters are under their consideration and not presented,’ was illegal, and at the same time appointed a committee ‘to examine the proceedings of the judges in Westminster Hall.’ The report of this committee was presented to the house on 22 Dec., when it was unanimously resolved that Scroggs, Jones, and Weston should be impeached (Journals of the House of Commons, ix. 661, 688–92). The articles of impeachment against Scroggs were eight in number. The first charged him with traitorously and wickedly endeavouring ‘to subvert the fundamental laws and the established religion and government of this kingdom.’ The second was for illegally discharging the grand jury of Middlesex before the end of term. The third was founded on the illegal order made by the court of king's bench for the suppression of the ‘Weekly Packet.’ The fourth, fifth, and sixth were for imposing arbitrary fines, for illegally refusing bail, and for granting general warrants. The seventh was for openly defaming and scandalising several of the witnesses of the ‘popish plot.’ The eighth charged him with ‘frequent and notorious excesses and debaucheries’ and ‘profane and atheistical discourses’ (ib. ix. 697–9, 700). On 7 Jan. 1681 the articles of impeachment were carried up to the House of Lords by Lord Cavendish, and were read in the presence of Scroggs, ‘who stood up in his place.’ After Scroggs had withdrawn from the house, a motion for his committal was made, but the previous question was moved and carried. Another motion for an address to suspend him from his office until after the trial was defeated in the same manner. He was ordered to find bail in 10,000l., with two sureties in 5,000l. each, and to put in his answer on 14 Jan. (Journals of the House of Lords, xiii. 736–9). Before that day came parliament was prorogued, and on the 18th it was dissolved. Term began on 24 Jan., but Scroggs was absent from the king's bench, ‘nor did he come all the term to the court’ (Luttrell, i. 64). Three days after the meeting of the new parliament (24 March 1681), Scroggs put in his answer, denying that any of the charges amounted to high treason, and pleading not guilty. At the same time he presented a petition for a speedy trial (Journals of the House of Lords, xiii. 752). Copies of his answer and petition were sent to the House of Commons, but no further proceedings were taken in the matter, as parliament was suddenly dissolved after a session lasting only eight days.
On account of his great unpopularity it was thought expedient to remove him from the bench; and on 11 April 1681 Scroggs, much to his surprise, received his quietus. He was succeeded as lord chief justice by Sir Francis Pemberton [q. v.] As a reward for his servility to the court Scroggs was granted a pension of 1,500l. a year, while his son was promoted to the rank of a king's counsel. He withdrew to his manor of South Weald in Essex, which he had purchased from Anthony Browne in 1667. After a retirement of two years and a half Scroggs died at his town house in Chancery Lane on 25 Oct. 1683, and was buried in South Weald church.
Scroggs married Anne, daughter of Edmund Fettyplace of Denchworth, Berkshire, by whom he had an only son, William (see below), and three daughters, viz. (1) Mary, who died unmarried on 18 July 1675; (2) Anne, who became the third wife of Sir Robert Wright [q. v.], lord chief justice of England in James II's reign; and (3) Elizabeth, who married, first, Anthony Gilby of Everton in the county of Nottingham, barrister-at-law; secondly, the Hon. Charles Hatton, younger son of Christopher, first baron Hatton, and, dying on 22 May 1724, aged 75, was buried in Lincoln Cathedral.
Scroggs was an able but intemperate man, with a brazen face, coarse manners, a loud voice, and a brutal tongue. Neither his private nor his public character will bear much examination. He possessed little reputation as a lawyer, but he was a fluent speaker, and had ‘many good turns of thought and language.’ Indeed, he could both speak and write better than most of the lawyers of the seventeenth century, ‘but he could not avoid extremities; if he did ill it was extremely so, and if well in extreme also’ (North, Examen, 1740, p. 568). His behaviour on the bench compares unfavourably even with that of Jeffreys. He frequently acted the part of a prosecutor rather than that of a judge. His summing up in some of the ‘popish plot’ cases can only be described as infamous. In fine, he was undoubtedly one of the worst judges that ever disgraced the English bench. But it should be remembered in passing judgment on his character that his faults and vices were shared in a greater or less degree by most of his contemporaries. Violent as his conduct appears to us, Scroggs can hardly be said to have strained the law as it then stood in any of the ‘popish plot’ trials, excepting perhaps in the cases of Whitebread and Fenwick. And though his motives may not have been disinterested, some little credit is due to him for the courage which he showed in the face of an angry mob in helping to expose the machinations of Oates, Bedloe, and Dangerfield. His colleagues in the king's bench, who shared with him the responsibility of these trials, were for the most part passive instruments in his hands. Sir Robert Atkyns [q. v.], however, who ‘was willing to avoid all occasion of discoursing with Scroggs,’ had several differences of opinion with him, and on one occasion Scroggs reported him to Charles II because he presumed to say that ‘the people might petition to the king, so that it was done without tumult it was lawful’ (Parl. Hist. v. 308–9).
The reports of the thirteen state trials at which Scroggs presided were revised by himself, and he appears to have made considerable sums of money by selling to booksellers the exclusive right of publishing them. Some of his judgments in the civil cases which came before him will be found in the second volume of Shower's ‘Reports of Cases adjudged in the Court of King's Bench,’ 1794, pp. 1–159. Several of his letters are preserved in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 28053 f. 114, 29549 ff. 62, 64, 68–75). His ‘Practice of Courts-Leet and Courts-Baron’ was published after his death, London, 1701, 12mo; 2nd edit. London, 1702, 12mo; 3rd edit. London, 1714, 8vo; 4th edit. London, 1728, 8vo. Sir Walter Scott introduces Scroggs into ‘Peveril of the Peak’ (chap. xli.), and Swift refers to him in No. 5 of the ‘Drapier's Letters’ (Swift, Works, 1814, vii. 236–7).
Sir William Scroggs (1652?–1695), only son of the above, was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a chorister. He matriculated at the age of seventeen on 26 March 1669, and graduated B.A. in 1673. He was admitted a member of Gray's Inn on 2 Feb. 1770, was called to the bar on 27 Oct. 1676, appointed a king's counsel in April 1681, and elected a bencher of his inn in May following. He was knighted at Whitehall on 16 Jan. 1681, and on 17 June following he presented an address to the king from some of the members of Gray's Inn, thanking him for dissolving parliament. He served as treasurer of his inn from November 1687 to November 1688. He married, first, in 1684, Mary, daughter of Sir John Churchill, master of the rolls, who died without leaving children; and secondly, in 1685, Anne, daughter of Matthew Bluck of Hunsdon House, Hertfordshire, by whom he had issue. Scroggs died in 1695, leaving his widow executrix of his will (Lutwyche, Reports, 1704, ii. 1510). She died on 23 April 1746, aged 81, and was buried at Chute in Wiltshire. His name appears more than once as counsel in the seventh volume of Cobbett's ‘State Trials.’[Authorities quoted in the text; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time, 1833, i. 190–1, 227–8, 255–85; Wood's Life and Times (Oxf. Hist. Soc. Publ. No. xxi.), ii. 465, 506, 515, 537; Foss's Judges of England, 1864, vii. 164–71; Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chief Justices, 1858, ii. 4–23; Woolrych's Memoirs of the Life of Judge Jeffreys, 1827, pp. 51–5, 316–17; Lingard's Hist. of England, 1855, ix. 172–92, 216–28; Sir J. F. Stephen's Hist. of the Criminal Law in England, 1883, i. 383–404, ii. 310–13; Pike's Hist. of Crime in England, 1873–6, ii. 216–17, 218–29; Morant's Hist. of Essex, 1766, i. (Hundred of Chafford) 119; Wright's Hist. of the County of Essex, 1836, ii. 534; Cussans's Hist. of Hertfordshire, i. (Hundred of Edwinstree) 162–3, (Hundred of Braughin) p. 44; Bloxam's Magdalen College Reg. 1853, i. 95; Le Neve's Pedigrees of Knights (Harl. Soc. Publ. vol. viii.). pp. 346, 369; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xi. 378, 468, 4th ser. iii. 216, 5th ser. vi. 207, 8th ser. v. 407, ix. 307, 439; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1665–6 p. 192, 1667–8 p. 238; Lansdowne MS. (Brit. Mus.) 255; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. pp. 467, 471, 472, 494, 679, 8th Rep. App. i. p. 166, 11th Rep. App. ii. pp. 46, 197–8, 13th Rep. App. v. 344–5, App. vi. p. 20; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890.]