Yelverton, Henry (DNB00)

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YELVERTON, Sir HENRY (1566-1629), judge, the eldest son of Sir Christopher Yelverton [q. v.] and his wife, Margaret Catesby, was born on 29 June 1566, it is said at Easton-Mauduit, his father's house in Northamptonshire (Bridges, Hist. of Northamptonshire, ed. Whalley, ii. 164). According to Wood (Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 275), he was educated for a time among the Oxonians, a statement which, combined with the absence of his name from the matriculation list, makes it almost certain that he was never actually a member of the university. The further statement by the same authority, that Yelverton was 'afterwards amongst the students of Gray's Inn, near London,' is probably true. The only evidence for the admission to Gray's Inn at this date is a copy by Simon Segar of the lost original, now known as Harleian MS. 1912, where, in fol. 84, it is stated that Thomas and Christopher Yelverton were admitted in 1579. Mr. Foster, in the 'Gray's Inn Admission Register,' notes: 'No entry of having paid admission dues. Query if specially admitted,' and assigns the date to 23 Jan. 1579, i.e. 1579-80. This looks as if the two Yelvertons were admitted by favour, and, considering that Henry's younger brother was named Christopher, it is not unlikely that 'Thomas' was a mistake of Segar's for Henry. Henry Yelverton's name is entered in Segar's book as becoming a barrister on 25 April 1593, and an ancient on 25 May of the same year. He was reader in Lent term 4 James I, i.e. in 1607 (Dugdale, Orig. Juridiciales, p. 296).

In the first parliament of James I Yelverton sat for the borough of Northampton. His main disqualification for political life lay in the rapidity with which he changed his profession of opinion. His interests, perhaps his principles, led him to uphold prerogative government. His rough common sense led him to adopt the popular objections to the royal proceedings in detail. On 30 March 1604, when Goodwin's case was before the house, he argued for allowing Goodwin to take his seat in the teeth of the support given by the king to his rejection by chancery. On 5 April, when James had issued his orders, Yelverton was frightened, and argued that the prince's command was like a thunderbolt or the roaring of a lion (Commons' Journals, i. 939, 943). In the session of 1606-7 he was again in trouble, attacking the Earl of Dunbar, the king's Scottish favourite, and generally criticising the bills brought in for effecting a partial union with Scotland; while he fell under Bacon's suspicion as having had a hand in a book published by the puritan lawyer Nicholas Fuller (Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, iv. 95). On the other hand, he declined to argue against the king's wishes in the case of the post-nati, and before the session of 1610 he sought an interview with Dunbar, and ultimately was admitted by the king to an audience, in which he plausibly explained away the words that had given offence (Archaeologia, xv. 27). The result was seen in the uncompromising defence of the claim of the crown to levy impositions without a parliamentary grant. On 23 June 1610 he asserted that the law of England extended only to low-water mark, and the king might therefore restrain all goods at sea from approaching the shore, and therefore only allow their being landed on payment of a duty (Parl. Debates, 1610, Carnden Soc. p. 85). The speech printed as Yelverton's in ' State Trials' (ii. 478) and elsewhere was really delivered by Whitelocke, and Foss's argument (Lives of the Judges, vi. 391) that it proves Yelverton's independence is therefore of no value.

In 1613 Bacon spoke of Yelverton as having been 'won' to the side of the crown (Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, iv. 365, 370), and on 28 Oct. of the same year he succeeded Bacon as solicitor-general. He was knighted on 8 Nov. (Harl. MS. 6063), having, it is said, secured the good word of the king's favourite, Rochester, shortly afterwards created Earl of Somerset. In 1614 Yelverton again took his seat as member for Northampton in the Addled parliament (Palatine Notebook, iii. 122), where he appears to have abstained from speaking on the crucial question of the impositions. On 19 Jan. 1615 he took an official part in the examination of Peacham under torture (Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, v. 94), as well as in a subsequent examination on 10 March (ib. v. 127). About the same time he joined in signing a certificate in favour of the chancery in the conflict with Coke on the question of praemunire (ib. v. 388), and, in short, is found taking the official view of the legal points which arose during the years in which he was solicitor-general. That he refused to take part against Somerset at his trial rests only on the unsupported testimony of Weldon, whose account of the matter is full of blunders.

On Bacon's acceptance of the great seal, in 1617, James announced that Yelverton should succeed him as attorney-general. For some time, however, the king held back from signing the warrant, and Yelverton was not long in discovering that Buckingham stood in his way, looking on him as a creature of the Howard family, who had adopted Somerset's partisans as their own. Yelverton was just then in one of his unbending moods, and refused to apply to the favourite in a matter which he held to concern the king alone. Buckingham, perhaps finding the king determined, sent for Yelverton, telling him that he would lose credit if the attorney-generalship were conferred without his influence being felt, and was answered that it was not the custom of favourites to meddle with legal appointments—an answer which leads to the suspicion that Somerset had not directly interposed in Yelverton's favour in 1613. Yelverton proceeded to express a hope that Buckingham would have no reason to complain of him, on which the favourite, professing himself satisfied, took the warrant to the king and returned with it duly signed. Afterwards Yelverton, as if to mark his dependence on the king only, carried to James a present of 4,000l. (Whitelocke, Liber Famelicus, p. 55). In the dispute between Coke and Buckingham about the marriage of the daughter of the former, Yelverton acted the part of mediator, and it was to his charge that Frances Coke was committed. Later on he gave confidential information to Bacon on the feeling of Buckingham towards him (Yelverton to Bacon, 3 Sept. 1617, Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, vi. 247), and pleaded the lord-keeper's cause at court with success.

In the stretching of the prerogative which preceded the meeting of parliament in 1621 Yelverton, as attorney-general, could not fail to have his share. In April 1617 he had been employed, at Buckingham's instance, in taking legal proceedings against the opponents of the patent for gold and silver thread; but he refused to take the step of committing those persons to prison without first consulting the king. In 1628, however, he concurred with Bacon and Montague in advising that the infringers of the patent should be prosecuted in the Star-chamber (Elsing, Notes of the Proceedings of the House of Lords in 1621, Camden Soc. p. 43). Becoming himself one of the commissioners on 22 April 1618 (Archaeologia, xli. 252), he was subsequently placed on another commission issued on 20 Oct. authorising means to be taken for the punishment of offenders, and in 1619, the silkmen having refused to give a bond to abstain from the manufacture, he committed some of them to the Fleet prison; but, being unwilling to bear the responsibility, announced his intention of releasing them unless Bacon would support him (ib. xli. 259).

It is not unlikely that this reference to Bacon was a sign of Yelverton's dissatisfaction with the policy of which he had hitherto allowed himself to become an instrument. At all events, on 16 June 1620 Bacon and others recommended that, in spite of Yelverton's acknowledgment of error, he should be tried in the Star-chamber on the ground of having officially passed a charter to the city of London containing unauthorised provisions (Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, vii. 98), and on 27 June he was suspended from his office (Grant Book, P.E.O., p. 307). On 27 Oct. Yelverton more expressly acknowledged his offence in the Star-chamber (Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, vii. 134); but this was again held insufficient, and on 10 Nov. he was sentenced to imprisonment in the Tower during pleasure, a fine of 1,000l., and dismissal from his place if the king approved (ib. vii. 140). The king did approve, appointing Yelverton's successor in the attorney-generalship on 11 Jan. 1621.

If Yelverton gave offence to the court by his hesitation in defending the monopolies, he also gave offence to those who attacked the monopolies by defending them at all. On 18 April 1621 he was fetched from the Tower to answer charges brought against him in the House of Lords, where he stated in the course of his defence that his sufferings were in his opinion due to circumstances connected with the patent for inns (Lords' Journals, iii. 77). At this James took offence, and on the 24th invited the peers to defend him against Yelverton's insinuations. On the 30th Yelverton, being called for his defence, turned fiercely upon Buckingham, charging him with using his influence with the king against him (ib. iii. 120). On 16 May the lords sentenced Yelverton to imprisonment, to make his submission to the king and Buckingham, and to pay to Buckingham five thousand marks, as well as ten thousand to the king. Buckingham at once refused to accept the money, while James was content with this vindication of himself and his favourite. Yelverton was accordingly set at liberty in July (Chamberlain to Carleton, 21 July, State Papers, Dom. cxxii. 31). On 10 May 1625, soon after Charles's accession, he was promoted to the bench as a fifth judge of the court of common pleas. In this post he remained till his death on 24 Jan. 1629-30. He was buried at Easton-Mauduit (inscription on his tomb in Bridges's Hist. of Northamptonshire, ii. 166). An anonymous portrait was lent by the Marquis of Hastings to the first loan exhibition of 1866 (Cat. No. 480).

Yelverton married Mary, daughter of Robert Beale [q. v.] His son and heir, Christopher, was knighted in 1623, was created a baronet in 1641, and died on 4 Dec. 1654 (Burke, Extinct Baronetcies, p. 595).

[Besides the authorities quoted above, there is a life of Yelverton in Fobs's Judges of England, vi. 389.]

S. R. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.286
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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316 i 36 Yelverton, Sir Henry: after the university, insert He and his brother Thomas were admitted fellow-commoners of Christ's College, Cambridge, on 1 July 1581. Like his father he was afterwards counsel for the college.