Churchill, John (d.1685) (DNB00)

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CHURCHILL, Sir JOHN (d. 1685), master of the rolls, was the son of Jasper Churchill of London, and grandson of Jasper Churchill of Bradford, Somersetshire, the great-grandfather of John, first duke of Marlborough [q. v.] He was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn on 15 March 1639, and, having been called to the bar in 1647, practised in the court of chancery, where he acquired an extensive business. Roger North, in his 'Life of Francis North, Baron of Guilford' (1742), relates that he 'heard Sir John Churchill, a famous chancery practiser, say, that in his walk from Lincoln's Inn down to the Temple Hall, where (in the Lordkeeper Bridgman's time) causes and motions (out of term) were heard, he had taken 28l. with breviates, only for motions and defences for hastening and retarding hearings' (p. 199). It is to the credit of the Lord-keeper Guilford that he afterwards lopped off this 'limb of the motion practice.' Churchill was knighted on 16 Aug. 1670, and appointed autumn reader at Lincoln's Inn in the same year. In May 1661 'John Churchill, esq.' was elected one of the members for the borough of Dorchester, and was returned by the borough of Newtown in the Isle of Wight to the succeeding parliament of 167 8-9. As there is no other description given in the list, and as the second return is obviously inaccurate, there is some doubt whether this was Sir John Churchill.

About 1674 he was created a king’s counsel and made attorney-general to the Duke of York. In May 1675 he was appointed by the House of Lords senior counsel or Sir Nicholas Crispe on his appeal from a chancery decree in favour of Thomas Dalmahoy, a member of the House of Commons. This was considered a breach of privilege by the commons, being in contravention of the resolution which it had recently passed, to the effect that ‘whosoever shall appear at the bar of the House of Lords, to prosecute any suit against any member of this house, shall be deemed a breaker and infringer of the rights and privileges of this house.’ On 1 June 1675 Churchill and the three other counsel who had appeared on behalf of Crispe were, by the order of the House of Commons, taken into custody by the serjeant-at-arms. After they had en released by the order of the House of Lords, it was resolved by the House of Commons on the 4th, by 152 to 147, that Sir John Churchill ‘should be sent to the Tower for his breach of privilege and contempt of the authority of this house,’ whereupon he was seized by the serjeant-at-arms while within the bar of the court of chancery, and committed to the Tower. The quarrel between the two houses was at length put an end to by the prorogation of parliament by the king on 9 June, when Churchill was immediately released. In 1683 he was chosen recorder of Bristol, in the room of Sir Thomas Atkins (Luttrell, 1857, i. 254), and on 12 Jan. 1685 he succeeded Sir Harbottle Grimston as master of the rolls. In March following he was elected member for Bristol, and he died during the succeeding summer vacation.

He married Susan, daughter of Edmund Prideaux, by whom he left four daughters. The manor of Churchill in Somersetshire, which he purchased from Richard Jennyns, was sold soon after his death for the payment of his debts.

[Foss’s Lives of the Judges of England (1864), vii. 217-19; Collins’s Peerage (1812), i. 365; Collinson’s Somerset (1791), iii. 579-82; Barrett’s Bristol (1789), p. 159; Shower’s Reports (1720). 2nd pt. p. 434; State Trials (1810), vi. 1144-70; Parliamentary History, iv. 722-40; Parliamentary Papers (1868), vol. lxii. pt. i.; Notes and Queries, 5th series, ii. 110, 173.]

G. F. R. B.