Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bradshaw, John (1602-1659)
BRADSHAW, JOHN (1602–1659), regicide, was the second surviving son of Henry Bradshaw, a well-to-do country gentleman, of Marple and Wibersley halls, Stockport, Cheshire, who died in 1654. His mother was Catherine, daughter of Ralph Winnington of Offerton in the same county, who was married at Stockport on 4 Feb. 1593, and died in January 1603-4. The eldest surviving son, Henry, the heir to the family property, was born in 1600. Francis, the youngest son, was baptised on 13 Jan. 1603-4.
John was born at Wibersley Hall in 1602, and baptised at Stockport Church on 10 Dec. in that year. Educated first at the free school of Stockport, he afterwards attended schools at Bunbury, Cheshire, and Middleton, Lancashire. There is a doubtful tradition that he spent some time in his youth at Macclesfield, and there wrote on a gravestone the lines:
My brother Henry must heir the land,
My brother Frank must be at his command;
Whilst I, poor Jack, will do that
That all the world will wonder at.
He studied law in London, and was called to the bar at Gray's Inn on 23 April 1627. He had previously served for several years as clerk to an attorney at Congleton, and apparently practised as a provincial barrister. He was mayor of Congleton in 1637, and high steward of the borough several years later (Gent. Mag. lxxxviii. i. 328). He formally resigned the office in May 1656. At Congleton he maintained no little state, and possessed much influence in the neighbourhood. He was steward of the manor of Glossop, Derbyshire, in 1630.
'All his early life,' writes Bradshaw's friend, Milton, in the 'Second Defence of the People of England' (1654), 'he was sedulously employed in making himself acquainted with the laws of his country; he then practised with singular success and reputation at the bar.' Before 1643 he had removed from Congleton to Basinghall Street, London, and in that year was a candidate for the post of judge of the sheriffs' court in London. The right of appointment was claimed by both the court of aldermen and the court of common council, and the latter elected Bradshaw on 21 Sept. About the same time the aldermen nominated Richard Proctor, a rival candidate. Bradshaw entered at once upon the duties of the office, and continued in it till 1649, when other employment compelled him to apply for permission to nominate a deputy. Proctor meanwhile brought an action against him in the king's bench. The suit lingered till February 1654-5, when the claim of the court of common council to the appointment was established.
In October 1644 Bradshaw was one of the counsel employed in the prosecution of Lord Macguire of Fermanagh and Hugh Macmahon for their part in the Irish rebellion of 1641. Bradshaw acted with William Prynne, and the latter received much assistance from Bradshaw in his elaborate argument proving that Irish peers were amenable to English juries. The trial resulted in the conviction of Macguire. In 1645 Bradshaw was counsel for John Lilburne in his successful appeal to the House of Lords against the sentence pronounced on him in the Star-chamber for publishing seditious books eight years before. The commons nominated Bradshaw one of the commissioners of the great seal on 8 Oct. 1646, but the lords declined to confirm this arrangement. On 22 Feb. 1646-7 he was appointed chief justice of Chester, and on 18 March following a judge in Wales. In June he was one of the counsel retained (with Oliver St. John, Jermin, and William Prynne) for the prosecution of Judge Jenkins on the charge of passing judgment of death on men who had fought for the parliament. In a letter to the mayor of Chester (1 Aug. 1648) he promises to resume his practice of holding 'the grand sessions' at Chester after 'the sad impediment' of the wars, but only promises attention to the city's welfare on condition of its inhabitants' constant compliance with the directions of parliament (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 344). On 12 Oct. 1648 the parliament created Bradshaw and several other lawyers of their party serjeants-at-law.
On 2 Jan. 1648-9 the lords rejected the ordinance of the commons for bringing the king to trial before a parliamentary commission. The commons straightway resolved to proceed on their sole authority. Certain peers and judges had been nominated members of the commission; but the names of the former were now removed (3 Jan.), and those of Bradshaw, Nicholas, and Steele, all lawyers without seats in the house, substituted. On 6 Jan. the ordinance for the trial passed its final stage. On 8 Jan. the commission held its first private meeting in the Painted Chamber at Westminster to discuss the procedure at the trial, but Bradshaw did not put in an appearance. A second meeting took place two days later, from which Bradshaw was also absent. The commissioners then proceeded to elect a president, and the choice fell upon the absent lawyer. Mr. Say filled the post for the rest of that day's sitting, but a special summons was sent to Bradshaw to be present at the meeting to be held on 12 Jan. He then appeared and 'enlarged upon his own want of abilities to undergo so important a charge. … And when he was pressed … he required time to consider it.' The next day he formally accepted the office, with (it is said) every sign of humility. It was resolved by the court that he should henceforward bear the title of lord president.
Clarendon is probably right in describing Bradshaw as 'not much known in Westminster Hall, though of good practice in the chamber.' There were certainly many lawyers having a higher reputation both in parliament and at the bar who might have been expected to be chosen before Bradshaw president of the great commission. But there were obvious reasons for appointing a lawyer of comparatively little prominence. The proceedings demanded a very precise observance of legal formalities, and a lawyer was indispensable. But the anti-royalists had very few lawyers among them who believed in the justice or legality of the latest development of their policy. Whitelocke and Widdrington both refused to serve on the commission; Serjeant Nicholas, who had been nominated to the commission at the same time as Bradshaw, declined to take part in the trial; the parliamentary judges Rolle, St. John, and Wilde deemed the proceedings irregular from first to last; Edward Prideaux, an able lawyer, whom the commons had appointed solicitor-general on 12 Oct. 1648, was unwilling to appear against the king, and his place was filled for the occasion by John Cook, a man of far smaller ability. But the commissioners, whether or no they had any misgivings, were resolved to prove their confidence in the man of their choice. Everything was done to lend dignity to the newly elected president. The deanery at Westminster was handed over to him as his residence for the future, but during the trial it was arranged that he should lodge at Sir Abraham Williams's house in Palace Yard to be near Westminster Hall. He was given scarlet robes and a numerous body-guard. Although his stout-heartedness is repeatedly insisted on by his admirers, Bradshaw had some fear of personal violence at this time. 'Besides other defence,' says Kennett, 'he had a high-crowned beaver hat lined with plated steel to ward off blows.' The hat is now in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford (Complete Hist. iii. 181 n.; Granger, Biog. Hist. ii. 397).
Private meetings of the commission, attended by less than half the full number of members, were held under Bradshaw's presidency in the Painted Chamber at Westminster almost every day of the week preceding the trial, and on the morning of each day of the trial itself. The trial opened at Westminster Hall on Saturday, 20 Jan. 1648-9. Bradshaw's name was read out by a clerk, and he took his seat, a crimson velvet chair, 'having a desk with a crimson velvet cushion before him.' He was surrounded by attendants, and placed in the midst of his colleagues. The president addressed the prisoner as soon as he was brought into court as 'Charles Stuart, king of England,' and invited him to plead, but the king persistently declined the invitation on the ground of the court's incompetency, and Bradshaw's frequent and impatient appeals had no effect upon him. Finally Bradshaw adjourned the proceedings to the following Monday. The same scene was repeated on that and the next two days. The president repeatedly rebuked the prisoner for his freedom of language, and absolutely refused to allow him to make a speech. On 25 Jan. twenty-nine witnesses were hurriedly examined; on 26 Jan. Bradshaw and the commissioners framed a sentence of death at a private sitting in the Painted Chamber. It was read over by them on the morning of the next day (27 Jan.), after which Bradshaw proceeded to Westminster Hall and pronounced judgment in a long-winded and strongly worded oration. Before Bradshaw spoke, Charles made an earnest appeal to be heard in his defence. Some of the commissioners were anxious to grant him this request, but Bradshaw finally disallowed it. After the sentence was pronounced, the king renewed his demand, but Bradshaw roughly told him to be quiet, and ordered the guards to remove him. On 30 Jan., the day of the execution, the commission held its last meeting in private; the death-warrant was duly engrossed and signed by fifty-eight members. Bradshaw's signature headed the list.
Bradshaw was censured by crowds of pamphleteers for his overbearing and brutal behaviour towards the king at the trial (cf. Reason against Treason, or a Bone for Bradshaw to pick, 9 July 1649). His friends professed to admire his self-confidence and dignity, and spoke as if he had had no previous judicial experience. On the whole it appears that he behaved very much as might be expected of a commonplace barrister suddenly called from the bench of a city sheriffs' court to fill a high and exceptionally dignified judicial office.
The lord president's court was re-established, with Bradshaw at its head, on 2 Feb. 1648-9, and throughout the month it was engaged in trying leading royalists for high treason. The chief prisoners were the Duke of Hamilton, Lord Capel, and Henry Rich, earl of Holland. Bradshaw, arrayed in his scarlet robes, pronounced sentence of death upon them all in very lengthy judgments. He showed none of these prisoners any mercy, but he appeared to least advantage as the judge of Eusebius Andrews [q. v.], a royalist charged with conspiracy against the Commonwealth. He sought by repeated cross-examinations to convict Andrews out of his own mouth, and kept him in prison for very many months. Finally Bradshaw condemned him to death on 6 Aug. 1650 (F. Buckley's account of the trial, 1660, reprinted in State Trials, v. 1-42). Bradshaw did not continue, however, to perform work of this kind. His place was filled by Serjeant Keeble in 1651, and by Serjeant 1'Isle in 1654.
Bradshaw found other occupation in the council of state, to which he was elected by a vote of the commons on its formation (14 Feb. 1648-9), and chosen its permanent president (10 March). He did not attend its sittings till 12 March, after which he was rarely absent. No other member was so regular in his attendance. He was in frequent correspondence with Oliver Cromwell during the campaigns of 1649 and 1650 in Ireland and Scotland, and during those years offices and honours were heaped upon him. On 20 July 1649 parliament nominated him attorney-general of Cheshire and North Wales, and eight days later chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, a post in which he was continued by a special vote of the house on 18 July 1650. On 19 June 1649 parliament, having taken his great merit into consideration, paid him a sum of 1,000l., and on 15 Aug. 1649 formally handed over to him lands worth 2,000l. a year. The estates assigned him were those of the Earl of St. Albans and Lord Cottington. He was re-elected by parliament a member of the council of state (12 Feb. 1649-50, 7 Feb. 1650-1, 24 Nov. 1651, and 24 Nov. 1652), and presided regularly at its sittings, signing nearly all the official correspondence. He was not very popular with his colleagues there. He seemed 'not much versed in such businesses,' writes Whitelocke, 'and spent much of their time by his own long speeches.'
Cromwell's gradual assumption of arbitrary power did not meet with Bradshaw's approval. On 20 April 1653 Cromwell, who had first dissolved the Long parliament, presented himself later in the day before the council of state, and declared it at an end. Bradshaw, as president, rose and addressed the intruder in the words: 'Sir, we have heard what you did at the house in the morning, and before many hours all England will hear it; but, sir, you are mistaken to think the parliament is dissolved, for no power under heaven can dissolve them but themselves; therefore take you notice of that' (Ludlow, Memoirs, 195). Bradshaw did not sit in Barebones's parliament, which met on 4 July 1653, but an act was passed (16 Sept.) by the assembly continuing him in the chancellorship of the duchy
of Lancaster. He was elected [for Stafford] to the next parliament, which assembled on 4 Sept. 1654, but declined on 12 Sept. to sign the 'recognition' pledging members to maintain the government 'as it is settled in a single person and a parliament.' He was summoned by Cromwell before the council of state formed by him on becoming protector, together with Vane, Rich, and Ludlow, and was bidden by Cromwell to take out a new commission as chief justice of Chester. He refused to submit to the order. He declared that he had been appointed during his good behaviour, and had done nothing to forfeit his right to the place, as he would prove before any twelve jurymen. Cromwell did not press the point, and Bradshaw immediately afterwards went his circuit as usual. But Cromwell revenged himself by seeking to diminish Bradshaw's influence in Cheshire. In the parliament which met 17 Sept. 1656 Bradshaw failed to obtain a seat, owing to the machinations of Tobias Bridges, Cromwell's major-general for the county (Thurloe, vi. 313). There had been a proposal to nominate him for the city of London, but that came to nothing. 'Serjeant Bradshaw,' writes Thurloe jubilantly to Henry Cromwell in Ireland (26 Aug. 1656), 'hath missed it in Cheshire, and is chosen nowhere else.'
Bradshaw was now an open opponent of the government. According to an anonymous letter sent to Monk he entered early in 1655 into conspiracy with Haslerig, Pride, and others, to seize Monk as a first step towards the army's overthrow (Thurloe, Papers, iii. 185). He was also suspected, on no very valid ground, of encouraging the fifth-monarchy men in the following year. In August 1656 an attempt was made by Cromwell to deprive him of his office of chief justice of Chester (Thurloe). In private and public Bradshaw vigorously denounced Cromwell's usurpation of power, and he is credited with having asserted that if such conduct ended in the Protector's assumption of full regal power, he and Cromwell 'had committed the most horrid treason [in their treatment of Charles I] that ever was heard of' (Bradshaw's Ghost, being a Dialogue between the said Ghost and an apparition of the late King, 1659). Under date 3 Dec. 1657 Whitelocke writes of the relations between Cromwell and Bradshaw that 'the distaste between them' was perceived to increase. During the last years of the protectorate Bradshaw took no part in politics.
The death of the great Protector (3 Sept. 1658), and the abdication of Richard Cromwell (25 May 1659), restored to Bradshaw some of his lost influence. The reassembled Long parliament nominated him on 13 May one of the ten members of the reestablished council of state who were not to be members of parliament. On 3 June 1659 he was appointed a commissioner of the great seal for five months with Serjeants Fountaine and Tyrrel. But Bradshaw's health was rapidly failing, and on 9 June he wrote to the parliament asking to be temporarily relieved during indisposition of the duties of commissioner of the seal. On 22 July he took the necessary oath in the house to be faithful to the Commonwealth, but was still unable to attend to the work of the office. Matters went badly in his absence. The Long parliament again fell a victim to the army, and on hearing of the speaker's (Lenthall) arrest, 13 Oct., by Lieutenant-colonel Duckenfield on his way to Westminster, Bradshaw rose from his sick bed, and presented himself at the sitting of the council of state. Colonel Sydenham endeavoured to justify the army's action, but Bradshaw, 'weak and extenuated as he was,' says Ludlow, 'yet animated by ardent zeal and constant affection to the common cause, stood up and interrupted him, declared his abhorrence of this detestable action; and telling the council, that being now going to his God, he had not patience to sit there to hear His great name so openly blasphemed.' According to George Bate, his royalist biographer, he raved like a madman, and flung out of the room in a fury (The Lives … of the prime actors … of that horrid murder of … King Charles, 1661). On arriving home at the deanery of Westminster, which he had continued to occupy since his appointment as lord president, he became dangerously ill, and 'died of a quartan ague, which had held him for a year,' on 31 Oct. 1659 (Mercurius Politicus, 31 Oct.) 'He declared a little before he left the world that if the king were to be tried and condemned again, he would be the first man that would do it' (Peck, Desiderata Curiosa, xiv. 32). He was buried with great ceremony in Westminster Abbey (22 Nov.), and his funeral sermon—an elaborate eulogy—was preached by John Howe, preacher at the abbey since 1654 (Merc. Pol. 22 Nov.) Whitelocke describes him as 'a strict man, and learned in his profession; no friend of monarchy.' Clarendon writes of him with great asperity, while Milton's stately panegyric, written in Bradshaw's lifetime (1654), applauded his honest devotion to the cause of liberty. He was not a great man, but there is no reason to doubt his sincere faith in the republican principles which he consistently upheld. He was apparently well read in history and law. According to the pamphleteers, he had built a study for himself on the roof of Westminster Abbey, which was well stocked with books. Charles II, in a letter to the mayor of Bristol (8 March 1661-2), states that Bradshaw's papers, which were then in the hands of one George Bishop, included 'divers papers and writings' taken by Bradshaw 'out of the office of the King's Library at Whitehall, which could not yet be recovered' (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 328). Bradshaw is stated to have supplied 'evidences' to Marchmont Needham, when translating Selden's 'Mare Clausum' (Nicolson, Hist. Libr. iii. 124). He fully shared the piety of the leaders of the parliament, and, in spite of his high-handed conduct as lord president of the commission, does not seem to have been of an unkindly nature. Mr. Edward Peacock found a document a few years ago which proved that Bradshaw, after obtaining the grant of the estates of a royalist named Richard Greene at Stapeley, heard of the destitute condition of Greene's three daughters; whereupon he ordered (20 Sept. 1650) his steward to collect the rent and pay it to them (Athenæum, 23 Nov. 1878). Similarly, on receiving the tithes of Feltham, Middlesex, he issued an address (4 Oct. 1651) to the inhabitants of the parish, stating that his anxiety 'touching spyritualls' had led him to provide and endow a minister for them without putting them to any charge (Athenæum for 1878, p. 689).
On 15 May 1660 it was resolved that Bradshaw, although dead, should be attainted by act of parliament, together with Cromwell, Ireton, and Pride, all of whom died before the Restoration. As early as 3 May 1654 Bradshaw had been specially excepted from any future pardon in a proclamation issued by Charles II. On 12 July 1660 the sergeant-at-arms was ordered to deliver to the house Bradshaw's goods (Commons Journal, viii. 88). On 4 Dec. 1660 parliament directed that the bodies of Bradshaw, Cromwell, and Ireton 'should be taken up from Westminster' and hanged in their coffins at Tyburn. This indignity was duly perpetrated 30 Jan. 1660-1. The regicides' heads were subsequently exposed in Westminster Hall and their bodies reburied beneath the gallows (Pepys's Diary, 4 Feb. 1660-1).
Bradshaw married Mary (b. 1596), daughter of Thomas Marbury of Marbury, Cheshire, but had no children. She died between 1655 and proved in London 16 Dec. 1659 (printed by Earwaker), Bradshaw bequeathed most of his property, which consisted of estates in Berkshire, Southampton, Wiltshire, Somerset, and Middlesex, to his wife, if she survived him, for her life, with reversion to Henry (d. 1698), his brother Henry's son. He also made charitable bequests for establishing a free school at Marple, his birthplace; for increasing the schoolmasters' stipends at Bunbury and Middleton, where he had been educated; and for maintaining good ministers at Feltham and Hatch (Wiltshire), where he had been granted property by parliament. By one codicil he left his houses and lodgings at Westminster to the governors of the school and almshouses there, and added a legacy of 10l. to John Milton, the poet. After the Restoration, however, all Bradshaw's property was confiscated to the crown under the act of attainder.
Two engraved portraits of Bradshaw are mentioned by Granger (ii. 397, iii. 71)—one in his iron hat by Vandergucht, for Clarendon's 'History,' and another in 4to, 'partly scraped and partly stippled.'
Henry Bradshaw, the president's elder brother, signed a petition for the establishment of the presbyterian religion in Cheshire on 6 July 1646; acted as magistrate under the Commonwealth; held a commission of sergeant-major under Fairfax, and subsequently one of lieutenant-colonel in Colonel Ashton's regiment of foot; commanded the militia of the Macclesfield hundred at the battle of Worcester (1651), where he was wounded; sat on the court-martial which tried the Earl of Derby and other loyalists at Chester in 1652; was charged with this offence at the Restoration; was imprisoned by order of parliament from 17 July to 14 Aug. 1660; was pardoned on 23 Feb. 1660-1; and, dying at Marple, was buried at Stockport on 15 March 1660-1 (Earwaker's East Cheshire, ii. 62-9; Ormerod, Cheshire, pp. 408-11).
[Noble's Lives of the Regicides, i. 47-66; Foss's Judges, vi. 418 et seq.; Earwaker's East Cheshire, ii. 69-77; Ormerod's Cheshire, iii. 408-9; Brayley and Britton's Beauties of England, ii. 264-8; Clarendon's Rebellion; Whitelocke's Memorials; Ludlow's Memoirs; Thurloe's State Papers; Cal. State Papers (Dom.), 1649-1658; Carlyle's Cromwell; Commons' Journal, vi. vii. viii.; State Trials, iii. iv. v. Many attacks on Bradshaw were published after his death. The chief of them, besides those mentioned above, are The Arraignment of the Divel for stealing away President Bradshaw, 7 Nov. 1659 (fol. sh.); The President of Presidents, or an Elogie on the death of John Bradshaw, 1659; Bradshaw's Ultimum Vale, being the last words that were ever intended to be spoke of him, as they were delivered in a sermon Preach'd at his Interment by J. O. D. D., Time-Server General of England, Oxf. 1660; The Lamentations of a Sinner; or, Bradshaw's Horrid Farewell, together with his last will and testament, Lond. 1659. Marchmont Needham published, 6 Feb. 1660-1, a speech 'intended to have been spoken' at his execution at Tyburn, but 'for very weightie reasons omitted.' The Impudent Babbler Baffled; or, the Falsity of that assertion uttered by Bradshaw in Cromwell's new-erected Slaughter-House, a bitter attack on Bradshaw's judicial conduct, appeared in 1705.]