Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzjames, John

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FITZJAMES, Sir JOHN (1470?–1542?), judge, son of John Fitzjames of Redlynch, Somersetshire, and nephew of Richard, bishop of London [q. v.], was a member of the Middle Temple, where he was reader in the autumn of 1504 and treasurer in 1509 (Dugdale, Orig. pp. 215, 221). He also held the office of recorder of Bristol in 1510, a place worth 19l. 6s. 8d. per annum, which he does not seem to have resigned until 1533, when he was succeeded by Thomas Cromwell. In 1511 he was one of the commissioners of sewers for Middlesex (Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, Foreign and Domestic, i. 157, 301, iii. pt. ii. 1458, vi. 263, vii. 557). On or about 26 Jan. 1518–19 he was appointed attorney-general, and in this capacity seems to have been sworn of the council, as his signature is appended to a letter dated 13 June 1520 from the council to the king, then at Calais, congratulating him on his ‘prosperous and fortunate late passage.’ About the same time he was appointed, with Sir Edward Belknap and William Roper, to assist the master of the wards in making out his quarterly reports. He was also attorney-general for the duchy of Lancaster between 1521 and 1523, and probably from a much earlier date; and he seems to be identical with a certain John Fitzjames who acted as collector of subsidies for Somersetshire between 1523 and 1534. As attorney-general he conducted, in May 1521, the prosecution of the Duke of Buckingham. The same summer he was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law. On 6 Feb. 1521–2 he was advanced to a puisne judgeship of the king's bench, and two days later he was created chief baron of the exchequer. About the same time he was knighted. In the autumn of 1523 he was entrusted by the king with the delicate task of negotiating a marriage between Lord Henry Percy, who was supposed to be engaged to Anne Boleyn, and Lady Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Fitzjames's diplomacy was crowned with success. On 23 Jan. 1525–6 he succeeded Sir John Fyneux [q. v.] as chief justice of the king's bench. He was a trier of petitions in parliament in November 1529, and signed the articles of impeachment exhibited against Wolsey on 1 Dec. of the same year. He seems to have exerted himself at Wolsey's request to save Christchurch from sequestration (ib. iii. pt. i. 12, 197, pt. ii. 873, 1383, iv. pt. iii. 2690, 2714, 2928; Cobbett, State Trials, i. 296; Brewer, Reign of Henry VIII, ed. Gairdner, ii. 177; Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council, vii. 338; Dugdale, Chron. Ser. 80, 81). Two letters are extant from Fitzjames to Cromwell, one dated 29 Oct. 1532, describing the state of legal business and the ravages of the plague, the other, dated 8 March, and apparently written at Redlynch in 1533, in which he complains much of illness, and begs to be excused attendance in London. He was present, however, at the coronation of Anne Boleyn on 1 June 1533. His name is appended to a proclamation of 7 Nov. 1534, fixing the maximum price of French and Gascon wines at 4l. per tun, pursuant to statute 23 Hen. VIII, c. 7. He was a member of the special tribunals that tried in April 1535 the Carthusians, Robert Feron, John Hale, and others, for high treason under statute 25 Hen. VIII, c. 22, the offence consisting in having conversed too freely about the king's marriage. He also helped to try Fisher and More in the ensuing June and July. It is probable that he secretly sympathised with the prisoners, as he preserved a discreet silence throughout the proceedings, broken only when the lord chancellor directly appealed to him to say whether the indictment against More was or was not sufficient by the curiously cautious utterance, ‘By St. Gillian, I must needs confess that if the act of parliament be not unlawful, then the indictment is not in my conscience invalid.’ On 2 Sept. 1535 he wrote to Cromwell, interceding on behalf of the abbot of Glastonbury, who he thought was being somewhat harshly dealt with by the visitors of the monasteries. In October 1538 he made his will, being then ‘weak and feeble in body.’ He retired from the bench in the same year, or early in the following year, his successor, Sir Edward Montagu, being appointed on 21 Jan. 1538–9. The exact date of his death is uncertain. His will was proved on 12 May 1542. He was buried in the parish church of Bruton, Somersetshire (State Papers, i. 384, 387; Trevelyan Papers, Camden Soc. ii. 55–7; Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, Foreign and Domestic, viii. 229, 350, 384, ix. 85; Cobbett, State Trials, i. 393). The reputation of Fitzjames suffered much at the hands of Lord Campbell, whose errors and fabrications were ably exposed by Foss. It is impossible, with the meagre materials at our command, to say how far Fitzjames may have allowed subserviency to the king to pervert justice. His complicity in the judicial murders of 1535 leaves a stain on his memory. On the other hand he seems to have been superior to bribes.

[Fuller's Worthies, Somersetshire; Lloyd's State Worthies, i. 125–9; Collinson's Somersetshire, i. 226; Hutchins's Dorset, ii. 222; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

J. M. R.