Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gawdy, Francis

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GAWDY, Sir FRANCIS (d. 1606), judge, was, according to the pedigrees in the Harleian MSS., the son of Thomas Gawdy of Harleston, Norfolk, by his third wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Shires, and therefore half-brother of Thomas Gawdy, serjeant-at-law, who died in 1556, and of Sir Thomas Gawdy [q. v.] Coke tells us that his ‘name of baptism was Thomas, and his name of confirmation Francis, and that name of Francis, by the advice of all the judges, in anno 36 Hen. VIII, he did bear, and after used in all his purchases and grants’ (Comm. on Littleton, 3 a). If, then, the pedigrees in the Harleian collection are correct, there were three sons of Thomas Gawdy of Harleston, by three different wives, each of whom received the baptismal name of Thomas. Francis Gawdy was admitted a student of the Inner Temple on 8 May 1549, being described in the register as ‘de Harleston in com. Norfolk.’ He was elected a bencher of that society in 1558, and was reader there in 1566 and 1571, in which latter year he was also elected treasurer (Dugdale, Orig. pp. 165, 170). He was also, according to Browne Willis, returned to parliament for Morpeth the same year. In Michaelmas term 1577 he was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law, and on 17 May 1582 he was appointed queen's serjeant. In that capacity he opened the case against the Queen of Scots, on the occasion of the proceedings against her at Fotheringhay, 14 Oct. 1586, on the charge of complicity in Babington's conspiracy. He also took part in the proceedings against Secretary William Davison [q. v.], in whose indiscretion in parting with the Scottish queen's death-warrant without express authority Elizabeth sought the means of relieving herself of the odium attaching to the execution (Strype, Annals (fol.), iii. pt. i. 364; Cobbett, State Trials, i. 1173, 1233). On 25 Nov. 1589 he was appointed a justice of the queen's bench (Dugdale, Chron. Ser. p. 95), somewhat against his will, according to his nephew, Philip Gawdy of Clifford's Inn (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. 521 a). His daughter Elizabeth married in the following year Sir William Newport, alias Hatton, nephew of Sir Christopher Hatton. On the death of Sir Christopher Hatton in 1591, he was nominated one of the commissioners to hear causes in chancery during the vacancy of the office of chancellor (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1591–4, p. 311). The first state trial in which he took part was that of Sir John Perrot in June 1592. He was a member of the special commission that sat at York House in June 1600 for the trial of Essex [see Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex], and was one of the advisers of the peers on Essex's trial for high treason in Feb. 1600–1 (Coll. Top. et Gen. iii. 291; Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, ii. 173, 283; Cobbett, State Trials, i. 1315, 1334). In 1602 he went the home circuit with Serjeant Heale, being instructed to substitute for capital punishment ‘servitude in the galleys, rowed by many rowers, which her majesty has provided for the safety and defence of the maritime ports of her realm,’ for a term of seven years in the case of all felonies except murder, rape, and burglary. In a letter from his nephew, Philip Gawdy, to his brother, Bassingbourne Gawdy, written in 1603, Gawdy is said to have ‘disdained to be made a knight.’ Nevertheless his name appears in the list of knights made at Whitehall on 23 July 1603 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. 528 a; Nichols, Progr. (James I), i. 206; Metcalfe, Book of Knights). He was a member of the court that tried Sir Walter Raleigh for high treason in November 1603 (Cobbett, State Trials, ii. 18). There is a tradition that he stated on his deathbed that ‘the justice of England was never so depraved and injured as in the condemnation of Sir Walter Raleigh’ (Spedding, Letters and Life of Bacon, vi. 366). On 26 Aug. 1605 he was created chief justice of the common pleas (Dugdale, Chron. Ser. p. 100). He died suddenly of apoplexy at Serjeants' Inn in the following year. The date cannot be exactly fixed, but the month was probably June, as the patent of his successor, Sir Edward Coke, was dated 30 June 1606. Spelman, who, however, writes with an evident bias against the judge, states, somewhat ungrammatically, that ‘having made his appropriate parish church a hay-house or dog-kennel, his dead corpse, being brought from London to Wallington, could for many days find no place of burial, but in the meantime growing very offensive by the contagious and ill savours that issued through the chinks of lead, not well soldered, he was at last carried to a poor church of a little village thereby called Runcton, and buried there without any ceremony’ (Hist. of Sacrilege, ed. 1853, p. 243). Gawdy married Elizabeth, daughter of Christopher Coningsby, son of William Coningsby [q. v.], judge in the time of Henry VIII (Blomefield, Norfolk, ed. Parkin, vii. 413). His wife being entitled in her own right to the manor of Eston Hall, Gawdy is said to have acknowledged a fine (apparently for the purpose of settling the estate), ‘which done,’ says Spelman, ‘she became a distracted woman, and continued so to the day of her death, and was to him for many years a perpetual affliction’ (ib. p. 242). Of this marriage the sole issue was the daughter already mentioned, who married Sir William Newport. She died in the lifetime of her father, leaving no male issue, but an only daughter, Frances, who was brought up by Gawdy, and in February 1605 married Robert Rich, who was created Earl of Warwick in 1618. Peck, in his ‘Desiderata Curiosa’ (fol.), bk. vi. 51, mentions as among the Fleming MSS. ‘a large account of Babington's plot, as the same was delivered in a speech at Fotheringay, at the examination of Mary Queen of Scots, 14 Oct. 1586, by Judge Gawdy.’ This seems to be identical with the ‘historical account of Babington's conspiracy,’ which we learn from Cobbett's ‘State Trials,’ i. 1173, formed a principal part of Gawdy's speech as queen's serjeant on that occasion.

[Blomefield's Norfolk, ed. Parkin, vii. 412, 516, ix. 63; Inner Temple Books; Addit. MS. 12507, f. 79; Foss's Lives of the Judges.]

J. M. R.