Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Plowden, Edmund

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PLOWDEN, EDMUND (1518–1585), jurist, born at Plowden, Shropshire, in 1518, was the eldest son of Humphrey Plowden, esq., of that place, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Sturry, esq., of Ross Hall in the same county, and relict of William Wollascot, esq. He spent three years in the university of Cambridge, which he left without a degree; and in 1538 he entered the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar (Cooper, Athenæ Cantabr. i. 501). According to tradition, he was so excessively studious that for the space of three years he did not leave the Temple once. Before 1550 he resorted to the courts at Westminster and elsewhere, and took notes of the cases there argued and decided. Wood asserts that, after studying at Cambridge and in the Temple, Plowden spent four years at Oxford, and in November 1552 was admitted to practice chirurgery and physic by the convocation of that university (Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 503). He was one of the council of the marches of Wales in the first year of the reign of Queen Mary. In the parliament which began 5 Oct. 1553 he sat for Wallingford, Berkshire; and in July 1554 he was acting as one of the justices of gaol delivery for the county of Salop at the session held at Shrewsbury, at which were decided several important crown cases from divers counties of Wales. In the parliament which assembled 12 Nov. 1554 he appears to have been returned both for Reading, Berkshire, and for Wootton-Bassett, Wiltshire. From 12 Jan. 1554–5 he, with other members, to the number of thirty-nine, who were dissatisfied with the proceedings of parliament, withdrew from the House of Commons. Informations for contempt were filed against them by the attorney-general. Six submitted; but Plowden ‘took a traverse full of pregnancy.’ The matter was never decided. To the parliament which met on 21 Oct. 1555 Plowden was returned for Wootton-Bassett. He was autumn reader of the Middle Temple in 1557, and at one period he was reader at New Inn. On the death of his father, 21 March 1557–8, he succeeded to the estate at Plowden.

On 27 Oct. 1558 a writ was directed to him calling upon him to take upon himself the degree of serjeant-at-law in Easter term following. Before the return of this writ, however, Queen Mary died, whereby it abated. It was not renewed by Queen Elizabeth. He was double Lent reader of the Middle Temple in 1560–1. On 20 June 1561 he was appointed treasurer of his inn, and during the time he held that office the erection of the noble hall of the Middle Temple was begun. In Michaelmas term 1562 he was acting as one of the counsel of the court of the duchy of Lancaster.

His reputation as a lawyer was now very great. As, however, he steadily adhered to the Roman catholic religion, he was regarded with suspicion by the privy council, although they refrained from proceeding against him. It is said that a letter from Queen Elizabeth, offering the office of lord chancellor to Plowden upon condition of his renouncing the catholic faith, was preserved among the family papers at Plowden until the beginning of the present century, when it was unfortunately lost (Foley, Records, iv. 538). His reply was a dignified refusal (ib. p. 539). Plowden was frequently employed in opposing the established authorities. He defended Bonner against Bishop Horne, and his bold advocacy of Bonner's case was completely successful (Cooper, Athenæ Cantabr. i. 409). On 16 Oct. 1566 he appeared at the bar of the House of Commons as counsel for Gabriel Goodman [q. v.], dean of Westminster, in opposition to a bill for abolishing sanctuaries for debt. In this instance, too, his exertions proved effectual: the bill was rejected on 4 Dec. by 75 votes against 60.

On 17 Nov. 1569 the sheriff and magistrates of Berkshire assembled at Abingdon in order to procure subscriptions for observance of uniformity of divine service. All present signed the report except Plowden, who was described as of Shiplake. He was therefore required to give a bond to be of good behaviour for a year, and to appear before the privy council when summoned (State Papers, Dom. Eliz. vol. lx. Nos. 47 and 47 [2]). In a list, dated 1578, of certain papists in London there appeared the name of ‘Mr. Ployden, who hears mass at Baron Brown's, Fish Street Hill.’ On 2 Dec. 1580 articles were exhibited to the privy council against him upon matters of religion. The first was that ‘he came to church until the bull came in that [John] Felton [q. v.] was executed for [in 1570], and the northern rebels rose up, and after that he hath utterly refused both service and sacrament, and every other means to communicate with the church.’ In consequence of his action the Middle Temple, it was said, was ‘pestered with papists.’ He died on 6 Feb. 1584–5, and was buried in the Temple church, where there is a monument to his memory, with his figure in a lawyer's robe, and a Latin inscription.

He married Catharine, daughter of William Sheldon, esq., of Beoley, Worcestershire, and by her had issue: Edmund, who died in 1586; Francis, who lived till 11 Dec. 1652; and Mary, who became the wife of Richard White, esq., by whom she had issue Thomas White [q. v.], principal of the English College at Lisbon.

In addition to his paternal inheritance he left estates at Burghfield, Shiplake, and other places in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. These latter estates seem to have been acquired by his professional gains.

His name was embodied in the proverb, ‘The case is altered, quoth Plowden,’ which has occasioned some speculation as to its origin. The most probable explanation is that Plowden was engaged in defending a gentleman who was prosecuted for hearing mass, and elicited the fact that the service had been performed by a layman, who had merely assumed the sacerdotal character and vestments for the purpose of informing against those who were present. Thereupon the acute lawyer remarked, ‘The case is altered: no priest, no mass,’ and succeeded in obtaining the acquittal of his client. By his contemporaries he was acknowledged to be the greatest and most honest lawyer of his age. Camden says that, ‘as he was singularly well learned in the common laws of England, whereof he deserved well by writing, so for integrity of life he was second to no man of his profession’ (Annales, transl. by R. N., 1635, p. 270). He was regarded with great admiration by Sir Edward Coke, who remarks, in terminating the fourth part of his ‘Institutes:’ ‘We will conclude with the aphorism of that great lawyer and sage of the law, Edmund Plowden, which we have often heard him say, “Blessed be the amending hand.”’

His works are: 1. ‘Les comentaries, ou les reportes de Edmunde Plowden, un apprentice de la comen ley, de dyvers cases esteantes matters en ley, et de les argumentes sur yceaux, en les temps des raygnes les roye Edwarde le size, le roigne Mary, le roy et roigne Phillipp et Mary, et le roigne Elizabeth,’ London, 1571, fol. Reprinted ‘Ovesque un Table des Choses notables, compose per William Fleetwoode, Recorder de Loundres, & iammes cy devaunt imprime,’ 1578. The latter edition contains the second part, which is thus headed: ‘Cy ensuont certeyne Cases Reportes per Edmunde Plowden, puis le primier imprimier de ses Commentaries, & ore a le second imprimpter de les dits Commentaries a ceo addes,’ 1579. Both parts were reprinted, London, 1599, 1613, 1684, fol., and they were translated into English, with useful references and notes [by Mr. Bromley, barrister-at-law], London, 1779, fol.; 2 vols. 1816, 8vo. An epitome of the reports appeared with the following title: ‘Abridgement de toutes les Cases Reportes a large per T[homas] A[she],’ London, 1607, 12mo; translated into English by F[abian] H[icks] of the Inner Temple, London, 1650, 1659, 12mo. Sir Edward Coke, Daines Barrington, and Lord Campbell concur in extolling the merits of Plowden as a reporter. 2. ‘Les Quæres del Monsieur Plowden,’ London, n.d. 8vo; translated into English by H. B., London, 1662, 8vo; 1761, fol. The ‘Queries’ are included in some editions of the ‘Reports.’ 3. ‘A Treatise of Succession written in the lifetime of the most virtuous and renowned Lady Mary, late Queen of Scots. Wherein is sufficiently proved that neither her foreign birth, nor the last will and testament of King Henry VIII could debar her from her true and lawful title to the Crown of England,’ manuscript of 160 pages preserved at Pensax Court, Worcestershire. It is referred to by Sir Matthew Hale (Hist. of the Pleas of the Crown, 1736, i. 324). The dedication to James I is signed by Francis Plowden. 4. Several legal opinions and arguments preserved in manuscript in the Cambridge University Library (Gg. iv. 14, art. 3), and among the Hargrave collection in the British Museum.

His portrait has been engraved by T. Stagner, and his monument by J. T. Smith.

[Addit. MS. 5878, f. 117; Ames's Typogr. Antiq. (Herbert), pp. 819, 822, 1132; Biogr. Brit. (Kippis), v. 197 n.; Campbell's Chancellors, 4th edit. ii. 344; Cal. of Chancery Proceedings, temp. Eliz. ii. 339; Collectanea Juridica, ii. 51; Dodd's Church Hist. i. 532; Foley's Records, iv. 168, 538, 546, 641; Foss's Judges of England, v. 347, 350, 425, 434; Fuller's Worthies (Shropshire); Granger's Biogr. Hist. of England; Haynes's State Papers, 197 vel. 193; Leigh's Treatise of Religion and Learning, p. 294; Murdin's State Papers, pp. 29, 113, 122, 123; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ix. 56, 113, 2nd ser. i. 12, 3rd ser. x. 353 xi. 184; Oliver's Jesuit Collections, pp. 166, 168; Simpson's Life of Campion, p. 307; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Eliz. 1547–80, pp. 307, 355, 689, 696; Strype's Works (gen. index); Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Willis's Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. iii. pt. ii. pp. 25, 40, 45, 52.]

T. C.