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

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SKYNNER, Sir JOHN (1724?–1805), judge, son of John and Elizabeth Skynner of Great Milton, Oxfordshire, was born in London about 1724, and was educated at Westminster school, where at the age of fourteen he became a king's scholar, and was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, at Whitsuntide 1742. He matriculated at Oxford on 19 June 1742, and graduated B.C.L. on 27 Jan. 1751. He was admitted a member of Lincoln's Inn on 21 Nov. 1739, and, having been called to the bar in Michaelmas term 1748, joined the Oxford circuit. In Hilary term 1771 he was made a king's counsel, and appointed attorney-general of the duchy of Lancaster. In the same year he became a bencher of his inn. He was returned to the House of Commons for Woodstock at a by-election in January 1771, and continued to represent that borough until his appointment to the exchequer. He opposed the introduction of the Church Nullum Tempus Bill on 17 Feb. 1772 (Parl. Hist. xvii. 303–4), and on 3 April following was appointed second judge on the Chester circuit. He took part on 29 April 1774 in the discussion of the bill for the impartial administration of justice in Massachusetts Bay when he protested against the introduction of appeal for murder into America, and eulogised Blackstone's ‘Commentaries’ as one of the best books ever written upon the laws of this constitution (ib. xvii. 1294–5, 1296). On 12 April 1776 he was elected recorder of Oxford and presented with the freedom of that city. He contributed to the funds of the Bodleian Library (Wood, Hist. and Antiq. of the Univ. of Oxford, 1796, vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 949), and (1789) presented a piece of plate to the Oxford corporation.

Skynner was appointed lord chief baron of the exchequer in the place of Sir Sidney Stafford Smythe [q. v.], and received the honour of knighthood on 23 Nov. 1777. On the 27th of the same month he was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law, and was sworn in as lord chief baron (Sir W. Blackstone, Reports, ii. 1178). After presiding in his court with much learning and ability for rather more than nine years, Skynner was compelled to resign, owing to ill-health, in the Christmas vacation of 1786–7 (Durnford and East, Term Reports, i. 551). He was admitted a member of the privy council on 23 March 1787, and retired into the country, living at Great Milton House, which he had inherited from his mother. He died at Bath on 26 Nov. 1805, and was buried in the south aisle of Great Milton church. Skynner married Martha, daughter of Edward Burn and Martha Davie. His wife died on 4 Dec. 1797. Their only child, Martha Frederica, was married, on 1 Aug. 1799, to the Right Hon. Richard Ryder, third son of Nathaniel, first baron Harrowby, and died on 8 Aug. 1821.

A portrait, by Gainsborough, was bequeathed in 1832 to Lincoln's Inn by Francis Burton, K.C.; a replica hangs in the hall of Christ Church, Oxford. A letter written by Skynner to Thomas James Mathias, from Bath, and dated 28 Feb. 1799, is among the Add. MSS. in the British Museum (22976, f. 208).

[A few Memorials of the Right Rev. Robert Skinner, bishop of Worcester, 1866, pp. 53–7; Woolrych's Lives of Eminent Serjeants-at-Law of the English Bar, 1869, ii. 530–6; Foss's Judges of England, 1864, viii. 368–9; Wood's History and Antiquities of the Colleges and Halls in the University of Oxford, 1786, App. p. 294; Gent. Mag. 1797 ii. 1075, 1805, ii. 1176, 1820 i. 107, 1821 ii. 189, 1832 ii. 572; Annual Register, 1805, p. 512; Alumni Westmon. 1852, pp. 251, 318, 326, 547, 556; Alumni Oxonienses, 1715–1886, p. 1305; Lincoln's Inn Registers; Collins's Peerage, 1812, v. 718; Townsend's Calendar of Knights, 1828, p. 54; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. ix. 227; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, ii. 141, 154; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890.]

G. F. R. B.