Wilde, John (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WILDE or WYLDE, JOHN (1590–1669), chief baron of the exchequer, was the son and heir of George Wylde of Kempsey, Worcestershire, serjeant-at-law, who represented Droitwich in parliament, by his wife Frances, daughter of Sir Edmund Huddleston of Sawston, Cambridgeshire. Born in 1590, he matriculated from Balliol College, Oxford, on 18 Jan. 1604-5, aged 14, and graduated B.A. on 20 Oct. 1607 (being incorporated at Cambridge 1608) and M.A. on 4 July 1610. He became a student, of the Inner Temple about November 1602, and was called to the bar in 1612, was elected a bencher in 1628, and created a serjeant-at- law in 1636. He was appointed under-steward of Kidderminster by the new charter for that borough on 4 Aug. 1636 (Burton, History of Kidderminster). He served for Droitwich in the parliaments of 1620-2, 1624, 1625, 1626, 1628-9, and March to May 1640. In the parliament of 1626 he took part in the debate against the Duke of Buckingham, when he argued from Bracton that common fame was a sufficient ground for accusation (Parl Hist. ii. 53).

On 21 Oct. 1640 Wilde was returned as one of the knights of the shire for Worcester to the Long parliament. He was chairman of the committee appointed to prepare the impeachment against the thirteen bishops concerned in making the new canons, which on 3 Aug. 1641 he presented to the House of Lords. In December he presided over a committee of inquiry as to a plot to bring in the army to overawe the parliament, and on 6 Jan. 1641-2 he was chairman of the committee of the house appointed to sit in the Guildhall, London, to consider the safety of the kingdom and city, and the preservation of the privileges of parliament, which were threatened by the seizure of the members' papers and the king's demand for the arrest of the five members. The same month he reported a conference with the lords respecting the action of the attorney-general, Sir Edward Herbert [q. v.], and conducted the impeachment of Herbert which was ordered by the commons (Parl. Hist. ii. 895, 1039, 1121). In the same year, on the outbreak of the civil war, he subscribed two horses and their maintenance for the defence of the parliament (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 338), and on 28 May 1642 the house granted him leave to buy arms formerly belonging to a recusant, Lord Windsor, for his own use and the use of the county of Worcester (Commons' Journals, ii. 590). An ordinance for making satisfaction to Serjeant Wilde and Sir William Strickland for losses they sustained by the king's forces was read and recommitted on 5 April 1643 (Cal. State Papers), and five days later the same matter was referred to a committee to consider what reparation should be made to him (Commons' Journals, iii. 37). The commons recommended him for appointment as a deputy-lieutenant of Worcestershire on 18 March 1641-2, and he was made a sequestration commissioner for that county in April 1643 (ib.) In February 1642-3 he was recommended for the post of chief baron of the exchequer in the unsuccessful propositions made by the commons to the king (Clarendon, iii. 407). He was one of the twenty members of parliament who were lay members of the Westminster assembly which met on 1 July 1643.

The parliament, at Wilde's suggestion, ordered a new great seal in the place of that which Edward, lord Lyttelton [q. v.], had carried to the king. It was resolved to entrust the new seal to six commissioners, comprising two lords and four commoners, and on 10 Nov. 1643 Wilde was elected as one of the latter. By successive votes these commissioners, notwithstanding the 'self-denying ordinance,' retained the custody of the seal for three years, when on 30 Oct. 1646 they surrendered it to the speakers of the two houses. Wilde was one of the managers on the part of the commons (where he still kept his seat) in the impeachment of Archbishop Laud, whose trial commenced on 12 March 1643-4. His speeches against the primate were more conspicuous for political and religious rancour than for argument and good taste. He served on most of the principal committees of the Long parliament. He was made recorder of Worcester in July 1646 (Commons' Journals; Whitelocke, Memorials, pp. 77, 218; State Trials, iv. 351-598). The commons granted him an allowance of 4l. a week for his maintenance on 3 June 1645 (Journals, iv. 161), but this order was discharged on 20 Aug. 1646 (ib. p. 649). On 19 June 1646 they ordered a commission under the great seal to issue to him and others to hold assizes in the counties of Gloucester, Monmouth, and Hereford, and instructed the county committees to pay him 100l. for his expenses (ib. p. 581). Subsequently he was ordered to go the Oxfordshire and Hampshire circuits. As judge of assize he does not seem to have acted very scrupulously. He condemned Captain John Burley to be hanged at Winchester for causing a drum to be beaten for 'God and King Charles' at Newport, Isle of Wight, in order to rescue his captive sovereign. At the same time he directed the grand jury to ignore the bill of indictment against Major Edmund Rolph for plotting to murder the king. Wood (Fasti, i. 336) states that he received 1,000l for each of these transactions, adding that it 'was all one to him whether he hung or hung not, so he got the beloved pelf.'

On 1 Oct. 1646 Wilde was granted by parliament a patent of precedence equal to the rank of king's counsel and when on 12 Oct. the parliament took upon them to fill the vacancies on the judicial bench, they appointed him chief baron of the exchequer. On 14 Nov., in taking his leave of the house, he returned them his thanks for the appointment, and then received the thanks of the house for his many faithful and great ser- vices upon all public occasions (Commons Journals, vi. 76). He was sworn into office two days later, and still retained his position when the king was beheaded; but though nominated by parliament a member of the high court of justice for the trial of the king on 1 Jan. 1648-9, he, like the other judges, took care not to attend any of its meetings, and his excuses were allowed. He, however, took the new oaths of office under the Commonwealth, and was elected a member of the first council of state on 14 Feb. following (ib. p. 141; Whitlocke, pp. 348-81). He was placed upon numerous committees, and was re-elected on 12 Feb. 1650 to the second council of state, which lasted till 15 Feb. 1651. He was one of the militia commissioners for Worcestershire on 25 Sept. 1651. When Cromwell assumed the protectorate, in December 1653, he did not, for some unrecorded reason, continue Wilde as chief baron, but appointed William Steele (Hardres, Reports). Wilde keenly felt this slight, and there is a letter of complaint from him, dated 12 July 1654, addressed to Whitelocke on his return from the Swedish embassy, who says that it was 'a usual reward in such times for the best services,' and adds that he moved the Protector on Wilde's behalf, 'but to no effect, the Protector having a dislike to the serjeant, but the ground thereof I could not learn ' (Swedish Embassy, ii. 461). He remained out of judicial employment during the remainder of Oliver Cromwell's life, and it is probable that he retired to his Worcestershire estate and took part in local affairs. He acted as justice of peace, and was made a commissioner for raising the assessment in the county in 1656.

In Richard Cromwell's parliament, which lasted from January to April 1659, Wilde again served as member for Droitwich, and there presented a petition praying a restoration to his former office as chief baron, and for payment of the arrears of 1,300l. due to him for his salary. The former was refused, but the latter was granted (Burton, Diary, iv. 390). On the return of the Rump parliament, on 7 May 1659, he resumed his place as a member, and on 16 June following the house ordered that Lord-chief-baron Wild (sic) and other justices go the circuit. He was restored by parliament to his former post of chief baron on 17 Jan. 1659-60 (Whitelocke, Memorials, ed. Henry Reeve, p. 673) ; but the king returned in May, and appointed Sir Orlando Bridgeman [q. v.] in his place. In consequence of his having assisted the lords in several committees of the Convention parliament, Wilde escaped further question, and, absolved by the Act of Indemnity, he retired to his house at Hampstead, where he died in 1669. He was buried at Wherwell, Hampshire, the seat of Charles West, lord De la Warr, who had married Wilde's only daughter and heiress, Anne (Collins, Peerage, i. 287, ii. 166, v. 24). Wilde's wife was Anne, eldest daughter and coheir of Sir Thomas Harries, bart., M.P., serjeant-at-law, of Tong Castle, Shropshire. Wilde's character has been variously judged ; Whitelocke describes him as learned in his profession, but of more reading than depth of judgment, and as executing his office with diligence and justice. Clarendon calls him an infamous judge, and Burton speaks of his tiresome speeches.

[Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500-1714; Masson's Life of Milton; Foss's Judges of England; Nash's History of Worcestershire; Visitation of Worcestershire; Williams’s Worcestershire Members.]

W. R. W.