Edward Smith (judge)

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Sir Edward Smith or Smythe (1602-1682) was an English-born politician and judge who held the office of Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas.

He was the second son of Edward Smythe, a barrister at Middle Temple.[1] The family's earlier history is uncertain, although it has been suggested that they were related to the Smythe Baronets of Eshe Hall, and also to Sir Thomas Smith, Secretary of State to Elizabeth I.[2] Edward entered Middle Temple in 1627, was called to the bar in 1635 and became a Bencher in 1655.

The inscription on his tomb suggests that he was a member of the House of Commons at the outbreak of the English Civil War and that he took Parliament's side in the conflict, though not without reservations. The inscription states that he supported Parliament so long as it held out against the King and the Church: "that is, as long as there was room for wise politics":[3] This suggests that Smythe opposed the execution of Charles I, and this is borne out by the fact that after the Restoration his past was not held against him. He received a knighthood from Charles II in 1662, and was sent to Ireland as a judge.

The Irish Act of Settlement 1662 was a largely unsuccessful effort to sort out the numerous claims by dispossessed Irish landowners, nearly all of them Roman Catholics, for the return of lands confiscated during the Civil War. A Court of Claims was set up with five judges of whom Smythe was one; he also entered the Irish House of Commons as MP for Lisburn.[4] The Court encountered so many difficulties in judging the competing claims of the dispossessed owners and those who had taken their lands, that Parliament found it necessary to pass a second Act of Explanation 1665; this re-established the court and Smythe continued as a member of it. In 1665 he was appointed Chief Justice and resigned his seat in Parliament : in a farewell speech to his constituents he regretted that public duty had made it impossible to attend to their affairs.[5] Elrington Ball suggests that he regarded the role of Chief Justice as less rewarding that that of judge of claims, and he was accused of prolonging the life of the Court of Claims beyond what was necessary.[6] Finally early in 1669 he closed the proceedings, with a speech in praise of himself and his fellow judges for their impartiality and skill.

At the end of the same year he resigned as Chief Justice. Ball believed he was not prepared to continue on only one income: but he was certainly rich enough to buy Whitchurch Manor in Buckinghamshire, where he spent his retirement. He died in February 1682; the Manor came to his son Edward who died in 1690.[7]

Smythe is buried in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Whitchurch. The inscription, in rather difficult Latin, describes his career as a judge and justifies his opposition to the King during the Civil War. His virtues are described at length: rich in honour and learning, devout, modest, courteous and honest.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol I p.351
  2. ^ Neill,Trevor Lisburn Parliamentary Representatives in the Seventeenth Century (1995) Lisburn Historical Society Journal Vol. 9
  3. ^ Page, William History of Buckingham 1925
  4. ^ Ball p. 351
  5. ^ Neill "Lisburn Parliamentary Representatives"
  6. ^ Ball p.284
  7. ^ Page History of Buckingham