Henry Rolle (1589–1656) was an English judge and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench.
Early life and career
Henry Rolle, the second son of Robert Rolle (d. 1633) of Heanton Satchville, Devon (a scion of the family of Rolle of Stevenstone), by Joan, daughter of Thomas Hele of Fleet in the same county, was born about 1589. John Rolle (1598–1648) was his brother. He matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford on 20 March 1607,[a] and was admitted on 1 February 1609 of the Inner Temple, where he was called to the bar in 1618, was elected bencher in 1633, and reader in 1637 and 1638, but, owing to the prevalence of the plague, did not give his reading until Lent 1639. Among his contemporaries at the Temple and his intimate friends were Sir Edward Littleton (1589–1645), afterwards lord keeper and baron Littleton; Sir Edward Herbert, afterwards attorney-general; Sir Thomas Gardiner, afterwards recorder of London; and John Selden, by whose conversation and friendly rivalry he profited no little in the study of the law and humane learning. Rolle practised with eminent success in the court of king's bench, was appointed recorder of Dorchester in 1636, and was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law on 10 May 1640.
He sat for Callington, Cornwall, in the last three parliaments of King James (1614 to 1623-4), and for Truro in the first three parliaments of his successor (1625 to 1629). He early identified himself with the popular party; no member was more urgent for the impeachment of Buckingham, none more determined that supply must be postponed to the redress of grievances. On the outbreak of the civil war he adhered to the parliament, contributed ₤100 to the defence fund, and took the covenant.
His advancement to a judgeship in the king's bench was one of the stipulations included in the propositions for peace of January 1642-3; on 28 October 1645 he was sworn in as such, and on 15 November 1648, pursuant to votes of both houses of parliament, he was advanced to the chief-justiceship of the court. About a week after the execution of the king he accepted, 8 February 1649, a new commission as lord chief justice of the upper bench on the understanding that no change should be made in the fundamental laws, and on the 13th of the same month he was voted a member of the Council of State. His accession strengthened the government, and his charges on the western circuit contributed much to the settlement of the public mind. On 4 August 1654 he was appointed commissioner of the exchequer. Rolle yielded the palm to none of his contemporaries either as advocate or judge, with the single exception of the great Sir Matthew Hale. His decisions, reported by William Style, rarely relate to matters of historic interest. Nevertheless he established in the case of Captain Streater, committed to prison by order of the council of state and the speaker of the House of Commons for the publication of seditious writings, the principle that a court of justice cannot review parliamentary commitments if regular in form.
Rolle's and his name is associated with one of the causes celebres of international law. Don Pantaleone Sá, brother of the Portuguese ambassador, was arrested for murder committed in an affray in the New Exchange in the Strand. The fact was undeniable, but the Don claimed the privilege of exterritoriality, as being of the household of the ambassador. The point was discussed by Rolle in consultation with two of his puisnes, two admiralty judges, and two civilians, and on 16 January 1654[a] was decided against the Don. The decision was without precedent, for it could neither be denied that the Don was of the household of the ambassador, nor that the privilege of exterritoriality had theretofore been understood to extend even to cases of murder. At the trial, over which Rolle presided on 6 July following, the prisoner was conceded a jury, half English half Portuguese, but was denied the assistance of counsel, and compelled to waive his privilege and plead to the indictment by a threat of peine forte et dure. He was found guilty, sentenced to death by hanging. The execution was carried out on Tower Hill on 10 July.
On the outbreak of the Penruddock uprising, 12 March 1654-5, Rolle was at Salisbury on assize business, when he was surprised by the cavaliers under Sir Joseph Wagstaffe, who coolly proposed to hang him. At Penruddock's intercession, however, he was released; he served as one of the commissioners for the trial of the insurgents at Exeter in the following May. Shortly afterwards, being unable to decide against the merchant George Cony, who had sued a customs officer for levying duty from him by force without authority of parliament, he resigned (7 June 1655) rather than give further offence to the Lord Protector (Cromwell), and was succeeded by Sir John Glynne. He died on 30 July 1656, and was buried in the church of Shapwick, near Glastonbury, in which parish he had a house.
While at the bar Rolle spent much of his leisure in making reports and abridgments of cases. His Abridgment des plusieurs Cases et Resolutions del Commun Ley, published at London in 1668, 2 vols. fol., is prefaced by his portrait and a memoir by Sir Matthew Hale, in which he is characterised as 'a person of great learning and experience in the common law, profound judgment, singular prudence, great moderation, justice, and integrity.' His Reports de divers Cases en le Court del Banke le Roy en le Temps del Reign de Roy Jacques, appeared at London in 1675-6, 2 vols. fol.
- Wookey, Somerset, purchased for £3,500 in 1626.
- Shapwick in Somerset, purchased in 1630, where he re-built the manor house.
- East Tytherley in Hampshire, purchased in 1654
Marriage & progeny
Rolle married Margaret Foot, daughter of Sir Thomas Foot, Alderman of the City of London. They had only one son:
- Francis Rolle, who was knighted at Portsmouth on 1 March 1665 and was lord of the manor of East Tytherley in Hampshire, which county he represented in the parliament of 1681.
- Julian calendar with the start of year adjusted to 1 January (see Old Style and New Style dates)
- Porter, Stephen (2004). "Gerard, John (1632–1654)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10557. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Rigg, James McMullen (1897). "Rolle, Henry". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 162–163.
- Handley, Stuart (May 2008) . "Rolle, Henry (1589/90–1656)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)