Nicholas Lyell, Baron Lyell of Markyate

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Lyell of Markyate
Attorney General for England and Wales
Attorney General for Northern Ireland
In office
10 April 1992 – 2 May 1997
Prime Minister John Major
Preceded by Patrick Mayhew
Succeeded by John Morris
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office
13 June 1987 – 10 April 1992
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
John Major
Preceded by Patrick Mayhew
Succeeded by Derek Spencer
Member of Parliament
for North East Bedfordshire
In office
1 May 1997 – 7 June 2001
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Alistair Burt
Member of Parliament
for Mid Bedfordshire
In office
9 June 1983 – 1 May 1997
Preceded by Stephen Hastings
Succeeded by Jonathan Sayeed
Member of Parliament
for Hemel Hempstead
In office
3 May 1979 – 9 June 1983
Preceded by Robin Corbett
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born (1938-12-06)6 December 1938
Died 30 August 2010(2010-08-30) (aged 71)
Berkhamsted, Herts
Political party Conservative

Nicholas Walter Lyell, Baron Lyell of Markyate, Kt. PC QC (6 December 1938 – 30 August 2010) was an English Conservative politician, known for much of his active political career as Sir Nicholas Lyell.

Early life[edit]

Born in London, he was the son of High Court judge Sir Maurice Lyell, and sculptor/designer Veronica Luard, the daughter of Lowes Luard, a contemporary of Augustus John and Walter Sickert. His mother died when he was 11, leaving Lyell and his sister Prue to continue their mother's work to preserve the work of their grandfather.[1]

Educated at Wellesley House School in the coastal town of Broadstairs in Kent and at Stowe School, he was his father's best man when he married the also widowed Kitty, Lady Farrar, younger daughter of Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford.[1] Lyell read modern history at Christ Church, Oxford, where he joined the Bullingdon club, and after National Service with the Royal Artillery trained as a Lawyer.[2]

Legal career[edit]

Lyell trained with the firm associated with his stepmother's family, Walter Runciman and Co, and was called to the bar at Inner Temple in 1965. He served his pupillage with Gordon Slynn, and after being part of the team that debated a case over the world's first onion-peeling machine, specialised in commercial and public law.[1]

Political career[edit]

After unsuccessfully contesting Lambeth Central in October 1974, Lyell was elected Member of Parliament for Hemel Hempstead winning the seat from Labour in 1979, then Mid Bedfordshire from 1983, and moved to North East Bedfordshire at the 1997 election.

Lyell was one of very few lawyers to have combined a successful career in Parliament and a major private practice. He was also the longest continuously serving law officer for more than 100 years. After 20 years at the Bar he was appointed Solicitor-General from 1987 to 1992 under Margaret Thatcher, during which time he appeared in the Factortame case,[3] and Attorney General for England and Wales and Northern Ireland under John Major from 1992 to 1997. He was knighted in 1987.[4] He stood down as an MP at the 2001 election.[5]

Commenting on Lyell's retirement as an MP, Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram said:

Matrix Churchill affair[edit]

Main article: Arms-to-Iraq

Lyell was at the centre of the Matrix Churchill affair, the controversy to sell arms to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. In 1996, the Scott Report directly criticised Lyell as Attorney General for trying to obtain a "gagging order" to prevent the disclosure of secret documents concerning machine tool and material supply to Baghdad. Prime Minister John Major chose to stand by Lyell.[2]


On 13 May 2005, it was announced that he would be created a life peer,[6] and on 27 June 2005 he was created Baron Lyell of Markyate, of Markyate in the County of Hertfordshire.[7][8]

Other interests[edit]

Lyell was a former chairman of the board of Governors of Stowe School, standing down from the role at the end of the 2006–7 academic year. Always interested in the countryside and culture, he was from 2005 Chairman of the Federation of British Artists at the Mall Galleries in London.

Lyell was an underwriting 'Name' at the Lloyd's of London insurance market. He joined in 1974 but suffered enormous losses in the bad years 1989 – 1992 as a result of the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster in 1988 and the tsunami of claims from asbestos-related personal injury. His losses have variously been estimated to be between £622,591 and £2,000,000; he underwrote on numerous syndicates.

Personal life[edit]

Married to Susanna, the couple had with two sons and two daughters. Lyell died in the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted, Herts after a 12-year battle with cancer on 30 August 2010.[1][2][9]


  1. ^ a b c d Peter Bottomley (30 August 2010). "Lord Lyell of Markyate obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "Former law chief Lord Lyell dies of cancer at 71". Daily Mail. 30 August 2010. Retrieved 30 August 2010. 
  3. ^ eur-lex: official version of 2nd ECJ decision in re Factortame
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 51019. p. 9885. 4 August 1987.
  5. ^ "Tory MP to step down". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 24 March 2000. Retrieved 1 November 2008. 
  6. ^ "Full list of new life peers". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 13 May 2005. Retrieved 1 November 2008. 
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 57689. p. 8499. 30 June 2005.
  8. ^ "House of Lords Journal 239 (Session 2005–06)". Parliament of the United Kingdom. 4 July 2005. p. 124. Retrieved 1 November 2008. 
  9. ^ "Former Attorney General Lord Lyell dies aged 71". BBC New. 30 August 2010. Retrieved 30 August 2010. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Robin Corbett
Member of Parliament for Hemel Hempstead
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Stephen Hastings
Member of Parliament for Mid Bedfordshire
Succeeded by
Jonathan Sayeed
New constituency Member of Parliament for North East Bedfordshire
Succeeded by
Alistair Burt
Political offices
Preceded by
Patrick Mayhew
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Derek Spencer
Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
John Morris
Attorney General for Northern Ireland