Paul Lorrain

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Paul Lorrain (died 1719) was, for twenty-two years, the secretary, translator, and copyist for Samuel Pepys, and became well known as the ordinary of Newgate Prison by standardizing the publication of the gallows confessions of condemned prisoners.[1]


Lorrain was, by Pepys' account, of Huguenot extraction.[1] He was educated at neither of the English universities, but describes himself as presbyter of the Church of England.[2] He was taken on by Pepys as a secretary from 1678 and developed a close relationship with him lasting until the latter's death in 1703. During his employment, he published a number of Protestant polemical and devotional tracts. In the 1690s, Lorrain's Protestant theological leanings, perhaps together with concern for his future arising out of Pepys advancing years, led him to the Church of England.[1]

He was appointed Ordinary of Newgate Prison in September 1698, his predecessor, Samuel Smith having died on 24 August. From his appointment until 1719 he compiled the official accounts of the dying speeches of criminals condemned to capital punishment and oversaw their printing in broadsheets; forty-eight of these broadsheets are in the British Museum. The confessions, to which are prefixed abstracts of Lorrain's ‘funeral sermons,’ are generally headed ‘'The Ordinary of Newgate, his Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and last Speech of X.,’' &c. They were issued at eight o'clock on the morning following the execution, and signed Paul Lorrain, the public being warned against counterfeits and unauthorised accounts.[2] Lorrain standarized the layout of the Confessions, and zealously promoted the sale of his versions over competing unofficial broadsheets. He also benefited greatly from the publications, receiving some £200 per annum income from them, as compared with his remuneration as Ordinary, which with privileges amounted to some £65 per annum.[1]

Among the most notorious felons whom Lorrain attended to the scaffold were Captain Kidd, Captain T. Smith, James Sheppard, Deborah Churchill, and Jack Hill. On some occasions, when fifteen or even twenty condemned persons were executed at once, the confessions are proportionately abridged. In a joint letter from Alexander Pope and Bolingbroke to Swift, dated December 1725, the ‘late ordinary’ is described ironically as the ‘great historiographer.’ The penitence of his clients is always described as so heartfelt that the latter are playfully called by Richard Steele ‘Lorrain's Saints’.[2] A number of questions were raised by Daniel Defoe as to the extent to which his polemical and commercial interests affected the authenticity of his Confessions.[1]

Lorrain died at his house in Town Ditch, London, on 7 October 1719. He is said to have left £5,000. His post, which was in the gift of the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen, was keenly contested until 20 November when ‘Mr. Purney, a young sucking divine of twenty-four years of age,’ was elected ‘at the recommendation of the very Orthodox Bishop of P——’.[2]


Besides several sermons, including one on Popery near akin to Paganism and Atheism, dedicated to Harley (1712), and a translation of Pierre Muret's Rites of Funeral (1683), Lorrain brought out in 1702 a little book, entitled 'The Dying Man's Assistant, dedicated to Sir Thomas Abney, Lord Mayor, in addition to which he published and advertised on the vacant spaces of his Confessions various small manuals of medicine, devotion, corn-cutting, &c. — probably his own compilations.[2] Other works include:

  • Marcus Minucius Felix Octavus, or, A Vindication of Christianity Against Paganism (1682)
  • A Preparation of the Lord's Supper, to which are Added, Maxims of True Christianity (1688)
  • A discourse of Christianity: laying open the abuses thereof in the Anti-Christian lives and worship of many of its professors; especially the Romanists; and shewing the way to a holy life in the character of a true Christian (1693)
  • A way to salvation, or, The way to eternal bliss; being a collection of meditations and prayers suited to the exercise of a true Christian (1693)


  1. ^ a b c d e Tim Wales, ‘Lorrain, Paul (d. 1719), Church of England clergyman and criminal biographer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, June 2008
  2. ^ a b c d e Seccombe, Thomas (1893). "Lorrain, Paul (d 1719), ordinary of Newgate". Dictionary of National Biography Vol. XXXIV. Smith, Elder & Co. Retrieved 2008-06-11.  The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource:  "Lorrain, Paul". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 


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