Philip Bermingham (c.1420-1490) was an Irish judge who held the office of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. He was regarded as "the most learned lawyer of his time", but he had a somewhat turbulent political career and was twice accused of treason.
He belonged to a junior branch of the great Anglo-Irish dynasty of Bermingham, which held the titles Earl of Louth and Baron Athenry. He was probably the grandson of John Bermyngham, judge of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland), who died in 1415. Patrick Bermingham, a later Chief Justice, was his cousin.
He is first heard of during the Wars of the Roses, as an adviser to James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormonde, who was a staunch supporter of the House of Lancaster. Ormonde was executed by the rival dynasty, the House of York, after their decisive victory at the Battle of Towton, and Bermingham himself was condemned to death as a traitor in 1462. He soon received a royal pardon and under the tolerant regime of Edward IV his Lancastrian past was not held against him.
He became King's Serjeant in 1463; the following year he was nominated as Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas but for unknown reasons did not take up office. He held lands in County Louth and at Dunshaughlin in County Meath where he helped found a chantry. In 1474 he was appointed Lord Chief Justice. In 1478 he was described as one of the men of influence who opposed the new Lord Deputy of Ireland, Lord Grey and managed to secure his recall.
Readings in law
At a time when there was no formal training for law students in Dublin, Bermingham was one of a small number of senior judges who provided a rudimentary form of education for students who would later go on to one of the English Inns of Court. Many years later Sir William Darcy, the Vice-Treasurer, recalled that in 1482-3 he was one of a number of students who studied the leading English legal texts with John Estrete, deputy to the Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, while during the holidays Bermingham taught them dancing and the harp (these were not simply recreations but formed part of a young lawyer's education).
He was continued in office by Richard III and Henry VII. Like nearly all the Anglo-Irish nobility he made the mistake of supporting the pretender Lambert Simnel, and faced charges of treason after the ruin of Simnel's cause at the Battle of Stoke. Henry VII, however, decided on a policy of clemency, and Bermingham, together with most of his judicial colleagues, was quickly pardoned.
He was called: "a man pre-eminently learned in the laws of his country".
|Lord Chief Justice of Ireland
1474 - 1490
- Ball, F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.1 p. 184
- Otway-Ruthvn, A. J. History of Mediaeval Ireland Barnes and Noble p.398
- Ball p.184
- Otway-Ruthven p. 398
- Kenny, Colum King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland Irish Academic Press 19992 pp.21-2
- Ball p.103
- Ball p.106
- Ball, p.208