Edmund Anderson (judge)

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Sir Edmund Anderson

Sir Edmund Anderson (1530 – 1 August 1605), Chief Justice of the Common Pleas under Elizabeth I, sat as judge at the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots.


The Anderson family originated in Scotland and then came to Northumberland. They settled in Lincolnshire in the 14th century and became a prominent family there.

Sir Edmund Anderson, son of Edward Anderson, was born in Flixborough in Lincolnshire c. 1530. He received the first part of his education in the country and then spent a brief period at Lincoln College, Oxford, before entering the Inner Temple in June 1550. He is recorded to have matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge in 1549.[1]

In 1577, Anderson was created Serjeant-at-Law and in 1578 he was appointed Queen's Sergeant. In 1581 he was appointed Justice of Assize on the Norfolk circuit and tried Edmund Campion and others in November 1581, securing an unexpected conviction.

On the back of that success, Anderson was made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in 1582 and was knighted. He was reappointed by James I and held office until his death.[2] Throughout his career he played a prominent role in some of the most important political trials of Elizabeth’s reign including that of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Sir Walter Ralegh.[3] At one point Sir Edmund presided over the trial of Davison, the Queen's secretary who was accused of erroneously issuing the warrant for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Anderson was often described as a strict lawyer who was “completely governed by the law”. He even stated at an important trial that, “I sit here to judge of law, not logic”.[2] In Sir Edward Coke and the Elizabeth Age by Allen D. Boyer, Sir Edmund is described as “the monster: an angry man in the courtroom and a resentful man afterward, an advocate who begrudged other lawyers' victories”.[4]


Anderson wrote two books, Reports of Many Principal Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Time of Queen Elizabeth, in the Common Bench 1644 and Resolutions and Judgments on the Cases and Matters Agitated in All the Courts of Westminster, in the latter end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1653, which are still today very influential legal references.[2]


Anderson married Magdalen Smyth from Hertfordshire and had 9 children, 3 sons and 6 daughters. Anderson became lord of the parish of Eyeworth in Bedfordshire and his family remained the local gentry for many generations. He also bought Arbury Priory, which he demolished and replaced with Arbury Hall.


  1. ^ "Anderson, Edmund (ANDR549E)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ a b c The Baronetage of England by William Betham (1801)
  3. ^ National Portrait Gallery (London) NPG.org
  4. ^ Sir Edward Coke and the Elizabethen Age By Allen D. Boyer
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir James Dyer
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Gawdy