Edmund Pelham

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Sir Edmund Pelham (c.1533 – 1606), a member of the distinguished Pelham family of Laughton, was an Irish judge who held the office of Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, and was noteworthy as the first judge to hold assizes in Ulster.

He was the fifth son of Sir William Pelham of Laughton and his second wife Mary Sandys, daughter of William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys of the Vyne. Sir William Pelham, Lord Justice of Ireland was his brother.[1]

His father died when he was a small child; little is recorded of him from then until 1563 when he was admitted to Gray's Inn, and he was called to the bar in 1574. He remained at Gray's Inn for 40 years, becoming reader and ancient of the Inn, but he does not seem to have advanced far in his legal career, although he was elected to the House of Commons as member for Hastings in 1597. The fact that his wife belonged to an openly Roman Catholic family may have hindered his career.

In 1601 he finally became serjeant: since he was now close to 70, this might reasonably have marked the high point of his career. However in 1602 Sir Robert Napier, who had long been recognised as unfit for office, was at last removed as Irish Chief Baron, and Pelham, perhaps because of his brother's long experience as Lord Justice in Ireland, replaced him.[1]

As Chief Baron he is best remembered for holding the first assizes in Donegal in 1603. Allowing for an element of self-congratulation, he seems to have been highly successful in this task: he wrote that "the people reverenced him as though he had been an angel from Heaven, and prayed him on their knees to return to minister justice unto them".[2]

He was knighted by King James I of England at Greenwich in 1604. `he sat on a commission to inquire into damage suffered by landowners during the Nine Years War, went on the Leinster assize in 1605, and acted as Commissioner of the Great Seal the same year. However he was now an old and sick man: he went to Bath for his health in 1606, but died at Chester on 4 June.[3] Sir Arthur Chichester praised him as a diligent and very worthy judge.

His marriage to Ellen Darrell of Scotney Castle, Sussex, was a surprising one for an ambitious lawyer, since the Darrells were notorious recusants who allowed the Jesuits to use Scotney as a refuge. He had at least one son, Herbert (born 1587), ancestor of the Pelhams of Catsfield.


  1. ^ a b  Albert Frederick Pollard (1895). "Pelham, Edmund". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 44. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 243. 
  2. ^ Ball F. Elrington The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol I p.228
  3. ^ Ball, p.228