Thomas Fleming (judge)

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Thomas Fleming
Sir Thomas Fleming
Born April 1544
Newport, Isle of Wight
Died 7 August 1613(1613-08-07)
Stoneham Park, Hampshire
Resting place Stoneham Park, Hampshire
Residence Stoneham Park, Hampshire
Nationality British
Education Godshill School and Lincoln's Inn
Known for Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Chief Baron of the Exchequer
Spouse(s) Mary James
Children 7 sons, 7 daughters
Parent(s) John Fleming, Dorothy Harris

Sir Thomas Fleming (April 1544 – 7 August 1613) was an English judge and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1581 and 1611. He was judge in the trial of Guy Fawkes following the Gunpowder Plot.[1] He held several important offices, including Lord Chief Justice, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer and Solicitor General for England and Wales.

Early life[edit]

Fleming was the son of John Fleming, a general trader and mercer of Newport on the Isle of Wight, and his wife Dorothy Harris. The family lived in a house just to the east of the entrance to the corn market from the High Street in Newport.[2] The Fleming family line had strong historical connections to the Isle of Wight, with several mentions of the name cropping up in previous historical documents and books.[2] He went to school in Godshill[2] and studied law at Lincoln's Inn where he was called to the bar in 1574.[3]


In 1581, Fleming was elected Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull after the existing members were dismissed as idle and impotent. He was elected MP for Winchester in 1584, and was re-elected in 1593.[4] His progression within the legal profession was fast (possibly due to several personal connections with the monarch); he became a serjeant-at-law in 1594, and shortly afterwards became Recorder of London.[2]

Solicitor General[edit]

In 1595, on the personal intervention of Elizabeth I, Fleming (in preference to Francis Bacon) was promoted to the position of Solicitor General, succeeding Sir Edward Coke who had become Attorney General.[2] Historians regard the Queen's decision as a pointed reminder to her courtiers, most of whom had lobbied hard for Bacon, that she had the ultimate power of patronage.[5] Fleming was praised by his contemporaries, more particularly Coke, for his "great judgments, integrity and discretion."[6]

In 1597, Fleming was elected MP for Hampshire. He purchased the North Stoneham estate in 1599[7] from the young Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton who inherited the title and estate at the age of eight.[8] He was elected MP for Southampton in 1601,[4] but his maiden speech on 20 November of that year was a disaster and Fleming broke down; he never addressed the House of Commons again.[2] When James I became King in 1603, Fleming was reappointed Solicitor General and was knighted on 23 July 1603.[3] He was re-elected MP for Southampton for another term in 1604.[2]

Lord Chief Baron[edit]

He was elevated to the bench as Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1604.[2] It was in this capacity that he tried Guy Fawkes, having been one of the members of parliament at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. His conduct during the trial was criticised as he was accused of attempting "to look wise, and say nothing".[2]

Another notable case during his tenure as Chief Baron was Bates's Case, also called The Case of Impositions, of 1606, on the power of the Crown to levy taxes without Parliamentary approval. John Bates, a merchant trading with Turkey, had refused to pay the unpopular tax on the import of currants. Fleming, in giving judgement for the Crown, held in effect that the King had an unlimited power to levy taxes in any way he thought fit: the power of the King is both ordinary and absolute... absolute power, existing for the nation's safety, varies with the royal wisdom. The judgement was controversial and was even said to have contributed to the tensions between Charles I and Parliament in the next reign. Fleming, a merchant's son, also displayed a somewhat cynical attitude to the business community, dismissing appeals to the common good with the scathing remark the end of every private merchant is not the common good but his particular profit. .[9]

Lord Chief Justice[edit]

In 1607, on the death of Sir John Popham, Fleming was elevated to the post of Lord Chief Justice of England.[2] The following year he obtained a Charter for Incorporation for Newport from the King, providing for the election of a Mayor instead of the historical appointed Bailiff.[2] He assisted in the establishment of a free grammar school in the town.[2] Also in 1608, Fleming was one of the judges at the trial of the post nati in 1608, siding with the majority of the judges in declaring that persons born in Scotland after the accession of James I were entitled to the privileges of natural-born subjects in England.[6] The convocation of Oxford University granted him the award of MA on 7 August 1613, which was the day he died.[3]


Fleming's tomb, which is shared with his wife; the surviving children are represented by the praying statuettes

Fleming died suddenly on 7 August 1613 at Stoneham Park in Hampshire, having given to his servants and farm-labourers what was known in Hampshire as a "hearing day."[2] After joining in the festivities, he went to bed, apparently in sound health, but was taken suddenly ill, and died before morning.[2] He was buried in St. Nicolas' Church, North Stoneham, where a stately monument[10][11] records the numerous successes of his career.[2] Known locally as the "Floating Flemings",[12] it is ornamented with recumbent whole length figures of Fleming in his robes, with his official insignia, and his wife, with ruff and hood, and the singular waist favoured by ladies of the Tudor era.[2] Underneath is the following inscription:



The Fleming Arms pub in Swaythling

Fleming married on 13 February 1570 his cousin, Mary James, the daughter of Dr Mark James, who was a personal physician of Queen Elizabeth I.[2] They were married at St Thomas' Church, Newport, and lived at Carisbrooke Priory, the lease of which he purchased from the Secretary of State, Francis Walsingham.[2] They had fifteen children of whom six sons and two daughters survived after Fleming's death. His sons Thomas and Philip were both members of parliament. His son Francis was Master of the Horse to Oliver Cromwell. Other sons were Walter, John, James and William. His daughters were Elizabeth, Mary, Jane, Eleanor, Dowsabell, Mary and another of name unknown. There was another child of name and gender unknown. Elizabeth married Robert Meverel and their daughter, also Elizabeth, married Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Ardglass.

Fleming's descendants were still in possession of the Stoneham Park estate in 1908.[8] The Fleming Arms public house and Fleming Road, both in Swaythling, are named after the family. There is another public house of the same name in Binstead, Isle of Wight


  1. ^ "Sir Thomas Fleming (1544–1613)". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 27 November 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Adams, William Henry Davenport (1862). Nelsons' hand-book to the Isle of Wight. Oxford University. pp. 181–183. Retrieved 27 November 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c 'Alumni Oxonienses, 1500–1714: Faber-Flood', Alumni Oxonienses 1500–1714: Abannan-Kyte (1891), pp. 480–509. Date accessed: 13 December 2011
  4. ^ a b "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 22 October 2011. 
  5. ^ Sir J. E. Neale Elizabeth I Pelican Books reissue pp.340–1
  6. ^ a b Public Domain Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Fleming, Sir Thomas". Encyclopædia Britannica 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  7. ^ "The 'Fleming Estate' in Hampshire & the Isle of Wight". Willis Fleming Historical Trust. Retrieved 27 November 2008. 
  8. ^ a b Page, William (1908). A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 3. pp. 478–481. 
  9. ^ State Trials, Volume 2
  10. ^ "Monument to Thomas Fleming and his wife". Art & Architecture. The Courtauld Institute of Art. Retrieved 25 November 2009. 
  11. ^ "Monument to Thomas Fleming and his wife". Art & Architecture. The Courtauld Institute of Art. Retrieved 25 November 2009. 
  12. ^ Mann, John Edgar (2002). Book of the Stonehams. Tiverton: Halsgrove. p. 43. ISBN 1-84114-213-1. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of England
Preceded by
Thomas Dalton
James Clerkson
Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull
With: John Fairweather
Succeeded by
John Thornton
John Aldred
Preceded by
William Bethell
John Caplyn
Member of Parliament for Winchester
With: John Wolley 1584–1586
Francis Mylles 1588
Sir Edward Stafford 1593
Succeeded by
William Badger
John Moore
Preceded by
Benjamin Tichborne
Member of Parliament for Hampshire
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Wallop
Sir Edward More
Preceded by
William Wallop
Sir Oliver Lambert
Member of Parliament for Southampton
With: Thomas Lambert 1601
Sir John Jeffrys 1604–1611
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Fleming
Thomas Cheeke
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Edward Coke
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir John Doderidge
Preceded by
Sir William Peryam
Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Sir Lawrence Tanfield
Preceded by
Sir John Popham
Lord Chief Justice
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Coke