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John Bradshaw (judge)

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John Bradshaw (judge)

John Bradshaw.

John Bradshaw (15 July 1602 – 31 October 1659) was an English judge. He is most notable for his role President of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I and as the first Lord President of the Council of State of the English Commonwealth.

Early life

John Bradshaw (sometimes spelt Bradshawe) the second son of Henry Bradshaw and Catherine Winnington was born in 1602 probably at Wybersley (Wyberslegh) Hall in the village of High Lane near Stockport, Cheshire, or possibly at the nearby Peace Farm, Marple (his father farmed at both) and baptised on 10 December in Stockport Church. As a child he attended the free school at Stockport, as well as schools in Bunbury, Cheshire, and Middleton.[1] During his teenage years he also attended The King's School, Macclesfield. According to local tradition he wrote the following inscription on a gravestone at either Macclesfield or Bunbury:

"My brother Henry must heir the land,
My brother Frank must be at his command;
Whilst I, poor Jack, will do that
That all the world will wonder at!"[2]

He was articled as clerk to an attorney in Congleton. Almost opposite the town hall, the White Lion public house bears a blue plaque, placed by the Congleton Civic Society, which reads: "The White Lion, built 16–17th century. Said to have housed the attorney's office where John Bradshaw, regicide, served his articles."[3]

After studying English law in London, he was called to the bar at Gray's Inn on 23 April 1627. He served on the provincial bar of Congleton until he became mayor in 1637.[1] John Milton wrote highly of Bradshaw's aptitude during his public service, saying that "All his early life he was sedulously employed in making himself acquainted with the laws of the country; he then practiced with singular success and reputation at the bar."[4]

At some time between 1640 and 1643, Bradshaw moved from Congleton to Basinghall Street in London. In 1643, he was elected judge of the London sheriff's court. He maintained the post until his death.[1] Following the death of the Earl of Essex in 1646, Parliament voted Somerhill House to Bradshaw.[5] He was appointed a serjeant-at-law by Parliament and in 1648 Chief Justice of Chester and North Wales.

Trial of the King

In 1649 he was made president of the parliamentary commission to try the king. Other lawyers of greater prominence had refused the position.

Bradshaw was a controversial choice as Lord President, and opinions of his efficiency as a judge varied. Bulstrode Whitelocke believed that he was "learned in his profession," but Thomas Fuller dismissed him as a man "of execrable memory, of whom nothing good is remembered."[4] The King himself, as well as much of the court, professed to having never heard of him.

Bradshaw himself did not attend court until the third session after his appointment, apologising on the grounds that he had been out of London and disavowed his ability to perform "so important a task."[4] While he served as the Lord President, he was flanked by an impressive personal guard and carried a sword at his side. He wore scarlet robes and a "broad-brimmed, bullet-proof beaver hat, which he had covered over with velvet and lined it with steel and he also wore armour underneath his robes."[4] King Charles refused to recognise the authority of the court and would not plead. After declaring Charles I guilty as a "Tyrant, Traitor, Murderer, and a public enemy," Bradshaw did not allow the king any final words. Under English law, a condemned prisoner was no longer alive and therefore did not have the right to speak, and Bradshaw followed this tradition strictly.[6]

Commonwealth and Protectorate

On 12 March 1649 Bradshaw was elected President of the Council of State, which was to act as the Executive of the country's government in place of the King and the Privy Council. After wars in Scotland and Ireland the Long Parliament had still not dissolved itself or called for re-elections. On 30 April 1653, Oliver Cromwell declared Parliament and the Council dissolved and soon assumed rule as Lord Protector calling elections for a new Parliament himself.

Since 1 August 1649, Bradshaw had also held the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. After 1653, he served as commissioner of the Duchy, jointly with Thomas Fell, until mounting differences with Cromwell culminated in his resignation in 1654.

Bradshaw, an ardent Republican, became an opponent of the Protectorate. In 1654 he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Stafford and Cheshire but because he refused to sign the recognition pledge put on Members to declare their recognition of the new army-backed government he took no seat for either constituency[7] In 1655 the Major-General in charge of Cheshire, Tobias Bridge, persuaded leading gentry not to enter Bradshaw as the county's parliamentary candidate at elections to the next parliament.[8]

After Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard succeeded him as Lord Protector and reinstated Bradshaw as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Bradshaw was elected MP for Cheshire in the Third Protectorate Parliament in 1659.[8] During the same year Bradshaw moved to Westminster after falling dangerously ill with a 'quartan ague' or malaria.[8]

In October 1659, various subordinate members of the army sabotaged General Lambert's and General Ludlow's support of the Long Parliament. Colonel Morley, Major Grimes, and Colonel Sydenham eventually gained their points, and placed guards both by land and water, to hinder the members of Parliament from approaching the House. During these disorders, the Council of State still assembled at the usual place and the:

Lord President Bradshaw, who was present, though by long sickness very weak and much extenuated, yet animated by his ardent zeal and constant affection to the common cause, upon hearing Col Syndenham's justifications of the proceedings of the army in again disrupting parliament, stood up and interrupted him, declaring his abhorrence of that detestable action, and telling the council, that being now going to his God, he had not patience to sit there to hear his great name so openly blasphemed; and thereupon departed to his lodgings, and withdrew himself from public employment.[9]

He died on 31st of the same month, aged 57. He was buried with great honours at Westminster Abbey. The eulogy was given by John Rowe.[1] On his deathbed Bradshaw said that if called upon to try the King again he would be "the first man in England to do it".

Posthumous execution

Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660. On 30 January 1661 – the twelfth anniversary of the regicide – the bodies of Bradshaw, Cromwell and Henry Ireton were ordered to be exhumed and displayed in chains all day on the gallows at Tyburn. At sunset, the three bodies that had been displayed publicly as those of the three judges being executed posthumously were all beheaded. The bodies were thrown into a common pit and the heads displayed on pikes at Westminster Hall.[6] Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that he saw the heads there on 5 February.

Jamaica connection

Some sources claim that the body of John Bradshaw had previously been removed by his son, James or John Bradshaw,[10][11] who re-buried his father's remains on a hill near Martha's Brae on Jamaica and marked the spot with a cannon. A location now known as "Gun Hill" is 2.5 miles south-west of the northern port city of Falmouth, in Trelawny Parish. One of the three men had children who removed to Highland County, Virginia. James Bradshaw acquired the land in Jamaica where his father's remains were buried. Several sources recorded an inscription with the cannon found on Gun Hill, Jamaica, and associate the quote that Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God to John Bradshaw.[12]


While some political philosophers have defended Bradshaw,[13] most legal authorities have taken the narrow legal view expressed in 1999 by Michael Kirby (then a Justice of the High Court of Australia) that the High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I of which Bradshaw as president was illegal,[14] however in his 2005 book The Tyrannicide Brief (a detailed biograph of John Cook, the prosecutor at the trial), Geoffrey Robertson Q.C. put forward the argument that while the court was illegal due to the political settlement reached at the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the trial anticipated the developments in humanitarian law in the second half of the 20th century, and that the leading participants in the trial are to be admired rather than condemned.[15][16][17]

Bradshaw in popular culture

Bradshaw was played by Stratford Johns in the film Cromwell.


  1. ^ a b c d "Bradshaw, John". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. VIII, 1921. The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource:  
  2. ^ Esme W. Stratford, King Charles the Martyr, 1643–1649. Westport, CT: Greenwood P, 1975, p. 318–342.
  3. ^ "CONGLETON" at
  4. ^ a b c d William L. Sachse, "England's "Black Tribunal": an Analysis of the Regicide Court", in: The Journal of British Studies 12 (1973), p. 69–85.
  5. ^ Colbran, John (1840). Colbran's New Guide for Tunbridge Wells. Cornhill, London: A H Bailey & Co. p. 333. 
  6. ^ a b C. V. Wedgwood, A Coffin for King Charles. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1964, p. 183.
  7. ^ Wedgwood, Josiah C. (1920). Staffordshire Parliamentary History. William Salt Archaeological Society. pp. 98–99. 
  8. ^ a b c Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 7. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 241.  
  9. ^ Ludlow 1894, pp. 140–141.
  10. ^ Bridges 1828, p. 446.
  11. ^ Urban 1784, pp. 833–835.
  12. ^ From WikiQuote for Rebellion
  13. ^ Bowden & Davis 2008, pp. 57–60.
  14. ^ "The trial of King Charles I was, by legal standards, a rather discreditable affair. The 'Court' had no legal authority. It was the creature of the power of the army." (Kirby 1999, p. 7)
  15. ^ Robertson 2005.
  16. ^ Robertson 2008.
  17. ^ Devereux 2005.


External links

  • Biography of John Bradshaw British Civil Wars website
  • Biography of John Bradshaw
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Milward
Chief Justice of Chester
Succeeded by
Sir Timothy Turner
Preceded by
Gilbert Gerrard
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
(Commissioner 1653–1654)

Succeeded by
Thomas Fell
Preceded by
Thomas Fell
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by
William Lenthall
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