JUDGE GEORGE JEFFREYS
(1648 - 1689)
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The 1st Baron Jeffreys, Lord Chancellor (1685). He is best known as 'Judge Jeffreys' of the 'bloody assizes' which followed Monmouth's rebellion against James II in 1685.

Jeffreys became addicted to alcohol and riotous living while studying law at the Inner Temple but was, nevertheless, a brilliant lawyer.

He was called to the Bar aged 20 and was elected Common Sergeant of the City of London three years later. Jeffreys was knighted in 1677 and became Solicitor-General to the Duke of York in the following year.

Jeffreys support of the Court party cost him some prestige in the city.

Jeffreys began his career in the conduct of State trials in 1678 in connection with Titus Oate's revelations of the Popish Plot. he was made Lord Chief Justice in 1683 and conducted the Crown prosecution against the Rye House plotters.

Jeffreys secured the surrender of many municipal charters to the Crown for which he was rewarded with a position in the Cabinet in 1684 and and created 1st Baron Jeffreys in 1685.

Jeffreys' trials now became characterised by by his ungovernable temper.

'The Bloody Assizes '

Jeffreys was sent to Winchester in 1685 by King James II who was concerned that too many of the rich who were suspected of aiding Monmouth's rebellion were ransoming themselves and escaping the royal vengeance.

In what became known as the 'bloody assizes', Jeffreys sentenced 320 to be executed by hanging and quartering or transported into penal servitude in the colonies.

On his return to London, Jeffreys was made Lord Chancellor (1685).

Judge Jeffreys was undoubtedly responsible for the outcome of the Bloody Assizes and just as certainly was acting on the orders of James II. Until the fall of James II in 1688, Jeffreys was a hero outside the West Country and amongst the loyalists of the counties of the south-west.

Jeffreys attempted to escape the country when James II fled in 1688 but was aprehended and sent to the Tower of London where he died.

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George Jeffreys was born at Shrewsbury, the son of John Jeffreys, the head of an old and prosperous Welsh family. The precise date of George's birth is not known but it is generally agreed that it was between October 1644 and May 1645. Little is known of his childhood.

Jeffreys maintained that one night at Westminster he dreamt that he would become the second man in the kingdom but would die in misfortune and disgrace.

The young George attended Shrewsbury grammer School, the Paul's School in London (this was, and is still, "St. Paul's School" but the Puritans dropped the "St." during the Commonwealth). He went on to Westminster and then Trinity College, Cambridge in 1662 but he did not finish his degree, being admitted to the Inner Temple instead in the following year as a gifted lawyer.

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Jeffreys was admitted to the Inner Temple as a gifted lawyer in 1663, a year after entering Trinity College, Cambridge.

As a barrister, Jeffreys acquired a considerable reputation as a skilled cross-examiner and became Common Sergeant of the City of London by 1671 when he was aged about twenty-six. By this time he had also married.

In 1677 he was knighted and became Recorder of the City of London in the following year.

Jeffreys, aged fourty, was made Lord Chief Justice in 1683 and later Lord Chancellor, being created Baron Jeffreys of Wem. It was as Lord Chief Justice that Jeffreys became the chief judge at the trials of the prisoners taken after the Monmouth rebellion of 1685 in what later became known as "The Bloody Assizes".

Following The Bloody Assizes, Jeffries became a close ally of the king in his efforts to convert England back to Roman Catholicism which is surprising as the judge was a staunch Anglican. He sat on the Court of Ecclesiastical Commission.

Judge Jeffries was isolated and imrisoned in the Tower when James II fell and William of Orange landed in Torbay. He died a prisoner, most probably of natural causes, at the Tower in April 1689.

Jeffrey's notoriety assured by the Bloody Assizes, it was almost inevitable that roumour should surround his death. One such was that he had been poisoned in the Tower and his body returned to Dorchester to be walled up in the courtroom over which he had presided. Another that the judge did not die at the Tower at all but was beheaded at Taunton.

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The notorious Judge Jeffery became the subject of much comment after his death and little of this was complimentary.

He had a reputation as a drunkard and he did indeed drink heavy but this was probably to dull the severe pain caused by the kidney stones from which he had suffered for many years before his death with kidney stones and it seems likely that he died at the Tower of kidney failure.

It was also claimed that he was a womanizer and frequented brothels. There is little contemporary evidence to either prove this or otherwise but he appears to have been devoted to his family. His first wife, Sarah, bore him six children although his second marriage after Sarah's death seems to have been far less than happy.

Jeffrey had a reputation for his brutality but, at least during his early years, he seems to have been no "worse" than any other in what were brutal times. Punitive executions were often the consequence of rebellion both before and after Monmouth's. Many accused chosed a horrendous death by "Peine Forte et Dure" rather than suffer almost the inevitable execution and dispossession of their dependents which followed trial. Hanging by dropping through a trap door and thus snapping the neck did not replace hanging by strangulation until about 1830 and prisoners were hanged, drawn and quartered until 1810. The list continues and, while it does not excuse the Bloody Assizes, it does place them in some sort of context of the times - times where mercy was utterly foreign to the law.

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THE BLOODY ASSIZES
MONMOUTH'S REBELLION
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DORCHESTER
Following Monmouth's rebellion in 1685, James II sent Judge Jeffreys into the West Country to preside over what became known as the 'Bloody Assizes'. In Dorchester, seventy-four people suspected of supporting the rebellion were hung then quartered, the parts of their bodies distributed around the country to be hung on poles as a warning to others.

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