Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, taken from original sources, Volume II

Ashton, John








SPEAKING of lawyers, Addison says: [1]  'The Body of the Law is no less encumbered with superfluous Members, that are like Virgil's Army which he tells us was so crouded, many of them had not Room to use their Weapons. This prodigious Society of Men may be divided into the Litigious and Peaceable. Under the first are comprehended all those who are carried down in Coach fulls to Westminster Hall every morning in Term time. Martial's description of this Species of Lawyers is full of Humour:

Iras et verba locant.

Men that hire out their Words and Anger; that are more or less passionate according as they are paid for it, and allow their Client a quantity of wrath proportionable to the Fee which they receive from him. I must, however, observe to the Reader, that above three Parts of those whom I reckon among the Litigious, are such as are only quarrelsome in their Hearts, and have no Opportunity of showing their Passion at the Bar. Nevertheless, as they do not know what Strifes may arise, they appear at the Hall every Day, that they may show themselves in a Readiness to enter the Lists, whenever there shall be Occasion for them.

'The Peaceable Lawyers are, in the first place, many of the Benchers of the several Inns of Court, who seem to be the Dignitaries of the Law, and are endowed with those Qualifications of Mind, that accomplish a Man rather for a


Ruler, than a Pleader; These Men live peaceably in their Habitations, Eating once a Day, and Dancing once a Year, for the Honour of their Respective Societies.

'Another numberless Branch of Peaceable Lawyers, are those young Men, who being placed at the Inns of Court in order to study the Laws of their Country, frequent the Play House more than Westminster Hall, and are seen in all publick Assemblies, except in a Court of Justice. I shall say nothing of those Silent and Busie Multitudes that are employed within Doors in the Drawing up of Writings and Conveyances; nor of those greater Numbers that palliate their want of Business, with a Pretence to such Chamber Practice.'

Thus we see that the legal world then very much resembled the same now. Briefless barristers were as numerous then, and this seems to have been their life: 'Young Barristers troop down to Westminster at Nine; Cheapen Cravats, and Handkerchiefs, Ogle the Semstresses, take a Whet at the Dog, or a Slice of Roast beef at Heaven, fetch half a dozen turns in the Hall, peep in at the Common Pleas, talk over the News, and so with their Green Bags, that have as little in them as their Noddles, go home again. Summon'd by pensive Sound of Horn to rotten roasted Mutton at Twelve; Leave a Paper in their Doors to study Presidents and Cases for them all the Afternoon; may be heard of at the Devil, or some neighbouring Tavern till One in the Morning.' [2] 

We not only note, in this quotation, that the lawyers carried green bags, but we find, in contemporary literature, frequent allusion to these bags, which certainly had been of the same colour ever since Charles the Second's time, and so continued until the reign of George III. Bands were worn, but they were not the little things they are now, and there was no distinctive wig-nay, some men were bold enough to wear their own hair. Lady Sarah Cowper has left a memorandum[3]  respecting her father, Lord Cowper, which throws light on this subject: 'The Queen after this was persuaded to trust a Whigg ministry; and in the year , October. she made my father Ld Keeper of the Great Seal in


the 41st year of his age-'tis said the youngest Lord Keeper that had ever been. He looked very young, and wearing his own hair made him appear yet more so; which the Queen observing, obliged him to cut it off, telling him the world would say she had given the Seals to a Boy.' But it is said that when he appeared at court in his wig, the Queen had to look at him more than once before she recognised him.

So much for the barrister. Of the other branch, the attorney, we hear very little. Ward certainly portrays him in no very bright colours. 'He's an Amphibious Monster, that partakes of two Natures, and those contrary; He's a great Lover both of Peace and Enmity; and has no sooner set People together by the Ears, but is Soliciting the Law to make an end of the Difference. His Learning is commonly as little as his Honesty; and his Conscience much larger than his Green Bag. Catch him in what Company soever, you will always hear him stating of Cases, or telling what notice my Lord Chancellor took of him, when he beg'd Leave to supply the deficiency of his Councel. He always talks with as great assurance as if he understood what he only pretends to know: And always wears a Band, and in that lies his Gravity and Wisdom. He concerns himself with no Justice but the Justice of a Cause: and for making an unconscionable Bill, he out does a Taylor.'

The courts of law were conducted with as much decorum and dignity as now; but there is no doubt that false witnesses could be hired-nay, they had a regular name-' Knights of the Post'; a name which certainly dates back as early as the time of Charles I., when 'a roaring gul and Knight o' th' post' were coupled together. In Anne's time 'Knights of the Post are to be had in the Temple Walks from Morning till Night, for two Pots of Belch, and a Sixpenny slice of Boil'd beef'; and Ward's friend, the attorney,' is so well read in Physiognomy, that he knows a Knight of the Post by his Countenance; and if your Business requires such an Agent, he can pick you up one at a small Warning. He is very understanding in the Business of the Old Bailey and knows as well how to Fee a Jury Man as he does a Barrister. He has a rare knack at putting in Broomstick Bail; and knows a great many more


ways to keep a Man out of his Money, than he does to get it him. Tricks and Quirks he calls the cunning part of the Law; and that Attorney that practises the most knavery, is the Man for his Money.'

Queen Anne's reign was not prolific of great lawyers, although Lords Somers, Cowper, and Harcourt were alive. The two former had the felicity of being scarified by Mrs. Manley in the 'New Atlantis.' The former, under the name of Cicero, is accused of seducing a friend's wife, and then imprisoning, and finally making away with, her husband ; and the latter was charged with committing bigamy. His brother Spencer Cowper, too, was unhappy in his connection with the fair sex, he having been, with three others, arraigned for being concerned in the murder of one Sarah Stout. He was acquitted, and probably remembered the fact when afterwards he was a judge, in which capacity he was very merciful. Lord Cowper put an end to an old custom, by refusing to receive New Year's gifts from the officers of his court and the counsel of his Bar; by which his wife says he lost 3,000£. per annum ; but even then, although his salary was nominally 4,000£., he managed, by fees to which he was entitled, to make it up to 8,000£. If Evelyn is to be believed, he knew how to take care of himself. 'Oct. . Mr. Cowper made Lord Keeper. Observing how uncertain greate officers are of continuing long in their places, he would not accept it unless £ a yeare were given him in reversion when he was put out, in consideration of his loss of practice. His predecessors, how little time soever they had the seal, usually got 100,000, and made themselves barons.'


[1] Spectator, 21.

[2] A Comical View of London and Westminster

[3] Lives of the Lord Chancellors, etc., Lord Campbell.