PRATT, John (1657-1725), of Wilderness Park, Seal, Kent and Great Ormond Street, London
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Family and Education
b. 1657, o. s. of Richard Pratt of Standlake, Oxon. by his 1st w. Elizabeth Skay. educ. Magdalen Hall, Oxf. 1673, Wadham 1674, BA 1676, fellow 1678, MA 1679; I. Temple 1675, called 1682, bencher 1700. m. (1) 17 Nov. 1683, Elizabeth (d. 1705), da. and coh. of Henry Gregory, rector of Middleton Stoney, Oxon., 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 4da.; (2) Elizabeth (d. 1728), da. of Hugh Wilson, vicar of Trefeglwys, Mon. and canon of Bangor, 4s. 4da. suc. fa. 1692; kntd. 11 Oct. 1714.1
Serjeant-at-law 1700; j. Kb 1714–18, l.c.j. 1718–d.; commr. great seal 18 Apr.–12 May 1718.2
Pratt’s family had been settled in Devonshire since the late 15th century, acquiring Carswell Priory by the reign of Charles I. The family seat and most of the family fortunes were lost by his grandfather, partly through his adherence to the Royalist cause in the Civil War. Thus deprived of his inheritance, Pratt’s father moved first to Oxford and then to Standlake, the home of his second wife. Pratt himself went to Oxford university where, in the unsettled period following the Popish Plot, he revealed Whig sympathies. According to Anthony Wood, he proposed a toast in October 1680, while in a coffee house with four Oxford masters:
‘to the confusion of all Popish princes’. ‘Why so?’ saith the four masters, ‘The Spaniard and Emperor are our allies, why should we drink their confusion? Who do you mean?’ ‘The Duke of York’, quoth he, for which he was reproved as for want of charity. So they would not pledge him.
He apparently later complained of these and several masters of other colleges for speaking against the petitions for Parliament to sit.3
As a barrister, Pratt set up practice in London, where he was beginning to make headway until he had the misfortune to offend Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys and found it prudent to retire from the capital for a while. He went to Exeter and practised there until the 1688 Revolution gave him the opportunity to return to London, where he quickly established himself as a sound and able lawyer. In December 1696 he was chosen to appear for the crown against Sir John Fenwick†, when the bill of attainder was brought before the Lords. Lord Keeper Somers (Sir John*) wrote to the chief justice of the common pleas, Sir George Treby*, on 5 Dec.:
Mr Attorney [Sir Thomas Trevor*] has, as I understand, pitched upon Mr Pratt for one who is to be of counsel at the Lords bar. I know your lordship has a favour for him, and therefore I hope you will send for him and advise him what he is to say, and how he is to manage himself in that place. It may be a very happy opportunity for him if he recovers as much credit to the King’s counsel in the House of Lords as they lost in the Commons.
In June and July 1698 he was counsel for the bill to establish the New East India Company, and in August his opinion was sought by John Buller II* on the disputed election case at Liskeard (see LISKEARD, Cornw.).4
Appointed a serjeant-at-law in 1700, Pratt had amassed sufficient capital by 1703 to buy the estate of Wilderness Park in Kent, formerly known as Stidulfe’s Place. He was one of four counsel who successfully pleaded on 3 Dec. 1708 against enabling the eldest sons of Scots peers to sit in the Commons, and in January 1709 he and Sir Peter King* were counsel for the petitioners against the Duke of Queensberry being allowed to vote in the election of Scottish representative peers. Appointed by the Lords as one of Dr Sacheverell’s defence team in December 1709, Pratt soon found an excuse to resign the brief, citing the doctor’s refusal to take his advice ‘for a short answer to the articles against him’. This resignation was alleged to be one of the reasons for Pratt’s narrow defeat at Marlborough in the 1710 election. He had gained a reputation for pleading election cases and in October 1710 was retained for this purpose by Sir William Forester*, who congratulated himself on having secured one of the two ‘best and ablest counsel that appear at our bar’.5
In 1711 the Whigs managed to find Pratt a seat at Midhurst, where he was returned at a by-election on the interest of the Duke of Somerset. In Parliament he remained a Whig, but took little part in proceedings. In December 1711, he acted for the ministry in the debate in the House of Lords over the Duke of Hamilton’s patent for an English peerage. His next high-profile case was as counsel for the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) in the debate on 24 Jan. 1712 on the money Marlborough had received for the army’s bread contracts. Marlborough afterwards retained him as counsel in the event of a prosecution. He was given 42 days’ leave of absence on 5 Mar. 1712, and the next year, in February 1713, he defended George Ridpath, author of the Whig newspaper, the Flying Post, against a prosecution for libel. Retaining his seat in 1713, he was classed as a Whig in the Worsley list, but again was not active in Parliament.6
After the accession of George I, he replaced Sir Thomas Powys*, a suspected Jacobite, as a justice in the King’s bench on the recommendation of Lord Chancellor Cowper (William*). In January 1718 he declared in favour of the King when consulted about the disputes between George I and the Prince of Wales on the questions of royal marriages and the education of the Prince’s children. His reward came in May, when he succeeded Sir Thomas Parker* as chief justice of the King’s bench. In the only treason trial over which he presided, that of the Jacobite Christopher Layer, he gained something of a reputation for harshness by refusing to allow Layer’s chains to be removed while he was awaiting trial. Pratt died at his house in Great Ormond Street in February 1725. Most of his estates, including Wilderness Park and Bayham manor in Sussex, bought in 1714, went to his eldest son, John, who sat for Sandwich in 1741. His younger son, Charles†, achieved eminence in the judiciary, and, as Lord Camden, became lord chancellor in 1766.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Paula Watson
- 1. H. S. Eeles, Ld. Chancellor Camden and his Fam. 1–3, 7–8, 22; IGI, London.
- 2. Foss, Judges, viii. 58–59.
- 3. Eeles, 2–3; Wood, Life and Times, ii. 497–8.
- 4. Eeles, 3–5; HMC Lords, iii. 44; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 156, 391, 398; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 299.
- 5. Foss, 58; Boyer, Anne Annals, vii. 267; SRO, Ogilvy of Inverquharity mss GD 205/33/3/2/16, George Baillie* to William Bennet*, 22 June [sic] 1709; Luttrell, vi. 540; Hearne Colls. ii. 338; SRO, Cromartie mss GD 305 addit./bdle. 36, R[?obert] M[?unro]* to [?Cromarty], n.d. [1708–10]; Salop RO, Forester mss, Forester to George Weld II*, 24 Oct. 1710.
- 6. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 320; Burnet, vi. 86; E.H.R. lxxvii. 263; BL, Trumbull Add. mss 136, Ralph Bridges to Sir William Trumbull*, 25 Jan. 1711[–12]; Scots Courant, 21–23 Apr. 1712, 25–27 Feb. 1713; Boyer, Pol. State, v. 97–98.
- 7. Eeles, 9, 15, 22; Campbell, Lives of Chief Justices, iii. 181–9; State Trials, xv. 1216; xvi. 96–97; Suss. Arch. Colls. ix. 181.