LECHMERE, Nicholas (1675-1727), of the Middle Temple, London.
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Family and Education
b. 5 Aug. 1675, 2nd s. of Edmund Lechmere of Hanley Castle, Worcs. and bro. of Anthony Lechmere. educ. M. Temple 1693, called 1698, bencher 1714. m. 1719, Lady Elizabeth Howard, da. of Charles, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, s.p. cr. Baron Lechmere 4 Sept. 1721.
Q.C. 1708; solicitor-gen. 1714-15; chancellor of duchy of Lancaster for life June 1717; attorney-gen. 1718-20; P.C. 1 July 1718.
‘A good lawyer, a quick and distinguished orator, much courted by the Whig party, but of a temper violent, proud, and impracticable’,1 Lechmere was appointed solicitor-general at George I’s accession. Elected to the secret committee set up by the Commons to inquire into the conduct of the late Tory Government, he spoke in favour of Ormonde’s impeachment and collaborated with Walpole in drawing up the articles for Bolingbroke’s. In December 1715 he was forced to resign in consequence of a quarrel with the attorney-general, Sir Edward Northey, who accused him of misleading him on a point of law, or, according to another account, was turned out by Lord Chancellor Cowper
for an encomium made at the trial of one of the rebels upon the good behaviour of the University of Oxford during the rebellion, and that only to contradict Sir Joseph Jekyll who had spoke before him and had found fault with them for their ill conduct.
On the opening of the new session in January 1716, he successfully called for the impeachment of the captured rebel lords, in a speech which he sent to a periodical for publication, becoming chairman of the committee appointed to conduct the impeachments, he himself undertaking Lord Derwentwater’s. He was also chiefly responsible for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act and an Act attainting the heads of the rebels in Scotland; but when the Government brought in a bill for expediting the trial of rebels he joined with the Tories in obstructing it. He next proposed a general amnesty for rebels who laid down their arms, to which Walpole replied that he would not inquire into the reasons or motives for it, but that he himself had been offered £60,000 for the life of one single person, whereupon Lechmere withdrew his proposal. He and Lord Coningsby then nearly caused a quarrel between the two Houses by inserting an attack on the late Tory ministers in the preamble of a money bill, which the Lords could not amend, though they strongly objected to the passage as prejudging matters due to come before them in their judicial capacity.2 He and Coningsby also introduced a bill for strengthening the Protestant interest by enforcing the laws against Papists. When the septennial bill came on, Lechmere, ‘who always damns everything which does not originally come from himself’, attacked it on the second reading; and on the report stage ‘struck at the Scotch nation’ in the persons of their elected peers, by moving for the insertion of a clause that no elected Member having a pension should sit in either House.3 During the summer recess he joined the Duke of Argyll in caballing against the Government; supplied Argyll with precedents to show that the Prince’s powers as Regent were not as ample or honourable as in previous cases; and promoted congratulatory addresses to the Prince on his appointment to be Regent, with a view to making mischief between him and his father. At the end of 1716 it was reported that he was to be the head of Argyll’s party in the House of Commons.4
On the split in the Whig party in April 1717 Lechmere adhered to Sunderland, becoming one of his chief spokesmen in the House of Commons, where he repeatedly clashed with Walpole. Rewarded with the duchy of Lancaster for life, but with no prospect of being re-elected at Cockermouth, he was returned for his elder brother’s seat at Tewkesbury. In 1718 he succeeded Northey as attorney-general. In 1719 he was put down by Craggs as ‘doubtful’, to be spoken to by the King on the peerage bill, on which he took the line that though as it stood it contained nothing for the ‘benefit of the Commons’, there was nothing to prevent them from taking ‘care of themselves by adding what was necessary, and then put us in mind of the many sugar plums we were to hope for, concluding on his word of honour to be against the whole if every part of what he had mentioned were not agreed to by the Lords’.5 During the debate of 22 Jan. 1720 on the South Sea scheme, which was said to have been agreed at his chambers, he answered Walpole’s criticisms by ‘invectives against Walpole’s former scheme, giving great preference to this’. After a further speech by Walpole answering him, he rose to reply,
but this was prevented by the whole committee rising at once and going into the floor; the chairman tore his throat with ‘To order, hear your member’ but all to no purpose other than to mortify Lechmere, by the members crying out ‘We have heard him long enough’.6
In the following March he was accused by the solicitor-general, Sir William Thompson, of corrupt practices as attorney-general, but was completely vindicated by an inquiry.7 However, a little over a month later, following the reunion of the Whig party and the reconciliation of the King with the Prince of Wales, he was dismissed. The Princess of Wales was told that he had been turned out because it was he who had proposed that her children should be taken away from their parents during the breach in the royal family. Congratulating Stanhope on Lechmere’s dismissal, Lord Cowper observed that everybody who had anything to do with him ‘must be glad to be rid of him’.8
After the collapse of the South Sea bubble, Lechmere was elected to the secret committee set up by the Commons to investigate the Company’s affairs, but on the ground of illness took little part in its proceedings. According to his sister-in-law:
The town will have it his illness is political; he has very seldom attended the secret committee and spoke very seldom in the House, but talks very high out of it ... He is so little beloved that I believe he has many undeserved reflections cast on him. ’Tis said Mr. Knight’s going off [i.e. the absconding of the South Sea Company’s cashier] is very serviceable to him since there would have been some discoveries made not much to his honour had Knight stayed.
After the committee had reported he taunted Walpole with acting as counsel for the South Sea directors and with the failure of his scheme for restoring public credit. In September he was raised to the Lords ‘to convince the world of his innocence’ of the charges brought against him by Thompson, though, as his wife remarked, ‘the disposition at that time was not to favour him and if anything could have been found against him, it would have been carried as far as possible’.9 He played no further significant part in politics, dying of apoplexy 18 June 1727.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. Nash, Worcs. i. 561.
- 2. Lady Cowper Diary, 73, 119-20; Pol. State, x. 588-96; xi. 108, 187-8, 189-90, 212-15, 475; xxxvii. p. vii; Dudley Ryder Diary, 1715-6, p. 184.
- 3. A. Corbière to Horace Walpole, 27 Apr. 1716, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
- 4. Coxe, Walpole, ii. 76, 78; Dudley Ryder Diary, 373.
- 5. T. Brodrick to Ld. Midleton, 10 Dec. 1719, Brodrick mss.
- 6. Coxe, 182-3.
- 7. Pol. State, xix. 319-21, 403-24.
- 8. Lady Cowper Diary, 165.
- 9. HMC Carlisle, 30, 35.