Lord Somers and the 'Glorious Revolution'

  • 15 Jan 2012
  • Worcester People and Places
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No native of Worcester has played a more important part in Enlish history than Lord Somers. He was born in the year after the Battle of Worcester, in an old house beneath the shadow of the Cathedral, which was swept away at the clearing of the churchyard.

He went to the King's School, and later to Oxford; was admitted to the Middle Temple, and at 25 was called to the Bar. His opportunity for advancement came when he appearded as junior council for the seven Bishops who were tried for seditious libel in 1688, at a time when tension between James II and his subjects was reaching its climax. His brilliant speech, one of the most famous in the annals of the Bar, decided the issue and made his own fortune. After the 'Glorious Revolution' which followed a few months later he became M.P. for Worcester and Solicitors General. Three years later he became Attorney-General and was knighted, and in another three became Lord Keeper. Two years more and he was Lord Chancellor and a peer,as Baron Somers of  Evesham.

He had a firm grasp of constitutional principles, but was renowned for his moderation and great humanity. To him more than any other, was given the credit of ensuring that the Revolution of 1688 was a 'bloodless revolution'. The difference between his calm judicial procedure and the bullying methods of Judge Jeffreys was immediately apparent. For instance, he insisted against violent public opinion, that even a scoundrel like Titus Oates must have a fair trial.

Somer's skill in diplomacy was never better than in handling of William lll. That dour man had quarrelled with Princess Anne, next in succession, and at the death of his Queen, Anne had written an affectionate letter to William, but received no answer. Somers made his way into the King's presence, but William gave him no greeting and sat glum. After a respectful silence, Somers begged him to be reconciled with Anne. 'Do  what you will'  said the King, 'I can think of no business'. That was enough to warrant Somers drawing up a treaty of conciliation..   

In many ways he was the greatest man of his age; he was equally eminent as lawyer, orator, statesman, man of letters, and patron of learning. Addison wrote: 'Europe's peace restored by Somer's Counsel and Nassau's sword', and swift dedicated to him his Tale of a Tub. Locke and Newton were indebted to him for their advancement. The Union with Scotland was largely his work, and he presided over the parliamentary committee which framed the historic Declaration of Rights, the modern Magna Carta.