The Northeys Of Woodcote House - Part 1

Part 1 - Sir Edward Northey (1652-1723)

Sir Edward Northey
Sir Edward Northey.
Image courtesy of Martin Northey © 2012

This Edward Northey (there will be several others in due course) was born on 7 May 1652 in London. The mid-17th century was a period of unprecedented upheaval, when England had no monarch. It was just over three years after the execution of King Charles I and nineteen months before Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector.

Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament in 1653
Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament in 1653.
Artist Andrew Gow 1907
Image source: Auckland Art Gallery via Wikimedia Commons

Edward was educated at St Paul's School, London and Queen's College, Oxford and was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1674. He had a long and distinguished career in the law and politics and very often they were intertwined. He is credited with establishing a rookery in the Inner Temple Gardens with crows brought from his Woodcote estate. He also owned property in Wiltshire, being Lord of the Manor of Box, and in Essex Street, London. Politically he was regarded as a 'mild Tory'.

Lieutenant-Colonel EGV Northey describes Woodcote House thus: 'The house was originally typically Queen Anne in architecture and built of lovely red brick, as were the stables. Sadly, later in Victorian days, it was made bigger and much less beautiful.'

One of Edward's first famous legal cases was Godden v Hales in 1686, a contrived lawsuit engineered by King James II to obtain a ruling that confirmed his 'divine right' to dispense with Acts of Parliament which didn't suit him, principally those concerning religion. James was a Roman Catholic who favoured the Catholics and persecuted Anglicans. As he had sacked most of the judges who disagreed with him, it comes as no surprise that the ultimate decision in Godden v Hales went in his favour - but it was a hollow and temporary victory, for in 1788 seven leading Anglicans, known as 'The Immortal Seven', invited his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange, to invade the country and depose him, which William did, ruling jointly with James's daughter, Mary, as William III.

In 1689 Edward was appointed Attorney General of the duchy of Lancaster and of England and Wales in 1701. William III died in that year; Edward was reappointed by Queen Anne and knighted in 1702.

James II William III Queen Anne
James II, William III and Anne.
Image source: Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

Two cases that Edward prosecuted in 1704 give a flavour of the times in which he lived.

Scotsman David Lindsay's crime was high treason, by virtue of the fact that he had gone to France without permission from William III (this was a measure designed to prevent the Jacobites, who were trying to restore James II to the throne, from collaborating with the French) and had returned years later, again without permission, in the reign of Queen Anne, in breach of a royal proclamation. Lindsay was bewildered by the whole business, since the Queen had issued a proclamation of pardon for such transgressions and, in any event, he had originally returned to Scotland - it was only when he set foot in England that he was arrested. The arguments in this case were so convoluted and wordy (and boring) that I will not even give you a link to the transcript, but the outcome was that Lindsay was sentenced to hang at Tyburn and then reprieved.

Edward's other big prosecution of 1704 was the case of John Tutchin. Tutchin had already been in serious trouble, having written verse in support of the Monmouth Rebellion, which was an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow James II in 1685. Tried by the infamous Judge Jeffreys at the 'Bloody Assizes', he was lucky to escape with a term of imprisonment. All was well during the reign of William III, but then Tutchin started a publication called 'The Observator' in which he was critical of the Crown, Government, judiciary and suchlike - in essence he was alleging corruption in high places, particularly the Navy. In those days such utterances were regarded as seditious libel. He was found guilty, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality. This did not stop his activities; he was arrested again in 1707, but his luck ran out - he was beaten to death in his cell. There were suggestions that his murder might have been procured by those in high places whom he had upset, but nothing was ever proved.

Judge Jeffreys
Judge Jeffreys.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

It was said that Edward was not a particularly successful Attorney General and, whether this was true or not, he lost the position in 1707 for political reasons: however, he did not fall entirely out of favour and was expected to be reappointed in 1708, when his successor resigned, but Sir James Montagu, brother of the Earl of Halifax, got the job instead (Montagu had been the barrister who successfully defended John Tutchin in his 1704 trial). Edward was reported to have said that 'though they have at last given Sir James the title of attorney-general, they can never give him the reputation to support it'.

In 1710 machinations in the corridors of power led to Edward's reappointment as attorney-general; he also became the Member of Parliament for Tiverton in Devon. He was appointed to many parliamentary drafting committees and then became involved in attempts to prosecute the Duke of Marlborough for alleged corruption in dealing with army bread contracts (this was THE Duke of Marlborough, victor at Blenheim, but also a man who had been mentioned in connection with the death of John Tutchin). Marlborough had fallen out of favour and the aim was to have him dismissed from the Army, which he was (but only temporarily - personages in those days had a remarkable talent for bouncing back as the personalities in government changed).

John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.
John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1713 the political satirist, Jonathan Swift (author of 'Gulliver's Travels'), wrote a poem called 'The Fagot', in which he commented on the power struggles and ambition within the government of the day. The whole poem can be accessed at, but the extract below refers specifically to Edward Northey.

Come, trimming Harcourt, bring your mace;
And squeeze it in, or quit your place:
Dispatch, or else that rascal Northey
Will undertake to do it for thee:
And be assured, the court will find him
Prepared to leap o'er sticks, or bind them.

(1See the footnote for an explanation of the points that Swift was making).

Edward survived as Attorney General and retired in 1717 with a pension of £1,500 a year (which would be well over a quarter of a million pounds in today's money). He retained his seat in Parliament until 1722, by which time he was suffering from a serious paralysing illness, and died in Epsom on 16 August 1723. His wife, formerly Anne Jolliffe, whom he had married in 1687 at St Martin Outwich, City of London, survived him until 17 August 1743: they were buried at St Martin's, Epsom, as instructed in their wills.

St Martin Outwich in the early 19th century.
St Martin Outwich in the early 19th century.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Lady Northey (Anne) with daughter Anne
Lady Northey (Anne) with daughter Anne.
Image courtesy of Martin Northey © 2012

Edward had not been particularly wealthy as a young man; he was a second son and the inheritance was earmarked for his elder brother, William, which is why he became a working lawyer. However, he had a stroke of excellent fortune in 1686 when he inherited a third share of the estate of Lady Philadelphia Wentworth, which amounted to £14,000 (I am not sure what this is in current terms, since the inflation tables do not go back that far, but it would be somewhere around £3 million).

It is a mystery why Lady Wentworth left him so much, but she had an interesting family, so we will have a short diversion at this point. Her father was Sir Ferdinando Carey, a very corpulent gentleman, who was shot through the body at the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, Netherlands in 1622. The word 'through' is used advisedly, since the bullet entered via his stomach, missed everything vital and emerged via his back, killing the man standing behind him. The Earl of Strafford said of Carey when he died in 1638 - 'a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Low Countries, a brave man, who died here suddenly of a lethargy, a most overgrown man with fat'. Philadelphia was the widow of Thomas, Lord Wentworth, who was a commander during the English Civil War, and mother of Henrietta Maria Wentworth, who inherited the barony from her father and was mistress of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II who led the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. Henrietta went into exile with the Duke to Holland. After his failed attempt to invade England and depose his uncle, James II, he was executed for treason; it was said that it took seven or eight strokes of the axe to accomplish the job. Henrietta returned home and died the following year, aged just 25. It is said that her heart was broken and she just declined.

Henrietta Wentworth Duke of Monmouth
Henrietta Wentworth and the Duke of Monmouth.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Moving on, Edward and his wife apparently had five children, who were Elizabeth, Rebecca, Anne, William and Edward: they appear in Part 2.

Links to the Previous and next parts.

Linda Jackson © February 2012

1. Two political leaders, Bolingbroke and Oxford, had spoiled their terms of office by petty quarrelling and had no friends left in the political arena. The speaker in the poem has the voice of a wise father dying and leaving advice for quarrelling offspring. He sees his sons (all the politicians mentioned in the poem) working without co-operating and draws the example of the Roman political system, whereby a bundle of sticks (faesces) was carried in front of the consul to signify unity of purpose. Swift (or the wise father) points out that it would be unheard of to separate the bundle and have the praetor and the consul acting outside of their function. In the English Parliament they are all wielding their own sticks instead of acting together. (There is a maxim - unity is strength).

Here, the Lord Treasurer is the Earl of Oxford, one of the quarrelling parties, who is lax in fulfilling his duties, Harcourt is Chancellor, 'trimming', I imagine, because he is always trying to save expenses. He brought in Northey to help the situation out, but unfortunately Northey is ambitious and wants to be Chancellor himself - he was known to be ambitious. Harcourt is being told to do his job, or else Northey will do it for him. The picture of Northey jumping over sticks or binding them up demonstrated his methods and connivings to get what he wants. In other words, acting alone or in groups, the parliamentarians would be no obstacle to Northey's ambition. He is called a rascal because he is after the job even though he has been brought in by the Chancellor to help out, so ambitious is he. The others are all people who hold or have or will hold office of some kind. The fagot (Roman Faesces) in a bundle is the central symbol, and the separate twigs or sticks show everyone doing what they want and not acting together at all. The poem ends with an injunction to act together so that the Whigs can be defeated.

With thanks to Professor Karen Batley for this footnote.

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