Thomas Denman, 1st Baron Denman

Thomas Denman, 1st Baron Denman, PC (23 July 1779 – 26 September 1854) was an English lawyer, judge and politician. He served as Lord Chief Justice between 1832 and 1850.

The Lord Denman
Thomas Denman, 1st Baron Denman by Thomas Barber (c.1831-1833).jpg
Lord Chief Justice of England
Lord High Steward for the trial of:
In office
Preceded byThe Lord Tenterden
Succeeded byThe Lord Campbell
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
14 November 1834 – 15 December 1834
MonarchWilliam IV
Prime MinisterThe Duke of Wellington (interim)
Preceded byViscount Althorp
Succeeded bySir Robert Peel, Bt
Personal details
Born23 July 1779 (1779-07-23)
Died26 September 1854 (1854-09-27) (aged 75)
Stoke Albany, Northamptonshire
Political partyWhig
Theodosia Vevers
(m. 1804; died 1852)
Alma materSt John's College, Cambridge

Background and educationEdit

Denman was born in London, the son of Dr Thomas Denman. In his fourth year, he attended Palgrave Academy in Suffolk, where his education was supervised by Anna Laetitia Barbauld and her husband.[1] He continued to Eton and St John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1800.[2] In 1806 he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, and at once entered upon practice.[3]

Legal and judicial careerEdit

Lord Denman as Lord Chief Justice, by Sir Martin Archer Shee.

His success was rapid, and in a few years he attained a position at the bar second only to that of Henry Brougham and James Scarlett. He distinguished himself by his defence of the Luddites; but his most brilliant appearance was as one of the counsel for Queen Caroline. His speech before the House of Lords was very powerful, and some competent judges even considered it not inferior to Brougham's. It contained one or two daring passages, which made the King his bitter enemy, and retarded his legal promotion.[3] Unfortunately he made a notable gaffe when he compared the Queen to the Biblical woman taken in adultery, who was told to "go away and sin no more". This suggested that her counsel had no belief in the Queen's innocence, and produced the mocking satire:

"Most Gracious Queen, we thee implore
To go away and sin no more
Or if that effort be too great
To go away at any rate".

At the general election of 1818 he was returned Member of Parliament for Wareham, and at once took his seat with the Whig opposition. In the following year, he was returned for Nottingham, which seat he represented until 1826 and again from 1830 until his elevation to the bench in 1832. His liberal principles had caused his exclusion from office till in 1822 he was appointed Common Serjeant of London by the corporation of London. In 1830 he was made Attorney General under Lord Grey's administration[3] and was knighted on 24 November that year.[4]

Two years later he was made Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench and was sworn of the Privy Council two days later.[5] In 1834, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Denman, of Dovedale, in the County of Derby.[6] As a judge he is best remembered for his decision in the important privilege case of Stockdale v. Hansard (9 Ad. & El. I.; II Ad. & El. 253).[3] In 1841 he presided, as Lord High Steward, over the trial in the House of Lords of the Earl of Cardigan for attempted murder. In O'Connell v the Queen, in 1844, he led the majority of the Lords in quashing the conviction for sedition of Daniel O'Connell. This is a tribute to his integrity since O'Connell was regarded with aversion by the British ruling class; but Denman, as he made clear, could not accept that he had received a fair trial. In 1850 he resigned from his chief justiceship and retired into private life. He was a Governor of the Charter House, and a Vice-President of the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy. He also strove with great energy, both as a writer and as a judge, to effect the abolition of the slave trade.[7]


Lord Denman married Theodosia Anne, daughter of Reverend Richard Vevers, in 1804. His Derbyshire seat was Middleton Hall, Stoney Middleton. He died at Stoke Albany, Northamptonshire aged 75, and was succeeded in the barony by his oldest son Thomas. Another son, Joseph, was a Royal Navy officer, while another, George, was an MP and High Court judge.



  1. ^ "Memoir of Mrs Barbauld by Lucy Aikin, p v". 1825.
  2. ^ "Denman, Thomas (DNMN796T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ a b c d   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Denman, Thomas". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 23.
  4. ^ "No. 3915". The Edinburgh Gazette. 30 November 1830. p. 325.
  5. ^ "No. 18993". The London Gazette. 9 November 1832. p. 2469.
  6. ^ "No. 19139". The London Gazette. 25 March 1834. p. 539.
  7. ^ Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Denman, Thomas" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.


External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Wareham
With: John Calcraft
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Nottingham
With: Joseph Birch
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Nottingham
With: Sir Ronald Crauford Ferguson
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the Exchequer
pro tempore
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Denman
Succeeded by