Lord Chancellor King, the First Recorder of Glastonbury, by the Rev. Preb. Grant
PETER KING, the first Recorder of Glastonbury, Recorder of the City of London, Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Lord High Chancellor of England, created Baron Ockham of Ockham in the County of Surrey, in the Peerage of Great Britain, was descended from an old Glastonbury family. The family acquired property, and held a good position among the thriving mercers and tradesmen of the town. Their names appear on the rate-books, and on small coins or tokens which were issued by them, some of which are in the Glastonbury Museum. One of the family occupied the old Manor house at the bottom of Northload street, the only remaining portion of which has been turned into a ‘pound.’ It is the last little bit of building on the western side of the street before you come to Northload Bridge, over the railway. It was in that house that Jerome King was born. He was apprenticed to a grocer in Exeter, and was afterwards established in business in that city. He had property in Glastonbury, which he probably obtained by inheritance. His only son was Peter, whom he intended to bring up to succeed him in his business. But other thoughts and loftier ambitions were filling the boy’s mind, and helping to shape his future course. He was a sharp, clever, studious lad. His mother was Anne, the daughter of John Locke. She was sister to John Locke, the celebrated philosopher of the 17th century, who was born at Wrington; and perhaps it was from her the boy inherited a disposition, a mind, which soared above the grocer’s shop, and rebelled against its dull monotony. All his pocket-money was spent in the purchase of books, and his spare time was spent in mastering their contents. He received his early education at a Nonconformist academy at Exeter. He was trained as a Presbyterian, and in 1691, when he was only twenty-two years old, he published a book entitled ‘An enquiry into the constitution, discipline, unity, and worship of the Primitive Church that flourished within the three first centuries after Christ.’ This was written with a view to promote a scheme of comprehension between Churchmen and Dissenters. His uncle, John Locke, was greatly interested, and persuaded his father to send him to the University at Leyden. There he stayed three years, applying himself diligently to study. He then entered himself as a student at the Inner Temple, was called to the Bar in 1698, and rapidly made his way on circuit and at Westminster, and acquired a high reputation for his knowledge in law.
In 1699 he was returned to Parliament as the representative of the borough of Beer Alston, in Devon, an honour which he continued to hold through the five succeeding Parliaments of Queen Anne. His return to Parliament helped to increase the majority for the Whigs. He made his maiden speech in February, 1702. His speech was well received by the House, and he was warmly congratulated by his uncle Locke. In the same year he published a second theological book— ‘The History of the Apostles’ Creed.’ This added to his fame for learning and sound judgment.
By his personal influence he obtained from Queen Anne a Charter of Incorporation for the town of Glastonbury, and was appointed its first Recorder. His uncle, Robert King, was the second Mayor of Glastonbury, in 1706. Robert King’s son was twice Mayor, 1712, 1716 and a grandson, Thomas King, was Mayor in 1754.
Peter King continued to hold the office of Recorder until his appointment as Recorder of London. He was knighted at Windsor by Queen Anne, on his carrying to her the congratulations of the City on the victory obtained at the battle of Oudenarde. When George I came to the throne, as Recorder of London Sir Peter King went with the Lord Mayor and Corporation to receive and welcome His Majesty. Soon after the King’s accession he was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, in succession to Lord Trevor, at a salary of £2,000 a year. On resigning the office of Recorder of London, he was presented with a handsome piece of plate, as ‘A loving remembrance of his many good services done to the City.’ As a judge he gained a high reputation for his great learning and knowledge of the law, and for his ability and impartiality in the administration of the law. He tried the Commons implicated in the rebellion of 1715, and appears to have treated them with great leniency.
On May 25th, 1725, he was created a peer, by the title of Lord King, Baron Ockham of Ockham, in the County of Surrey. He took his seat in the House of Lords on May 31st, and when the Great Seal was taken from the Earl of Macclesfield it was delivered to Lord King on the 1st of June.
He received the Great Seal again on the accession of George II. The King declared that he himself intended to present to all benefices in the patronage of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor quietly, but firmly, resisted, and expressed the hope that ‘His Majesty would not put things out of their ancient course.’ After a while, and much discussion, the King gave way, and the matter was allowed to drop. As Lord Chancellor his career was disappointing; he did not make that figure which was expected from the character and ability which had exalted him to his high position. It is said that more of his decrees were repealed by the House than any other Chancellor’s.
He established a law that where a husband had a legal title to his wife’s estate he could not reduce it into possession without settling some portion upon her. Is not this the germ which developed into the Married Woman’s Property Act passed some years ago? He was also the author of another Act of Parliament which substituted English for Latin as the language of all writs and similar documents. He was a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; a Governor of the Charter House; and a Fellow of the Royal Society. A stroke of paralysis compelled him to resign the Great Seal and relinquish his high office. This he did on November 19th, 1733. He was offered a pension of £4,000 a year, or a capital sum of £20,000. He chose the latter, and died July 22nd, 1735, and was buried in the parish church at Ockham, in Surrey.
In September, 1704. he married Anne, the daughter of Richard Leys, of Boverton, in Glamorganshire. By her he had four sons and one daughter. His four sons all succeeded him and each other in the title. The present Earl of Lovelace, whose mother was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, is a lineal descendant of the fourth son of Lord King once the Recorder of Glastonbury, and Lord High Chancellor of England.