Parliaments, Politics & People Seminar: Charlotte Young, John Bradshaw’s forgotten role: the Committee for Sequestration’s legal advisers in the 1640s

At our last ‘Parliaments, Politics & People’ seminar, Charlotte Young (Royal Holloway University of London) spoke on ‘John Bradshaw’s forgotten role: the Committee for Sequestration’s legal advisers in the 1640s’. Here she gives an overview of her paper…

John Bradshaw’s name is unfortunately and irrevocably associated with the words traitor, murderer, and rogue. His reputation was destroyed by the Royalist press due to his role as Lord President of the Trial of Charles I, which ended with Bradshaw uttering the sentence of execution upon the monarch. Contemporary accounts and modern historiography alike have condemned him as a disreputable non-entity who had made no contribution to the Commonwealth before the trial.

However, the reality is that John Bradshaw was heavily involved in Parliamentary affairs during the Civil War, and had made a significant contribution to the business of government. A part of his career which has been largely overlooked is his role as a legal adviser to the Committee of Lords and Commons for Sequestrations, based in Westminster. The Committee, initially comprised of 22 members of the House of Commons and 14 members of the House of Lords, was established in early 1643 to allow Parliament to confiscate the goods and estates of the King’s supporters, to prevent them supplying the monarch with financial or material assistance. Unsurprisingly, people began appealing against sequestration almost as soon as the first cases were enforced. Initially the committee decided what to do in each case themselves, but within a few weeks it became clear that they’d bitten off more than they could chew. Simply seizing property from delinquents didn’t take into account issues such as disputes over ownership, tenancy agreements, or provisions for jointure.

By June 1643 the Committee began referring cases to lawyers, asking them to untangle the evidence presented in appeals, and work out whose side they should agree with. Sequestration was legally dubious to say the least, so tapping into the pre-existing respected legal networks of London gave it a façade of legitimacy, and allowed appellants the chance to have their cases analysed by experienced lawyers. John Bradshaw began receiving cases regularly in October 1644. He was one of a team of legal advisers employed by the Committee during the war; others included Serjeant John Wilde, Henry Pelham, and William Ellis.

However, Bradshaw was undoubtedly the Committee’s favourite. He worked for them until 3rd January 1649, their last meeting before the execution of Charles I. In this period of just over 4 years, he was involved in well over 1,000 cases. The other legal advisers combined handled just 77. Bradshaw was paid just under £4 a week, and his responsibilities included reading through all the documentation relating to each appeal, producing a written report with a judgement for each case, and examining witnesses in person if necessary. On 7th July 1647 the House of Commons noted that he had ‘done very great Service to the Parliament’ through his work.

This project will be developed further over the next few years to build up a clearer picture of Bradshaw’s involvement with the Committee, but even in the early stages it is clear that this is not a man who was unknown in Westminster before the trial. This is not a man who had contributed nothing to the affairs of the Commonwealth. Unfortunately there is an approximate survival rating of 5-10% for the reports he produced, but those still held at the National Archives paint a picture of a thorough, just, and dedicated lawyer who was respected and trusted by both Parliament and the people during the 1640s.


Join us tonight for our latest seminar. Our own Dr Kathryn Rix ,of the Victorian Commons, will speak on ‘The professionalization of electoral politics: the Liberal and Conservative party agents, 1880-1910’. Full details available here.

Afterwards Kathryn will hold an informal launch for her new book, Parties, Agents and Electoral Culture in England, 1880-1910. More on the book here.


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