The Hanging Judge
Location: Judge Jeffreys' Restaurant, Dorchester
The coming of the Bloody Assizes
|Portrait of George Jeffreys (1648 - 1689) given
to the Dorset County Museum by J.S. Udal
Born in Denbighshire, George Jeffreys, the son of John Jeffreys of Acton Park, was educated first at Shrewsbury then St. Pauls and Westminster schools in London. From Westminster he went to Trinity College, Cambridge but left after a year without gaining a degree. He married twice, first to Sarah Neesham in 1667 and eighteen months after her death in 1678 he married a young widow Lady Ann Jones. He was admitted as a member of the Inner Temple to practice law and soon gained a reputation for his vehement and extreme manner in judiciary affairs.
Although not rich he had wealthy and influential friends and was appointed Common Sargent of London when only twenty-six years. In 1677 he was knighted and some four years later rose to the position of the Recorder of City of London, then moving in circles close to the crown he was noticed by Charles II for his prosecution of Lord Russell and elevated by him to become Lord Chief Justice.
He was selected by James II to head the commission of Judges sent to the West Country in 1685 to try and punish those involved in the Monmouth Rebellion. As we know he stayed at this famous house in Dorchester that now bears his name, during what became known as the 'Bloody Assizes'. He was at the time sick man suffering with stones, and as a result gained a reputation as a heavy drinking, this being in those days one remedy to alleviate the pain of his condition. His disagreeable countenance and severe treatment of those brought before him, did nothing to endear him to the people and he was said to be one of the most feared and hated men in England.
|Judge Jeffries Restaurant in the
High Street, Dorchester this is thought to be the
location of the lodgings by Judge Jeffries
During the Dorchester Assizes a total two hundred and ninety two prisoners were tried by the commission of Judges; of these seventy four were executed in the town at Gallows Hill, the heads of some being displayed on spikes outside St. Peters church opposite the Judges lodgings. Many of the remainder either died in prison of fever or were transported to plantations in the West Indies. Jeffreys left Dorchester to continue the Bloody Assizes in Exeter and then Taunton and Bristol
On his return to London Jeffreys was further elevated to the position of Lord Chancellor and in that position conducted the Court of Ecclesiastical Commission set up by James II to further the Catholic faith in England, although Jeffreys was himself a staunch Anglican. The commission was instrumental in causing James' downfall and cost him the throne; he fled to exile in France leaving his Chancellor without support. Jeffreys was arrested soon after and imprisoned in the Tower of London, he died within a few months of his painful illness at the age of forty-one in 1689.