Thomas Powys (judge)

Thomas Powys (1649-1719) (Follower of Godfrey Kneller)

Sir Thomas Powys (1649 – 4 April 1719), MP, was Attorney General to King James II. He was chief prosecutor at the trial of the Seven Bishops, June 1688; and MP for Ludlow.[1] He served as Justice of the King's Bench 1713–1714, but was dismissed.[2]

Early years

Powys was the second son of Thomas Powys of Henley Hall in Shropshire, serjeant-at-law, a Bencher of Lincoln's Inn,[3] and the representative of one branch of the ancient Welsh family of Powys, by his first wife, Mary, daughter of Sir Adam Littleton, bart. He was the younger brother of Sir Littleton Powys (1648?–1732). Powys was educated at Shrewsbury School, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1673.


Powys was chief prosecutor at the trial of the Seven Bishops.

He became solicitor-general, and was knighted on 23 April 1686, when Heneage Finch was dismissed. Having acquiesced in the appointment of Roman Catholics to office, and argued in favour of the king's dispensing power, he was promoted to be attorney-general in December 1687, the same year that he became treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn.

Trial of the Seven Bishops

He conducted the prosecution of the Seven Bishops in June 1688. The charge was seditious libel, in presenting to the King a petition against the enforcement of his second Declaration of Indulgence. The acquittal of the Bishops was a disastrous blow to the Crown's prestige, and Powys was heavily criticised for incompetence: inexplicably he forgot to adduce evidence that the Petition had ever been presented, so that the trial almost collapsed at the outset. However, given the immense public sympathy for the Bishops, and that two of the four judges directed the jury to acquit, it is unlikely that any prosecutor could have secured a conviction.

Later years

During the reign of William III he acquired reputation for fairness, especially in defence of state prisoners, among whom was Sir John Fenwick, 3rd Baronet, and at the bar of both houses of parliament. He sat in parliament for Ludlow from 1701 to 1713, and, in 1702, served jointly as an MP for Truro. During the period of 1707 to 1719, he served as recorder of Ludlow. He was made Serjeant-at-law and queen's serjeant at the beginning of Anne's reign, and on 8 June 1713 a judge of the queen's bench. But as he and his brother, Sir Littleton Powys, too frequently formed judgments in opposition to the rest of the court, he, as the more active and able of the two, was removed, on Lord-chancellor Cowper's advice, when George I of Great Britain came to England (1714). Powys' rank of King's Serjeant was restored to him after an appeal, a position he held until his death.[4]

Personal life

He lived in Shropshire prior to acquiring Lilford Hall in 1711, induced to inspect it by his friend, Sir Edward Ward. Powys is buried at Achurch.[5] He died in 1719, and was buried at Lilford. He was twice married: first to Sarah, daughter of Ambrose Holbech of Mollington, Warwickshire; and secondly, to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Philip Meadowes. He had issue by both; and his great-grandson Thomas Powys, was created Lord Lilford in 1797. His portrait hangs at the Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas at Austin.[4]


  1. "Biography of Sir Thomas Powys". Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  2. Sainty, p. 36
  3. Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (Great Britain) (1907). Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (Public domain ed.). Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. pp. 97–. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  4. 1 2 "Sir Thomas Powys Justice of the King's Bench (1649-1719)". Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  5. Drewitt, Caroline Mary Powys (1900). Lord Lilford Thomas Littleton, fourth baron F. Z. S. president of the British ornithologists' union: A memoir by his sister (Public domain ed.). Smith, Elder, & co. pp. 3–. Retrieved 11 February 2012.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Powys, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

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