- Christopher Yelverton
Sir Christopher Yelverton (1536–1612) was an English judge and speaker of the House of Commons.
He was returned as MP for Brackley, Northamptonshire, in 1563, for Northampton in 1571, 1572 and 1597 and as knight of the shire for Northamptonshire in 1593. He was elected Speaker of the House of Commons in 1597, when his son Henry Yelverton was also returned for the same constituency. He was a conspicuously successful speaker, exercising moderation and discretion to defuse tensions between Parliament and the crown. His Puritan tendencies were well known. He was an eloquent orator, though his contributions to debates show him to have been as much concerned with careful legal drafting as with rhetorical showmanship, and his conduct as speaker was marked by a lawyerly concern to establish proper procedures for the conduct of the business.
He was recorder of Northampton from 1568 to 1599, JP for Northamptonshire from about 1573, and called to the bar and elected treasurer of Gray's Inn in 1579 and 1585. He was Reader in 1574 and 1584, when his subject was the statute of 1540 relating to execution for debt. He was created serjeant-at-law in 1589, served as queen's serjeant from 1598 to 1602, and was Lord Justice of the Court of Queen's (then King's Bench) from 1602 to 1612.
Yelverton was an excellent technical lawyer and was regarded as a good judge, one of the few to escape criticism by Sir Robert Cecil, principal secretary, in his memorandum on the state of the judicial bench in 1603. As queen's serjeant he led the prosecution of those involved in Essex's rebellion in 1601, and he was one of the judges ruling on the Postnati case in 1608. In addition, he had a broader interest in legal culture, passing on to his son a collection of legal manuscripts; and, like many other lawyers of his generation, he made his own reports of cases. These reports remained unpublished and the well-known Yelverton report is by his son Henry Yelverton.
For all his finesse as speaker Yelverton was a man of considerable toughness. He was appointed second justice at Lancaster in 1598. As justice of the assize on the northern circuit and JP of many northern counties from 1599, he was in the forefront of the common lawyers' attack on the Council of the North. Friction developed in 1600, when he snubbed Ralph Eure, 3rd Lord Eure, vice-president, who was sitting with Sir John Savile as justice of gaol delivery. Matters came to a head in 1601 when he required the lord president, Sir Thomas Cecil, second Lord Burghley, to leave the court. Legal opinion was at first behind Yelverton, but in June 1602 he was summoned to the Star Chamber and publicly reprimanded for his conduct. There were more complaints about him but he weathered the criticism. Elizabeth I did not bestow a knighthood on him and it was left to James VI and I to do so. The king was more generous still, making him KB on 23 July 1603.
Christopher Yelverton, as early as 1566, had written the epilogue to Gascoyne's Jocasta, and in 1587 it appears that eight persons, Members of the Society of Gray's Inn, were engaged in the production of The Misfortunes of Arthur for the entertainment of Queen Elizabeth I, at Greenwich, on 8 February 1587: viz. Thomas Hughes, the author of the whole body of the tragedy; William Fulbecke, who wrote two speeches substitute on the representation and appended to the old printed copy; Nicholas Trotte, who furnished the introduction; Francis Flower, who penned choruses for the first and second acts; Christopher Yelverton, Francis Bacon and John Lancaster who devised the dumb shews, then usually accompanying such performances.
"Notwithstanding his puritanism in religion, several contemporary diarists record his ribald anecdotes and conversation, and John Manningham hints that he was not averse to enjoying himself in the company of gentlewomen when he was well into his seventies."
Yelverton, despite his complaints about poverty and the expense of providing for such a large family, was very active in the purchase of land in his adopted county of Northamptonshire, spending in excess of £5000 on properties in his lifetime, most of which descended on his death to his heir, Henry Yelverton. He died on 31 October 1612 ‘of very age’ at seventy-five (CSP dom., 1611–18, 154), and was buried on 3 November in the church at Easton Maudit, where a monument with his recumbent effigy in robes survives. He had married Margaret Catesby, the daughter of Thomas Catesby of Whiston, Northamptonshire; they had two sons and four daughters. His wife predeceased him.
- David Ibbetson, ‘Yelverton, Sir Christopher (1536/7–1612)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource: "Yelverton, Christopher". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
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