1st Baron Ellenborough (1802-1818)
Born 1750 Died 1818
Edward Law was born on the 16th of November 1750, at Great Salkeld, in Cumberland, of which place his father, Edmund Law (1703-1787), afterwards bishop of Carlisle, was at the time rector. Educated at the Charterhouse and at Peterhouse, Cambridge, he passed as third wrangler, and was soon afterwards elected to a fellowship at Trinity. In spite of his father's strong wish that he should take orders, he chose the legal profession, and on quitting the university was entered at Lincoln's Inn. After spending five years as a special pleader under the bar, he was called to the bar in 1780. He chose the northern circuit, and in a very short time obtained a lucrative practice and a high reputation.
In 1787 he was appointed principal counsel for Warren Hastings in the celebrated impeachment trial before the House of Lords, and the ability with which he conducted the defence was universally recognized. He had begun his political career as a Whig, but, like many others, he saw in the French Revolution a reason for changing sides, and became a supporter of Pitt. On the formation of the Addington ministry in 1801, he was appointed attorney-general and shortly afterwards was returned to the House of Commons as member for Newtown in the Isle of Wight. In 1802 he succeeded Lord Kenyon as chief justice of the king's bench. On being raised to the bench he was created a peer, taking his title from the village of Ellenborough in Cumberland, where his maternal ancestors had long held a small patrimony.
In 1806, on the formation of Lord Grenville's ministry of all the talents, Lord Ellenborough declined the offer of the great seal, but accepted a seat in the cabinet. His doing so while he retained the chief justiceship was much criticized at the time, and, though not without precedent, was open to such obvious objections on constitutional grounds that the experiment has not since been repeated. As a judge he had grave faults, though his decisions displayed profound legal knowledge, and in mercantile law especially were reckoned of high authority. He was harsh and overbearing to counsel, and in the political trials which were so frequent in his time showed an unmistakable bias against the accused. In the trial of William Hone for blasphemy in 1817, Ellenborough directed the jury to find a verdict of guilty, and their acquittal of the prisoner is generally said to have hastened his death. He resigned his judicial office in November 1818, and died on the 13th of December following.
Ellenborough was succeeded as 2nd baron by his eldest son, Edward, afterwards Earl of Ellenborough; another son was Charles Ewan Law (1792-1850), recorder of London and member of parliament for Cambridge University from 1835 until his death in August 1850.
Three of Ellenborough's brothers attained some degree of fame. These were John Law (1745-1810), bishop of Elphin; Thomas Law (1759-1834), who settled in the United States in 1793, and married, as his second wife, Anne, a grand-daughter of Martha Washington; and George Henry Law (1761-1845), bishop of Chester and of Bath and Wells. The connection of the Law family with the English Church was kept up by George Henry's sons, three of whom took orders. Two of these were Henry Law (1797-1884), dean of Gloucester, and James Thomas Law (1790-1876), chancellor of the diocese of Lichfield.
Being the entry for ELLENBOROUGH, EDWARD LAW, 1ST BARON in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.