Thomas Medlycott was recorder of Abingdon, 1675-86 and 1687-9. He had been born in London in 1628, son of James Medlicott or Medlicote who was described as a dyer. His mother, born Elizabeth Joyner, was from Newbury. He was educated at Merchant Taylors School, Christ’s College Cambridge, and the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar in 1653. Little is known of his career before 1675, when he was made a JP for Middlesex.
He came to Abingdon in 1676, having been selected by the corporation to replace Thomas Holt as recorder. The official reason for Holt’s dismissal was that he was also recorder for Reading and spent much of his time there. But it was probably also relevant that Holt supported the Court party, soon to be known as the Tories, and Medlycott the proto-Whigs. Holt sued, and the Corporation paid £29 19s 4d in legal expenses. Medlycott later moved into a house that Holt had previously occupied, the present 28 East St Helen Street.
His appointment was at first welcomed by his future political opponent John Stonhouse, and he and Stonhouse worked together in 1678 on the prosecution of the MP for Milborne Port (Somerset), Michael Malet, for alleged lèse-majesty during the Berkshire county by-election of that year. Malet had commented in public that the Earl of Stirling, the court candidate, was as great a rogue as the king. He spent some months in the Tower, but, having a long history of outrageous utterances, he was considered half-mad and finally released without being brought to trial.
Medlycott was made a Berkshire JP in 1678 as was usual for a recorder, but dismissed in the purge of 1680 as politically unreliable. He was reinstated a year later.
In 1683, an Abingdon Corporation member, George Winchurst, supported by Lord Norreys, the future Earl of Abingdon, wished to be elected mayor. As a Tory, he stood little chance, and wanted to restrict the polling to men who had taken oaths of allegiance to the regime. Medlycott advised that this would be illegal, thus making himself, and Abingdon, unpopular with the central government of the time. The result was that a new revised charter was forced on Abingdon in 1686. Among many other changes, Medlycott was replaced as recorder by the Tory William Finmore.
But soon after, James II changed his religious policies, hoping to be able to give Catholics the civil rights they lacked under cover of giving them also to Protestant Dissenters. To general consternation, he began to claim a royal dispensing power to allow evasion of the existing restrictive laws. His judges held their office ‘during (the king’s) good pleasure’ and would be sacked if they did not comply. In July 1686, Medlycott was defending a large group of Abingdon and Berkshire Dissenters being prosecuted by Finmore for attending their own services rather than those of the Church of England. One of the judges was Richard Holloway, an extreme Tory. Medlycott taunted him: “your lordship has served the defendants more effectually than I, and they owe you greater thanks – you and the judges have declared your opinion that His Majesty is a sovereign prince, the laws are his laws and he can dispense with them when necessary, and he is judge of that necessity, and has so judged and has provided a patent under the broad seal”. He then produced the dispensatory document that he had obtained from the king’s minister the Earl of Sunderland, and the case collapsed.
When William of Orange invaded in 1688, Medlycott came out in his support. James’s changes to town corporations had by then been rescinded, and he was once more recorder. William stayed briefly at his house in East St Helen Street on his erratic route from Exeter to London. Medlycott was elected to represent Abingdon in the convention called after James’s flight into exile. The electoral campaign against Stonhouse was violent and chaotic.
Medlycott was already entering his sixties, and had left his parliamentary debut rather late. Also, Stonhouse had appealed and his tenure might be brief. So he lost no time in making his mark. On 28 January 1689, he called for an immediate vote on the knotty problem of the vacancy of the throne. On 19 February, after the first speech from the throne by the new-made William III, he proposed that the convention declare itself a parliament, which after further discussion it did. But in May the House of Commons, considering the violence at his election, ruled that it had been invalid. He chose not to stand again.
Abingdon now turned against him. The Holt family was still influential and it seems that it was by their machinations that he was finally dismissed as recorder in October 1689 in favour of the future Lord Harcourt. At this point he seems to have retired both from legal and political activity.
Medlycott and his wife had six sons and a daughter. Two of his sons would become lawyers and MPs in their turn. One of them, Thomas jnr, had bought an estate at Malet’s old constituency of Milborne Port, and it was there that his father died in 1716.
See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.
© AAAHS and contributors 2016