Sir John Holt, the greatest English lawyer of his age, was chief justice of the court of King’s Bench from 1689 until his death. He was born in Thame, the son of Sir Thomas Holt, who was recorder of Abingdon and MP for Abingdon. John is believed to have been educated at the free school in Abingdon (now Abingdon School). He was called to the bar in 1664 where he soon became known for his skilled advocacy in a wide variety of cases. In the crisis that arose when the Roman Catholic king, James II, fled the country in December 1688, Holt advised Parliament that James had renounced his position as king and that the throne was vacant and could be offered to William of Orange; thereafter William was summoned to the throne jointly with his wife Mary (daughter of James II). Soon after the accession of William III and Mary, Holt was appointed chief justice of King’s Bench at the early age of 46, which office he held for 22 years. His reputation as a judge rests both on the contribution that he made in developing the content of the common law, through the numerous judgments he gave in disputed cases, and also on the manner in which he conducted the trials that came before him. One biographer said that Holt was ‘the model on which, in England, the judicial character has been formed’. Holt died in 1710, leaving a widow but no children. He is buried at Redgrave church, Suffolk.
A W Bradley
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