Lord Chancellor of England (1827-1830, 1834-1835, 1841-1846)
Born 1772 Died 1863
John Singleton Copley was born at Boston, New England in 1772. He was the son of John Singleton Copley, the painter. He was educated at a private school and Cambridge university, where he was second wrangler and fellow of Trinity. Called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1804, he gained a considerable practice. In 1817 he was one of the counsel for Dr J. Watson, tried for his share in the Spa Fields riot. On this occasion Copley so distinguished himself as to attract the attention of Castlereagh and other Tory leaders, under whose patronage he entered parliament as member for Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight. He afterwards sat for Ashburton, 1818-1826, and for Cambridge university 1826-1827. He was Solicitor-General in 1819, Attorney-General in 1824, Master of the Rolls in 1826 and Lord Chancellor in 1827, with the title of Lord Lyndhurst.
Before being taken up by the Tories, Copley was a man of the most advanced views, a republican and Jacobin; and his accession to the Tories excited a good deal of comment, which he bore with the greatest good humour. He gave a brilliant and eloquent but by no means rancorous support to all the reactionary measures of his chief. The same year that he became solicitor-general he married the beautiful and clever widow of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Thomas of the Coldstream Guards, and began to take a conspicuous place in society, in which his noble figure, his ready wit and his never-failing bonhomie made him a distinguished favourite.
As Solicitor-General he took a prominent part in the trial of Queen Caroline. To the great Liberal measures which marked the end of the reign of George IV and the beginning of that of William IV he gave a vigorous opposition. He was lord chief baron of the exchequer from 1831 to 1834. During the Melbourne administration from 1835 to 1841 he figured conspicuously as an obstructionist in the House of Lords. In these years it was a frequent practice with him, before each prorogation of parliament, to entertain the House with a "review of the session", in which he mercilessly attacked the Whig government. His former adversary Lord Brougham, disgusted at his treatment by the Whig leaders, soon became his most powerful ally in opposition; and the two dominated the House of Lords.
Throughout all the Tory governments from 1827 Lyndhurst held the chancellorship (1827-1830 and 1834-1835); and in the Peel administration (1841-1846) he resumed that office for the last time. As Peel never had much confidence in Lyndhurst, the latter did not exert so great an influence in the cabinet as his position and experience entitled him to do. But he continued a loyal member of the party. As in regard to Catholic emancipation, so in the agitation against the corn laws, he opposed reform till his chief gave the signal for concession, and then he cheerfully obeyed. After 1846 and the disintegration of the Tory party consequent on Peel's adoption of free trade, Lord Lyndhurst was not so assiduous in his attendance in parliament. Yet he continued to an extreme old age to take a lively interest in public affairs, and occasionally to astonish the country by the power and brilliancy of his speeches. That which he made in the House of Lords on the 19th of June 1854, on the war with Russia, made a sensation in Europe; and throughout the Crimean War he was a strong advocate of the energetic prosecution of hostilities. In 1859 he denounced with his old energy the restless ambition of Napoleon III. When released from office he came forward somewhat as the advocate of liberal measures.
His first wife had died in 1834, and in August 1837 he had married Georgina, daughter of Lewis Goldsmith. She was a Jewess; and it was therefore natural that he strenuously supported the admission of Jews into parliament. He also advocated women's rights in questions of divorce. At the age of eighty-four he passed the autumn at Dieppe, "helping to fly paper kites, and amusing himself by turns with the writings of the Greek and Latin fathers on divorce and the amorous novels of Eugene Sue." His last speech, marked by "his wonted brilliancy and vigour," was delivered in the House of Lords at the age of eighty-nine. He died in London on the 12th of October 1863. He left no male issue and the title became extinct.
See Lives of the Lord Chancellors of England, vol. viii. (Lords Lyndhurst and Brougham), by Lord Campbell (1869). Campbell was a personal friend, but a political opponent. Brougham's Memoirs; Greville Memoirs; Life of Lord Lyndhurst (1883) by Sir Theodore Martin; J. B. Atlay, The Victorian Chancellors (1906).
Being the entry for LYNDHURST, JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY, BARON in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.