Friday, 31 May 2013

Sir Dudley Ryder (1691 – 1756): What can we learn from the Ryder sources

Sir Dudley Ryder,, accessed 30 August 2013.
Two weeks ago I attended a lecture at The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies given by Professor Thomas Gallanis, Chair in Law at the University of Iowa: "Eighteenth Century English Law: What can we learn from the Ryder sources".
The lecture concerned Gallanis's work on the judicial notebooks of Sir Dudley Ryder undertaken for the Seldon Society, to be published in 2014 (although looking at their website, the Society's publication timetable appears to be running two years behind schedule)
Although Ryder is known for his diaries, 1715-1716 published by Methuen in 1939, it is his judicial notes that are the subject of Gallanis's current work.
For those who don't already know, Ryder was born in London in 1691 the son of a draper. He studied at a dissenting accademy in Hackney, Edinburgh University and Leiden University in the Netherlands. In 1713 he attended the Middle Temple and at this point became a member of the church of England, thus opening the doors to all areas of law and politics. He was called to the Bar in 1719 and specialised in King's Bench and Chancery Court work. In 1725 he moved to Lincoln's Inn where Chancery Court sittings were held out of term.
Ryder became M.P. for St. Germans in 1733 and for Tiverton in 1734. In 1733 he was also made Solicitor General under Sir Robert Walpole and appointed Attorney General in 1737. In addition to his professional work, in 1739 Ryder was one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital in London. Knighthood followed in 1740 and in 1739, and again in 1749, he was offered the post of Master of the Rolls, which he declined. Nevertheless in 1754 he was made a Privy Councillor and appointed Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench.
Gallani noted that throughout his career Ryder was desperate to be noticed and gain a title, raising the status of his family from its relatively humble origins. However, although a patent was drawn up to create a peerage for him, Ryder died before it was passed. It is thought that the Baroncy of Harrowby betsowed on his son, Nathaniel Ryder, was given in recognition of the work of the father rather than the son.
So what do Ryder's diaries and papers offer?
There are four types of records:

  • 280 civil and criminal trial notes created in order to summarise cases for the juries and any post trial reviews. These papers show that hearsay evidence was not challenged, expert opinion was not challeneged, lawyers rarely raised objections or asked to withdraw evidence from a jury;

  • His assize diary for his sittings on the Home Circuit in August 1754 and July/August 1755;

  • His speeches to Grand Juries. Ryder presided over grand jury deliberations, at the beginning of which he would deliver a speech to remind them of their duties and deliver any other messages from central government that were appropriate and enforcing the majesty of the court;

  • His personal diary.
These records also include notes on how Ryder educated himself, referring to works by Mathew Hale, Thomas Wood, William Hawkins and Giles Duncan.

Gallani observed that Ryder's notes provide a new insight into what grand juries were hearing. His notes reveal just how often the grand jury followed his summing up, or not. The reason why Ryder's speeches, case notes of witness testimony and arguements by counsel survive is that Ryder taught himself shorthand. These notes were eventually deciphered by K.L. Perin (who went on to work at Bletchley) and used more recently by John Langbein. Langbein, John H. (1983) "Shaping the Eighteenth-Century Criminal Trial: A View from the Ryder Sources": Yale Faculty Scholarship Series.

In contrast to other notes that exist, such as those from Chief Justice William Lee, Ryder's immediate
predecessor as Chief Justice of King's Bench contain mostly receipts from his visits on the Northern Circuit and notes of what is required to undertake his duties. Similarly, although Lord Hardwicke left
notes from his days as a trial judge in the 1730's, his handwriting is in part undecipherable and trial narratives cannot be recreated from his notes.
It is a shame that the IALS lectures aren't better attended given the high calibre of speakers and the opportunity to view history and the legal system from a legal rather than a historical perspective. 
So, a plug for The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR. Their events are generally free and no advance tickets required.
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  1. I agree it was a very interesting lecture - thanks for such a full and useful summary of it. Just one small point - Ryder was still very much an active dissenter when he wrote his 1715-16 diary. According to John Campbell Campbell's 'Lives of the chief justices of England' (1849) Ryder began taking Episcopalian communion in 1719, but I'm not sure how reliable were his sources.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment on this. The relationship between church and dissenters for those practising law is interesting and something I would like to investigate further, time permitting.