John Bradshaw, 1602-59

Provincial magistrate who gained notoriety as the judge who presided over the trial of King Charles I and passed the death sentence on the King.

Portrait of Lord President BradshawBorn at Wibersley Hall near Stockport in Cheshire, John Bradshaw was the younger son of a minor gentry family. After attending Gray's Inn, he rose to prominence as a lawyer in Cheshire and became Mayor of Congleton in 1637. In 1643, Bradshaw moved to London where he was appointed a judge at the Sheriff's Court. He acted in several cases that brought him to national prominence, beginning with the prosecution of the Irish rebel Lord Maguire in 1644. In 1646, he acted as counsel for John Lilburne in his appeal to the House of Lords against the sentence pronounced upon him by Star Chamber in 1637, and he represented John Milton in a Chancery case in 1647. Bradshaw was appointed Chief Justice of Cheshire and North Wales in March 1647.

With some reluctance, Bradshaw accepted the office of Lord-President of the High Court of Justice in 1649 when other prominent lawyers and magistrates declined. He therefore presided over the King's trial and pronounced the sentence of death on him. After the King's execution, Bradshaw was richly rewarded with lands and property. He also presided over the trials of the Royalist leaders of the Second Civil War: Hamilton, Capel and Holland, all of whom were sentenced to death.

Appointed first President of the Council of State in March 1649, Bradshaw maintained a close correspondence with Oliver Cromwell on his campaigns in Ireland and Scotland during 1649-50. However, he quarrelled with Cromwell over the dismissal of the Rump Parliament in April 1653 and joined attacks by republicans on the Protectorate régime during the First Protectorate Parliament (1654). During the elections for the Second Protectorate Parliament (1656), Major-General Bridge worked to prevent Bradshaw's candidacy for Cheshire, and Cromwell tried to deprive him of his office as Chief Justice for Cheshire and North Wales. Bradshaw was elected MP for Cheshire in the Third Protectorate Parliament (1659) under Richard Cromwell. His support for religious and political radicals was unpopular in Cheshire, and is said to have been a contributory factor in encouraging Booth's Uprising of August 1659.

Bradshaw died in October 1659 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. After the Restoration, he was attainted for high treason for his role in the death of Charles I. His body was exhumed and hung in chains at Tyburn.


Sean Kelsey, John Bradshaw, Oxford DNB, 2004