John Harris, Serjeant-at-Law

In: Devonshire gleanings from Manningham’s Diary.
Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1875, Vol VII, pp. 382-383.


W. Pengelly

Prepared by Michael Steer

The author has provided a biographical excerpt, that he calls a ‘Gleaning’ from the "Diary of John Manningham, of the Middle Temple, and of Bradbourne, Kent, Barrister-at-Law, 1602-1603, His paper was presented at the Association’s 1875 Torrington meeting. John Harris (1507–1551) of Hayne, Serjeant-at-Law to King Edward VI and Recorder of Exeter, married Elizabeth Kelle, daughter of Nicholas Kelle of Radcliffe and Southwick purchased the manor of Lifton. A Serjeant-at-Law, commonly known simply as a Serjeant, was a member of an order of barristers. The position of Serjeant-at-Law (servientes ad legem), or Sergeant-Counter, was centuries old; there are writs dating to 1300 which identify them as descended from figures in France before the Norman Conquest. The Serjeants were the oldest formally created order in England, having been brought into existence as a body by Henry II. The order rose during the 16th century as a small, elite group of lawyers who took much of the work in the central common law courts. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several sources. [Everything within brackets is editorial, All else is from the Diary]

[John Harris, Serjeant-at-Law. Born near Lifton (but in what year seems to be not known), and died probably in or about 1548. He was interred in Lifton Church. This gentleman's name occurs in the following entries]: -

"This day Serjeant Harris was retayned for the plaintife, and he argued for the defendant; soe negligent that he knowes not for whom he speakes." (p. 41.) "Serjeant Harris, standing on [? one] day at the common place barr with the other Serjeants, and hauing scarce clients enough to hold motion, - ' They talke of a call of sergeants,' said he, ' but for ought I can see wee had more need of a call of clients.' (p. 92.)

"1. Feb. 1602. There were 11 Sergeants-at-lawe called this day; two of the Middle Temple, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Nicholes; five of the Inner Temple, Crooke the Recorder of London, Tanfield, Coventry, Foster, and Barker; three of Lyncoln's Inn, Harris and Houghton; one of Grayes Inn, Mr. Altam.

When the Queene was moved to have called another to have made up twelve, she refused, saying she feared yf there were twelve there would be one false brother amongst them.

Sergeant Harris when he heard that Barker was called, ' It is well, said he, ' there should be one Barker amongst soe manie byters " p. 117.

"It is said Mr. Snig offers 800/. to be Sergeant, whereupon Mr. Sergeant Harris said that he doubted not he should shortly salut his deare brother Mr. Snig.

“Argent makes Sargent" p. 118.