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Sawyer, Sir Robert

SAWYER, SIR ROBERT (1633-1692), English lawyer, a younger son of Sir Edmund Sawyer, auditor of the city of London, was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he distinguished himself in classical learning, being the first Craven Scholar in 1648. He acquired a good practice at the bar, and in 1673 he was elected to the House of Commons, where for a short time in 1678 he was speaker. He inclined to the side of the court in politics, but was a strong opponent of concession to the Roman Catholics, and was one of the draftsmen of the Exclusion Bill. About the same time he began to appear as counsel in important state trials; he prosecuted Sir George Wakeman and others accused of complicity in the Popish plot in 1679; in 1681, having been in that year appointed attorney-general, he appeared for the crown in the prosecutions of Stephen College and Lord Shaftesbury; in the following year in the proceedings agtinst the charter of the city of London; and in 1683 against Lord Russell and Algernon Sidney for complicity in the Rye House plot; and he conducted the case against Titus Gates for perjury in 1685. Although James II. retained him as attorney-general, he proved himself by no means a complacent instrument of the royal prerogative; he advised the king against the legality of the dispensing power, and objected to signing the patents appointing Roman Catholics to office from which they were excluded by law. He was dismissed from the attorneygeneralship in 1687, and in the following year he appeared as leading counsel for the defence of the seven bishops, whose acquittal he secured. On the flight of James II., Sawyer maintained that the throne had thereby been abdicated, and took a prominent part in the debates on the constitutional questions then brought to the front. Owing to an attack upon him in 1690 in relation to his conduct in the case of Sir Thomas Armstrong in 1684, Sawyer was expelled from the House of Commons, but was returned again for Cambridge University shortly afterwards. He died on the 30th of July 1692. Sawyer's only daughter married Thomas Herbert, 8th earl of Pembroke.

See Slate Trials, vols. vii.-xii. ; Laurence Eachard, History of England (3 vols., London, 1707-1718), especially for Sawyer's defence of the seven bishops; Narcissus Luttrell, Brief Relation of State A/airs, 1678-1714 (Oxford, 1857); Gilbert Burnet, History of His Own Times (6 vols., Oxford, 1833) ; and the Histories of England by Hallam and Lord Macaulay.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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