Samuel Romilly (Samuel Romilly)

Samuel Romilly

Samuel Romilly was born in Frith Street, Soho, London, of Huguenot parents. His sister, Catherine, went on to become the mother of Peter Mark Roget (q.v.). He learned very little at school and was almost entirely self-educated. After some years in which he worked in his father’s watchmaking and jewellery shop, and as a lawyer’s clerk, he was called to the Bar in 1783. He visited Paris in 1789 and wrote a book about the French Revolution. In 1798, he married Anne, the daughter of Francis Garbett of Knill in Herefordshire. In 1800, he was made a King’s Counsel; and, in 1806, when William Grenville’s Whig Party came to power in the government of “all the talents”, he was offered the post of Solicitor General, although he had never sat in the House of Commons. He accepted the post, was knighted and became the Member for Queensborough. The government lasted little more than a year and Romilly was out of office, but it was now that he began his attempt to reform the criminal law of England. At this time, more than two hundred felonies were punishable by death. This would have led to executions on an impractical level, so many people who had received the sentence were reprieved, although this depended on the whim of the judge, and was bringing the law into disrepute. In 1808, Romilly managed to repeal the statute, dating back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I, by which stealing from the person merited the death penalty. Opposition to this was considerable and, the following year, the House of Lords rejected three bills under which Romilly had intended to remove this ultimate penalty for shoplifting, stealing from dwelling houses, and on navigable rivers. In the years which followed, in spite of repeated attempts by Sir Samuel, similar bills were rejected. He did, however, succeed in repealing another Elizabethan statute by which it was a capital offence for a soldier or a sailor to go begging without a permit from a magistrate or his commanding officer; and it was in no small measure due to his reforming zeal that, by 1861, the number of felonies punishable by death had been reduced to four; and, now, to none at all. In 1818, Romilly was returned at the head of the poll for the City of Westminster; but, on the 29th. October that year, Lady Romilly died in the Isle of Wight. Sir Samuel was overcome with grief, locked himself up in his house in Russell Square, and cut his throat with a razor. At the inquest, the jury returned a verdict of suicide during temporary derangement, and his remains were buried by her side in her family’s vault at Knill, on the border between England and Wales.   (bio by: Iain MacFarlaine) Cause of death: Suicide


  • March, 01, 1757


  • November, 11, 1818

Cause of Death

  • Suicide


  • St Michael and All Angels Churchyard
  • Herefordshire
  • England

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