George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem, PC (May 15 1645 – April 18 1689), also known as "The Hanging Judge", became notable during the reign of King James II, rising to the position of Lord Chancellor (and serving as Lord High Steward in certain instances).
Jeffreys was born at the family estate of Acton Hall, Wrexham in Wales, the sixth son of John and Margaret Jeffreys. His grandfather, John Jeffreys (died 1622) had been Chief Justice of the Anglesey circuit of the Great Sessions and his father, another John Jeffreys (1608 - 1691) was a Royalist during the English Civil War and fought for Charles I but was reconciled to the Protectorate and served as a Sheriff in 1655.
George was educated at Shrewsbury School from 1652-9, his grandfather's old school, where he was periodically tested by a friend of his mother's, Philip Henry; then St Paul's School, London from 1659 - 1661 and Westminster School, London from 1661 - 1662. He became an undergraduate at Trinity College Cambridge University in 1662, leaving after one year without graduating and entering the Inner Temple in 1663.
He embarked on a legal career in 1668, becoming a Common Serjeant in the City of London in 1671. He was aiming for the post of Recorder, but was passed over for this in 1676 in favour of a William Dolben. He turned instead to the Court and became Solicitor General to the Duke of York and future King James II. Despite his Protestant upbringing, he found favour under the Catholic Duke of York, younger brother of Charles II of England, who would later succeed Charles as James II.
Jeffreys was knighted in 1677, became Recorder of London in 1678 when Dolben resigned, and by 1680 had become Chief Justice of Chester and Counsel for the Crown at Ludlow and Justice of the Peace for Flintshire. Charles II created him a baronet in 1681, and two years later, he was Chief Justice of the King's Bench and a member of the Privy Council.
Jeffreys presided over the trial of Algernon Sidney, who had been implicated in the Rye House Plot. Sidney was convicted and executed. He became Lord Chief Justice and Privy Councillor in 1683 and King James named him Lord Chancellor in 1685. James II, following his accession to the throne, elevated Jeffreys to the peerage as Baron Jeffreys of Wem.
He presided over the "Bloody Assizes" at which harsh sentences were handed out to the Duke of Monmouth's followers at Monmouth's Rebellion. Jeffreys held the assizes in the Great Hall of Taunton Castle, current home of the Somerset county museum.
In 1685, Judge Jeffreys went to Dorchester and lodged at 6 High West Street Dorchester, (now the restaurant, Judge Jeffreys). The Bloody Assizes were held in the Oak Room (now a Tea Room) of the Antelope Hotel on the 5th day of September in that year. Judge Jeffreys is said to have a secret passage from his lodgings to the Oak Room.
It was only his Anglican faith that prevented King James from making him Viscount Wrexham and Earl of Flint
Jeffreys's reputation today is mixed. His legal ability was undoubtedly high but he was also a personally vengeful man, as is shown by bitter personal and professional rivalries with Sir William Williams, whom he tried to ruin with a fine for publishing a libel, and his political animus displayed during his legal career. He suffered a painful kidney disease that may well have affected his unbridled temper and added to this reputation. In his book, The Revolution of 1688, the historian JR Jones refers to Jeffreys as "an alcoholic". Justice Antonin Scalia, in the majority opinion in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 67 (2004), wrote that "[The Framers of the Constitution] knew that judges, like other government officers, could not always be trusted to safeguard the rights of the people; the likes of the dread Lord Jeffreys were not yet too distant a memory."