Sir James Mansfield (originally Manfield), SL, KC (1733 – 23 November 1821) was a British lawyer, judge and politician. He was twice Solicitor General and served as Chief Justice of the Common Pleas from 1799 to 1814.
The son of a Hampshire attorney, little is known about Mansfield's private life. While he is not believed to have married, he fathered at least five children, including John Mansfield of Diggeswell, father of General William Mansfield, 1st Baron Sandhurst. Mansfield attended Eton from 1745 until 1750, and then King's College, Cambridge, of which he was elected a fellow in 1754. During this period he changed his surname from Manfield to Mansfield. He graduated with a BA in 1755 and a MA in 1758.
Mansfield pursued a career in law, obtaining admission to the Middle Temple on 11 February 1755 and being called to the bar on 28 November 1758. His career, both at common law and in chancery, was quite successful, and he was appointed one of the counsel for John Wilkes in 1768. Mansfield was one of James Somersett's lawyers; Somersett was a slave brought by his master from Jamaica to London in 1769, and freed on 22 June 1772 by a ruling from Lord Mansfield (no relation).
Mansfield was made king's counsel on 24 July 1772, and a bencher of the Middle Temple shortly after, on 6 November 1772. He was involved in the trials, in 1776, of the Duchess of Kingston for bigamy, and of Smith, Hollis, Calthorpe, and Beckford (candidates for Hindon) for bribery. In 1777, he was defence counsel for John the Painter, and crown prosecutor in 1779 against the counsellors who arrested Lord Pigot and took over Fort St George.
His ability was admired by the North Ministry, and he was offered a seat at Morpeth in 1776 by the Earl of Carlisle, but declined lest it interfere with his prospects for a judgeship. He was considered, but ultimately passed over, by North to fill the post of Attorney General or Solicitor General...
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