With questions being asked about what is inappropriate sexual conduct by lawyers, it is sobering to look back at history to see how some of the ‘great and good’ behaved.

Morton landscape

James Morton

First up, Henry Fielding, who became chief magistrate at Bow Street despite the fact that in November 1725 he had attempted to abduct his rich and good-looking cousin, the 15-year-old Sarah Andrews, on her way to church in Lyme Regis. Fielding and his servant Joseph Lewis were fought off by a rival suitor’s family. After posting a defiant note in the town saying the other men were cowards, Fielding, less than heroically, fled Devon for London leaving poor – or, since abduction was still a hanging matter, perhaps fortunate – Lewis to be bound over to keep the peace.

One of the more rackety 19th century lord chancellors was Lord Brougham, who gave his name to the two-wheel carriage. He became entangled with the courtesan Harriette Wilson who, in old age, decided to blackmail her former lovers. She wrote to Brougham suggesting that if he wished his name to be omitted from her memoirs, £40 per annum (the first to be paid in advance) would do nicely and should be sent forthwith: ‘If [the money] does not arrive at no 14 rue du Colysée à Paris Faubourg St Honoré I shall apply to Lady Brougham directly sending her a copy of this letter. Should that lady not object to the publication of her husband’s adultery – Bolting etc, then why should I?’

To which she added a helpful postscript: ‘You certainly must be expected to sacrifice more for the mother of your children, the wife you have chosen, than I, who never saw her.’

Towards the end of the century there was the High Court judge Charles James Watkin Williams, who died taking what The Times called ‘post-prandial’ exercise while on assize in Nottingham on 17 July 1884. Unfortunately the post-prandial exercise had been in a brothel.

‘Corinthian pursuits’, as the Fortnightly Review reported.


James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor