By Rose Wallis
Issue 19, Spring, 2009 pp.20-24.
George Donisthorpe was the resident magistrate of the town of Somerton in Somerset. In 1796 he was tried for ‘wilful neglect of his duty as a magistrate’ in refusing to assist in quelling a riot and ‘with having rather encouraged it.’ The public prosecution of a Justice of the Peace was a rare occurrence. Traditionally, the local magistrate was represented as a paternal figure ‘guiding the conduct’ and ensuring the wellbeing of the deferential poor. Their wealth and status placed them beyond reproach. In this article, Rose Wallis illustrates the increasingly precarious position of magistrates in the period, as their discretionary powers and paternal authority were eroded by the centralisation of government control.
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