Sir Robert Heath


Sir Robert Heath was His Majesty's Attorney General from 1625 to 1631 for King Charles I.

His/Her Majesty's Attorney General for England and Wales, usually known as the Attorney General, is the chief legal adviser of the Crown in England and Wales. He represents the King/Queen and the Government in court, and has supervisory powers over prosecutions, which are the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service. The Attorney General also represents the Crown in many judicial proceedings relating to the public interest, e.g., the administration of charities and income tax. He is assisted by the Solicitor General: both offices are filled by political appointees who must belong to either house of Parliament, but unlike in former times the Attorney General is not usually now a member of the Cabinet, but is called to advise it when necessary.

The Attorney General and the Solicitor General, despite their titles (an attorney in the common law courts was the equivalent of a solicitor in the courts of equity), are invariably barristers and King's/Queen's Counsel. The Attorney General has precedence over all other barristers in the English Courts, and in the House of Lords has precedence over the Lord Advocate, even in Scottish cases. The Attorney General is addressed in court as "Mr. Attorney."

On October 30, 1629, in the fifth year of his reign, King Charles I exercised one of his right by granting to his Attorney General, Sir Robert Heath, the territory between 31 degrees and 36 degrees North latitude in the New World. This is the region lying from about thirty miles north of the Florida state line to the southern side of Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. Except for Roanoke Island it did not include the territory already explored by Virginians since 1607.

Heath held this vast domain from the Atlantic to the Pacific as sole proprietor. He was described in his charter as being "kindled with a certain laudable and pious desire as well of enlarging the Christian religion as our Empire, and increasing the Trade and Commerce of this our Kingdom." The charter also noted that Heath was "about to lead thither a Colony of men, large and plentiful, professing the true religion, sedulously and industriously applying themselves to the culture of the said lands and to merchandizing; to be performed and at his own charges, and others by his example." At the same time, King Charles I also granted the whole of the Bahamas Islands to Sir Robert Heath.

Heath's Carolana charter contained the provision known as the "Bishop of Durham clause" which gave him broad feudal powers equal to any ever held by the bishop of the County of Durham in England on the Scottish frontier. The bishop there was expected to protect the country from Scottish invaders, and he had power to raise and maintain an army, to collect taxes, and to do many other things which gave him almost royal power within his county.

In his American province Heath could also "confer favours, graces, and honours" upon deserving citizens, but any titles of nobility bestowed must be different from those in use in England. Laws for the province were to be made "according to the wholesome directions of and with the counsel, assent, and approbation of the Freeholders ... or the Major part of them."

King Charles declared the region granted to Heath to be a province and he named it Carolana for himself. At one point in the charter it is also referred to as New Carolana. Heath was directed to have ready in his province for the use of the king or his successors, in case they should enter Carolana, a 20-ounce "Circle of Gold, formed in the fashion of a crown ... with this inscription engraved upon it, deus coronet opus suum."

Sir Robert Heath may not have acted entirely on his own initiative. The charter, however, says that he "humbly supplicated that all that Region . . . may be given ... to Him ... by our Royal Highness." He certainly knew something of the New World, for he was a member of the Council of the Virginia Company and owned land in the colony of Virginia to which he sent tenants. For several years he also had been closely associated with officials in Virginia concerned with the production, inspection, and sale of tobacco.

As a high legal officer he had been active in the dissolution of the company's charter. In the summer of 1624, a few months after Virginia became a Royal Colony, Heath aided King James I in his efforts to make the tobacco trade a royal monopoly. He drew up a contract with the "planters and adventurers of these colonies for their tobacco to be delivered for the king's use." This scheme was not adopted, but Heath kept his hands in the tobacco trade, nevertheless. At Jamestown in 1627 instructions from Heath concerning the shipping of tobacco were read before the General Court. Incidentally, Heath was also involved in New England affairs as new colonies were created.

It was Sir Robert Heath who had held John Lilburne captive during the Civil Wars when protestors rose up to threaten the lives of Royalist prisoners if Heath harmed the life of John Lilburne. On November 22, 1645, Parliament stripped the Royalist Heath of all of his possessions as though he was already a dead man. These possessions included the patent for the Province of Carolana. Heath fled to France where he died in 1649 and in that same year the victorious Roundheads executed King Charles I and declared England to be a republic and it retained that status until 1660 under a succession of different forms of government headed by Oliver Cromwell and then his son, Richard Cromwell.
Because Sir Robert Heath had his property stripped from him as though he were a dead man when he fled abroad in 1645, interest in the Province of Carolana was lost. For his part, Oliver Cromwell took an interest in developing the northeast coast of America, he paid no attention to the Carolana territory. Consequently, by 1663 the territory was looked upon as unsettled and this meant that the patent could be awarded again. This timem King Charles II granted a patent to a few people who had assisted in the re-establishment of the monarchy.

This action provoked the heirs of Sir Robert Heath to also clamor for a restoration of their own rights, since Heath had been loyal to King Charles I. Although legal battles raged on in British courts over the rival claims, no one gave any thought about previous attempts at settlement.

Questions about the relationship between king, law, and parliament, which could be traced back to the 1530s, remained prominent in early Stuart politics. Focusing on the parliamentary reaction to the decision by the King's Bench judges to refuse bail to the Five Knights who were imprisoned by order of King Charles I for objecting to the Forced Loan of 1626-27, it is argued that the agitation leading to the passage of the Petition of Right was caused primarily by John Selden's allegation that Attorney General Robert Heath, on orders from the King, intended to enroll a form of judgment in the court record that would have made a binding precedent in favour of the royal prerogative even though the judges themselves expressly forbade him from doing so.
When Virginia became a Royal Province, the unoccupied territory south, as well as north, of the latitude of Point Comfort again became subject to grant by the king. In 1629, not far from the time when Lord Baltimore was prospecting in Virginia, the first Carolana grant was made to Sir Robert Heath, Attorney-General and afterwards Chief Justice of common pleas. Though he had been concerned in the dissolution of the London Company and was one of the royal commissioners appointed after the revocation of the charter for the government of Virginia, Heath never took sufficient interest in colonization to undertake the settlement of his new province.

A plan in which the Vassalls, a prominent Puritan family to which reference has already been made, were interested for the settlement of a body of Huguenot refugees within its limits failed. After that Sir Robert Heath assigned his interest in the province, according to one account, to Samuel Vassall and to the heirs of Sir Richard Grenville, and according to another to Lord Maltravers, the heir of the Earl of Arundel, from whom it passed to the Duke of Norfolk and his family. Both claims were quite shadowy. Though the province was thus neglected by the immediate grantees, the faint beginnings of settlement were made within the northern part of the region by emigrants from Virginia, while certain New Englanders became interested in trade and colonization near Cape Fear. Thus early, and in both these localities, a certain nonconformist trend was given to the development of the province.

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