The trial of Henry Justice, Esq; for stealing divers books, the goods of the Master, Fellows, and Scholars of Trinity-College, in Cambridge

According to Venn [‘Alumni Cantabrigienses’], Henry Justice was admitted as a pensioner (fee-paying student) age 19 on April 27, 1716; he was called to the Bar on February 10, 1727; and he was Lord of the manor of Rufforth. He became a Fellow-Commoner on September 17, 1734.

Justice was tried at the Old Bailey, May 8, 1736, accused of stealing books and tracts from Trinity College Library and taking them to his chambers in London. Justice initially pleaded not guilty. He freely admitted that he had taken them but on the basis that it was acceptable to do so, based on the privileges (he argued) due to him as a Fellow-Commoner. He blamed the 18 year-old under library-keeper for not entering his name with regards to removing the books from the library. He also argued that it would have been impossible to remove the books from the library and take them to his rooms [in Great Court] without the permission of the library staff. [Clearly, he then transported them to London]. He claimed that he left all the books openly in sight in his London chambers. It was argued that Justice did not in fact have the rights that he believed. Warrants were served on his chambers in London. Justice maintained that he was intending to return the books in the Christmas period. He burst into tears at several points during the trial. When found guilty by the jury, he changed his plea to guilty, hoping for clemency to be shown.

Justice was sentenced to transportation, but this was subsequently changed to exile for life. He retired to Italy, and died at The Hague in 1763.

The long list of missing items was read out at the trial. The first two are ‘one tract or treatise, entituled Opus Novum Gildas Britannus Monachus …’ [now at VI.I.7] and ‘One other tract or treatise, entituled, Literarum quibus invictissimus Princeps Henricus Octavus Rex Angliae & Franciae Dns. Hiberniae ac Fidei Defensor respondit ad quondam Epistolam Martini Lutheri …’ [now at VI.1.10].

Image of title page to VI.1.10
Title page VI.1.10