Several notable state trials took place in Westminster Hall between the 17th and 19th centuries. These included:
- The Earl of Essex (1600),
- Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators (1606),
- The Earl of Strafford (1641),
- The seven bishops (1688),
- Warren Hastings (1788-95),
- The rebel Jacobite Lords of the 1715 and 1745 uprisings
- Simon Lord Lovat (1747)
Earl of Strafford
The atmosphere at the trial of the Earl of Strafford in 1641 was not always that of a court: the Lords would walk about and chatter, and the Commons were sometimes seen eating and drinking.
The trial went badly for the prosecution, and Strafford's bearing won the admiration of his enemies. Eventually, with acquittal appearing certain, the Commons resorted to a cruder device: an Act of Attainder which simply declared Strafford guilty.
Another major political trial was that of seven bishops under James II in June 1688, charged with seditious libel. The central legal issue was whether denial of the King's power to dispense with laws constituted sedition.
Numerous peers attended the trial to show their support for the bishops. The four judges were evenly spilt in their summing up, but after sitting through the night, the jury concluded that the bishops were not guilty.
Before the end of the year, William of Orange had invaded England and James II had fled the country.
The longest trial
The most notable 18th century trial was that of Warren Hastings in 1788. It was in fact the longest in British history; it lasted seven years although the court only sat for 142 days.
Hastings was accused of corruption during his years as Governor-General of Bengal, but was eventually found not guilty of all sixteen charges against him. By then, however, he was a ruined man.
The trial acted as a warning to Hastings' successors, and did much to make British rule in India a rule of law.
Last major trial
The last major trial in the Hall was held in 1806 of Viscount Melville; and impeachments were no longer held in the Hall after the law courts moved to adjoining accommodation in 1827.