Sugden, Sir Edward Burtenshaw (1781–1875), 1st Baron St Leonards , lawyer, politician, was born 12 February 1781 in Duke St., London, second son of Richard Sugden, barber, and Charlotte Sugden (née Burtenshaw). He was apprenticed to a conveyancer named Groom and was admitted on 16 September 1802 to Lincoln's Inn. In the same year he published a book, A brief conversation with a gentleman of landed property about to buy or sell lands. Three years later he commenced work as a conveyancer and published his influential Vendors and purchasers (1805), the first book written on this subject; it ran to two more editions before he was called to the bar on 23 November 1807. The book's reputation brought in work and he had soon to abandon his conveyancing business and confine himself to court work. He was, however, all his life an indefatigable worker and published a third book, Treatise on powers (1808), by the age of 27. He took silk in January 1822. After two unsuccessful attempts (1818, 1826) he finally entered parliament as tory member for Melbourne and Weymouth Regis (1828–30). He was subsequently a member for St Mawes, Cornwall (1831–2), and for Ripon, Yorkshire (1837–41).
Though an outstanding lawyer, Sugden was a poor politician; his delivery was monotonous, his voice shrill, and his precocious success at the bar left him vain and supercilious. He was unpopular in the commons and with electors. The future chancellor Lord Selborne termed him ‘waspish, overbearing, and impatient of contradiction’ (Holdsworth, 41). However, his legal knowledge was useful and he was appointed solicitor general for England (June 1829–November 1830) and knighted (4 June 1829). A staunch protestant, who had presented himself as a candidate for Shoreham in 1826 with the pledge not to allow catholics into parliament, he nevertheless voted reluctantly for catholic emancipation, but insisted on the literal construction of the clause that prevented members returned to parliament before the act from taking their seats. In practice, this meant refusing to allow Daniel O'Connell (qv) to sit for Clare in May 1829. He had frequent parliamentary clashes with O'Connell: in February 1831 he attempted unsuccessfully to bring in a bill that would prevent charitable bequests being left to the catholic church, and in March 1832 he objected to the increase of members for Ireland provided under the reform bill.
While in parliament he continued to practise law and was among the most highly paid barristers of his time, earning around £17,000 a year. On Sir Robert Peel (qv) becoming prime minister for the first time, Sugden was made lord chancellor of Ireland (13 January 1835), an appointment that incensed O'Connell, who felt the chancellor should come from the Irish bench. As the government fell in April 1835 he served only three months, but apparently greatly impressed the Irish bar with his judicial qualities. He had, however, sent in his resignation soon after taking office because his wife, with whom he had several children before their marriage, was not received by the lord lieutenant. On Peel's return in 1841 he was again appointed lord chancellor (28 September 1841–July 1846) and this time served nearly five years as the last English chancellor of Ireland. He tried unsuccessfully to make a peerage a condition of his acceptance of the Irish chancellorship.
Sugden's tenure coincided with the repeal agitation, which he dealt with in a heavy-handed and intransigent manner. On his own authority he dismissed a Galway magistrate, Lord Ffrench, on 23 May 1843 for attending a repeal meeting, and followed this by dismissing a further twenty magistrates for actual (or in one case merely presumed) support of repeal. A number of other magistrates, not connected with the movement, resigned in protest. The repeal meetings were then being conducted legally, so attendance was scarcely an offence, and Sugden had omitted even to issue a prior warning. The home secretary was incensed, attributing the move to Sugden's ‘vanity and self-sufficiency’ (quoted in Gash, 405) and Peel, though forced to support his chancellor in public, sent him a private rebuke. Five months later Sugden, with the lord lieutenant, Earl de Grey (qv), was instrumental in the decisive banning of the Clontarf meeting of 8 October 1843. He was seen as politically partisan, but continued to enjoy an extremely high reputation in Ireland for his judicial powers and is credited with consolidating into one uniform code all the orders of the Irish court of chancery. However, he was openly accused by Tristram Kennedy (qv) in an article in Saunders' News-letter (18 Nov. 1842) of being responsible for the decision the previous year of the benchers of King's Inns to discontinue funding Kennedy's Dublin law institution. Sugden's objection to the institution was that the students were not obliged to sit exams; however he subsequently proposed the introduction of just such a system of courses without exams at the English inns.
From 1846 to 1852 he was out of office and employed himself with revising his existing books and producing The law of property as administered in the house of lords (1849). He was appointed lord chancellor of England (27 February–December 1852) in Derby's short-lived government and was raised to the peerage (1 March 1852) with the title of Lord St Leonards of Slaugham. When Derby returned to office in 1858 he refused to take on the chancellorship again, but continued to hear appeals in the house of lords and privy council. Towards the end of his life his great reputation as a property and equity lawyer made him so intolerant of opposition that he would not listen to opposing arguments. However, his Times obituary called him one of the greatest lawyers that ever lived, and the legal historian William Holdsworth termed him unique among chancellors, in that he left his mark on English law as legislator, judge, and author. His political ability is nowhere applauded.
He died at his home, Boyle Farm, Thames Ditton on 29 January 1875. He married (23 December 1808) Winifred (d. 19 May 1861), daughter of John Knapp; they had three sons and seven daughters.