Matthew Hale 1609-1676

From Book Owners Online

Sir Matthew HALE 1609-1676

Biographical Note

Born at Alderley, Gloucestershire, son of Robert Hale, barrister. Matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford 1626, but did not graduate. Enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn 1629, called to the Bar 1636. He was quickly involved in a number of high profile political trials in London; although his sympathies seem to have been primarily royalist, he was not obviously partisan and he built up a successful and respected legal practice in London during the 1640s and 50s. He became a judge in common pleas and an MP in 1654, and continued as a senior judge after the Restoration, as Chief Baron of the Exchequer (1660) and then Chief Justice of King’s Bench (1671); he was knighted in 1661. His standing and influence in legal affairs rests not only on his career as a trustworthy judge but on his writings, the most substantial of which were published only after his death (Historia placitorum coronae, 1736, History and analysis of the common laws, 1713). He also wrote numerous smaller legal treatises, as well as religious ones (he had a profound personal devotion, rooted in pre-Civil War Calvinism, but much tempered by Arminianism), and scientific ones (he liked to experiment, and his will refers to his mathematical and magnetical instruments).


In his will, Hale described his library as “a choice collection (though not great)” and he left detailed instructions for its disposal. He compiled a schedule of manuscripts to be given to Lincoln’s Inn, “a treasure worth the having … which I have been near forty years in gathering … fit to be bound in leather, and chained and kept in archives”. They were not to be loaned out, disposed, or printed from. A number of English books in divinity, medicine and history went to his wife, and a specified list of statutes, reports and other legal books went to his grandson Gabriel, “in case he shall follow the study of the common laws”. His other legal books were also to go to Gabriel, at the age of 21, unless he died or did not go into the law, in which case his brother Matthew was to inherit them. All his other books not thus identified, along with his instruments, were to be kept together “as a kind of heirloom in my family, [to] … remain either at Acton or Alderley, carefully looked to” until his grandchildren reached their maturity.

The manuscripts given to Lincoln’s Inn comprise an important collection of material relating to English law, dating from the 13th to the 17th centuries, now numbered Hale 1-193 in Lincoln’s Inn Library. There are several printed listings, most recently by Ker (the 53 medieval manuscripts) and J. H. Baker. Some items came from John Selden, who was an influential friend of Hale’s in his younger years. There is a reference in Wanley’s diary in 1715 to the possibility of acquiring some Hale manuscripts not given to Lincoln’s Inn. Printed books and manuscripts from Hale’s collection are now found in libraries around the world but the timing and nature of the dispersal of the books which remained with the family is not clear. Examples: Manchester UL ms Lat.460; Yale Osborn b10; Ch. Edwards list 36 (2007)/85; others??


  • Cromartie, Alan. "Hale, Sir Mathew (1609–1676), judge and writer." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Hoare, P. (gen.ed.), The Cambridge history of libraries in Britain and Ireland. 3 vols. Cambridge, 2006, I 453.
  • Ker, N. Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries. Oxford, 1976, I 124-140.
  • Williams, J. Memoirs of the life … of Sir Matthew Hale, 1835.
  • Wright, C. E. and R. (eds), The diary of Humfrey Wanley. London, 1966, p.5.