Matthew Hale (jurist): Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir Matthew Hale

Sir Matthew Hale SL (1 November 1609 – 25 December 1676) was a Lord Chief Justice of England.


Early life and education

Matthew Hale was born at Alderley, Gloucestershire, where his father, Robert Hale, a retired barrister, had a small estate.

His paternal grandfather, also Robert was a rich clothier of Wotton-under-Edge; on his mother's side he was connected with the noble family of the Poyntzes of Acton. Left an orphan when five years old, he was placed by his guardian Anthony Kingscote under the care of John Staunton, the Puritan vicar of Wotton-under-Edge, with whom he remained until he turned 16, when he entered Magdalen Hall, Oxford.[1][2]

At Oxford, Hale studied for several terms with a view to holy orders, but suddenly there came a change. The diligent student, at first attracted by a company of actors, threw aside his studies. He then decided to serve as a soldier under the prince of Orange in the Low Countries. Before going abroad, however, Hale went to London to give instructions for his defence in a legal action which threatened his patrimony. His leading counsel was Serjeant Glanville (1586–1661), who persuaded him instead into legal career, and on 8 November 1629 Hale became a member of Lincoln's Inn.

He studied hard; the rules which he laid down for himself, and which are still extant in his handwriting, prescribe sixteen hours a day of close application. He read over and over again all the yearbooks, reports, and law treatises in print, and at the Tower of London and other antiquarian repositories examined old records. But Hale did not confine himself to law, and spent some of time on mathematics and science.

Law career

Hale was called to the bar in 1637, and almost at once found himself in full practice. It has been said, but without certainty, that Hale was engaged as counsel for the earl of Strafford; he was counsel for Sir John Bramston on his impeachment in 1641, and he certainly acted for Archbishop Laud, Lord Maguire, the duke of Hamilton and others. He was one of the counsel assigned for the eleven members accused by Thomas Fairfax of malpractices against the parliament and the army in the summer of 1646. Gilbert Burnet says that he was ready to plead on the side of Charles I, but king did not submit to the court. The parliament having gained the ascendancy, Hale signed the Solemn League and Covenant, and was a member of the Westminster Assembly in 1644; but although he would undoubtedly have preferred a Presbyterian form of church government, he had no serious objection to the system of modified Episcopacy, proposed by James Ussher. Consistently with his desire to remain neutral, Hale took the engagement to the Commonwealth, required by the ordinance of 11 October 1649 to be subscribed by all lawyers, and so was able in 1651 to defend Christopher Love. On 20 January 1652 he was placed on the committee for law reform, sometimes called the "Hale Commission". In 1654, already serjeant-at-law, he became a judge in the court of common pleas.[2]

Hale stood for Gloucestershire at the general election of 1654, and was returned at the head of the poll. Parliament met in September; Oliver Cromwell silenced opposition by requiring members to subscribe a 'recognition to be true and faithful to the Lord Protector and Commonwealth of England.' The majority complied, and all dissentients, of whom Hale was probably one, were excluded by a subsequent vote. According to Burnet, Hale was required by the council of state to assist at the trial of John Penruddock (April 1655), but refused. This, however, is unlikely, as Penruddock's trial took place at Exeter, and Hale belonged to the midland circuit. On 1 November 1655 he was placed by the council of state on the committee of trade.[2]

After the death of the protector, he declined to act as a judge under Richard Cromwell, although he represented Oxford University in Richard's parliament. At the Restoration in 1660 Hale was very graciously received by Charles II, and in the same year was appointed Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and accepted, with extreme reluctance, the honour of knighthood. After the Great Fire of London a special court was constituted by act of parliament (1666), and sat through to 29 September 1672, to adjudicate on all questions arising between the owners and tenants of property in the city destroyed by the fire. The commission sat at Clifford's Inn, and disposed of a vast amount of business. Besides his part in the judicial business of this tribunal, Hale is said to have advised the corporation on matters relating to the rebuilding of the city.[2]

After holding the office of chief baron for eleven years he was raised to the higher dignity of lord chief justice, which he held till February 1676, when his failing health compelled him to resign. He retired to his native Alderley, where he died on the 25th of December of the same year. He was twice married and survived all his ten children save two.


He was a pupil of William Noy, and met John Selden in early life, who was to be a major influence.[2] He was a friend of Isaac Barrow, Archbishop Tillotson, Bishop Wilkins and Bishop Stillingfleet, as well as of the Nonconformist leader, Richard Baxter. The bishops in the group were key figures of the Latitudinarians, and reached out for 'comprehension' of presbyterians such as Baxter, during the 1660s. One of Hale's last acts in the House of Commons was to introduce a bill for the comprehension of presbyterians. It was thrown out on the second reading on 28 November 1660. Hale showed moderation towards the dissenters in his administration of the Conventicle Acts, and also in another attempt which he made in 1668, in concert with Sir Orlando Bridgeman, to bring about the comprehension. Wilkins ran a comprehension 'Club', meeting in the rooms of Hezekiah Burton, and involving also Tillotson, Stillingfleet, Bridgeman and Hale. The plans ultimately failed.[2][3]


Hale in his judicial robes, as painted by John Michael Wright.

He presided over the condemnation and execution of two women from Lowestoft tried before him for witchcraft in 1662, after the jury found them guilty on thirteen charges of using malevolent witchcraft. These deaths are described by the article on him in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition as judicial murder (more precisely the author says that all executions for withcraft were "a kind of judicial murder"). See the article on this trial.

He is also reproached with having hastened the execution of a soldier for whom he had reason to believe a pardon was pending.

Until recently, spousal rape was not recognized as a crime in most common law jurisdictions partly as a result of Sir Matthew Hale's opinion that "The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given herself in kind unto the husband which she cannot retract." Hale is also known for saying "rape is an accusation easily to be made, hard to be proved, and harder yet to be defended by the party accused, tho' never so innocent". The statement, known as the 'Hale warning', was often read in charges to the juries in rape cases throughout the common law world up until the 1980s. This statement epitomized the suspicion with which the testimony of rape complainants has been received, from Hale's time up to the late twentieth century.

Recent peer-reviewed research has attempted to vindicate Hale's claims about men often being falsely accused of rape.[4][5]


Hale is the author of:

  • Contemplations Moral and Divine, 1676
  • The History of the Common Law of England (first published as The History and Analysis of the Common Law of England), 1713
  • Historia Placitorum Coronae: The History of the Pleas of the Crown, 1736


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f s:Hale, Matthew (DNB00)
  3. ^ Jon Parkin, Science, Religion and Politics in Restoration England: Richard Cumberland's De Legibus Naturae (1999), p. 28-9.
  4. ^ McDowell CP. (1985) False allegations. Forensic Science Digest, Vol. 11, No. 4, December 185. Found that 27% of 556 rape accusations filed against U.S. Air Force personnel were recanted; 60% of the accusers recanted shortly before being administered a polygraph. Three independent adjudicators evaluated each of the recantations, rating them on 25 criteria. Only if all three adjudicators agreed that the charges were likely false was the case included in the McDowell's study.
  5. ^ Kanin EJ. (1994) An alarming national trend: False rape allegations. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 1, 1994. Kanin found that 41% of 109 rape cases investigated in an unnamed midwestern U.S. city were false. Cases were classified as false only if a) the accuser recanted, b) there was no physical evidence supporting the accuser's claims, and c) investigators expressed disbelief of the accuser's story.

Further reading

External links

Parliament of England
Preceded by
John Crofts
William Neast
Robert Holmes
Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire
with George Berkeley
John Howe
Christopher Guise
Sylvanus Wood

Succeeded by
George Berkeley
John Howe
John Crofts
Baynham Throckmorton
William Neast
Preceded by
Member of Parliament for Oxford University
with John Mylles

Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir Orlando Bridgeman
Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Turnour
Preceded by
John Kelynge
Lord Chief Justice
Succeeded by
Richard Raynsford

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