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A Great Englishman

Sir Matthew

Sir Matthew HALE

One of the greatest sons of Gloucestershire was Sir Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Justice of England at the time of Oliver Cromwell. Much has been written about him, and here we reproduce an article which was taken from a now defunct local magazine published in the 1950's.



"The Whole Article"

     Sir Matthew Hale, an English lawyer of eminence during the reigns of Charles I, Cromwell and Charles II, was born in Alderley, Gloucestershire, on the 1st Novermber, 1609. This pleasant little village lies about two and a half miles south from Wotton-under-Edge, 11 westward from Tetbury, and 22 southward from Gloucester. Robert Hale, the son of a rich and charitable clothier of Wotton-under-Edge, was a member of the society of Lincoln's Inn and for some time practiced as a barrister; his mother was a daughter of Matthew Poyntz, a gentleman then living at Alderley.

     Young Matthew, who was an only child, was left an orphan before he was five years old, and was committed to the guardianship of a kinsman, Anthony Kingscote, of Kingscote, who entrusted the education of the orphan boy to Mr. Staunton, the puritan vicar of Wotton-under-Edge, under whose care he made such excellent progress in his studies that before he was 17 he entered Magdalen College, Oxford, with a view taking holy orders.

     His college tutor, Mr. Obadiah Sedgwick, was a learned puritan, but the course of the youthful student was far from satisfactory. In college life Matthew met with new and strong temptations, by which, young and inexperienced, he was led astray. He became light in his behaviour, vain in his dress, over fond of company, and negligent in his studies.

     At this time he eagerly practiced gymnastics exercises, learning to fence and acquiring great skill, and at length he determined to become a soldier. From this resolution he was turned by that celebrated lawyer, Sir John Glanville, who, discerning his great abilities, prevailed upon him to begin the study of law. He had at this time left Oxford for London.

     On the 8th September, 1628, Matthew Hale became a student at Lincoln's Inn, and, anxious to make up for the time which he had lost in youthful vanities, gave himself to intense study. It has been said that for a while he studied at the rate of sixteen hours a day. But, notwithstanding this diligence, he continued to associate with evil companions. A remarkable circumstance, however, occurred at this critical period and stopped him in his downward course. One day he was in a party of young men who were freely drinking wine, when one of the number drank to such excess that he fell down as dead. In the alarm which prevailed, Matthew Hale went into another room and, falling upon his knees, earnestly prayed that God would forgive his sin and spare the life of his companion. With these supplications he mingled solemn vows that he would forsake such evil company and never again drink a health. His friend recovered, and Hale became a new man. He ceased to be the companion of fools, and began to live soberly, righteously and godly. He composed a set of "Rules" for his daily conduct.

England was on the eve of civil strife when Mr. Hale was called to the Bar. Charles I, misled by false notions of kingly prerogatives, was trampling upon the liberties of the nation, while his long-suffering subjects were reluctantly but sternly resolving to curb his power and maintain their rights. It was no easy matter to keep honourably clear of the quarrel, but Mr. Hale succeeded in doing so, and even after war had begun he continued, by his moderation, prudence and integrity, to retain the confidence of both parties. It is said that he signed the convenant framed by Parliament in 1643, the design of which was to promote "a reformation of religion", a good object, but one which history proves is not to be secured by human law. The services of Mr. Hale were occasionally sought by the parliamentarians, but this did not prevent his engaging in other cases against them. The confidence with which he was regarded by the Royalists appears by his employment on behalf of Charles, when that "infatuated monarch" was brought to trial in 1649. It was under his counsel that the King objected to the validity of the court before which he had to appear.

When Cromwell became Protector, Mr. Hale, though still a Loyalist, took the oath called the "Engagement", by which he did "freely promise and engage to be true and faithful to the Lord Protector and the Commonwealth". The wisdom of Cromwell was seen in his selection of good and able men to fill the offices of state. "Among others the sublime Milton, the uncorruptible Marvell, and the upgright Hale, received appointments under his government, Hale being made a serjeant-at-law in January 1654, and soon afterwards a justice of the common pleas."

It was in 1654 that Mr. Hale was chosen one of the five knights to represent Gloucestershire, in Cromwell's second parliament. His friends bore the expenses of his election and the Earl of Berkeley girt him with his own sword. When Richard Cromwell succeeded his father in 1658, Hale refused a new commission from him, but in the Parliament which that Protector called, he represented the University of Oxford, and in the "Convention" parliament which met in April 1660, he again took his seat as one of the members for his native country of Gloucester. In this parliament he bore an important part in the restoration of Charles II, but with his usual sagacity opposed the king's return except under conditions which would preserve the civil and religious liberties of the nation. He was over-ruled, but the events which followed justified his judgment.

Charles returned in May, and "it is a redeeming point in the midst of his deep depravity that he had sufficient virtue to promote a man of so much worth as Hale". The retired judge was at once "sought out " and reinstated and in the following November was created Lord Chief Baron of England. In order to knight him, an honour he wished to avoid, the King and the Lord Chancellor laid a plan by which the unambitious Chief Baron was allured into the King's presence, and knighted in the Chancellor's house.

As a judge, Hale was fearless, impartial and uncorrupt. Whatever his judgment and conscience dictated, he would do, regardless of the smile or frown of man.

Bishop Burnett, Sir Matthew Hale's first biographer, relates that soon after he was made a judge by Cromwell, he tried a soldier at Lincoln for the murder of a townman, who had been a Royalist. The soldier had seen the man in the field with a fowling-piece, and attempted to take it from him, saying that the Protector ordered "that none who had belonged to the King's party should carry arms." The townsman resisted, and beat the soldier, who then went out and obtained the help of a comrade, and again attacking the man, killed him with his sword. As this happened during the Assizes, the soldiers were at once taken before Judge Hale for trial. One was found guilty of manslaughter, but the other of murder. The Colonel of the garrison came into the court and endeavoured by arguments and threats to prevent his condemnation, but the inflexible Judge not only gave sentence against him, but ordered him to be executed before application could be made to Cromwell for a reprieve.

When John Bunyan was cast into prison for preaching in 1661, his second wife Elizabeth, presented petitions to judge Hale and others asking for his release. The treatment she received from Twisden and Chester savoured neither of justice nor humanity, but the Chief Baron "very mildly took her petition", enquired kindly about her family, was much moved by her sorrowful tale, and Hale examined the statute book to see if anything could be done on her husband's behalf. "In this matter the character of Sir Matthew," remarks one of Bunyan's biographies, "appears to fine advantage as a good man, who, though he could not resist the tide of opposition made against John Bunyan, yet felt for him, and gave such counsel as must have been extremely mortifying to those who, in spite of law and reason, were determined at all events to keep him in prison."

In the reign of Charles II, the system of judicial bribery and corruption was in full vigor, so that even Sir Matthew Hale experienced great difficulty in avoiding the importunity of persons desirous of securing his favour. But taking as his motto "Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift; for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous," he kept his hands and conscience clean.

A circumstance which occurred in 1666 serves to show how settled was Hale's peace of mind:

A notion prevailed that the world would end that year. One day when he was sitting upon the Bench, in the western circuit, a terrific tempest arising, the alarm soon spread that the last day had come. The assembly was filled with terror, and forgetting their temporal concerns, men began to call upon God for mercy. Yet, amidst this general horror, the Judge was so calm as to lead some who saw him to believe that if the world should then really end, he would not be greatly disturbed.

Hale remained throughout life attached to his early puritanism. He was a regular attendant at Church, morning and evening on Sunday, and he also gave up a portion of the day to prayer, study of the scriptures and meditation, besides expounding sermons to his children.

Matthew Hale was raised to be Lord Chief Justice of England on the 18th May, 1671, and he filled the duties of this high office with great distinction till 1676 when his health compelled him to resign.

He retired to Alderley, where he passed several months in much suffering and he died on Christmas Day, 1676 in his 68th year. He was buried in the churchyard at Alderley in a spot he chose a few days before his death. He left express instructions that he should not be buried in the Church----"that being a place for the living, not the dead." A plain monument, with a simple Latin inscription prepared by himself, is erected to his memory. But his real monument was a clock of curious workmanship, which he had presented to the church on his sixty-fourth birthday---1st November, 1673.

Sir Matthew Hale was considered to be the greatest lawyer of his age.

"Immortal Hale! for deep
discernment praised,
And sound integrity, not more
than famed.
For sanctity of manners undefiled."

Second article on Sir Matthew HALE

SIR MATTHEW'S Complete Family Tree


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