Sir Matthew Hale, an English jurist, born at Alderley, Gloucestershire, Nov. 1, 1609, died there, Dec. 25, 1676. His father, originally a lawyer, abandoned his profession on account of conscientious scruples. The son, an orphan at an early age, was committed to the care of a Puritan relative, who placed his ward in 1626 at Magdalen hall, Oxford. He had been designed for the church, but becoming involved in a lawsuit with a person who laid claim to part of his paternal estate, he exhibited such aptitude for legal science that the lawyer who was charged with the defence of his case persuaded him to study law. He applied himself with remarkable diligence, reading, it is said, for several years at the rate of 16 hours a day. The variety of his studies was remarkable. Philosophy, anatomy, and physiology, as well as theology, are mentioned as only a few of the subjects which received his attention. He probably began practice as a barrister in 1636; and he was employed in most of the celebrated trials growing out of parliamentary troubles in 1640. Bishop Burnet states that Hale was assigned as counsel for Stratford, but he is believed to have been only privately retained by that nobleman to assist in his defence.
In 1643, however, he was expressly assigned by parliament as counsel for Archbishop Laud. In 1647 he was appointed one of the counsel for the eleven members of the commons whose impeachment was demanded by the army. He is said to have been retained as counsel for the defence of Charles I.; but as the king refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court, his counsel took no public part in the proceedings of the trial. In 1643 Hale had taken the covenant as prescribed by parliament; in 1651 he professed allegiance to the commonwealth, " without king or house of lords;" and in the following year he was one of a commission for considering the expediency of reforming the law. He was raised to the bench of the court of common pleas in 1654, and soon afterward was returned to Cromwell's first parliament for his native county. Several instances are related of his resolute rejection of the arbitrary dictation of Cromwell in the administration of law. On one occasion he discharged a jury which he discovered had been packed by express directions of the protector. Cromwell reprimanded him severely, adding, " You are not fit to be a judge." " That," replied Hale quietly, "is very true;" and soon after he declined to serve on the trial of a person who had revolted against Cromwell's authority.
In 1659 he represented the university of Oxford in the parliament which met after the death of Cromwell; and in the following year he sat again for Gloucestershire in the convention which recalled the Stuarts. Soon after the restoration, the lord chancellor Clarendon with some difficulty persuaded him to accept the appointment of lord chief baron of the court of exchequer (1660), when he was knighted. His name appears among the commissioners for the trial of the regicides, but it is supposed that he was not present at the trials. During the period that he sat in the court of exchequer two women were indicted for witchcraft. Hale is reported to have admitted to the jury that he did not doubt the existence of "such creatures as witches." The women were condemned and executed. He was the last English judge to sanction the conviction of prisoners charged with this crime. After the great fire in London in 1666, his exertions with a view to improvements in the rebuilding of the city obtained for him the highest praise. "He was," says Baxter, "the great instrument for rebuilding London; his prudence and justice removing multitudes of impediments." In 1671 Hale was made chief justice of the court of king's bench, and four years later he was attacked by inflammation of the diaphragm, which in 1676 compelled him to retire upon his pension.
Withdrawing to Acton, he amused himself principally in the study of mathematics and physics. He was twice married; and by his first wife, the daughter of Sir Henry Moore, he had ten children. His second wife was a servant girl, whom he married in order to have a nurse in his declining years, and whom in his will he called a "most dutiful, faithful, and loving wife." She was appointed one of his executors, and to her he confided the education of his grandchildren. After his death were published several works which have created for him a high reputation as a legal and constitutional writer. His Historia Placitorum Coronoe (1678, several times edited with additions by various hands), a work of great authority, and the "History of the Common Law" (6th ed., by C. Runnington, 8vo, London, 1820), may be specially cited. The treatise on the "Original Institution, Power, and Jurisdiction of Parliament" (1709), which bears his name, was written, according to Har-grave, by some other person. Sir Matthew Hale's moral and religious works, with his life by Bishop Burnet, were published by the Rev. T. Thirl wall (2 vols. 8vo, London, 1805).