James Hales

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Sir James Hales
Canterbury town walls - geograph.org.uk - 1117994.jpg
Canterbury city walls, just outside which Sir James Hales' manor of The Dungeon was situated
Born c. 1500
Died 1554 (aged 53–54)
Thanington, Kent
Spouse(s) Mary Hales
Margaret Wood
Children Humphrey Hales
Edward Hales
Mildred Hales
Parent(s) John Hales, Isabel Harry

Sir James Hales (c. 1500–1554), English judge, was the son of John Hales (1469/70–1540?), Baron of the Exchequer. He refused to seal the document settling the crown on Lady Jane Grey, and during the reign of Queen Mary opposed the relaxation of the laws against religious nonconformity. His suicide by drowning resulted in the lawsuit 'Hales v. Petit', considered to be a source of the gravedigger's speech in Shakespeare's Hamlet.


James Hales was the eldest son of John Hales (1469/70–1540?), Baron of the Exchequer, of The Dungeon or Dane John,[1] Canterbury, Kent, by Isabel or Elizabeth Harry.[2] He had three brothers and a sister:[3][4]

Hales' father was a bencher of Gray's Inn, and Hales was admitted as a student there between 1517 and 1519. He was elected an ancient of the Inn in 1528. By 1530 he was acting a counsel in the Court of Requests, and in 1532 became a bencher of Gray's Inn. In 1541 he was appointed counsel to the corporation of Canterbury, and was an adviser to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. On 4 November 1544 he was appointed King's Serjeant, and shortly thereafter King Henry VIII granted him the manor of Clavertigh in Elham, Kent.[6] At the coronation of King Edward VI on 20 February 1547 he was made a Knight of the Bath.[7] On 20 May 1549[8] he received a patent as a Justice of the Common Pleas.[9]

Hales supported the Protestant reformation, and in February 1551 was among those who gave sentence of deprivation against Bishop Stephen Gardiner. However, in 1553 he was one of three judges who refused to seal the document by which John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, and others attempted to settle the crown on the Protestant Lady Jane Grey. When Queen Mary came to the throne shortly thereafter, and greater tolerance towards Roman Catholics was expected, Hales pointed out in a charge to a jury at the Kent assizes that the current statutes against nonconformity had not yet been relaxed, and that the jury must find according to the law as it then stood. On 4 October 1553 the Queen granted Hales a renewal of his patent as a Justice of the Common Pleas, but when he came before the reinstated Bishop Gardiner, then Lord Chancellor, Gardiner refused to take Hales' oath as a justice, and had him committed in turn to the King's Bench prison, the Counter in Bread Street, and the Fleet. Hales was imprisoned for several months, during which time attempts were made to have him conform to Catholicism. He eventually complied, but after doing so, attempted to commit suicide with a penknife. In April 1554 Queen Mary ordered that Hales be released, and he is said to have been brought to her presence and given "words of great comfort". By then, however, his mental condition was so unsettled that on 4 August of that year, while staying at Thanington near Canterbury with his nephew, he drowned himself by lying face down in a stream. A coroner's inquest determined that his death, being self-inflicted, was a felony.[10]

In 1558 Hales' widow instigated legal proceedings against Cyriac Petit to recover a lease of land in Graveney marsh which had been made in 1551 to herself and her late husband. Since the coroner had earlier ruled Hales' death to be a felony, the case, Hales v. Petit, turned on the abstruse point of whether the felony, i.e. Hales' suicide, had occurred during Sir James' lifetime or after his death. In 1562 the court ruled in favour of Petit. Plowden published a full report of the case in 1571.[11] According to Baker Hales v. Petit is "often held up as an extreme example of abstract legal reasoning", and it is considered that Shakespeare alludes to it in the gravedigger's speech in Hamlet:[12]

First Clown Give me leave. Here lies the water; good: here

stands the man; good; if the man go to this water,
and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he
goes,--mark you that; but if the water come to him
and drown him, he drowns not himself: argal, he
that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.
Second Clown But is this law?

First Clown Ay, marry, is't; crowner's quest law.

Hales is reported to be buried or else commemorated by an inscription in the Church of St. Mary Bredin, Canterbury, not far from his residence, The Dungeon:

Among the monuments and inscriptions are the following: .... A plain altar tomb on the south side of the altar rails, and round the verge an inscription for Humphry Hales, esq. son of Sir James Hales, deceased 1555. The same father Sir James Hales.[13]

Marriages and issue[edit]

Monument to Sir James Hales (d.1589) and his son, Cheyney Hales, in Canterbury Cathedral

Hales was twice married. His first wife was Mary Hales; she and her sister, Agnes, wife of Clement Rede, were the daughters and coheirs of Thomas Hales (d.1520), Merchant of the Staple, of Filetts or Phyllis Court, Henley-on-Thames.[14]

Hales' second wife was Margaret (d.1567),[15] one of the daughters and coheirs of Oliver Wood (d.1521/2), esquire.[16] She had been twice widowed before her third marriage to Hales. Her first husband was Sir Walter Mantell (d.1529) of Nether Heyford, Northamptonshire, by whom she had three sons, John, Walter and Thomas, and at least two daughters, Margaret and Anne.[17] Margaret's eldest son, John Mantell, was executed for a felony in 1541.[18] Her second son, Walter Mantell, was executed in 1554 for his part in Wyatt's rebellion, as was her grandson, also named Walter Mantell, son of John Mantell.[19] The deaths of Walter Mantell the elder and Walter Mantell the younger are mentioned in Foxe's Actes and Monuments.[20]

By her first husband, Sir Walter Mantell (d.1529), Margaret was the grandmother of the poet and translator, Barnaby Googe (1540–1594); her daughter, Margaret Mantell (d.1540), and Robert Goche (d. 1557) of Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, were the poet's parents.[21] According to Lyne, since Googe's mother died when he was six weeks old he 'was probably brought up in Kent by his grandmother, Lady Hales'.[22]

Margaret's second husband was Sir William Haute (d.1539) of Bishopsbourne, Kent, whose daughter, Jane Haute (d. in or after 1595), married the rebel Thomas Wyatt.[23]

Hales' second wife, Margaret, is buried in the south or Woods chancel in St Mildred's Church, Canterbury, where there is a monument to her memory.[24] She is also mentioned in the monument in Canterbury Cathedral [1] to her daughter Anne Mantell, wife of Richard Neville (c.1510–1599) of South Leverton, Nottinghamshire. Margaret's daughter, Anne, and Richard Neville were the parents of Thomas Neville (c.1548–1615), Dean of Canterbury.[25]

Hales had two sons, Humphrey and Edward, both of Gray's Inn, and a daughter, Mildred.[6] Humphrey was the father of Sir James Hales (d.1589), knighted by Queen Elizabeth at Cobham Hall in September 1573.[26] Sir James Hales (d.1589) married Alice Kempe (d.1592), the daughter of Sir Thomas Kempe (d. 7 March 1591) of Olantigh in Wye, Kent, by his first wife, Katherine Cheney,[27] daughter and co-heiress of Sir Thomas Cheney, Treasurer of the Royal Household and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, by whom he had a son, Cheyney Hales.[28] Alice is the dedicatee of Greene's Menaphon (published 1589), in which she is said to have been 'the patterne of a louing and vertuous wife, whose ioyes liued in hir husbands weale, and ended with his life'.[29] After the death of Sir James Hales (d.1589), Alice married Sir Richard Lee (d. 22 December 1608) of Hook Norton, illegitimate brother of Queen Elizabeth's champion, Sir Henry Lee.[30]


  1. ^ Dane John Manor at machadoink.com, accessed 6 January 2013.
  2. ^ Hales 1882, p. 62; Baker 2004.
  3. ^ Betham 1801, pp. 130–6
  4. ^ Hales 1882, pp. 62–3
  5. ^ R. Cox Hales does not mention this brother.
  6. ^ a b Baker 2010.
  7. ^ Shaw 1906, p. 59.
  8. ^ Foss gives the date as 10 May 1549.
  9. ^ Baker 2010; Foss 1857, p. 371.
  10. ^ Baker 2010; Foss 1857, pp. 372–3.
  11. ^ According to Blackstone, the case is authority for the proposition that 'If a joint-tenant of any chattel interest commits suicide, the right to the whole chattel becomes vested in the King'.
  12. ^ Baker 2010; Blackstone 1809, pp. 409–10; Noyes 1858, pp. 26–7; Foss 1857, pp. 373–4;.
  13. ^ Hasted 1800, pp. 209–288.
  14. ^ Townley 2011, pp. 76–7.
  15. ^ According to Brayley, she died in 1577.
  16. ^ Some sources state that Margaret's father was Oliver Wood, Justice of the Common Pleas, but according to Foss the only Justice surnamed Wood was Thomas Wood, Chief Justice in the reign of Henry VII.
  17. ^ Leach 1790, p. 28; Salzman 1937.
  18. ^ Dean 1999, p. 6.
  19. ^ Leach 1790, p. 28.
  20. ^ http://www.johnfoxe.org/index.php?realm=text&gototype=modern&edition=1583&pageid=1492
  21. ^ Simpson 1890, p. 227.
  22. ^ Lyne 2004.
  23. ^ Archer 2004; Richardson IV 2011, p. 383.
  24. ^ Brayley 1808, p. 907.
  25. ^ Mullinger 2004.
  26. ^ Townley 2011, p. 76; Shaw 1906, p. 75; Burke & Burke 1838, p. 233.
  27. ^ Some sources give her name as Cecily Cheney.
  28. ^ Richardson III 2011, p. 276.
  29. ^ Alwes 2004, p. 119.
  30. ^ Chambers 1936, pp. 23, 175–9. 248.


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