He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge, graduating B.A. at Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1623/4. For a time he appears to have been employed by Robert Bertie, 1st Earl of Lindsey, probably as chaplain. By 1629 he was chaplain to Baptist Hicks, 1st Viscount Campden.
Gaule's one preferment was as vicar of Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire, through Viscountess Campden by 1632, though there is some confusion on the point. He claimed in a petition to Parliament that he had been imprisoned by the Parliamentary army, and had been in danger of being shot by order of Edward Whalley.
Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcraft
Gaule clashed with, and preached against, the self-appointed witch-hunter active in East Anglia, Matthew Hopkins. This took place around 1646, when Hopkins and John Stearne were operating in Huntingdonshire. As a result, and to expose the methods used by Hopkins, he wrote Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcraft, London, 1646. The work was dedicated to the Huntingdonshire Member of Parliament, Valentine Wauton.
Gaule himself followed the position of William Perkins on witchcraft. He objected to the "swimming test" for witches, used by Hopkins and Stearne in the first half of 1645. Unusually for the time, Gaule engaged with the question of the imp or familiar spirit thought to accompany a witch. While he was convinced enough that witchcraft existed, he suspected theories about it that connected with popular superstition rather than scriptural sources. He distinguished between the workings of a magician and the spells of a witch, leaving some room for the former to operate in good conscience.
Gaule took a legalistic and evidentiary approach to witchcraft. He argued for stringent standards of evidence, but also that circumstantial evidence should be admitted because of the difficulty of conviction. His works were consulted at the time of the Salem witch trials for criteria to apply to cases. Cotton Mather in his Wonders of the Invisible World gave an account of Gaule's witch-theories and their discriminations; George Lincoln Burr regarded the account as distorted, however.
Other writings by Gaule were:
- The Practiqve Theorists Panegyrick. … A Sermon preached at Pauls-Crosse, London, 1628.
- Distractions, or the Holy Madnesse. Feruently (not Furiously) inraged against Euill Men, or against their Euills, London, 1629.
- Practiqve Theories, or Votiue Speculations, vpon Iesvs Christs Prediction, Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, London, 1629. Frontispiece was by Christof le Blon.
- Practiqve Theories, or Votiue Speculations vpon Abrahams Entertainment of the three Angels, &c., 3 parts, London, 1630.
- A Defiance to Death. Being the Funebrious Commemoration of … Viscount Camden, London, 1630.
- A Sermon of the Saints judging the World. Preached at the Assizes holden in Huntingdon, London, 1649.
- Πῦς-μαντία. The Mag-Astro-Mancer, or the Magicall-Astrologicall-Diviner posed and puzzled, London, 1652. Another edition under the title of A Collection out of the best approved Authors, containing Histories of Visions, &c., was published without Gaule's name in 1657. This general attack on magic was dedicated to Oliver Cromwell. In it Gaule lamented that people generally were more ready to consult an almanac than the Bible.
With Henry Jeanes, Nathaniel Stephens and Anthony Burgess, he took part in the presbyterian attack on Jeremy Taylor's doctrine of original sin. His views appeared in a rare work, Sapientia Justificata (1657). He also criticised Erasmus on the same topic, from the Calvinist angle.
At the time of the Restoration, Gaule wrote a tract, An Admonition moving to Moderation, holding forth certain brief heads of wholesom advice to the late and yet immoderate Party, London, 1660, to which he prefixed a dedication to Charles II.
- Clark, Stuart. "Gaule, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/10458. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- "Gaule, John (GL623J2)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. .
- Oxford Journals (Firm) (1866). Notes and Queries. Oxford University Press. p. 65. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Mary Anne Everett Green, ed. (1860). Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles II 1660–1661. H.M. Stationery Office. pp. 345–6.
- Wallace Notestein (1 August 2003). History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 186–7. ISBN 978-0-7661-7918-9. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Gaule, John. "Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft".
- William E. Burns (2003). Witch Hunts in Europe and America: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-313-32142-9. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Orna Alyagon Darr (1 August 2011). Marks of an Absolute Witch: Evidentiary Dilemmas in Early Modern England. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-7546-6987-6. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Orna Alyagon Darr (1 August 2011). Marks of an Absolute Witch: Evidentiary Dilemmas in Early Modern England. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-7546-6987-6. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Ryan J. Stark (15 April 2009). Rhetoric, Science, & Magic in Seventeenth-Century England. CUA Press. pp. 103–4. ISBN 978-0-8132-1578-5. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Ivo Kamps (1995). Materialist Shakespeare: A History. Verso. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-86091-674-1. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Marilynne K. Roach (1 October 2004). The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. Taylor Trade Publications. p. 309. ISBN 978-1-58979-132-9. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Cotton Mather; Robert Calef (1866). The wonders of the invisible world, by C. Mather. W. Elliot Woodward. pp. 42–44. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- George Lincoln Burr (1 May 2003). Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases 1648 to 1706. Kessinger Publishing. p. 216 note. ISBN 978-0-7661-5773-6. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Robert Burton (1998). The Anatomy of Melancholy: Commentary up to part.1, sect.2, memb.3, subs.15, "Misery of schollers". Oxford University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-19-812332-3. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Margaret J. Osler (13 March 2000). Rethinking the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge University Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-521-66790-6. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1973), p. 353.
- John Hunt (1870). Religious Thought in England, from the Reformation to the end of last century: a contribution to the history of theology. Strahan & Co. pp. 349–50. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Jeremy Taylor; Reginald Heber; George Rust; Henry Jeanes (1839). The Life of Taylor. Funeral sermon. Longman, Orme, Brown, Green and Longmans. p. 74. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Philip Benedict; Myron P. Gutmann (2005). Early Modern Europe: From Crisis to Stability. University of Delaware Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-87413-906-8. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- William Poole (10 June 2005). Milton and the Idea of the Fall. Cambridge University Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-521-84763-6. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
- Gregory D. Dodds (9 April 2009). Exploiting Erasmus: The Erasmian Legacy and Religious Change in Early Modern England. University of Toronto Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-8020-9900-6. Retrieved 8 June 2012.