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Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 271. JAMES HALES


e have a little overpast the time and story of Judge Hales, for although about this time he most pitifully sought his own destruction, through the cruel handling of the malignant papists -- who pass upon nothing but upon their own dignity, little caring who perish besides, so their estimation may be magnified -- yet the virtues and memory of that man are not unworthy either to be numbered with the saints that be departed, or at least not to be forgotten or obliterated among the saints that be alive. Concerning whose worthy doings, singular prudence, and incorrupt ministration of judgment, with the lamentable trouble which afterwards fell upon that good man, we thought here, among many other histories, somewhat to express; desiring the good reader to take that which is to be followed in that good man -- the rest, to refer to the judgment of Him who only is Judge of all.


The lamentable and pitiful history of Master James Hales, judge.


WE have made mention, a little before, of Judge Hales, who alone taking Queen Mary's part, would in no wise subscribe to have any other queen but her, for that he thought he could not do otherwise with a safe conscience, though all the rest, in a manner, had subscribed to Edward the Sixth's will and testament. Hereby as he did cast himself into manifest jeopardy of the duke of Northumberland, to lose both body and goods, so he deserved at Queen Mary's hands, and her adherents, marvellous thanks and reward of his singular faithfulness, and true heart, towards her. This Sir James Hales, of the county of Kent, was both a worshipful knight and one of the high judges of the realm, who ordered and finished matters of controversy in the same.

            Although he did not so much exceed in nobleness of birth and parentage, as he did excel all others in virtue, prudence, gravity, and true ministering of justice; for which he was in great veneration with all men, and was more conspicuous and known to the world thereby, than by sight. There was in him, by nature grafted, a singular gift of prudence, which afterwards, by much practice, he accomplished and brought to a marvellous good perfection; besides that, by his assiduous travail and exercise in demurring and pleading of matters, he attained to the vein of eloquence wherewith he was trimly qualified. In which kind of study, being exercised certain years, and passing the under degrees, he had aspired (being rather thereunto compelled) to the high benches, where he executed his function with justice, fidelity, constancy, and conscience, that even the law itself seemed no less to be printed and written in his life and doings, than in the very volumes or papers; he was always so upright a justiciary and conscionable a judge, declining corruption and embracing law and equity.

            To these his gifts and qualities, were linked like sincerity and hearty affection to religion and the gospel of Christ, whereunto he had been, by many years, most earnestly set and addicted; showing himself to be a gospeller, no less by his word than deed, and no less at home than abroad: and, as he was godly himself, so brought he up his family to his godly line and order. He had daily service in his house, which was not ministered by any of his household or waiting chaplains, but by his own self, to the intent he might be the better example to the rest; joining with this devotion the often reading of the Holy Scripture. After this sort and manner he passed his life all King Edward's time; either being busied in weighty and public affairs, or else bestowing his time in virtue and godliness, even until his piety, by reason of the change of the prince and time, might nor could not any more be suffered or permitted.

            As the change of the world and time was to every man very dangerous, so to him, in especial, it appeared most perilous; who was in that office and calling, that he could neither be long absent from it in London, neither be there occupied without present peril or jeopardy. Thus, the state of religion being changed and altered, upon a time, he, being counselled by his friends and well-wishers, to leave his forensical trade, and to go home,-- providing for his safety by what means he could, either in flying or hiding himself,-- refused their counsel; trusting too much there, as by and by you shall understand, to his own wit. To be short; at the term-time when other of the lawyers were wont to come up to London, he, the said Sir James Hales, likewise came up to do his office and function; persuading and knowing himself to be clear and inculpable. But, as a mouse, according to the old-said saw, falling into the gluepot, he was not so soon at London, but that the bishop of Winchester sent for him, and did expostulate about the calling and vexing of certain prevent-law priests; for, as yet, the mass was not by the laws received and restored, although the queen herself, by her consent and example, set it forward, wherewith divers priests, being couraged, presumed to say mass. And, like as in a main and set battle there are certain nimble and light-armed soldiers, who, in skirmishes amongst their enemies, go before the force of battle; even so, in this troublesome time, there lacked none before-law prelates, or light-armed but much more light-hearted soldiers, who ran before the law, who of duty should rather have followed and obeyed it. And this was not only to be seen in Kent, but also in divers other places; for, in Oxford, as it was told me, there was a certain priest, who there, in Magdalene college, preparing himself to say mass, and being almost in the midst thereof, was, with his vestments, pulled by one from the altar, and constrained to blow a retract, until by the law he might mass it. Thus Judge Hales, like a severe judge and justiciary, suffering such priests not to go unpunished, as that, before a law, presumed to say mass, got thereby the queen's displeasure, but much more Winchester's evil will: which bishop, although he had nothing wherewith justly he might burden him, yet he did expostulate with him, as though it were concerning cruelty, who had showed himself so austere a judge against the priests. Wherefore I thought best to leave in record, all the whole communication had between them, as those that stood by bare it away.


The communication between the lord chancellor and Judge Hales; being there, among other judges, to take his oath in Westminster Hall, October the sixth, A. D. 1553.

            L. Chan.--"Master Hales, ye shall understand, that like as the queen's Highness hath heretofore conceived good opinion of you, especially for that ye stood both faithfully and lawfully in her cause of just succession, refusing to set your hand to the book among others that were against her Grace in that behalf: so now, through your own late deserts against certain her Highness's doings, ye stand not well in her Grace's favour; and therefore, before ye take any oath, it shall be necessary for you to make your purgation."

            Hales.--"I pray you, my Lord, what is the cause?"

            L. Chan.--"Information is given, that ye have indicted certain priests in Kent for saying mass."

            Hales.--"My Lord, it is not so, I indicted none; but indeed certain indictments of like matter were brought before me at the last assizes there holden, and I gave order therein as the law required. For I have professed the law, against which in cases of justice I will never (God willing) proceed, nor in any wise dissemble, but with the same show forth my conscience; and if it were to do again, I would do no less than I did."

            L. Chan.--"Yea, Master Hales, your conscience is known well enough: I know you lack no conscience."

            Hales.--"My Lord, you may do well to search your own conscience; for mine is better known to myself than to you: and to be plain, I did as well use justice in your said mass case by my conscience, as by the law, wherein I am fully bent to stand in trial to the uttermost that can be objected. And if I have therein done any injury or wrong, let me be judged by the law; for I will seek no better defence, considering chiefly that it is my profession."

            L. Chan.--"Why, Master Hales, although you had the rigour of the law on your side, yet ye might have had regard to the queen's Highness's present doings in that case. And further, although ye seem to be more than precise in the law, yet I think ye would be very loth to yield to the extremity of such advantage as might be gathered against your proceedings in the law, as ye have sometimes taken upon you in place of justice; and if it were well tried, I believe ye should not be well able to stand honestly thereto."

            Hales.--"My Lord, I am not so perfect, but I may err for lack of knowledge. But both in conscience, and such knowledge of the law as God hath given me, I will do nothing but I will maintain it, and abide in it: and if my goods, and all that I have, be not able to counterpoise the case, my body shall be ready to serve the turn; for they be all at the queen's Highness's pleasure."

            L. Chan.--"Ah sir! ye be very quick and stout in your answers. But as it should seem, that which you did was more of a will favouring the opinion of your religion against the service now used, than for any occasion or zeal of justice, seeing the queen's Highness doth set it forth as yet, wishing all her faithful subjects to embrace it accordingly: and whereas you offer both body and goods in your trial, there is no such matter required at your hands, and yet ye shall not have your own will neither."

            Hales.--"My Lord, I seek not wilful will, but to show myself as I am bound in love to God and obedience to the queen's Majesty, in whose cause willingly, for justice' sake, all other respects set apart, I did of late, as your Lordship knoweth, adventure as much as I had. And as for my religion, I trust it be such as pleaseth God, wherein I am ready to adventure as well my life as my substance, if I be called thereunto. And so in lack of mine own power and will, the Lord's will be fulfilled."

            L. Chan.--"Seeing you be at this point, Master Hales, I will presently make an end with you. The queen's Highness shall be informed of your opinion and declaration: and, as her Grace shall thereupon determine, ye shall have knowledge. Until such time, ye may depart as ye came, without your oath; for as it appeareth, ye are scarce worthy the place appointed."

            Hales.--"I thank your Lordship: and as for my vocation, being both a burden and a charge more than ever I desired to take upon me; whensoever it shall please the queen's Highness to ease me thereof, I shall most humbly, with due contentation, obey the same."

            And so he departed from the bar. Not many days after this communication or colloquy in Westminster Hall, which was October the sixth, anno 1553, Master Hales, at the commandment of the bishop, was committed to the King's Bench, where he remained constant until Lent, being tossed and removed from one prison to another: for then was he removed to the Compter in Bread Street, and afterward from thence was carried to the Fleet, where he endured most Christianly by the space of three weeks.

            Being in the Fleet, what it was that he had granted unto the bishops, by their fraudulent assaults and persuasions, (namely, of Dr. Day, bishop of Chichester, and of Judge Portman, as it is thought, overcome at last,) I have not to say.

            And thus, now we have rehearsed his notable virtues and afflictions, borne out and valiantly sustained by him, will we declare the miserable falls of him, and lamentable chance. And when thus, in divers prisons, he, being tossed and wearied, could in no wise be subdued and overcome by the suppression of his adversaries, he, being yet in the mean time assaulted with secret assaults, recoiled and gave over. Wherein, as I do lament so miserable a case in so worthy a man, even so do I marvel at the vile and detestable frauds and wiles of his adversaries.

            There was in the prison where Hales was, a certain gentleman of Hampshire, called Foster, who being suborned, as it should seem, of the bishops, used all kinds of persuasions that he could; whereby he might draw him from the truth to error; whereby, at length, by continual wearying and seeking upon him, he brought to pass that Hales began to seem that he might be overcome. At last, when this came to his adversaries' ears, the bishop of Chichester was at hand forthwith, very early in the morning of the twelfth of April, to commune with Master Hales in the prison; but I have no certain knowledge what the talk was between them. But, undoubtedly, his constancy was so quailed, that even before, he had given over in the plain field; and for that cause he was in a great dump and sorrow with himself: to whom, by all likelihood, this bishop came to minister matter of comfort. And the same day, in the afternoon, came unto him Judge Portman, and talked with him so long till the time was come that Judge Hales must come to supper. Therefore, when Portman had taken his leave, Master Hales getteth him to supper with a heavy, troubled mind; howbeit he did eat very little, or no meat at all, being brought to an extreme desperation by the worm of his conscience. Albeit, to say the truth, I do not impute the fall of this man to the persuasions of the comers to him, nor to so small causes; for in case that be true, which one told me, (as it is like to be true,) his adversaries went a more subtle way to work with him, than all the world knoweth. For, when they had him sure in the prison, they, like wily spies, found the means to shut him up into that part thereof, where the noise of the streets, the tumult and concourse, the night and day troubles of the talk of artificers, and coming to and fro of men,-- and besides, the noise of the prisoners hard by, ringing about his head, troubled him, in such sort, that he could not take his rest,-- thinking perchance that if they could not win by any other means, yet by the lack of sleep they might soon make him give over, and come unto their side;-- and, perchance, therefore, this was the very policy why they made him change prisons so often. But, for that I have no certainty of the thing, I will leave the truth thereof to the reader's conjecture: and, whatsoever the cause was, that made him to relent in the confession of the truth, undoubtedly he was cast, forthwith, into a great repentance of the deed, and into a terror of conscience thereby; insomuch that when supper was done, he gat him straight to bed, where he passed over all that night in much care and anxiety of mind. And then, when it was day, he sent, about six of the clock, for a cup of beer, as though he were desirous to drink. His man was yet scarce out of his chamber, when he, with a penknife, had wounded himself in divers places, and would, without fail, have likewise killed himself, (which argueth that he was not well in his wit,) unless the goodness of God had been a present help and preservation unto him; whereby it is evident for all men to understand, how God's favour was not absent from the man, although he thought himself utterly forsaken for his denial, as by the sequel may well appear.

            For as soon as he had sent his man out of his chamber, (see what God would have done,) even afore the chamber-door eftsoons the butler met him; who, being desired to fill the drink, and taking the cup, the other returned again unto his master, at the same very time when he was working his own destruction: whereby Master Hales at that time was stopped of his purpose, and preserved, not without God's manifest good-will and providence. When Winchester had knowledge of it, straightway he taketh occasion thereby to blaspheme the doctrine of the gospel, which he openly in the Star-chamber called "doctrine of desperation." Master Hales, being within awhile after recovered of those wounds, and delivered out of prison, getteth himself home unto his house; where he, either for the greatness of his sorrow, or for lack of good counsel, or for that he would avoid the necessity of hearing mass, (having all things set in order, a good while before that, pertaining to his testament,) casting himself into a shallow river, was drowned therein; which was about the beginning of the month of February, or in the month of January before, anno 1555.

            The unhappy chance of this so worthy a judge, was surely the cause of great sorrow and grief unto all good men, and it gave occasion besides unto certain divines to stand something in doubt with themselves, whether he were reprobate or saved, about which matter it is not for me to determine either this way or that: for he that is our Judge, the same shall be his Judge; and he it is, that will lay all things open when the time cometh. This in the mean time is certain and sure: that the deed of the man in my mind ought in no wise to be allowed, which, if he did wittingly, then do I discommend the man's reason. But if he did it in phrensy, and as being out of his wits, then do I greatly pity his case. Yet, notwithstanding, seeing God's judgments be secret, and we likewise in doubt upon what intent he did thus punish himself, neither again is any man certain, whether he did repent or no before the last breath went out of his body; me thinketh, their opinion is more indifferent herein, who do rather disallow the example of the deed, than despair of his salvation.

            Otherwise, if we will adjudge all those to hell that have departed the world after this sort, how many examples have we in the first persecutions of the church, of those men and women, who, being registered in the works of worthy writers, have notwithstanding their praise and commendation? For what shall I think of those young men, who being sought for to do sacrifice to heathen idols, did cast down themselves headlong, and break their own necks, to avoid such horrible pollution of themselves? What shall I say of those virgins of Antioch, who, to the end they might not defile themselves with uncleanness, and with idolatry, through the persuasion of their mother, casting themselves headlong into a river together with their mother, did foredo themselves, although not in the same water, yet after the same manner of drowning as this Master Hales did? What shall I say of other two sisters, who, for the self-same quarrel, did violently throw themselves headlong into the sea, as Eusebius doth record? In whom, though perchance there was less confidence to bear out the pains which should be ministered of the wicked unto them, yet that their good desire to keep their faith and religion unspotted, was commended and praised.

            Another like example of death is mentioned by Nicephorus, and that in another virgin likewise, whose name is expressed in Jerome to be Brassilia Dyrrachina, who, to keep her virginity, feigned herself to be a witch; and so, conventing with the young man who went about to dishonour her, pretended that she would give him an herb which would preserve him from all kind of weapons; and so, to prove it in herself, laid the herb upon her own throat, bidding him smite, whereby she was slain; and so with the loss of her life her virginity was saved.

            Hereunto may be joined the like death of Sophronia, a matron of Rome, who, when she was required of Mazentius the tyrant to be defiled, and saw her husband more slack than he ought to have been in saving her honesty, bidding them that were sent for her to tarry awhile till she made her ready, went into her chamber, and with a weapon thrust herself through the breast, and died. Now who is he that would reprehend the worthy act of Achetes, who, biting off his own tongue, spit it out into the harlot's face?

            But, in these examples, you will say, The cause was necessary and honest. And who can tell whether Master Hales, meaning to avoid the pollution of the mass, did likewise choose the same kind of death, to keep his faith undefiled: whereof there ought to be as great respect, and greater too, than of the chastity of the body. But you will say, He ought rather to have suffered the tyrants. And why may not the same be said of the forenamed virgins?

            These examples I do not here infer, as going about either to excuse or to maintain the heinous fact of Master Hales, (which I would wish rather by silence might be drowned in oblivion,) but yet notwithstanding, as touching the person of the man, whatsoever his fact was -- because we are not sure whether he at the last breath repented -- again, because we do not know, nor are able to comprehend, the bottomless depth of the graces and mercies which are in Christ Jesus our Saviour -- we will leave therefore the final judgment of him, to the determination of him who is only appointed Judge both of the quick and the dead.

            And, finally, although he did it of a certain desperation, yet how know you whether he repented even in breathing out his life?-- Although I truly am so far from allowing his fact, by any means, that I am wonderfully sorry for his rash and over-hasty temerity; and, therefore, although we do not account him among the martyrs, yet, on the other side, we do not reckon him among the damned persons. Finally, let us all wish heartily that the Lord impute not to him, in judgment, that which he offended in his own punishment. Amen.


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