John Hales 1584-1656

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John HALES 1584-1656

Biographical Note

Born at Bath, son of John Hales, attorney and steward to the Horners, a landed Somerset family. BA Corpus Christi College, Oxford 1603, MA 1609; fellow of Merton College, Oxford 1605. In 1603 he was recruited by Sir Thomas Bodley to write up the donation register of his new library; Merton, where he became Greek lecturer, he worked with the Warden, Sir Henry Savile, on his edition of St John Chrysostom (printed at Eton, 1610-12). Fellow of Eton College 1613, regius professor of Greek at Oxford 1615-19; chaplain to Sir Dudley Carleton, English ambassador at The Hague, with whom he travelled to record the proceedings of the 1619 Synod of Dort. After 1619 he withdrew from university affairs and lived at Eton, where he acquired a reputation as a much respected and profoundly learned scholar (the “ever memorable” John Hales). He wrote, and published, very little, being reticent by nature and inclined to theologically reconciliatory views which were not politically correct for his time. In 1649 he was expelled from his Eton fellowship, for failing to subscribe to the necessary oaths, and he moved round the houses of sympathetic friends.


Hales had a significant library, noted by John Aubrey as “noble … and judicially chosen”, and his “life and joy”. The Eton College draft accounts for 1621 include at the end a manuscript shelflist of what is probably Hales’s library as it stood then. After his expulsion in 1649 Hales sold his books to the London bookseller Cornelius Bee, after which they were presumably dispersed; Hales is said to have received £700 for a collection which had cost him £2500 to acquire. He evidently retained some, or began acquiring again, as his will (which refers to his “poor and broken estate”) directed that his Greek and Latin books (“except St Jerome’s works, which I give to Mr Thomas Mountague”) be given to William Salter of Richings, near Iver (in whose house he stayed in the early 1650s), and his English books, together with all his other household goods, be given to Hannah Dickinson, widow of John, a former Eton College servant in whose house he was living at the time of his death. He is said to have used the proceeds from the sale of his books to help other ejected clergymen.

Characteristic markings

None of Hales’s books have been identified.


  • Aubrey, John. Brief Lives: with An Apparatus for the Lives of our English Mathematical Writers, K. Bennet (ed). Oxford, 2015.
  • Greenslade, Basil. "Hales, John (1584–1656), scholar." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Hales, J. Works, 1765.
  • Matthews, A. G. Walker revised. Oxford, 1948.
  • Poole, W. Analysing a private library, with a shelflist attributable to John Hales, in E. Jones (ed), A concise companion to the study of manuscripts, printed books, and the production of early modern texts, 2015, 41-65.