Joseph Hall, Bishop of Exeter and Norwich



The Collected Poems of Joseph Hall, ed. Arnold Davenport (Liverpool, 1949).


The Works of the Right Reverend Joseph Hall, D.D., ed. Philip Wynter, 10 vols (Oxford, 1863; reprinted New York, 1969).


For a writer who was as prolific and as controversial as Joseph Hall, there are remarkably few surviving manuscripts of his works. The only autograph manuscript to receive an entry below is the draft of Certain Irrefragable Propositions which he sent to Archbishop William Laud (*HlJ 12), a document which, with Laud's alterations, was the basis for Hall's Episcopacy by Divine Right (1640). A few of his miscellaneous poems are preserved in early copies, but, apart from two extracts (HlJ 8-8.5), there is no manuscript of his important satire Virgidemiae. A few scattered copies of certain prose works are to be found, including his popular contribution to seventeenth-century ‘character’ literature (HlJ 14-16) and an unpublished English translation by Moses Wall of his Henochismus (HlJ 53). His most frequently copied piece was his plea for moderation addressed to the House of Commons in 1628 (HlJ 17-30), of which, no doubt, other copies are to be found besides those recorded here.

Only three notable manuscript collections of works by Hall can be recorded: namely, the Beal MS (Dr Peter Beal, London, Hall MS), comprising some 22 religious works by him; the Wallington MS (British Library, Sloane MS 922), containing eleven of his Epistles; and the currently untraced Thomas Robinson MS (Untraced, [Thomas Robinson MS]), containing six or more works by him.

The Verse Canon

The canon of verse accepted here is based on Davenport, with the addition of a few poems (HlJ 3, HlJ 4-5) which are ascribed to Hall, correctly or otherwise, in manuscript sources. Another recent addition to the verse canon is a poem of 1601 beginning ‘Mayere, thy famous Grandsire hither fled’, but it is known only in a printed source: see R.M. Cummings, ‘A New Epigram by Joseph Hall’, N&Q, 232 (September 1987), 295-6.

Entries are not given here to verses written about Hall by other authors, although he did attract a number of these, certain of which enjoyed a circulation in manuscript miscellanies. They are of some biographical interest since they represent contemporary reactions, sometimes hostile, to his ecclesiastical and administrative policies, as well as his alleged rapacity and nepotism. A poem variously titled The Curate of Doctor Hall or Dr Hall's Curate's petition to the Kinge (beginning ‘I serve under Dr Hall’) is to be found, inter alia, in the Bodleian Library (MSS Ashmole 781, p. 118; Rawl. poet. 26, f. 2v (subscribed ‘Mannynge’)); in Bradford Archives (32D86/34, p. 90); in the British Library (Egerton MS 2560, f. 79r), at Downing College, Cambridge (Bowtell Collection, MS ‘Wickstede Thesaurus’, Part II, f. 78r), in Durham Cathedral (Hunter MS 27, f. 92v); in the library of Robert Pirie, New York (Feilde MS, p. 629); and in the Staffordshire Record Office (D 1721/3/246, [unnumbered item]). A poem Vpon the Dedication of Hall's Workes (beginning ‘Joseph foreseeing these hard times of dearth’) is to be found in the British Library (Add. MS 58215, f. 60r; and Harley MS 6917, f. 96r). A Latin epigram on Hall is in a manuscript volume of Latin poems on various authors written by Thomas Porter in 1614 and dedicated to Sir John Heveningham. This manuscript is owned by the Earl of Leicester at Holkham Hall (MS 436). For a poem on Hall written by Phineas Fletcher, see FlP 15.

An interesting argument in favour of an addition to the Hall canon, under the category of ‘Dramatic Works’, is advanced in Frank Livingstone Huntley, Bishop Joseph Hall, 1574-1656: A Biographical and Critical Study (Cambridge, 1978), p. 30 et seq. There is reason to believe that Hall may have been the ‘major author’ of the second part of The Returne from Parnassus, the third in a trilogy of Cambridge student plays acted in 1598-1601. This play was twice printed in Cambridge in 1606 and a contemporary manuscript copy, once owned by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, is preserved in the Folger Shakespeare Library (MS V.a.355). It is possible that Hall also ‘had a hand in’ the first two plays of the trilogy, The Pilgrimage to Parnassus and the first part of The Returne from Parnassus. The text of these two plays is preserved in a contemporary manuscript copy, once owned by Thomas Hearne, now in the Bodleian (MS Rawl. D. 398, ff. 200r-20r), and published in facsimile in the Old English Drama Students' Facsimile series, 1912. The two plays were first printed by W.D. Macray in 1886. The whole trilogy is re-edited from the manuscript and printed sources by J.B. Leishman in The Three Parnassus Plays (1598-1601) (London, 1949). Hall's participation in these entertainments would help to explain some of the references in John Marston's satires against him, and they may even be the ‘lost pastorals’ which Hall is supposed to have written (see Huntley p. 40).


Hall's prose writings, like those of most ecclesiastical writers, do not fall into clearly defined ‘literary’ and ‘non-literary’ categories. For present purposes the canon is based on Wynter (1863). Entries are therefore given to manuscripts of tracts, sermons, epistles and other writings published during, or in two cases (HlJ 17-30, HlJ 55) just after, Hall's lifetime.

Letters and Documents

A number of Hall's original letters survive, as well as some copies, although they must represent only a small fraction of the huge correspondence that Hall must have conducted in his official capacities. It would seem unlikely, in fact, that many of his papers concerning diocesan business would have survived his virtual ejection from the bishopric of Norwich in 1641 and the parliamentary sequestration of the property of malignants in 1643. Known letters by him, some of them relating to his works and to major religious and political issues, have been given entries below (HlJ 85-138). A few others are edited in Wynter from early printed sources. Two untraced letters by Hall, one autograph signed in 1650 as Bishop of Norwich, the other a letter signed as Bishop of Exeter, were sold at Sotheby's, 15 March 1916 (Major C.H. Simpson sale), lot 138, to Lecky.

There was also at one time a seventeenth-century transcript of correspondence of Marco Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624), the Archbishop of Spalato who became a martyr of the Inquisition. The manuscript included a letter of his to Hall and Hall's Responsum, possibly the correspondence which was published in de Dominis. De pace religionis (Vesuntione Sequanorum, 1666): see Wynter, X, 208-14. This manuscript, once part of the Libri collection, was sold at Sotheby's, 19 June 1893, lot 254, and the sale catalogue notes that a ‘similar MS’ was sold at Sotheby's on 30 March 1859.

Lost Books and Manuscripts

Neither is there any trace of the books and manuscripts mentioned in Hall's will. Most of his library he bequeathed to his son, Samuel, who also received his ‘paper bookes’, except for those containing ‘the notes of my sermons’, which he divided between his other sons, Robert and George. He also specified ‘the papers in my litle black Trunke, contayning Letters of intercourse wt forraine Diuines, and some sermons and tractates’, directing that these should ‘not be medled wth, or disposed, wtout the ioynt consent of my said three sonnes, whom I thank God I haue liued to see learned, iudicious and paynfull diuines’.


Apart from Hall's will, which is given entries below (HlJ 139-141), a few surviving documents signed by Hall, or relating to him, may briefly be listed as follows.

The earliest known signatures of Hall are those under the dates 2 October 1595, 17 October 1598, and 8 April 1600 in the earliest of the College Order Books for the library at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (COL 14 1, pp. 11, 12, 13). Exeter Cathedral retains some official documents bearing Hall's signature or notes (Dean & Chapter of Exeter 3601), including the second part of his Bishop's register. Also preserved here are some notes on Hall's family and descendants written c.1730 (Dean & Chapter of Exeter 3499/2961). Certain of these items are recorded in HMC 55, Various Collections IV (1907), pp. 14, 95. A signed decree of Hall's regulating Plymouth burial fees in 1637 is in the Devon Record Office, Plymouth (W 374). A signed licence to preach which Hall granted on 31 May 1639 to one Thomas Brancker is at Yale (Osborn MSS File 6495). Another document on vellum signed by Hall on 28 September 1637 is at Harvard (Autograph file), and a document signed by him relating to the examination of Abel Bawden, 27 April 1638, was sold at Sotheby's, 4 February 1876, lot 165.

Exempla of Printed Works Annotated by Early Readers

Besides the extracts from Hall's works which appear in commonplace books and miscellanies (HlJ 65-84), it is not uncommon to find printed exempla of works by him containing manuscript annotations by early readers. Examples include a bound collection of three printed works by Hall (Epistles, Characters of Virtues and Vices, and Pharisaism and Christianity) in the Bodleian (8o Rawl. 597) and an exemplum of Quo Vadis? (1617) in the Huntington Library (RB 61290).

Peter Beal