Hale's History of the Pleas of the Crown

Scope and Content

Original manuscript, with author's corrections, of Historia Placitorum Coronæ; The History of the Pleas of the Crown, by Sir Matthew Hale, Knight, sometime Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, edited by Sollom Emlyn, (London, 1736).

On f. iv recto is a lengthy inscription by Francis Hargave [(? 1741-1821), legal antiquary], dated 22 November 1792: 'This is the original of the History of the Pleas of the Crown by Lord Chief Justice Hale. It is in his own hand-writing; æ the edition published in two volumes in folio was printed from this original, except where Mr Emlyn the editor found it corrected in Lord Hale's own handwriting in a transcript or copy made in Lord Hale's lifetime... I took some pains through Mr Deighton to find & purchase this original but Mr Deighton could not find out who was in possession of it. However, my friend Mr Henry Brown of Liverpool yesterday met accidentally with it at the shop of Mr Ramsay a bookseller in Bell Yard, & purchased it. Mr Brown having obligingly lent this book to me, I write this explanation for his use.'

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676), Lord Chief Justice of England, entered Lincoln's Inn in 1628 and was called to the bar in 1637. Solicited by both the royalists and parliamentarians for his undoubted legal skill he managed to maintain a neutral stance and rose in favour with both parties. He took part in many of the famous treason cases of his day, even offering to represent King Charles I during his own trial, had Charles accepted the jurisdiction of the court. He was elected to Parliament in 1654 and was made a serjeant-at-law in the same year, quickly followed by a promotion to the bench of the common pleas. He was elected to the Convention Parliament of 1660, but his Parliamentary career was cut short when in November he was appointed Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and knighted, somewhat against his will. In 1671 he was created Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and served for five years.

Hale left many manuscript treatises, chiefly on law and religion, and voluminous antiquarian collections, part of which he bequeathed to Lincoln's Inn and the remainder to his eldest grandson, conditionally on his adopting the law as a profession, and in default to his second grandson. He gave express direction that nothing of his own composition should be published except what he had destined for publication in his lifetime, an injunction which has been by no means rigorously obeyed. In fact this present manuscript was published after Hale's Executors asked the House of Commons permission to print his manuscripts relating to Crown Law. Permission was granted after committee review but it took till 1736 for the London publisher Sollom Emlyn to edit and publish them all together as the two-volume Historia Placitorum Coronæ; The History of the Pleas of the Crown, by Sir Matthew Hale, Knight, sometime Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench. A subsequent edition by the legal writer Thomas Dogherty appeared in 1800.

Source: Alan Cromartie, 'Hale, Sir Mathew (1609-1676)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/11905.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, on behalf of the John Rylands Library, from John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910), in July 1892.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Sir Matthew Hale.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 59).

Custodial History

The manuscript was formerly part of the Spencer Library at Althorp, Northamptonshire, which was largely assembled by George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834); then by descent to John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910).

Former owners: Matthew Hale; Henry Brown of Liverpool; Mr Justice Chambre; Edward Law, 1st Baron Ellenborough (1750-1818), Lord Chief Justice. Inscribed at the head of f. iv recto: 'Sum ex libris Matt. Hale'. Inscribed on f. 2r: 'Given by Mr Henry Brown to Mr Justice Chambre, & by him, to Lord Ellenborough. "I desire that after my death this book be delivered to Earl Spencer, as a mark of my respect & esteem for him." Ellenborough, June 30 1812. Delivered by me afterwards to Earl Spencer... Ellenborough, March 12 1813.'