Joseph Hall (bishop)

Joseph Hall
Bishop of Norwich, England

Joseph Hall, detail of an engraving by John Payne, 1628
Diocese Diocese of Norwich
Appointed 1641
Term ended 1656
Predecessor Richard Montagu
Successor See vacant
Personal details
Born (1574-07-01)1 July 1574
Prestop Park, Leicestershire
Died 8 September 1656(1656-09-08) (aged 82)
Heigham, Norfolk
Buried Norwich Cathedral
Nationality English
Spouse Elizabeth Bambridge
Children Six
Previous post Bishop of Exeter (1627-1641)
Alma mater Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Joseph Hall (1 July 1574 – 8 September 1656) was an English bishop, satirist and moralist. His contemporaries knew him as a devotional writer, and a high-profile controversialist of the early 1640s. In church politics, he tended in fact to a middle way.

Thomas Fuller wrote:

"He was commonly called our English Seneca, for the purenesse, plainnesse, and fulnesse of his style. Not unhappy at Controversies, more happy at Comments, very good in his Characters, better in his Sermons, best of all in his Meditations."

His relationship to the stoicism of the classical age, exemplified by Seneca the Younger, is still debated, with the importance of neo-stoicism and the influence of Justus Lipsius to his work being contested, in contrast to Christian morality.[1]

Early life

He was born at Prestop Park, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. Joseph Hall came of a large family, being one of twelve children born to John Hall, agent in Ashby-de-la-Zouch for Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon. Hall's mother, Winifred Bambridge, was a Calvinist close to Anthony Gilby.[2] Her son later compared her to St Monica:

"What day did she pass without a large task of private devotion? whence she would still come forth, with a countenance of undissembled mortification. Never any lips have read to me such feeling lectures of piety; neither have I known any soul that more accurately practised them than her own."

Joseph Hall received his early education at the local Ashby Grammar School, founded by his father's patron the Earl, and was later sent (1589) to Emmanuel College, Cambridge,[3] where Anthony Gilby's son Nathaniel was a Fellow[4] and advocated this course.[5] The college was Puritan in tone, and Hall was undoubtedly under Calvinist influence in his youth. After some early setbacks (his father found it difficult to pay for a university education and nearly recalled him after the first two years), Hall's academic career was a great success. He was chosen for two years in succession to read the public lecture on rhetoric in the schools and in 1595 became fellow of his college.


Having taken holy orders, Hall was offered the mastership of Blundell's School, Tiverton, but he refused it in favour of the living of Hawstead, Suffolk, to which he was presented (1601) by Sir Robert Drury. The appointment was not wholly satisfactory: in his parish Hall had an opponent in a Mr Lilly, whom he describes as a "witty and bold atheist", he had to find money to make his house habitable, and he felt that his patron Sir Robert underpaid him. Nevertheless, in 1603, he married Elizabeth Wynniff of Brettenham, Suffolk.

In 1605, Hall travelled abroad for the first time when he accompanied Sir Edmund Bacon on an embassy to Spa, with the special aim, he says, of acquainting himself with the state and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. At Brussels, he disputed at the Jesuit college on the authenticity of modern miracles, until his patron at length asked him to stop.

His devotional writings had attracted the notice of Henry, Prince of Wales, who made him one of his chaplains (1608). Hall preached officially on the tenth anniversary of King James's accession in 1613, with an assessment in An Holy Panegyrick of the Church of England flattering to the king.[6]

In 1612, Edward Denny gave him the curacy of Waltham-Holy-Cross, Essex, and, in the same year, he received the degree of D.D.. Later he received the prebend of Willenhall in St Peter's, the collegiate church of Wolverhampton, and, in 1616, he accompanied James Hay, Lord Doncaster to France, where he was sent to congratulate Louis XIII on his marriage, but Hall was compelled by illness to return. In his absence, the king nominated him Dean of Worcester, and, in 1617, he accompanied James to Scotland, where he defended the Five Articles of Perth, five points of ceremonial which the king desired to impose upon the Scots.[7]

In the next year he was chosen as one of the English deputies at the Synod of Dort. But he fell ill, and was replaced by Thomas Goad.[8] At the time (1621–2) when Marco Antonio de Dominis announced his intention to return to Rome, after a stay in England, Hall wrote to try to dissuade him, without success. In a long-unpublished reply (printed 1666) De Dominis justified himself in a comprehensive statement of his mission against schism and its limited results, hampered by Dort and a lack of freedom under James I.[9]


In a sermon Columba Noæ of February 1624 (1623 O.S.) to Convocation, he gave a list or personal panorama of leading theologians of the Church of England.[10] In the same year he also refused the see of Gloucester: at the time English delegates to Dort were receiving preferment, since King James approved of the outcome. Hall was then involved as a mediator, taking an active part in the Arminian and Calvinist controversy in the English church, and trying to get other clergy to accept Dort. In 1627, he became Bishop of Exeter.[11]

In spite of his Calvinistic opinions, he maintained that to acknowledge the errors which had arisen in the Catholic Church did not necessarily imply disbelief in her catholicity, and that the Church of England having repudiated these errors should not deny the claims of the Roman Catholic Church on that account. This view commended itself to Charles I and his episcopal advisers; even if Hall, with John Davenant and Thomas Morton, was considered a likely die-hard by Richard Montagu if it ever came to reunification with the Catholic Church.[12] At the same time, Archbishop Laud sent spies into Hall's diocese to report on the Calvinistic tendencies of the bishop and his lenience to the Puritan and low church clergy. Hall gradually took up an anti-Laudian, but also anti-Presbyterian position, while remaining a Protestant eirenicist in co-operation with John Dury and concerned with continental Europe.[13][14][15]

In 1641 Hall was translated to the See of Norwich, and in the same year sat on the Lords' Committee on religion. On 30 December, he was, with other bishops, brought before the bar of the House of Lords to answer a charge of high treason of which the Commons had voted them guilty. They were finally convicted of an offence against the Statute of Praemunire, and condemned to forfeit their estates, receiving a small maintenance from the parliament. They were immured in the Tower from New Year to Whitsuntide, when they were released on finding bail.


The Dolphin Inn, Norwich, in the building where Bishop Hall had his palace from 1643 to 1647.

On his release, Hall proceeded to his new diocese at Norwich, the revenues of which he seems for a time to have received, but in 1643, when the property of the "malignants" was sequestrated, Hall was mentioned by name. Mrs Hall had difficulty in securing a fifth of the maintenance (£400) assigned to the bishop by the parliament; they were eventually ejected from the palace, and the cathedral was dismantled. Hall describes its desecration in Hard Measures:

Lord, what work was here! what clattering of glasses and beating down of walls! what tearing up of monuments! what pulling down of seats! what wrestling down of irons and brass from the windows and walls...

He goes on to describe vividly the triumphal procession of the puritan iconoclasts as they carried vestments, service books and singing books to be burned in the nearby market place, while soldiers lounged in the despoiled cathedral drinking and smoking their pipes.

Hall retired to the hamlet of Heigham, now a suburb of Norwich, where he spent his last thirteen years preaching and writing until he was first forbidden by man, and at last disabled by God. He bore his many troubles and the additional burden of much bodily suffering with sweetness and patience, dying on 8 September 1656. In his old age, Hall was attended upon by the doctor Thomas Browne, who wrote of him:

A person of singular humility, patience and piety: his own works are the best monument, and character of himself, which was also very lively drawn in his excellent funeral sermon preached by my learned and faithful friend Mr. John Whitefoot, Rector of Heigham.[16]


He contributed to several distinct literary areas: satirical verse as a young man; polemical writing, particularly in defending episcopacy; and devotional writings, including contemplations carrying a political slant. He was influenced by Lipsian neostoicism.[17] The anonymous Mundus alter et idem is a satirical utopian fantasy, not denied by him in strong terms at any point.

Satire and poetry

During his residence at Cambridge he wrote his Virgidemiarum (1597),'[18] satires in English written after Latin models. The claim he put forward in the prologue to be the earliest English satirist[19] offended John Marston, who attacked him in satires published in 1598. In the declining years of the reign of Elizabeth I there was much satirical literature, and it was felt to be an attack on established institutions. John Whitgift, the archbishop of Canterbury, ordered that Hall's satires, along with works of Thomas Nashe, John Marston, Christopher Marlowe, Sir John Davies and others should be burnt, on the ground of licentiousness; but shortly afterwards Hall's book was ordered to be "staied at the press," which may be interpreted as reprieved.[20]

Virgidemiarum was followed by an amended edition in 1598, and in the same year by Virgidemiarum. The three last bookes. Of byting Satyres (reprinted 1599). Not in fact the earliest English satirist, Hall wrote in smooth heroic couplets. In the first book of his satires (Poeticall), he attacks the writers whose verses were devoted to licentious subjects, the bombast of Tamburlaine and tragedies built on similar lines, the laments of the ghosts of the Mirror for Magistrates, the metrical eccentricities of Gabriel Harvey and Richard Stanyhurst, the extravagances of the sonneteers, and the sacred poets (Southwell is aimed at in "Now good St Peter weeps pure Helicon, And both the Mary's make a music moan"). In Book II Satire 6 occurs a description of the trencher-chaplain, who is tutor and hanger-on in a country manor. Among his other satirical portraits is that of the famished gallant, the guest of "Duke Humfray." Book VI consists of one long satire on vices and follies dealt with in the earlier books.

Hall's earliest published verse appeared in a collection of elegies on the death of Dr. William Whitaker, to which he contributed the only English poem (1596). A line in Marston's Pigmalion's Image (1598) indicates that Hall wrote pastoral poems, but none of these have survived.[21] He also wrote:

Hall gave up verse satires and lighter forms of literature when he was ordained a minister in the Church of England.

Mundus alter et idem

Hall wrote, according to current scholarly consensus, the dystopian Mundus alter et idem sive Terra Australis antehac semper incognita; Longis itineribus peregrini Academici nuperrime illustrata (1605? and 1607), by "Mercurius Britannicus." Mundus alter is an excuse for a satirical description of London, with some criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, and is said to have furnished Jonathan Swift with hints for Gulliver's Travels. It is classified as a Menippean satire, and was almost contemporary with another such satire by John Barclay, Euphormionis Satyricon, with which it shares the features of being written in Latin (Hall generally wrote in English), and a concern for religious commentary.[22]

Map from Mundus alter et idem.

The narrator takes a voyage in the ship Fantasia, in the southern seas, visiting the lands of Crapulia, Viraginia, Moronia and Lavernia (populated by gluttons, nags, fools and thieves respectively). Moronia parodies Roman Catholic customs; in its province Variana is found an antique coin parodying Justus Lipsius, a target for Hall's satire ad hominem (here the personal attack goes beyond the Menippean model).[23]

Hall wrote it for private circulation, and its publication was not intended by him.[24] The book was published at the hands of William Knight, who wrote a Latin preface, he being only tentatively identified by scholars (there are several candidate clergymen of that name, the one with dates (c.1573–1617?) being singled out).[25] It was reprinted in 1643, with Civitas Solis by Tommaso Campanella, and New Atlantis by Francis Bacon.[26] It was not clearly ascribed to Hall by name until 1674, when Thomas Hyde, the librarian of the Bodleian, identified "Mercurius Britannicus" with Joseph Hall, as is now accepted.[27] On the other hand, Hall's authorship was an open secret, and in 1642 John Milton used it to attack Hall (during the Smectymnuus controversy) by employing the argument that Utopia and New Atlantis had a constructive approach lacking in Mundus Alter.[28]

The Mundus alter was translated into English by John Healey (1608–9) as The Discovery of a New World or A Description of the South Indies by an English Mercury. This was a free and necessarily unauthorised translation, and involved Hall in controversy. Andrea McCrea describes Hall's interactions with Robert Dallington, and then Healey, against the background of a few years of the pace-setting culture of the court of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. Dallington advocated travel, indeed the Grand Tour, while Hall was minatory about its effects; Dallington wrote aphorisms following Lipsius and Guicciardini, while Hall had moved away from the Tacitist strand in humanist thought to the more conservative Senecan tendency with which he was permanently to be associated. Healey embroidered political details into the Mundus alter translation, and outed Hall as author at least as far as his initials, the emphasis on politics again being a Tacitist one. Healey had noble patronage, and Hall's position with respect to the princely court culture was revealed as close to that of the king, placing him as an outsider rather than in the new group of movers and shakers.[29] On the death of Prince Henry, his patron, Hall did preach the funeral sermon to his household.[21]


Hall's initial work of religious controversy was against Protestant separatists. In 1608 he had written a letter of remonstrance to John Robinson and John Smyth. Robinson, who had been a beneficed clergyman near Yarmouth, had replied in An Answer to a Censorious Epistle; and Hall published (1610) A Common Apology against the Brownists, a lengthy treatise answering Robinson paragraph by paragraph. It set a style, tight but rich using animadversion, for Hall's theological writings. Hall criticised Robinson, the future pastor of the Mayflower congregation, alongside Richard Bernard and John Murton.[21][30]

He did his best in his Via media, The Way of Peace (1619), to persuade the two parties (Calvinist and Arminian) to accept a compromise. His later defence of the English Church, and episcopacy as Biblical, entitled Episcopacy by Divine Right (1640), was twice revised at Laud's dictation.

This was followed by An Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament (1640 and 1641), an eloquent and forceful defence of his order, which produced a retort from the syndicate of Puritan divines, who wrote under the name of Smectymnuus. This was followed by a long controversy to which John Milton contributed five pamphlets, virulently attacking Hall and his early satires.

Other controversial writings include:


His devotional works include:


His autobiographical tracts are Observations of some Specialities of Divine Providence in the Life of Joseph Hall, Bishop of Norwich, Written with his own hand, and his Hard Measure, reprinted in Christopher Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Biography.


In 1615 Hall published A Recollection of such treatises as have been published (1615, 1617, 1621); in 1625 appeared his Works (reprinted 1627, 1628, 1634, 1662).

The first complete Works appeared in 1808, edited by Josiah Pratt. Other editions are by Peter Hall (1837) and by Philip Wynter (1863). See also Bishop Hall, his Life and Times (1826), by Rev. John Jones; Life of Joseph Hall, by Rev. George Lewis (1886); Alexander Balloch Grosart, The Complete Poems of Joseph Hall with introductions, etc. (1879); Satires, etc. (Early English Poets, ed. Samuel Weller Singer, 1824). Many of Hall's works were translated into French, and some into Dutch, and there have been numerous selections from his devotional works.


By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of George Winiffe of Brettenham, Suffolk (she died 27 August 1652, aged 69), Hall had six sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Robert Hall, D.D. (1605–1667), became canon of Exeter in 1629, and archdeacon of Cornwall in 1633. Joseph Hall, the second son (1607–1669), was registrar of Exeter Cathedral. George Hall, the third son (1612–1668), became bishop of Chester. Samuel, the fourth son (1616–1674), was sub-dean of Exeter.[21]


In 1826 John Jones published Bishop Hall, His Life and Times.[31] A recent biography of Joseph Hall is Bishop Joseph Hall: 1574–1656: A biographical and critical study by Frank Livingstone Huntley, D.S.Brewer Ltd, Cambridge, 1979.

Criticism of his satires is to be found in Thomas Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. iv. pp. 363–409 (ed. Hazlitt, 1871), where a comparison is instituted between Marston and Hall.


  1. Audrey Chew, Joseph Hall and Neo-Stoicism, PMLA, Vol. 65, No. 6 (Dec., 1950), pp. 1130–1145.
  3. "Hall, Joseph (HL588J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. "Gilbey, Nathaniel (GLBY582N)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  6. Graham Barry, The Golden Age Restor'd (1981), pp. 232–5.
  7. Francis J. Bremer, Tom Webster, Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia (2006), p. 117.
  9. W. B. Patterson, King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (1997), pp. 252–3.
  10. Google Books: Juel, Humfrey, Foxe, Whitgift, Fulke, Whitaker, Raynolds, Bilson, Greenam, Babington, Eedes, Holland, Playfer, Abbotses i.e. George Abbot and Robert Abbot, Perkins, Field, Hooker, Overall, Willet, White, Mason.
  11. W. J. Patterson, King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (1997), pp. 280–1.
  12. Kevin Sharpe, The Personal Rule of Charles I (1992), p. 307.
  13. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (1967), p. 256.
  14. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud (2000 edition), p. 264 and p. 266.
  15. Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600–1640 (2002), p. 398.
  16. Extract from Browne's miscellaneous tract Repertorium.
  18. "Virgidemiarum. Sixe Bookes. First three Bookes. Of Toothlesse Satyrs. (1) Poeticall, (2) Academicall, (3) Morall" (1597)
  19. "I first adventure, follow me who list And be the second English satirist." Joseph Hall, Satires, "Prologue", .
  20. See Notes and Queries 3rd series, xii. 436.
  21. 1 2 3 4  Perry, George Gresley (1890). "Hall, Joseph". In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 24. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  22. Paul Salzman, Narrative Contexts for Bacon's New Atlantis, p. 39, in Bronwen Price (editor), Francis Bacon's New Atlantis: New interdisciplinary essays (2002).
  23. Adriana McCrea, Constant Minds: Political virtue and the Lipsian paradigm in England, 1584–1650 (1997), p. 176.
  25. Wright, Stephen. "Knight, William (d. 1615/16)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15739. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  27. For another view on the question of the authorship of this pamphlet, and arguments in favour of the suggestion that it was written by Alberico Gentili, see Edward Augustus Petherick, Mundus alter et idem, reprinted from the Gentleman's Magazine (July 1896).
  28. Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution (1979), p. 49.
  29. Adriana McCrea, Constant Minds: Political virtue and the Lipsian paradigm in England, 1584–1650 (1997), pp. 194–196.
  30. Francis J. Bremer, Tom Webster, Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia (2006), p. 216.
  31. online text

Further reading

Church of England titles
Preceded by
Valentine Carey
Bishop of Exeter
Succeeded by
Ralph Brownrigg
Preceded by
Richard Montagu
Bishop of Norwich
Succeeded by
Edward Reynolds
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