Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hales, James
HALES, Sir JAMES (d. 1554), judge, was eldest son of John Hales of the Dungeon, near Canterbury, by Isabell, daughter of Stephen Harry. John Hales (d. 1539) was, according to Hasted, uncle of Sir Christopher Hales [q. v.], but Wotton (Baronetage, i. 219) makes them first cousins. John was a member of Gray's Inn, and was reader in 1514 and 1520. He probably held some office in the exchequer, and was appointed third baron 1 Oct. 1522. He was promoted to be second baron 14 May 1528, and held that position on 1 Aug. 1539, but probably died soon after.
James was a member of Gray's Inn, where he was an ancient in 1528, autumn reader in 1533, double Lent reader in 1537, and triple Lent reader in 1540. He was among those appointed to receive the Lady Anne of Cleves on her arrival at Dover (29 Dec. 1539). He was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law in Trinity term 1540, and on 4 Nov. 1544 was appointed king's serjeant. He was standing counsel to the corporation of Canterbury in 1541–2, and he was also counsel to Archbishop Cranmer, though from what date is not clear. He was created a knight of the Bath at the coronation of Edward VI, 20 Feb. 1546–7. In April 1549 he was placed on a commission for detecting and extirpating heresy, on 10 May following was appointed a judge of the common pleas, and in the autumn of the same year sat on a mixed commission of ecclesiastics, judges, and civilians appointed to hear Bishop Bonner's appeal against his deprivation, and which confirmed the sentence. He also sat on the commission appointed on 12 Dec. 1550 to try Bishop Gardiner for his intrigues and practices against the reformation, and concurred in the sentence of deprivation passed against him on 14 Feb. 1550–1; and he was placed on another commission specially directed against the anabaptists of Kent and Essex in January 1550–1. He was also a member of a commission of sixteen spiritual and as many temporal persons appointed on 6 Oct. 1551 to examine and reform the ecclesiastical laws; and on the 26th of the same month he was appointed to hear causes in chancery during the illness of the lord chancellor, Rich. In January 1551–2 he was commissioned to assist the lord keeper, Thomas Goodrich, bishop of Ely, in the hearing of chancery matters. In 1553 Edward VI determined to exclude both the Princess Elizabeth and the Princess Mary from the succession and settle the crown by an act of council on the Lady Jane Grey. Hales, as a member of the council, was required to affix his seal to the document, but steadily refused so to do on the ground that the succession could only be legally altered by act of parliament. On the accession of Mary (6 July 1553) he showed equal regard for strict legality by charging the justices at the assizes in Kent that the laws of Edward VI and Henry VIII against nonconformists remained in force and must not be relaxed in favour of Roman catholics. Nevertheless the queen renewed his patent of justice of the common pleas; but on his presenting himself (6 Oct.) in Westminster Hall to take the oath of office Gardiner, now lord chancellor, refused to administer it on the ground that he stood not well in her grace's favour by reason of his conduct at the Kent assizes, and he was shortly afterwards committed to the King's Bench prison, whence he was removed to the Compter in Bread Street, and afterwards to the Fleet. In prison he was visited by Dr. Day, bishop of Chichester; his colleague on the bench, Portman [q. v.]; and one Forster. He was at last so worried by their arguments that he attempted to commit suicide by opening his veins with his penknife. This intention was frustrated. He recovered and was released in April 1554, but went mad and drowned himself in a shallow stream on 4 Aug. following at Thanington, near Canterbury. A case of Hales v. Petit, in which his widow, Lady Margaret, sued for trespass done to a leasehold estate which had belonged to him, after his death but before his goods and chattels had been declared forfeit and regranted to the defendant as those of a felo de se, gave rise to much legal quibbling on the point whether the forfeiture took place as from the date of the suicide or only from the date of the grant. The following extract from Plowden's ‘Report’ may confirm the conjecture that Shakespeare took a hint from this case: ‘Sir James Hales was dead, and how came he to his death? It may be answered by drowning; and who drowned him?—Sir James Hales; and when did he drown him?—in his lifetime. So that Sir James Hales being alive caused Sir James Hales to die; and the act of a living man was the death of a dead man. And then after this offence it is reasonable to punish the living man who committed the offence and not the dead man.’
The Lady Margaret referred to was the daughter of Thomas Hales of Henley-on-Thames. By her Hales had issue two sons, Humphrey and Edward, and a daughter, Mildred.[Hasted's Kent, ii. 576, iii. 584; Burke's Extinct Baronetage, Hales of Woodchurch; Berry's County Genealogies (Kent), 210; Douthwaite's Gray's Inn, p. 49; Chron. of Calais (Camden Soc.), pp. 173, 174; Wynne's Serjeants-at-law; Dugdale's Orig. p. 292; Chron. Ser. pp. 87, 88; Narratives of the Reformation (Camden Soc.), p. 265; Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. App. 153 b, 154 a, 155 a; Nicolas's Hist. of British Knighthood, iii. xiii; Rymer's Fœdera, ed. Sanderson, xv. 181, 250; Strype's Mem. (fol.), vol. ii. pt. i. pp. 23, 246, 281, 296, pt. ii. pp. 483–4, 487, vol. iii. pt. i. pp. 25, 279–80; Strype's Cranmer (fol.), pp. 223, 225, 270–1; Cobbett's State Trials, i. 630, 715; Burnet's Reformation, vol. ii. pt. i. p. 458; Holinshed, 1808, iii. 1064, iv. 8–9; Foxe's Acts and Monuments, ed. Townsend, vi. 710–15; Plowden's Rep. p. 255; Addit. MSS. 5480 f. 115, 5520 f. 119.]