HALL, George (1613-68)

HALL, George (1613–68)

cons. 11 May 1662 bp. of CHESTER

First sat 18 Feb. 1663; last sat 19 May 1668

bap. 24 Aug. 1613, 3rd s. of Joseph Hall (later bp. Exeter and Norwich) and Elizabeth Winiff (d.1652). educ. Exeter Coll., Oxf, matric. 1628, BA 1631, fell. 1632–8, MA 1634; incorp. Camb. 1635; DD 1660. m. 28 June 1641, Gertrude (d.1669), da. of Edward Meredith of Maristow, Devon, d.s.p. d. 23 Aug. 1668; will 22 Aug., pr. 2 Dec. 1668.1

Chap. to Charles II 1660.

Vic. Menheniot, Cornw. 1637–45; seq. 1645; preb. Exeter 1639–61, Windsor 1660–2; adn. Cornwall, Exeter 1641–60, Canterbury 1660–8; minister St Bartholomew Exchange, London 1651; rect. Berwick, Suss. 1654,2 St Botolph Aldersgate, London 1654–5, Wigan, Lancs. 1662–8.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by unknown artist, Exeter, Oxf.; oil on canvas, by unknown artist, Emmanuel, Camb.

George Hall was the son of the Caroline bishop, controversialist and devotional writer Joseph Hall, whose equivocal position on the Church and episcopacy ended up satisfying neither William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury nor his puritan opponents. Hall had already started to climb the ladder of clerical preferment before the civil wars. Although initially ejected in 1645, he found re-employment during the Interregnum.3 He impressed John Evelyn as a preacher at St Botolph Aldersgate, and was quickly promoted after the Restoration.4 When Henry Ferne died in the spring of 1662, Hall replaced him as bishop of Chester. As a commendam, he was presented to the valuable Lancashire rectory of Wigan by the holder of its advowson, Sir Orlando Bridgeman (whose brother Henry was dean of Chester cathedral). The living was the most valuable in Lancashire and it seems that the rectory at Wigan provided a far more congenial residence for Hall than Chester.5 Faced shortly after his consecration with the task of implementing the Act of Uniformity in his diocese, Hall unusually insisted that Presbyterians openly renounce their former orders before they were ordained; Henry Newcome also recounted a rumour that a letter from Hall had been helpful to Gilbert Sheldon, bishop of London at the end of Aug. 1662 in resisting attempts to allow dispensations from the Act.6

Hall took his seat in the Lords on 18 Feb. 1663, the first day of the spring session. He attended 98 per cent of sittings throughout this ill-tempered term. He would be an active member over the next seven years, possibly at the expense of administration in his diocese (which also suffered from his preference for his Wigan rectory to Chester). Out of six parliamentary sessions he attended five for more than 85 per cent of sittings and was named to numerous select committees. A member of the Journals committee, he helped to examine the Journal on 19 Dec. 1667, 29 Feb. 1688, 18 Mar. 1668 and 18 Apr. 1668. In the spring 1664 session, he arrived for the first day of business and then attended 92 per cent of sittings. He was present throughout the passage of the first Conventicle Act and until the prorogation on 17 May 1664. The following (1664–5) session of Parliament saw him attend 89 per cent of sittings; he was named to 11 select committees.

In March 1665, during Hall’s absence from his diocese, his chancellor, John Wainwright, complained to Gilbert Sheldon, now archbishop of Canterbury that the bishop was detaining fees due to the chancellor and registrar. Wainwright claimed that Hall was dominated by his wife and was insufficiently respectful to the memory of the first post-Restoration bishop of Chester, Brian Walton. It was subsequently determined that the fault lay not with Hall but with his secretary, a Mr Dwight, though the relationship between Wainwright and Hall continued to be poor: Hall was pleased to note in September that Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon had rejected his nomination of Wainwright as a member of the commission of the peace and was surprised that Clarendon had ‘taken such a right measure of him whom he personally knows not. His lordship saith he hath ill luck. I think I have ill luck in him too’. Hall added that he was also unfortunate in his dean, Henry Bridgeman.7

In August, Hall was in the diocese, rectifying irregularities in his consistory court and acting as Sheldon’s intermediary with the Welsh dioceses.8 Although Chester had declared for the king at the outbreak of the civil wars, there was a significant nonconformist presence, which Hall had already sought to counteract in February 1663 through securing the right to nominate four itinerant ‘king’s preachers’ in Lancashire, who were each to be paid £50 a year.9 The city had returned a presbyterian, John Ratcliffe, to Parliament in 1660 and 1661 and Hall found the magistracy reluctant to implement the penal laws. Unwilling to attempt to ‘appear like a George on horseback with a sword lifted’ he sought assistance from Clarendon, requesting the appointment of an additional two justices. Clarendon obliged with an instruction to the mayor of Chester to deal more effectively with conventicles; as a result, senior members of the corporation ‘promised better activity for the future’.10 Catholicism was also a problem for Hall, who turned to Sheldon for advice:

I confess I am at a stand and know not in the present condition of times whether I should take cognizance of them or no. It may be imprudence, to undertake a prosecution of them to no issue and it is great scandal and offence to let them alone, though I wish the sectaries were but as quiet, and as yet inoffensive, as they are. To make pecuniary mulcts upon them is base. To proceed by Church censures is vain, to leave them unobserved is to multiply them.

Hall sought to be excused from the brief Oxford Parliament of October 1665, arguing that the session would be ‘a representative, not full Parliament’ and last only as long ‘as the present exigent may require’.11 Sheldon disagreed and as a result Hall did attend, albeit arriving a week late; he was present for 65 per cent of the short session.

In contrast, Hall attended 95 per cent of sittings during the 1666–7 session. On 3 Oct. 1666 he preached a warning sermon to the Lords in Westminster Abbey, attributing recent episodes of plague and fire to the wrath of Providence, and advocating closer co-operation between the Church and the magistracy, so that ‘weaker ecclesiastical coercions’ could be supplemented by the secular powers of the law. His theme had a particular warning for the House of Lords: status was no protection from ‘the common obligation and law of religion’ and Providence was no respecter of rank. Just as they would not endure ‘filthy spots upon [their] robes … stars … coronets … [and] escutcheons’, they should shun wickedness despite ‘the fashion to be otherwise’.12 During the session he was named to numerous committees, including that for the bill which would allow Humphrey Wharton to lease lead mines from his northern neighbour, John Cosin, bishop of Durham. Richard Sterne, archbishop of York, normally took the chair at meetings of the committee for the lead mines bill but Hall chaired it on 3 and 16 Jan. 1667. Presumably he was one of the bishops who opposed the bill as damaging to the long-term interests of the Church.13 During the session he held proxies for three bishops in Wales or the marches: registered by George Griffith, bishop of St Asaph, on 10 Sept. 1666 (vacated by Griffith’s death in November), by Robert Morgan, bishop of Bangor, on 14 Sept. 1666 and by Herbert Croft , bishop of Hereford, on 15 Dec. 1666 (both vacated at the end of the session).

After the prorogation in February 1667, Hall returned to his Wigan rectory, where he continued to face the dilemmas posed by the strength of Catholicism in Lancashire and the ‘incorrigible’ Protestant nonconformists who continued to preach throughout the diocese, despite his appeals to ‘remiss and languid’ magistrates. Still wary of confronting them himself, he asked Sheldon whether a direct approach for privy council assistance would be appropriate for ‘I would not attempt the restraint of them, till I can be sure to do it.’14

Following Sheldon’s general directive to the bishops in August 1667, Hall was present on the first day of business for the 1667–9 session, attending for 89 per cent of sittings. He was again appointed to the sessional committees as well as to numerous select committees. He attended the Lords throughout the proceedings against Clarendon and supported the chancellor in the critical vote on 20 Nov. 1667. He held the proxy of Robert Skinner, bishop of Worcester from 15 Feb. 1668 (vacated on 20 April).

Hall attended the House for the last time on 9 May 1668. By early August he was back in Wigan, describing his enjoyable ‘retirement’ over the summer and dreading the ‘punishment’ of his imminent return to Chester where they

quarrel at my long absence as much as if they were affectionately fond of my presence, and while I am conscious of the impotency of my jurisdiction, and so can be content to do as little as may be, I yet see an absolute need of showing myself not asleep to all matters of censure. And as they use to say, the smell of a cat in the house doth keep away some mice though execution be done upon none, so possibly some little service may be done by my appearing near our busy nonconformists.15

Relieved that Parliament had been adjourned until November, he hoped for a further adjournment to the spring to avoid an uncomfortable winter in London.

Later that month, walking in the rectory garden at Wigan, Hall tripped on his gown and sustained a fatal stab wound from his own pocket knife.16 He survived just long enough to compose his will, bequeathing lands to Exeter College, Oxford, after making provision for his widow. At her death later the same year, it became clear that Hall had lent money on mortgages to a number of people and the estate was owed in excess of £2,000.17 He was buried in the chancel of Wigan church.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/328.
  • 2 Walker Revised, 97.
  • 3 G. Hall, Two Sermons by George Hall, Late Fellow of King’s College in Cambridge (1648); Walker Revised, 97.
  • 4 Evelyn Diary, iii. 222.
  • 5 E. Baines, Hist. Directory and Gazetteer of the CP of Lancaster, ii. 602; VCH Lancs. iv. 57–68.
  • 6 Life of the Rev. Philip Henry ed. M. Henry, 97; Newcome Diary ed. Heywood (Chetham Soc. ser. 1, xviii), 119; The Nature of the English Revolution Revisited ed. S. Taylor and G. Tapsell, 221.
  • 7 Bodl. Add. C 302, ff. 33, 35, 162.
  • 8 Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 50.
  • 9 CSP Dom. 1663–4, p. 62.
  • 10 Bodl. Add. C 305, ff. 50, 52, 68; Add. C 303, f. 122.
  • 11 Bodl. Add. C 305, ff. 68, 52.
  • 12 Hall, A Fast-Sermon Preached to the Lords (1666), 9, 28–30.
  • 13 PA, HL/PO/CO/1/2; Durham UL, Cosin letter bk. 1b, f. 164.
  • 14 Bodl. Add. C 305, f. 58.
  • 15 Ibid. f. 64.
  • 16 Add. 36916, f. 113; CSP Dom. 1667–8, pp. 557, 561.
  • 17 PROB 4/19145.