HALL, John (1633-1710)

HALL, John (1633–1710)

cons. 30 Aug. 1691 bp. of BRISTOL

First sat 23 Nov. 1691; last sat 6 Dec. 1705

b. 29 Jan. 1633, s. of John Hall, vic. Bromsgrove, Worcs. and Anne. educ. Merchant Taylors Sch. 1644-50; Pembroke, Oxf. matric. 1650, BA 1651, MA 1653, BD 1666, DD 1669; Presbyterian ord., 1655; episcopal ord., 1661; unm. d. 4 Feb. 1710; will 24 Mar. 1709, pr. 20 Apr. 1710.1

Chap. to Charles II, 1677-82, to William and Mary, 1691-2.

Rect. St Aldate’s, Oxf. 1664; canon, Worcester, 1676-91.

Master, Pembroke, Oxf. 1664-1710; Lady Margaret Prof. of Divinity, 1676-91.

Also associated with: the Strand, London.2

Likenesses: drawing by T. Forster, 1699, Bristol Museums, Galleries, and Archives; oil on canvas by unknown artist, Bristol Museums, Galleries, and Archives.

Throughout his 19 years as bishop of Bristol, attendance at Parliament appears to have been low on Hall’s list of priorities. Dour and retiring, the ‘austerely whiggish’ Hall was born into a family of clergymen and academics, puritan in ethos and parliamentarian in their political sympathies. A natural scholar in the Calvinist intellectual tradition of Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln, he was clearly uncomfortable when removed from his natural habitat in Oxford.

As an unmarried man who spent little time in his diocese, Hall had few demands on his income. Bristol was a small and impoverished see (in 1762 its annual income was only £450), and Hall was allowed to hold his mastership of Pembroke and college living of St Aldate’s in commendam.3 As a result, by the time of his death he was able to establish generous trust funds for charitable uses and to bequeath to his nephew tracts of land in the Worcestershire areas of Hanbury and Stoke Prior.

On 31 Mar. 1661 (having previously received Presbyterian orders) Hall was ordained deacon and priest by Robert Skinner, bishop of Oxford.4 On 31 Dec. 1664 he was elected master of Pembroke (where his uncle, Edmund Hall, had also been a fellow). Gilbert Sheldon, archbishop of Canterbury attempted to prevent his election, suspicious of Hall’s Calvinism and his delay in seeking episcopal ordination.5 In Oxford, Hall found himself in an increasingly hostile political and theological environment. Anthony Wood thought that he had grown increasingly proud and noted how he ‘forsakes by degrees his old companions’.6 In his sermons in the university church he attached Catholicism; and when preaching before the king he pointed out the perils of immorality.7 From the time of the Exclusion Crisis, he was identified with the emerging Whig party. He ministered to the condemned Stephen College and headed the list of names in an Oxford pamphlet, A Catalogue of Whigs.8 He was, however, cautious not to allow himself to become too closely associated with men of College’s stamp, and in July 1683 he was one of those nominated to present James Butler, duke of Ormond, with the university address condemning various books said to be associated with the Rye House Plot.9

In April 1685 Hall preached the coronation sermon at the university church of St Mary’s warning of the dangers of Rome and praying for divine assistance to the king to ‘open his eyes to see the light’. Wood dismissed it as ‘a lukewarm, trimming sermon’.10 After the Revolution, Hall’s prospects for promotion appeared brighter. In 1689 he was named to the royal commission on the liturgy, but he was still dogged by unpopularity. George Savile, marquess of Halifax, seems to have been instrumental in dissuading the king from appointing Hall to the bishopric of Worcester.11 Whether or not he was ever in the running for it, Hall was keen to rule himself out of another rumoured appointment, to St Asaph, writing in July to his friend, Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford (with whom he also discussed the printing of the Welsh bible), that ‘if there should be such a design, I beseech you to stop it’.12 Perhaps he was already aware of the potential political fallout of discontent at Pembroke. Early in 1690 the fellows of the college petitioned the university’s chancellor, James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, complaining of Hall’s ‘irregular & exorbitant practices, sometimes by a gross and continued neglect’ as master of the college. Hall entered his defence in March and Ormond found in his favour in June, although on one issue, the allegedly favourable financial privilege given to a dissenting manciple, Ormond required Hall ‘in the presence of the fellows to admonish the manciple carefully and regularly to attend at the beginning of divine service and frequently to receive the holy communion so as not to administer any further occasion of suspicion which he hath hitherto lain under’.13

Hall had presumably overcome his concerns about becoming a bishop when he was nominated to Bristol in 1691. Harley may have had a hand in the nomination as he had commented to his father, Sir Edward Harley, that April that ‘something may be done for Dr Hall’. Hall appears to have been second choice for the see. The original nominee was Ralph Bathurst, dean of Wells and uncle of Allen Bathurst, later Earl Bathurst. The reason for Bathurst’s withdrawal is unclear but by June his name had been replaced by Hall’s and in August 1691 Hall was consecrated bishop.14

On 23 Nov. 1691 Hall took his seat in the Lords. His late arrival for the start of the session hinted at a pattern of attendance that would mark the rest of his parliamentary career. Of the 20 sessions held during his tenure of the bishopric, Hall attended only 11. Throughout his entire parliamentary career he was named to only 20 select committees. He attended the autumn 1691 session for just 13 per cent of the time, during which he was named to three committees. On 23 Dec. 1691 he was given leave to be absent because of ill health. Towards the end of the year he signed the episcopal petition to the king on the suppression of impiety and vice.15

Hall arrived six days late for the session that began in November 1692 (after which he was present on just under 18 per cent of all sitting days). He seems not to have made much impact on the House’s business, and in May 1693 when he wrote to Harley in answer to a demand from the commission for accounts, he was on the point of departing for Dorset to make a long overdue visitation of his diocese.16 He returned to the House for the first day of the following session (7 Nov. 1693) but, again, took no part in business. He failed to appear at all during the session from November 1694 to May 1695. Despite this comparative inactivity, in December 1694, it was ‘generally reported’ that Hall would be translated to Lincoln.17 He was even considered by the king as a replacement for John Tillotson, archbishop of Canterbury, but there was always opposition in both the political and ecclesiastical establishment to his advancement and he remained at Bristol for the rest of his life.18

Persistently absent from the House on health grounds, on 18 Dec. 1694 Hall’s request to be excused from the requirement to verify his disability was considered by the House. The request was ignored and the House ordered that Hall either attend or send two people to swear on oath that he was too ill to be there. He did not appear until 7 Dec. 1695, two weeks into the following winter session, after which he proceeded to attend on 23 per cent of all sitting days. He failed to attend after 14 Feb. 1696 and was absent throughout the passage of the Bristol hospitals and fresh water bills, measures in which, as bishop, he might have taken an interest. He also failed to sign the Association later that month (being marked sick in the manuscript minutes). His failure to do so was presumably not on ideological grounds as he later conveyed the copy of the Association signed by the Dorset grand jury to Sir William Trumbull.19

Hall took his seat once more five weeks into the new session on 26 Nov. 1696, in time to participate in the proceedings against Sir John Fenwick. He was present for Fenwick’s remand and voted for the attainder on 23 December. From 3 Mar. 1697 to the end of the session, his proxy was registered in favour of fellow Whig Richard Cumberland, bishop of Peterborough. Hall attended the winter 1697 session on one day only (3 Jan. 1698), entering his proxy on 11 June 1698 in favour of Thomas Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury (vacated at the end of the session). He returned to the House on 25 Jan. 1699, six weeks after the start of business, and attended for 22 per cent of sittings. In March 1699 there appears to have been a renewed effort to promote Hall from Bristol when Thomas Foleyasked the king to translate him to the vacant bishopric at Worcester. The king’s reply was curt, though more on account of his opinion of Foley, than of any ill feeling towards Hall. In August Hall was one of the bishops to attend the proceedings in the court of delegates against Thomas Watson, bishop of St Davids.20

Towards the close of 1699 Hall was compelled to write to John Somers, Baron Somers, apologizing for the actions in Parliament of some ‘who pretend to be my friends’ and regretting that anyone associated with him might ‘be promoter of your Lordship’s disturbance’. He undertook to return to the Lords after the Christmas holiday and hoped that Somers would help him to secure an audience with the king, ‘which I have long desired, but could not attain’.21 Hall duly arrived at the House on 19 Jan. 1700 and proceeded to attend just under a quarter of all sitting days.

Hall took his seat in the first Parliament of 1701 on 10 May 1701 (three months after the start of business) in good time to vote, on 17 June, for Somers’ acquittal from charges of impeachment. He quit the session that day, having attended in all just ten days in the session. By then, Hall appears to have become disenchanted with his lot. Later that summer, Edward Harley reported to his brother, Robert, that he had received a letter from Hall hinting at his desire to be translated.22 He was not granted his wish. He was missing once again for the session that began in December 1701.

Hall returned to the chamber on 13 Nov. 1702, after which he was present on 20 days (23 per cent of the whole). On 3 Dec., in a vote that split the episcopal bench, Hall voted for Somers’ wrecking amendment to the occasional conformity bill. Two weeks later he voted for an adjournment when the Commons requested a conference on the bill.23 On 17 Dec. he was one of those named to inspect the journals of both Ormond and the flag officers for the expedition to Cadiz and Vigo.

In January and November 1703, both Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, and Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, forecast that Hall would oppose a renewed attempt to pass the occasional conformity bill. On 16 Jan. he voted in person for the Lords’ amendment to the penalty clause; on 14 Dec., his proxy was used to oppose the bill (proxy records for this session do not survive, so it is not possible to know to whom it was registered). Hall did not attend at all during the session from November 1703 to April 1704 and on 4 Jan. 1704 he was again the subject of a letter from the House demanding his attendance. There is no evidence of his reply. He was again missing from the ensuing session, but on 23 Nov. he was noted as ‘excused’ in a call of the House (having registered his proxy on 11 Nov. in favour of John Williams, bishop of Chichester.

Hall appeared at the House on four days in November and December 1705, sitting for the last time on 6 December. Six days later he registered his proxy in favour of Thomas Tenison. Hall failed to appear for the last five sessions held during his lifetime. On 2 Jan. 1707 he explained to Somers (and perhaps significantly not to Tenison) that his absence was due to a bad cough that had plagued him throughout the winter and that he dreaded London ‘because I there very seldom escape one’. The last time he had been in town, he had been afflicted with a cough that had taken over a month to shake off. Nor had he sent his proxy because he had been told ‘with great assurance’ that there was no need of it. Now, however, William Lloyd, then bishop of Worcester, had informed him that he should send his proxy immediately ‘upon account of some motion made in the House by the earl of Nottingham’. Hall forwarded the proxy to Somers, asking him to pass it on to Tenison, whom he deputed to nominate his proxy holder.24 On the 21st, the proxy was registered in favour of Tenison himself. In a list of party affiliation published in May 1708, Hall was unsurprisingly listed as a Whig.

Hall died on 4 Feb. 1710 in the master’s lodge at Pembroke. He had already provided a charitable trust for the poor of Bromsgrove and provision of bibles using the revenue from 66 acres of land near Elmbridge.25 His will, which bequeathed £700 in separate family legacies (including £100 apiece to his sisters, Hannah Spilsbury and Phoebe Hall), left the bulk of his estate to his nephew John Spilsbury, the Dissenting minister of Kidderminster. Hall attracted stern criticism from his opponents. To Wood he was ‘clownish, covetous, and quarrelsome’, while Thomas Hearne dismissed him as an ‘admirer of whining cringing parasites’, and criticized his ‘tedious’ epitaph as having been ‘contrived on purpose to gain proselytes to the whiggish party’.26 Others, William III in particular, thought more highly of his abilities. Hall was buried in his native parish church of Bromsgrove. His death prompted lively discussion of his likely successor, with several candidates proposed. In the event he was succeeded in the bishopric by John Robinson, later bishop of London.27


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/514.
  • 2 Add. 22267, ff. 164-71.
  • 3 Church of England c.1689-c.1833 ed. J. Walsh, et al. 4; CSP Dom. 1690-1, p. 500.
  • 4 CCED.
  • 5 Seventeenth Century Oxford, 833-4.
  • 6 Wood, Life, ii. 346.
  • 7 Ibid. 422; Evelyn, iv. 242.
  • 8 CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 416; Wood, Life, ii. 553; Prideaux, Letters, 94.
  • 9 CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, p. 185.
  • 10 Wood, Life, iii. 137, 140-1; Seventeenth Century Oxford, 910.
  • 11 CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 263; Essays in Modern English Church History ed. Bennett and Walsh, 117; Add. 75367, ff. 343-5.
  • 12 Add. 70230, Hall to Harley, 4 July 1689.
  • 13 Pembroke Coll., Oxf. PMB/A/4/4.
  • 14 Add. 70015, f. 55; Add. 70230, J. Hall to R. Harley, 4 July 1689; Bodl. Rawl. letters 91, f. 111; CSP Dom. 1690-1, pp. 357, 410, 498, 512.
  • 15 Add. 70015, f. 276.
  • 16 Add. 70230, Hall to Harley, 20 May 1693.
  • 17 Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. xxiii), 208.
  • 18 Wood, Life, iii. 474.
  • 19 HMC Lords, ii. 206-8; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 338.
  • 20 HP Commons 1690-1715, iii. 1079-80; Bodl. Rawl. B380, f. 211; Ballard 23, f. 100.
  • 21 Surr. Hist. Cent. 371/14/D/5.
  • 22 Add. 70236, E. to R. Harley, 8 Sept. 1701.
  • 23 Nicolson, London Diaries, 137-8, 146.
  • 24 Surr. Hist. Cent. 371/14/D/10, 12.
  • 25 VCH Worcs, iii. 32.
  • 26 Wood, Life, ii. 26; Hearne’s Colls. ii. 343, iii. 50.
  • 27 Add. 61443, f. 40; Christ Church, Lib. Oxf. Wake mss 23/204; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 544; VCH Worcs. iii. 30.