Monday, April 7, 2014

New acquisitions: Sir Matthew Hale

We've added a couple of new volumes to our collection, both with works by Matthew Hale (1609-1676). Hale was an English jurist and writer largely known today for his insights on criminal law and, perhaps most notoriously, for expounding the proposition that it was not possible for a husband to rape his wife under the system of coverture.  This position, outlined in his work Historia Placitorum Coronæ, or The History of the Pleas of the Crown, was finally rejected in England by the House of Lords in the case of R. v. R. in 1991. Hale served under Cromwell as Justice of the Common Pleas and then under Charles II as Chief Justice of the King's Bench.  

The most interesting volume here (title page on the right, above) was printed in London in 1707 and includes three of Hale's works: his Pleas of the Crown; Or, A Methodical Summary...; A Short Treatise Touching Sheriffs Accompts (London, 1683); and A Tryal of Witches at the Assizes...(London, 1682).  Pleas of the Crown was first printed in 1678, so this is a later edition of that title, but Sheriffs and Witches are first editions.  The latter work is a record of the witchcraft trials at Bury St. Edmonds in 1662, over which Hale presided. Two elderly widows were convicted by the jury on thirteen counts of witchcraft; Hale sentenced them to death, and they were hanged. These proceedings would greatly influence the Salem witchcraft prosecutions in 1692. 

A related acquisition is a 1676 printing of Hale's Comtemplations Moral and Divine, shown on the left above.  This title, though not specifically legal, caught my eye as it appeared (twice!) in a colonial American lawyer's library inventory that I recently ran across in a legal history textbook.  The inventory also included Coke's Commentaries and Dalton's Countrey Justice, among others. 

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