“Oh make me thus imperfectly happy …that when my time shall be no more, I may be perfectly happy with Thee” (Joseph Hall “Occasional meditations; On the varietie of thoughts” 1634 (1))



Joseph Hall, when Bishop of Norwich. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Joseph Hall (1574-1656) was an English clergyman, satirist, moralist and devotional writer whose career spanned the turbulent decades of the seventeenth century, during which he was an active participant at the highest level.

During the three and a half centuries since his death, Joseph Hall’s works have remained in print. New editions of his works and biographies appeared during the nineteenth century “religious revival” and during the twentieth century particularly in the United States of America. In the twenty-first century, his books are available to “print on demand” and his teaching and philosophy informs academic debate in fields as disparate at geopolitics and gender studies!

Joseph Hall was Dean of Worcester Cathedral from 1616 to 1627, an appointment conferred by Royal Charter from James I.


James I Charter appointing Joseph Hall Dean of Worcester Cathedral. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Early Life

Joseph Hall was born at Bristow Park, Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire and went to the local school as a boy.

When he was fifteen, a clergyman known to the family, Mr. Pelset, offered to train him for the ministry but Nathaniel Gilby, a fellow of Emmanuel College Cambridge, and another family friend, persuaded Hall’s father to send his son to Cambridge.

Joseph graduated in 1592 and three years later became a Fellow of Emmanuel College. He was awarded an MA in 1596 and in 1601 he was ordained and accepted the Rectorship of Halstead in Suffolk where he married a local woman, Elizabeth Wynniff.

The couple had six sons and two daughters. That Joseph Hall was proud of his family is apparent from his memoirs (3), he writes:-

I remember a great man coming to my house at Waltham, and seeing all my children standing in the order of their age and stature, said, ‘ These are they that make rich men poor,’

But he straight received this answer; “ Nay, my Lord, these are they, that make a poor man rich; for there is not one of these, whom we would part with for all your wealth.”

In 1603, Joseph Hall was made a Bachelor of Divinity and he published ‘The King’s Prophecie’ or ‘Weeping Joy’, a gratulatory poem on the accession of James I (4).


Promotion and success

 In 1605, Hall travelled with Sir Edmund Bacon MP, to Spa in Belgium, to spy secretly on the state and practice of Catholicism.

Returning to England, he travelled to London to seek further advancement. Joseph Hall had asked his patron, Sir Robert Drury, for an increase of salary “even £10 per year” but without success. In Joseph Hall’s own words (3)

“…I shewed him the insufficiency of my means: that I was forced to write books to buy books.”

So he travelled to London to try public preaching in order to secure a better post and in this he was very successful. He was invited to preach at the court of Henry, Prince of Wales, in Richmond and in 1608 he became one of the Prince’s Chaplains.


Dedication of a Volume of Meditations to Henry Prince of Wales, from “The Works of Joseph Hall” London 1634. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Further good fortune followed. as he was offered the richly endowed Curacy of Waltham.

Commenting on his resignation from the patronage of Sir Robert and Lady Drury, Joseph Hall remarks (3)

“Too late now did my former noble patron relent and offer me those terms which had before fastened me for ever.”

 In 1612, Joseph Hall was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity.

His favour at Court was increasing. On November 6th 1612, Henry, Prince of Wales, died suddenly and Joseph Hall was invited to preach a sermon to the Prince’s household on the day of its dissolution.

In 1613, Joseph Hall was invited to preach an official sermon on the tenth anniversary of King James’ accession.


From “The Works of Joseph Hall” London 1634. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


In 1616, Hall was sent by the King to France to congratulate Louis XIII on his marriage and shortly after his return was appointed to the Deanery of Worcester by Royal Charter.

This appointment was not without controversy, however, as the Bishop of Gloucester wanted the post, but fortunately for Joseph Hall, the Bishop died. In his memoirs (3) Joseph Hall tells us

“….the Deanery of Worcester; which, being promised to me before my departure, was deeply hazarded while I was out of sight, by the importunity and underhand working of some great ones.

Dr. Field, the learned and worthy Dean of Gloucester, was by his potent friends put into such assurances of it, that I heard where he took care for the furnishing that ample house.”


Oath taken by The Dean of Worcester Cathedral, from WCM A116 The Register of Installations. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Signature of Joseph Hall in Worcester Cathedral Treasurer’s Register WCM A26. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)



In 1617, Hall accompanied James I to Scotland on a mission to unify Scottish and English churches. Uniformity was agreed by an assembly at Perth in 1618 and enforced by Act of Parliament in 1621 but the Scots were unhappy about King James’ interference in their church practice.

At the same time, religious disputes in the Netherlands were leading to civil unrest, so the Dutch Reformed Church convened a Synod at Dordrecht (Dort) in 1618 to which they invited representatives of other reformed churches. James I sent five Anglicans, including Joseph Hall, to represent him in these discussions.

On his return home, Joseph Hall was distressed to observe similar bitter disputation in the Church of England. He published several conciliatory and explanatory works “Reconciliatory Papers” which offended as many people as they pleased.


Decline and Fall

At the beginning of the reign of Charles I,  Joseph Hall wrote “Via media. The way of peace” (1) an unsuccessful attempt at “pacifying and healing the violent and extreme dissentions, which then so greatly disturbed the peace of the church”

In 1627, Joseph Hall was promoted to become Bishop of Exeter. Sadly, he felt himself spied upon there by fellow clerics, indeed public opinion was becoming more Puritan, and bishops were all suspect.

In 1628, Joseph Hall published

The Olde Religion: A treatise, wherein is laid downe the true state of the difference betwixt the Reformed and the Romane Church; and the blame of this schisme is cast upon the true Authors” (1)


From “The Works of Joseph Hall” London 1634. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


This publication condemned Roman Catholicism, alienating the Catholics in England but was not sufficiently damning about individual Roman Catholics and was therefore condemned by Puritans. England was descending into Civil War and it is unsurprising that Joseph Hall, a commanding figure in the established Church should be caught up in and ultimately consumed by the turmoil.

Bishop Hall was a strenuous defender of the Church of England and published “Episcopacy by Divine Right” (1640), which he dedicated to Charles I. However, by the end of the year, as Puritanism gained sway in the country and government, bishops were increasingly criticized and persecuted.

Anglican bishops voted in the House of Lords, and prevented the Commons from reforming the church; consequently the Commons were intent upon abolishing all bishops. Nevertheless, King Charles insisted on appointing new men to vacant sees and Joseph Hall was promoted, becoming Bishop of Norwich.

In December 1641, the Commons demanded the impeachment of all bishops. Joseph Hall (with eleven others) was charged with High Treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

When it became clear that the charge of high treason against the bishops could not be maintained, the Commons declared them “to be delinquents of a very high nature”, sacked them all and confiscated their goods and income.

Joseph Hall, influenced by the philosophy of Neostoicism (5), was philosophical about his imprisonment, commenting in a letter whilst in the Tower (1)

This strong tower serves not so much for our prison, as for our defense; what honor the name may carry in it. I bless God for these walls, out of which, I know not where we could for the time have been safe from the rage of the misincensed multitude.”


Last things

On 5th of May, 1642, the bishops were finally freed, and, after paying a five thousand pounds bond, Bishop Hall returned to Norwich. Within months, parliamentary commissioners sequestered the estates of all bishops.

Despite being over 70 years old, Bishop Hall could not save his property nor was he safe in his palace. On one occasion a group of troopers ransacked his house, claiming to be looking for arms and ammunition. Another night a rabble clambered over the walls and vandalised the palace.

Bishop Hall described these events in “Hard measure” published in 1647. His agreed stipend of £400 was not paid and an allowance made to his wife was also delayed. Driven out of his palace, he retired to a small rented estate, at Heigham, near Norwich. He spent the rest of his days in devotion, good works and preaching locally.

Joseph Hall died in 1656 in his 82nd year from kidney stones and probable renal failure. He was buried in Heigham Church.



Following the Battle of Worcester, King Charles II fled to France and Oliver Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector.

Under the Protectorate, religious tolerance increased. Although episcopacy was still totally abolished, the Church of England was tolerated and several of the clergy, including sons of Joseph Hall, publicly exercised their ministry.

Dr Robert Hall, his eldest son, was permitted to keep the rectory of Clystheydou, Devon. He translated and published a number of his father’s works posthumously.

Dr. George Hall, another son, later Bishop of Chester, was allowed to preach at St. Bartholomew’s Exchange, and at St. Botolph’s Aldersgate, London.

During the nineteenth century, interest in the life and works of Joseph Hall revived. Several new editions of his works were published, some with extensive commentaries and sympathetic descriptions of his life and sufferings. Joseph Pratt (6) was the first to publish Hall’s complete works (in ten volumes) in 1808, followed by John Jones in 1826 (2), Peter Hall in 1839, Philip Wynter (2) in1863 and James Hamilton (7) in 1868.

Protestant religious revival in America was perhaps even more fervent and Joseph Hall’s mixture of devotion, piety, morality, stoicism and advocacy of good works spoke to the sentiment of the times. Today his works can be found freely available via the Internet, digitized by several American Universities. (3,4,5,6,7)

His books are still available as new or second hand paper copy, as print-on-demand paper copy or newly published with contemporary Christian commentary (8, 9, 10). Joseph Hall’s works have been the subject of academic papers on such diverse topics as geocriticism and gender politics (11, 12, 13 ). He would surely be delighted.

“This worke of mine, which (if my hopes and desires fail mee not) may time hereafter make great.” (1) Joseph Hall Dedication of “Meditations” to Henry Prince of Wales. (see above.)


“The Works of Joseph Hall”, London 1634. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Diana Westmoreland



(1)   Hall Joseph (1634) “The Works of Joseph Hall, Bishop of Exeter” Stephens and Meredith, London

(2)   Wynter, Philip (1863) “The works of the Right Reverend Joseph Hall D.D.Bishop of Exeter and afterwards of Norwich. A New Edition Revised and corrected with some additions.” Oxford 1863

(3)   Jones, John.(1826) Memoirs of the life, writings and sufferings of the Right Rev. Joseph hall, D.D., successively Bishop of Exeter and Norwich: with a view of the times in which he lived; and an appendix containing some of his unpublished writings, his funeral sermon etc London 1826 PDF Digitised by Internet Archive 2007 (funded by Microsoft) from Berkeley Library, University of California

(4)   Hall, Joseph (1603) The Kings Prophecie or Weeping Joy. Published for the Roxburgh Club. London 1882. PDF Digitised by Internet Archive from Cornell University Library.

(5)   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neostoicism. Joseph Hall was influenced by the philosophy of Neostoicism, founded by the Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius (1547 – 1606), which holds the basic rule of good life is that people should not yield to their passions, but submit to God.

(6)   Pratt, Josiah (1808) Works of the Right Reverend Father in God, Joseph Hall D.D. Successively Bishop of Exeter and Norwich; Now first collected with some account of his life and sufferings written by himself arranged and revised with a glossary, index and occasional notes. London 1808 PDF Digitised by Internet Archive 2014 from Princeton University Theological Seminary

(7)   Hamilton, James (1868) Contemplation on the historical passages of the New Testament by the Right Reverend Joseph Hall with a life by the Rev James Hamilton D.D. London 1868. PDF Digitised Internet Archive from Toronto University Library, Canada

(8)  Livingstone Huntley (1979) Bishop Joseph Hall, 1574-1656: A Biographical and Critical Study S.Brewer Ltd

(9)  Hall, Joseph (Ed. & Tr. Wands)(1981) Another World and yet the same: Bishop Hall’s Mundus Alter et Idem Yale University Press, New Haven

(10)Hall, Joseph (2007) “The Art of Devine Meditation” Sovereign Grace Publishers

(11) Mills D. (2016) Joseph Hall’s Mundus Alter et Idem and the Geosatirical Indictment of the . In: Tally R.T., Battista C.M. (eds) Ecocriticism and Geocriticism. Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies> Palgrave Macmillan, New York

(12) Csaba Maczelka (2013) “Joseph Hall’s Mundus Alter et Idem and Cross-Dressing in early Modern England” The Journal of West University, Timisoara, Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studues Vol 11; Issue 1

(13) Per Sivefors (2018) Masculinity and husbandry in Joseph Hall’s Virgidemiarum Journal of the Society for Renaissance Studies First published: 01 February 2018 https://doi.org/10.1111/rest.12390


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