HALL, Arthur (1539-1605), of Grantham and London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1539, o.s. of Francis Hall of Grantham and Calais by Ursula, da. of Thomas Sharington. educ. ?St. John’s, Camb.; ?G. Inn 1556. m. c.1556, Mary (d. Sept. 1582), da. of Thomas Dewie, goldsmith of London, 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1552.

Offices Held


The Halls were settled at Grantham by the mid-fifteenth century. Hall’s grandfather, Thomas, was a merchant of the staple at Calais. Francis Hall, Arthur’s father, became deputy surveyor, and then comptroller there, and, in all probability, it was there that Arthur was born. When Francis Hall died at Calais the boy, aged 13, was taken to the house of his guardian Sir William Cecil at Wimbledon. Hall grew up with (Sir) Thomas Cecil, to whom he dedicated a translation, published in 1581, of the Iliad from Salel’s French version. The Cecil estates, like Hall’s, were near Grantham, and this was presumably the origin of the connexion between the families.

When he was 19 Hall asked Sir William Cecil for an allowance, either to go to France—as he and his mother wished—or else to study at an inn of court. This casts doubt on the identity of the Arthur Hall admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1556. At any rate, by the time he came of age in 1560, Hall had lost the lands he inherited in France. In Lincolnshire he held lands estimated at about £148 p.a. and a ‘great rabblement’ of houses in Grantham—reputedly over 90 of them. He also held the lordship of Knoke in Wiltshire. He was not rich, but he would have been adequately provided for had his tastes been moderate. But he was, in his own words, ‘overweening of himself, which bring many infirmities to the person which is infected with that canker, furious when he is constrained, without patience to take time to judge or doubt the danger of the sequel ... [and] implacable if he conceive an injury’, an honest description, save that he was also an exhibitionist and gambler. More than one MP considered him insane. One of his sons was mentally retarded.

In 1564 or 1565, Hall exchanged Cecil’s service for that of the Queen. He was already in financial difficulties, and though twice granted crown protection from his creditors, was soon imprisoned for debt. After his marriage to a goldsmith’s daughter, he went on a tour of France, Spain and Italy, leaving his wife and child in England. He sent intelligence reports to Cecil, visited Constantinople, and returned to England by way of Hungary and Germany.

In 1571, and again in 1572, Hall was returned to Parliament for Grantham. He was involved in three matters of significance: a debate on freedom of speech; the authority of the House over the servants of Members; and the right of the House to expel offending Members. He is first mentioned in the journals on 7 Apr. 1571 when he was put on the subsidy committee, and his first recorded speech was on 12 May 1572, when he expressed sympathy for Mary Queen of Scots. Three days later he spoke ‘as [if] he were moved’ in her favour and that of the Duke of Norfolk. On 17 May he was brought to the bar for ‘sundry lewd speeches, used as well in this House as also abroad elsewhere’. Hall pleaded that he had been so angered by interruptions when speaking that he was unaware of what he had said. He submitted to the House with ‘an undertone of surly defiance’, and was discharged with a reprimand.2

Over the dice Hall quarrelled with one Melchisedech Mallory, on 16 Dec. 1573, when, as Hall put it, ‘Etna smoked’. The following November there was an affray in St. Paul’s churchyard when Edward Smalley, one of Hall’s servants, wounded Mallory in the face. Mallory had Smalley arrested and, in February 1575, he was ordered to pay £100 in damages. Mallory died before the matter was settled, and his brother Andrew had Smalley arrested for default. Smalley then claimed immunity from arrest as the servant of an MP. The House ordered his discharge, but caused the serjeant-at-arms to re-arrest him on the grounds that he was fraudulently avoiding a debt. The case was heard by a committee of the House and Hall was ordered to pay the £100. He refused; a debate followed; Smalley was put in the Tower; Hall declared that he was ‘touched to the quick’; Smalley defied the Commons; a bill was introduced to make Hall pay the damages and to expel him; Smalley gave in, and Hall submitted but without apologising. The principle was thus established that the House might discipline, as well as protect, the servants of its Members.

This was not the end of the matter, for, on his return to Grantham, Hall wrote, in the form of a letter, a colourful account of the episode, some copies of which were later printed. In 1580 he was brought before the Privy Council to answer for his conduct, and when Parliament reassembled in 1581, Thomas Norton drew the attention of the House to the publication, ‘slanderous and derogatory to the general authority, power and state of this House’. On 14 Feb. 1581 eight charges were brought against him by the Commons; he was committed to the Tower for six months, or until he retracted, excluded from Parliament and fined 500 marks. The first Member to be expelled by the House (though the right had been claimed before), it was Hall’s contempt for the Commons, described by him as ‘a new person in the Trinity’, which most annoyed the House and accounted for the severity of his punishment. Francis Bacon referred to the episode in 1601. From the Tower, Hall wrote to Burghley, as he did in all his troubles. After seven weeks he submitted to the Council and on 2 Apr. 1581 he was released, harbouring a sense of grievance. Over three years later he was still complaining to Burghley about his treatment.

By this time Hall was again in financial difficulties. Early in 1579 he sought Burghley’s help in a small suit to the Queen, and in February 1580 he sold a house in Foster Lane which had come to him through his marriage. He owed money at high interest to merchants and goldsmiths. To escape his creditors he sought permission in July 1582 to study abroad. It is unlikely that he went, for this was the year in which his wife died, and in which he inherited a considerable amount of property from a kinsman in Lincolnshire, sufficient perhaps to set him on his feet again temporarily. Returned to Parliament by Grantham a third and last time in 1584, he was summoned for non-attendance.3

About 1586 Hall began to court an heiress, Lady Sussex. When he was dismissed, and having learnt nothing from the past, he rushed into print to vindicate himself, and in 1588 Lady Sussex, with the Queen’s consent, had him brought before the Privy Council. Hall was arrested and put in the Marshalsea. To Burghley he maintained that he had written only what could be ‘digested by the nicest dispositions, so that they came not with prejudicial minds’. To make it the more ‘digestible’ it was in the form of a ‘hungaryous history many years past’. He had had it printed only on account of the ‘foul speeches’ of Lady Sussex. On 20 July 1588, he again appealed to Burghley, but the Queen was incensed. Weightier matters were pending, and Burghley was not disposed to annoy the Queen by pleading in so poor a cause, but he did have Hall transferred to the more gentlemanly Fleet prison. In November Hall submitted to the Council, but was not released. Early the following year his daughter appealed to the Queen, who replied, in Hall’s words, ‘that the place I remained in was too good for me and Bedlam a fitter’. ‘Good my lord’, he wrote to Burghley, ‘speak for me, that I may have justice’. It is not known when Hall was released, possibly about the time when Lady Sussex died in March 1589.

At Grantham, too, Hall was unable to live at peace either with his neighbours or with the bishop of Lincoln, who complained of him to the Privy Council. At the very end of his life, in 1597, Burghley interceded for him with the barons of the Exchequer over £400 owed to the Crown. But by 1601 Burghley was dead, and Hall was imprisoned for debt. He was still in prison in the next reign, when he tried to attract attention by writing an attack on the trading companies, and the abuses in parliamentary elections. It is not known whether he was ever released. He died on 29 Dec. 1605 and was buried at Grantham on 7 Jan. 1606.4

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


This biography is based upon H. G. Wright, Arthur Hall of Grantham.

  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. CPR, 1563-6, pp. 316, 511; 1566-9, p. 411; D’Ewes, 159; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 6, 15; Neale, Parlts. i. 253-62, 333-45.
  • 3. HMC Rutland, i. 170; D’Ewes, 338.
  • 4. Grantham Jnl. 13 June 1936.