Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hall, John (1575-1635)

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HALL, JOHN (1575–1635), physician, and Shakespeare's son-in-law, born in 1575, seems to have been connected with the Halls of Acton, Middlesex, although he was not born there. He was well educated, travelled abroad, and acquired a good knowledge of French. He called himself master of arts, but his university is not known, and, although he practised medicine, he had no medical degree. On 5 June 1607 he married, at Stratford-on-Avon, Susanna, Shakespeare's elder daughter, and thenceforth resided in Stratford. His first house there was apparently in the street called Old Town. His only child Elizabeth was baptised at Stratford on 21 Feb. 1607–8. In 1612 he leased a small piece of wooded land from the corporation. His wife received, under the will of her father, Shakespeare, in 1616, the house known as New Place at Stratford. She and Hall were residuary legatees and executors of the will. In June 1616 Hall proved the will in London, in the Archbishop of Canterbury's registry. Hall and his family removed to New Place soon afterwards.

Hall obtained great local eminence as a doctor. More than once he attended the Earl and Countess of Northampton at Ludlow Castle, more than forty miles from Stratford. In March 1617 he attended Lord Compton, probably at Compton Wyniates, Warwickshire. Hall was elected a burgess of Stratford in 1617, and again in 1623, but was excused from taking office on the ground of his professional engagements. In 1632, however, he was compelled to accept the position, and was soon afterwards fined for non-attendance at the meetings of the town council. He was a deeply religious man, and showed from an early period puritan predilections. He gave to the church a costly new pulpit, and in 1628 he was appointed a borough churchwarden, in 1629 a sidesman, and in 1633 the vicar's churchwarden. In 1633 the vicar, Thomas Wilson, an ardent puritan and Hall's intimate friend, induced him to join in a chancery action brought by himself against the town council. Hall was already engaged in personal disputes with his fellow-councillors. In October 1633 they expelled him from the council, on the ground of his breach of orders, ‘sundry other misdemeanours,’ and ‘for his continual disturbances at our halles.’ In 1632 Hall was seriously ill. He died on 25 Nov. 1635, and was buried next day in the chancel of the parish church. The register describes him as ‘medicus peritissimus.’ His tomb bears a Latin inscription. By a nuncupative will he left a house in London to his wife, a house at Acton and a meadow to his daughter, and ‘his study of books’ and his manuscripts to his son-in-law, Thomas Nash. The manuscripts were to be burnt or treated as the legatee pleased. Nothing is now known of them, and it is suggested that they included manuscripts of Shakespeare's works, which Hall and his wife, as residuary legatees, doubtless inherited in 1616. Hall's family—widow, daughter, and son-in-law—lived together at New Place after his death. The widow died there on 11 July 1649, and was buried beside her husband on the 16th. An English epitaph in verse was placed on her tomb.

Hall's daughter Elizabeth married, in April 1626, Thomas Nash (1593–1647), a resident at Stratford, who was a student of Lincoln's Inn, and had considerable property. He died at New Place on 4 April 1647, aged 53, and was buried in Stratford Church next day. His widow afterwards married at Billesley, a village four miles from Stratford, on 5 June 1649, Sir John Bernard or Barnard, a wealthy widower of Abington, Northamptonshire. She was buried at Abington on 17 Feb. 1669–1670, and was the latest survivor of Shakespeare's direct descendants. Sir John Barnard died early in 1674 (cf. Baker, Northamptonshire, i. 10; Transactions of New Shakespeare Soc. 1880–5, pt. ii. pp. 13†–15†).

In 1643 James Cooke, a surgeon, visited Mrs. Hall at New Place, in attendance on a detachment of the parliamentary army, and was invited by her to examine her late husband's manuscripts. As a result, Cooke issued in 1657 the rare volume entitled ‘Select Observations on English Bodies, and Cures both Empericall and Historicall performed upon very eminent persons in desperate diseases, first written in Latin by Mr. John Hall, physician, living at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, where he was very famous, as also in the counties adjacent, as appears by these observations drawn out of severall hundreds of his as choysest, and now put into English for common benefit by James Cooke, practitioner in Physick and Chirurgery,’ London, 12mo. A second edition appeared in 1679, which was reissued, with a new title-page, in 1683. Hall's original Latin notes, which cover the dates 1622–36, are in Brit. Mus. Egerton MS. 2065.

[J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps's Outlines of Life of Shakespeare (7th edit.), i. 219–24, 271–5, ii. 170, 321–3; Dugdale's Warwickshire.]

S. L. L.