John Selden

1584-1654. Jurist and Orientalist. Born in Sussex, he was educated at Hart Hall, Oxford (1602-4), and Clifford Inn, London, before being called to the bar in 1612 and practicing in the Temple. His interests were wider than law, however, and included history, oriental studies, and Judaism. The book for which he is most famous is The History of Tythes (1617) in which his contemporaries believed he argued that tithes were not by divine ordinance. Nevertheless their collection was legal. Thus, when he launched his political career in 1621 he already had made a name for himself. In Parliament he continued to gain fame as a defender of the common law and the ancient “liberties” of Englishmen. As a result he was imprisoned in 1629 for two years. He became prominent again in the Long Parliament, and he sat in the Westminster Assembly,* where his learning and Erastianism* were a double embarrassment to many divines. In 1645 he declined the mastership of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and spent the last years of his life quietly pursuing his literary work. He had a vast memory and a large collection of books, most of which are still in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.