John Selden


Biography of John Selden

John Selden (16 December 1584 – 30 November 1654) was an English jurist and a scholar of England's ancient laws and constitution and scholar of Jewish law. He was known as a polymath showing true intellectual depth and breadth; John Milton hailed Selden in 1644 as "the chief of learned men reputed in this land."

He was born at Salvington, in the parish of West Tarring, Sussex (now part of the town of Worthing), and was baptised at St Andrew's, the parish church.The cottage in which he was born survived until 1959 when it was destroyed by a fire caused by an electrical fault. His father, another John Selden, had a small farm. It is said that his skill as a violin-player was what attracted his wife, Margaret, who was from a better family, being the only child of Thomas Baker of Rustington and descended from a knightly family of Kent. Selden was educated at the free grammar school at Chichester, The Prebendal School, and in 1600 he went on to Hart Hall, Oxford. In 1603 he was admitted to Clifford's Inn, London; in 1604 he moved to the Inner Temple; and in 1612 he was called to the bar. His earliest patron was Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, the antiquary, who seems to have employed him to copy and summarise some of the parliamentary records then held at the Tower of London. For some reason, Selden very rarely practised in court, but his practice in chambers as a conveyancer and consulting counsel was large and apparently lucrative.

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