Charles Reade was born at Ipsden, Oxfordshire, to John Reade and Anne Marie Scott-Waring, and had at least one brother. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, taking his B.A. in 1835, and became a fellow of his college. He was subsequently dean of arts and vice-president, taking his degree of D.C.L. in 1847. His name was entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1836; he was elected Vinerian Fellow in 1842, and was called to the bar in 1843. He kept his fellowship at Magdalen all his life but, after taking his degree, he spent most of his time in London. William Winwood Reade, the influential historian, was his nephew.