Michael Dalton (legal writer)

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Michael Dalton (1564–1644)[1] was an English barrister and legal writer, author of two works well known in his time.


He was the son of Thomas Dalton of Hildersham, Cambridgeshire, and matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1580.[2][3]

He was associated with Lincoln's Inn, moving there from Furnivall's Inn, being called to the bar and eventually becoming a bencher.[1] He resided at West Wratting, Cambridgeshire, and was in the commission of the peace for the county.[3]


Dalton published:

  • The Countrey Justice, London, 1618, a treatise on the jurisdiction of justices of the peace out of session. Anthony Fitzherbert in L'Office et Auctoritee de Justices de Peace, 1514, English translation 1538) and William Lambarde (Eirenarcha, 1610) had already devoted substantive treatises to the duties of justices. Dalton's book differed from these in the limitation of its scope and the extent of its detail. It covered the types of case and offence where a magistrate (justice of the peace) could administer summary justice under statute law, there having been an extensive list of such situations (from poaching to poor church attendance) since the 16th century.[4] A second edition appeared in 1619, prefaced by commendatory Latin verses by John Richardson, William Burton the Regius Professor of Physic at Cambridge, Isaac Barrow described as ‘affinis,’ and William L'Isle. A third edition appeared in 1630, and a fourth in 1655. In 1666 the work was edited by a certain T. M. of Lincoln's Inn, who added a treatise on the jurisdiction in sessions, and new matter. Subsequent editions appeared in 1682, 1690, and 1742.
  • Officium Vicecomitum, or the Office and Authoritie of Sheriffs, London, 1623. An abridgment appeared in 1628 The last edition of this book was published in 1700.[3]

Dalton's works were sufficiently widely known for it to be suggested that his view of rules of evidence can account for conduct of the defendants in the trial of Thomas Cornell for murdering his mother, Rebecca Cornell, in Rhode Island in 1673.[5] Material on witchcraft passed into later editions of the Countrey Justice from earlier works (the Discoverie of Witches (1613) of Thomas Potts and the Guide to Grand-Jury Men (1627) of Richard Barnard), and was transmitted from there to the An Assistance to Justices of the Peace (1683) of Joseph Keble.[6]

Dalton also wrote an unpublished religious work in the tradition of Acts and Monuments, finished 1634 but left in manuscript. It was considered for publication by the Long Parliament in 1641, but the more extensive work of Thomas Harding was preferred by a committee under Edward Dering; in fact neither was printed.[7] There exists a summary in the British Library.[8] It is an abstract of events in chronological sequence from the foundation of Christianity to ‘the discovery of anti-christ’ in the sixteenth century.[3]


In 1631 he was fined for having permitted his daughter Dorothy to marry her maternal uncle, Sir Giles Allington of Horseheath, Cambridgeshire. The fine, however, was remitted. He married first, Frances, daughter of William Thornton, and secondly, Mary, daughter of Edward Allington.[3]


  1. ^ a b Orr, D. A. "Dalton, Michael". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/7067. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Dalton, Michael (DLTN579M)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Dalton, Michael" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  4. ^ Bradley Chapin, Criminal Justice in Colonial America, 1606-1660 (2010), p. 156; Google Books.
  5. ^ Elaine Forman Crane, Killed Strangely: the death of Rebecca Cornell (2002), p. 196; Google Books.
  6. ^ George Lincoln Burr, Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases 1648 to 1706 (2003 reprint), p. 163 note 2; Google Books.
  7. ^ Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600-1640 (2002), pp. 320–1 and note 234; Google Books.
  8. ^ A manuscript (Sloane MS. 4359) entitled A Breviary of the Roman or Western Church and Empire, containing the decay of True Religion and the rise of the Papacy, from the time of our Lord, the Saviour Jesus Christ, until Martin Luther, gathered by Michael Dalton of Lincoln's Inn, Esq. … A.D. 1642. It consists of 230 closely written 8vo pages.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Dalton, Michael". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.