The Countrey Justice: Containing the Practice of the Justices of the Peace as well in and out of their Sessions

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by Michael Dalton

The Countrey Justice

[[File:|center|border|300px]] Title page from The Countrey Justice, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Michael Dalton
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed by John Streater, James Flesher, and Henry Twyford, assigns of Richard Atkyns, and Edward Atkyns, esquires
Date 1666
Language English
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages [14], 460 (i.e. 456), [10]
Desc. Folio (28 cm.)
Location [[Shelf {{{shelf}}}]]
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Michael Dalton (1564-1644) was a barrister and legal writer, a member of Lincoln’s Inn, and a justice of the peace (JP) in the counties of Essex and, later, Cambridgeshire.[1] The Countrey Justice, a manual for justices of the peace and local magistrates, remains his best known work.[2]

The office of justice of the peace originated during the Middle Ages, when the primary responsibility of JPs was to suppress riots and keep the peace.[3] By the sixteenth century, their power had increased and come to include various judicial and administrative tasks.[4] Most JPs, however, had no legal training, and a number of justice of the peace manuals were published to provide guidance in the form of clear, comprehensive, and easy to understand instruction.[5]

The Countrey Justice was among the most popular manuals, and was published in at least twenty editions between 1618 and 1746.[6] It provided a summary of the current law on a diverse array of subjects, from robbery and murder, to cattle and sheep, and included a particularly detailed description of the proper procedure for prosecuting witches. One of the earliest manuals to be arranged in alphabetical order, Dalton’s book was popular both in England and New England, where it provided a ready and accessible summary of the English common law for the new colonies.[7]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Recent full blind calf, gold tooled edges; annotation [in law french?] upside-down in brown/black ink on flyleaf.


  1. D.A. Orr, "Dalton, Michael (1564-1644)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed May 21, 2015.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Mike Widener, "The Taussig Collection: Justice of the peace manuals," Yale Law School: Lillian Goldman Law Library, April 21, 2014.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Helen L. Hull, "'Lowe and lay ministers of the peace;' The Proliferation of Officeholding Manuals in Early Modern England," in Renaissance Papers 2009, ed. Christopher Cobb (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010), 47.
  7. Edgar J. McManus, "Laws for Living Saints," in Law and Liberty in Early New England: Criminal Justice and Due Process, 1620-1692 (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), 12.