Everie Justice of peace may imprison by the space of one year without bayle

Today’s post is on aspects of 17th Century English law, provided by Michael Dalton (1564–1644), a barrister and legal writer born in Linton, Cambridgeshire. In 1618, Dalton published a popular legal treatise for local magistrates and JPs entitled The Countrey Justice. Practising JPs and other local magistrates used Dalton’s book widely and it has now became an important source on English law for both local and legal historians of early modern England. A second edition appeared in 1619, a third in 1630, and a fourth edition (posthumously) in 1655. The work remained in circulation into the eighteenth century, being reprinted in 1666, 1682, 1690, and 1742 and was also widely used in English colonies including the United States. What follows are some of the more interesting entries in The Countrey Justice.


Every Justice of the Peace hearing of any ryot or any intention of a ryot shall goe himself with his servants and other powers of the county to the place where such persons be so assembled, and suppress them; and all such as he shall find riotously assembled and armed, to arrest them and force them to put in suertie for the peace, or for their good behaviour; and if refusing such surety, to imprison them and take away their weapons and armour.


Young children whose parents are dead are to be set on with work, relieved, or maintained at the charge of the towne where they were dwelling at the time of the death of their parents, and are not to be sent to the place of their birth. If any poor not being rogues shall travel with their children through a town and the father or mother dye, that town is not bound to keep their children. If any poore persons of any parish have able bodies to work, if they refuse such work they are to be sent to the house of correction.


Anie person infected or dwelling in a house infected with the plague shall be by any Justice of the peace commanded to keep his house. If he wilfully goe abroad, and converse in company having any infectious sore upon him, it is felony. And if such person shall not have such sore about him he shall be punished as a Vagabond and shall be bound to his good behaviour for one whole year. If any person infected or dwelling in a house infected wilfully attempt to go abroad, then Watchmen may with violence enforce them to keep to their houses.

Night walkers

Everie Justice of the Peace may cause to bee arrested all Night walkers, be they strangers or other persons that be suspected or that be of evill behaviour, and more particularly all such suspected persons as shall sleep in the day time and goe abroad in the nights, and who at night haunt anie house that is suspected for Bawdie, or shall in the night time use other suspicious company or shall commit anie other outrages or misdemeanours. Such night walkers are ominous and such night walkings are unfit for honest men.


Every Justice of the Peace may seize all goods of any outlandish persons calling themselves Egyptians that shall come into this realm.


Everie Justice of the peace may examine all offences for the destroying or taking of Partridges or Fesants in the night time, and for hawking or hunting with Spaniels in any eared corne.

Hue and Cry

Every Justice of peace may cause Hue and cry and search to be made upon any Murder, Robbery, Theft or other Felony committed. Note that all Hue and Cry ought to be made from town to town and from country to country and by horse-men and foot-men otherwise it is not a lawful pursuit.


If any person shall willingly disturb any preacher in the time of his Sermon, or shall be aiding, procuring or abetting thereto, or shall disturb the arresting of any such offender, they shall be brought before any Justice of peace. Within six days one other Justice of the peace must join with the first Justice in the examination of the said offence, and if they two upon their examination shall find the partie accused guilty, then shall they commit him to the Gaole there to remain without baile for three months.


Everie Justice of peace may imprison by the space of one year without bayle such as shall publish anie false prophecies to the intent thereby to make anie rebellion, insurrection, or other disturbance within the King’s dominions.


All and every lewd and meane persons which shall unlawfully cut or take away corne, or rob any Orchards or Gardens, or cut any hedge or dig up or take away any fruit trees shall for the first fault give the wronged party recompense. And if such offender shall be thought not able to doe so, they shall be committed to some Constable to be whipped.

BastardieSuch a bastard childe must be one that is left to the charge of the parish. The mother may bee examined upon Oath concerning the reputed father. Every lewd woman which shall have a Bastard which may be chargeable to the parish shall be committed to the house of correction, there to be punished and set on worke for one year. Such a woman shall not be sent to the house of correction until after the childe is borne and that it is living. Such a bastard childe is not to be sent with the mother to the house of correction, but rather the childe should remain in the towne where it was borne, and there to be relieved by the work of the mother or by the relief from the reputed father

Games unlawful

Everie Justice of the Peace may from time to time enter into any common house or place, where any playing at Dice, Tables, Cards, Bowls, Coyts, Tennis, Football or any unlawful game now invented or hereafter to be invented, and may arrest the keepers of such places and imprison them until they agree to no longer occupy any such house, play, game, alley or place. Also he may arrest and imprison the players there till they bee bound by themselves no more to play at or haunt any of the said places or games.

Rogues and Vagabonds

Any Justice of peace may appoint all Rogues and Vagabonds which shall be taken begging, wandering, or disordering themselves, to be stripped naked from the middle upward and to be whipped till their body be bloody. (Rogues and Vagabonds are defined as ‘All persons above the age of seven years going about begging, all idle persons going about the country, including Fortune tellers, Jugglers, Fencers, Wandering persons, Tinkers, Pedlars, common Players of Enterludes and Minstrels wandering abroad.’)

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  • August 23, 2011 - 11:48 am | Permalink

    Yes exactly. A form of cheap theatrics which would have been very popular. If you clink on the Custom label there is a post on Elizabethan fencing if you’re interested. And the Sport label has some intriguing details about tennis and football.

  • August 23, 2011 - 11:33 am | Permalink

    Thank you!

    Very interesting to see that fencers are considered vagabonds too. I assume that is for those who participate in duels for public amusement, fighting between themselves or against any willing local man. Something between sport and theatre.

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