DALTON, James (d.1601), of Lincoln's Inn and St. Mary Aldermanbury, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

1st s. of George Dalton of London by his w. Joan Lymesey. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1550, BA 1551; L. Inn 1555, called 1563. m. Mary, da. of George Rolle of Stevenstone, Devon.

Offices Held

Bencher, L. Inn 1569, Autumn reader 1572, treasurer 1577, Lent reader 1585; under-sheriff of London 1594.


Dalton was a distinguished lawyer and parliamentarian. He played an active part in the affairs of Lincoln’s Inn, where he was specially admitted in 1555. Expelled for heresy, he was re-admitted in May 1558, when it was said that his expulsion had been ‘odiously prosecuted and odiously registered in the time of popery’, and must be ‘utterly blotted out and put to perpetual oblivion’. In 1579 he was described in a list of leading lawyers as ‘well practised, not wealthy’.

Dalton’s most probable patron at Saltash was the 2nd Earl of Bedford, at Lostwithiel Lord Burghley, and at Preston the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. His puritan sympathies are obvious throughout his parliamentary career, and indeed he quickly attracted attention in his first Parliament as a member of the Peter Wentworth group. However, he later took care to rid himself of any reputation for extremism, bringing his views more and more into line with official policy. He sat on over 70 Commons committees and spoke frequently. He supported Paul Wentworth’s motion on 11 Nov. 1566, whether the Queen’s command forbidding the Commons ‘to speak or treat any more of the succession’ was a breach of the liberty of free speech. Later in the month he was in trouble over the succession question when, speaking against Patrick Adamson’s poem on the birth of Prince James, he was alleged to have said that he trusted never to see the day ‘that ever any Scot or stranger shall have any interest in the Crown of this realm’. His precise words are now uncertain, but he probably strayed into some attack on the Scottish title. He was summoned before the Privy Council, which decided to ask the House exactly what he had said, but the Queen, as part of her current policy of appeasing the Commons, intervened and the matter was dropped. He was appointed to the committee on the succession question on 31 Oct. 1566.

On 9 Apr. 1571 Dalton spoke in favour of the bill to enforce church attendance and the taking of the sacrament. However, on 13 Apr., speaking on the bill against dispensations granted by the archbishop of Canterbury, he took a line which would distinguish him quite clearly from the extreme radical element in the House. He claimed ‘that the bill was made nothing, nor nothing therein contained, for the bishop can do nothing contrary to the word of God’. He also took part in the debates in 1571 about fraudulent conveyances (11 Apr.), the treasons bill (12 Apr.), and usury (19 Apr.), and served on committees concerning privileges (9 Apr.), the succession (10 Apr.), fraudulent conveyances (11 Apr., 14 May), the treasons bill (12 Apr., 11 May), tellers and receivers (23 Apr.), the order of business (26 Apr.) and church attendance (19 May). He spoke several times on the subject of Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk in 1572 (14, 15, 19 May, 9 June) and was appointed to committees on this matter on 12 May, 28 May and 9 June. In the debate on rites and ceremonies on 20 May, he cautiously agreed to the need for reform but disliked the idea of modelling the service on that of the Dutch or French churches. He participated in debates on fraudulent gifts (16 May), privilege (24 May) and a point of legal procedure (28 June) and was named to committees to discuss Middlesex juries (19, 22 May), and a private bill for the Earl of Kent (21 May). In 1576 he raised a matter of privilege in the House (10 Feb.), and served on committees concerning legal matters (13, 15 Feb., 7 Mar.), private bills (14 Feb., 12 Mar.), aliens (24 Feb.) and their children (3 Mar.), Middlesex juries (24 Feb.), discipline of the church (2 Mar.), innholders (5 Mar.), and excess in apparel (10 Mar.). In 1581 he spoke on only one occasion, against the bill concerning the children of aliens (25 Jan.), and served on two committees dealing with the bill on 25 Jan. and 7 Feb. He also served on committees concerning legal matters (26 Jan., 4, 17 Feb., 10 Mar.), seditious practices (1 Feb.), libel (3 Feb.), the Scottish border (25 Feb.), Dover harbour (4 Mar.), and the Queen’s safety (14 Mar.).

In the Parliament of 1584 he was again a frequent speaker. When the House debated a bill for ministers of the church to be 24 years of age, he dissociated himself from the radicals, saying ‘I am not of that faction’, and objected that the bill tended to the displacement of two thousand ministers. On 8 Feb. 1585 he spoke on the bill for fraudulent conveyances, and on a bill for general demurrers. He served on committees concerned with religious matters (27 Nov. 1584), tanners (9 Dec.), common informers (9 Dec.) and insurance (22 Mar. 1585). In 1587 he took care to show himself a moderate in matters of religion. On 27 Feb. the extreme puritans forced the Speaker to accede to the reading of Anthony Cope’s bill and book. Dalton intervened to object that the book appointed a new form of administration of the sacraments and ceremonies of the church, ‘to the discredit of the book of common prayer and of the whole state’. He was afraid of provoking the Queen’s anger by meddling in things belonging to ‘her own charge and direction’. He spoke again on the ever-recurring subject of Mary Queen of Scots (4 Nov. 1584) and was appointed to committees on the matter (4, 18 Nov.). He also served on a committee concerned with the import of fish (6 Mar. 1587).

In his last Parliament of 1593, Dalton again involved himself in debates about matters of religion. On 27 Feb. James Morice, the attorney of the court of wards, moved for the reform of certain harsh laws concerning ministers who refused to take the ex officio oath, claiming that such an oath was a violation of men’s liberties. Dalton spoke firmly against the motion claiming that Morice was making a mountain out of a molehill. However, he also urged that it should be dropped on the grounds of incurring her Majesty’s displeasure if the House were to discuss such matters. On 13 Mar. he again voiced his opinion strongly, urging that the Brownists should be included in the bill for reducing disloyal subjects to their true obedience, alongside the catholic recusants. During this Parliament, he served on committees concerning retailers (15, 21, 24 Mar.), a private bill (16 Mar.), a legal matter (17 Mar.), bringing fresh water to Stonehouse town (26 Mar.), timber (5 Apr.) and coopers (7 Apr.). On 3 Apr. he spoke on the privilege issue raised by the arrest for debt of Thomas Fitzherbert on the morning of his election to Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme. Fitzherbert pleaded immunity on the grounds of parliamentary privilege. In Dalton’s opinion the House could not be judges in the matter, and privilege could not be granted.

Dalton was on good terms with Lord Burghley. In January 1582 he wrote to thank him for past favours, namely ‘that honourable admonition and counsel which about this time to [two?] years your honour gave me with a declaration of the Queen’s Majesty’s clemency, at the humble suit of my poor mother’. He added that he had carefully followed Burghley’s advice ever since. It is not clear what had called forth this admonition. Dalton was put forward as under-sheriff of London in 1587. When, finally, he obtained this post, it was through Burghley’s influence.

In August 1586, in the absence of the recorder, Dalton made a formal speech in Guildhall to the common council of London. He referred to the Queen’s gracious contentment with the joy they had expressed at the failure of the recent conspiracy against her, and admonished them to be thankful to God and to acknowledge his goodness, the Queen having taught them to know God aright. He also read them a letter from the Queen. In 1590 he acted as prosecuting counsel in the trial of the puritan John Udall, thus incurring reproach from the radical friends of his youth. Dalton evidently took an antiquarian interest in the city of London, for Stow, in his Survey, comments that he might have said much more about the principal governors of the famous city, had he not been informed that ‘a learned gentleman, James Dalton, a citizen born, minded such a labour, and promised to perform it ...’ However, Dalton had recently died, without finishing any such work.

Dalton made a nuncupative will in July 1601. Urged by his friends to bestow certain legacies he said ‘all he had was little enough for his wife’, and being demanded whom he would make his executor he said ‘his wife Mary Dalton’.

Vis. London (Harl. Soc. i), 44; (cix, cx), 52; Stow, Survey, ed. Kingsford, ii. 186, 386; Lansd. 34, f. 39; 52, f. 135; 77, f. 98; 683, f. 68; Neale, Parlts. i. 24, 152, 158-61; ii. 80, 149, 245, 270; D’Ewes, 127, 159, 160, 165, 167, 174, 179, 183, 186, 206, 212, 213, 220, 222, 244, 248, 252, 253, 260, 285, 291, 293, 298, 302, 306, 308, 333, 337, 371, 393, 394, 403, 410, 412, 474, 500, 501, 502, 506, 507, 509, 510, 514, 518, 519; CJ, i. 83, 84, 85, 86, 89, 95, 96, 97, 99, 101, 104, 105, 106, 108, 110, 111, 113, 114, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 127, 129, 131, 133, 134; Trinity, Dublin, Thos. Cromwell’s jnl. ff. 10, 16, 19, 25, 26, 30, 44, 57, 58, 59, 67, 69; Trinity, Dublin, anon. jnl. ff. 10, 19, 22, 33; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 61, 71, 76, 77; PCC 46 Woodhall.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.