Acton, John (DNB00)

ACTON, JOHN (d. 1350), writer on the canon law, is stated by Leland to have been educated at Oxford, and to have taken there the degree of LL.D. In 1329 he was ‘provided’ by the pope to a canonry and a prebend in Lincoln Cathedral, but some years appear to have elapsed before he actually obtained these preferments. In 1343 he is found holding the prebend of Welton Ryval (Le Neve, Fasti, ii. 233). In his books he is described as canon of Lincoln. He died in 1350. His name is variously spelt Achedune, De Athona, Athone, Aton, and Eaton.

Acton's chief work was a commentary on the ecclesiastical ‘constitutions’ of Otho and Ottobone, papal legates in England in the thirteenth century . These ‘constitutions’ formed for many years the English canon law, and Acton's full and learned notes were held by the lawyers of his own time to be invaluable in their interpretations. Very many manuscript copies of Acton's commentary are in the college libraries at Oxford. One is in the Cambridge University Library, and another among the Lansdowne MSS. at the British Museum. Acton's work was printed for the first time in 1496 by Wynkyn de Worde in William Lyndewood's ‘Provinciale.’ Sir Henry Spelman made use of Acton's commentary in his ‘Concilia.’ Many of his notes are translated in Johnson's ‘Collection of Ecclesiastical Laws,’ 1720, and are referred to in ‘Otho's Ecclesiastical Laws,’ translated by J. W. White in 1844. In the library of All Souls College is a manuscript entitled ‘Quæstiones et notabilia Johannis Athonis (Actoni) supra dictas constitutiones’ [i.e. Ottonis et Ottoboni], which appears to be an epitome of Acton's larger work. Another manuscript, entitled ‘Summa Justitiæ,’ attributed to Acton, is in Corpus Christi Library at Cambridge. Pits gives the name of a few other legal books ascribed to Acton, but nothing is now ascertainable of them.

[Tanner's Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica; Coxe's Cat. MSS.; prefaces to Lyndewood's Provinciale.]

S. L. L.