Past Talks

The Church Courts

Date: 17th September 2007
Speaker: Mark Priddy

The Meeting was held at St Edburg’s Church Hall, Bicester. Thirty three members and five guests attended the Meeting. Bob introduced the speaker, Mark Priddy, Senior Archivist at Oxfordshire Records Office following the completion of the Annual General Meeting of the Society.

Church Court records exist from mid C16th to the mid C19th relating from Church Officers to Bishop’s Visitors. The records are useful as they dealt with an enormous range of cases relating to ordinary people and contain biographical detail in many cases.

There were a number of levels of Church Courts:

  • Archbishops Courts (York/Canterbury)
  • Bishop’s Courts
  • Archdeacon’s Courts
  • Peculiar Courts

The Courts dealt with a variety of cases and offences:

  • Sexual morality and marriage
  • Religious beliefs, practices and observances of the laity
  • Deformation of character
  • Witchcraft and sorcery
  • Administration of wills and other probate matters
  • Beliefs, practices and general behaviour of the Clergy
  • Payment of tithes and church rates
  • Maintenance of church fabric and churchyards
  • Church customs and duties of Parish officials 

The records are used infrequently because:

  • They lack indexes to find places, cases or people
  • Details of cases may be in more than one volume
  • C16th and C17th handwriting is difficult to read
  • Until 1733 they were mainly in Latin

There were a number of types of cases:

  • Mere Office – Judge acted by virtue of his office
  • Promoted Office – Judge acted at the instigation of a third party
  • Instance Cases – Brought by individuals one against another

The types of record that exist include:

  • articles or libels
  • citations
  • act books
  • personal answers
  • depositions
  • allegations
  • definitive sentences

The speaker outlined a number of cases as examples of the above, many having local relevance.

The meeting finished at 9:15pm following a question and answer session.