The Church Courts have existed since the Middle Ages, summoning vast numbers of ordinary people to appear before the representatives of the bishop or archdeacon for the 'reformation of their souls and the correction of their manners'. The courts were also used by ordinary people to brings causes against each other--for defamation, unpaid tithes, matrimonial disputes and testamentary arguments over wills and legacies. Proceedings were carefully recorded, producing a prolific quantity of act books and copious documents. The many that survive provide a veritable treasure trove of information for local and family historians.
This book is the first to provide an introduction to these documents, which have been relatively neglected; not least because the earlier papers, before 1733 , were written in Latin. The process of law changed little and slowly, and an understanding of the later papers, in English, is of immense help in reading the older material. A glossary of relevant Latin words is included at the end of each chapter to offer further help with the earlier documents. The legal process of the courts is described and the papers are examined in terms of their legal structure, layout and contents. There is a chapter of each of the five categories of court business, each with examples and transcriptions of actual documents.
Sometimes scandalous (the bawdy courts), sometimes serious, the causes can provide much local background material, through which we can hear people actually talking about their daily lives and problems. More importantly, the papers furnish specific facts--of relationships, of property, of chronology--which are pure gold to the researcher, which is why this guide fills an important gap in general and local family history.
List of Documents and Diagrams in the Text
Chapter 1: The Process of Law
Chapter 2: Office Business
Chapter 3: Probate and Testamentary Business
Chapter 4: Marriage
Chapter 5: Tithes and Easter Offerings
Chapter 6: Defamation
Table of Affinity and Consanguinity
English Legal and Technical Terms
Index of People and Places
Index of Subjects