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Berkshire Family Historian
December 1999

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Barry White of Australia asks:

I am researching my Ansell ancestors in east Kent and have found a Reginald Ansell, Rector of Stowting in Kent, who left to his son's children "the perpetual patronage of the Rectory of Stowtinge and to their heires forever". I'm trying to discover how Reginald came by this patronage. His father, also a minister but not at Stowting, didn't mention it in his will, nor did the previous Rector of Stowting.

How can 'patronage' be acquired? Did the Church have a say in who might receive it? And is there a class of record that might reveal how Reginald acquired it in the first place? I'm not asking you to comment on the specifics relating to Reginald.

The right of nomination or presentation to an ecclesiastical benefice is called an advowson. An advowson is held by a patron, who may be an individual or institution, clerical or secular. The patron presents the candidate to the appropriate bishop, although the nomination may be refused. Lay Advowsons date from the eighth century and became more common after the Reformation (1530s) when monastic estates and holdings fell into lay hands (they were sold). Since 1924 a Lay Advowson cannot be sold after two vacancies have occurred and, from 1933, parochial councils could purchase the advowson except where it was in the gift of the Crown or a bishop.

Mark Herber's 'Ancestral Trails' (pages 396-8), details records of Church of England clergy and their ordination, including various printed directories from the 19th century and biographical details of clergy from 1066 to 1854 by diocese and archdeaconry (indexed) in 'Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae'. Apparently this is now available, 1541-1857, on-line at and lists the 'higher clergy', bishops, archdeacons & cathedral clergy.

Institution Books (1556-1838) at the Public Record Office are arranged by county between 1556 and 1660, by diocese between 1661 to 1838 and then by place. Information includes the names and dates of the clergy instituted to the benefice and names the patrons of the benefice. These can be used to trace when your ancestors started and ended their time as a patron. See 'Tracing your ancestors at the PRO', ed Amanda Bevan.

Among the bishop's miscellaneous documents in the diocesan record office (now usually the local county record office) may be found letters and other presentation papers of recommendation from patrons and others prior to the appointment of a new incumbent to a benefice. The bishop's act book records any appointments with the date, name of the patron and details of his right of presentation. Some bishops' act books have been printed and are listed in 'Texts & Calendars' by E L C Mullin.

In conclusion, although I have not found any reference to specific records relating to such changes, an advowson could be inherited or sold by the patron, which could be a bishop, monarch or a lay person. Nor have I spotted any particularly useful publication in any of the bibliographies in the books mentioned - unless I skimmed the lists too quickly of course.

* Publications available from BFHS Bookstall at Branch Meetings or via mail order

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Berkshire Family History Society 2001

updated 12th June 2001