Ecclesiastical Courts, Officials & Records Sin, Sex and Probate

Colin R. Chapman, Second Edition, 2009 Lochin Publishing. A5, 80 pages

In the past the Church’s legal system had much more control over an ordinary person’s life than modern people would realise. Even though the power of the Church was lessened at the reformation and over the years that followed, many legal matters long continued to be under its control e.g. wills (until 1858), church taxes (tithes). Licences to marry (exclusively a Church of England matter until 1837), to preach, to teach, to practise medicine surgery and midwifery and to eat meat in Lent were granted by church courts. The courts were concerned with lapses in morals rather than crime. Much of the law concerned the conduct of clergy. In this book details are given of the various levels of church courts starting from the archdeacon’s court upwards which are useful in deciding where a pre-1858 will might be sought. Information is provided on the officials and judges who presided over the various courts and their locations. A history of Doctors’ Commons (as depicted in the novel, David Copperfield) is given up to the time of its winding up when the last member died in 1921. There is a chapter on sentences and court procedures in which the section on wills is particularly useful. A map of the pre-1835 dioceses, which are quite different to modern ones, is helpful. The book finishes by giving information on where the many court records may be found and a useful postscript on modern Church of England government.

Judith Mitchell

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