17th cen­tury con­sis­tory court pa­pers

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - VICKY GRINDROD ROD is Ar­chiv­ist at WYAS Le eeds

Some­times when piec­ing to­gether the lives of our an­ces­tors, it can be­come all too easy to stop see­ing them as real peo­ple. We end up be­ing pre­oc­cu­pied with names, dates and move­ments, rather than at­tempt­ing to un­der­stand their world­view or how they would have spo­ken.

Al­though sources such as di­aries and news­pa­pers can aid us in our de­tec­tive work, the most re­veal­ing doc­u­ments can be those cre­ated in more un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances, such as le­gal dis­putes. By ex­am­in­ing th­ese records, we can learn more about hu­man na­ture and dis­cover lan­guage that is far re­moved from the for­mal na­ture of other sources from the pe­riod.

This month, Vicky Grindrod from the Leeds branch of West York­shire Ar­chive Ser­vice re­veals a fan­tas­tic ex­am­ple, orig­i­nat­ing 50 miles fur­ther north in Rich­mond.

Which doc­u­ment have you cho­sen?

There are so many gems in the col­lec­tion that it’s been tricky to pick just one. How­ever, I’ve cho­sen some­thing which I think is a fairly un­der-used type of doc­u­ment and which will hope­fully high­light a po­ten­tial source of re­search for Who Do You

Think You Are? Mag­a­zine readere s. This is an ex­am­ple from the Archdea­conry of Rich­mond and the Dio­cese of Ripon and Leeds con­sis­tory court col­lec­tion.

A con­sis­tory court is a type of ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal court within the Church of Eng­land, which had, up un­til the middle of the 19th cen­tury, ju­ris­dic­tion over main­tain­ing spir­i­tual dis­ci­pline, pre­sid­ing over is­sues of moral­ity and mat­ri­mony among oth­ers.

Here at the West York­shire Ar­chive Ser­vice (Leeds) we are ex­tremely lucky to be the Dioce­san record of­fice for Ripon and Leeds and we look af­ter, on be­half of the Church of Eng­land, the con­sis­tory court cause pa­pers. Th­ese cause pa­pers record the process of le­gal cases, cov­er­ing the 16th to the 19th cen­turies and are a fan­tas­tic, un­tapped re­source for fam­ily and lo­cal his­to­ri­ans alike.

The doc­u­ment shown op­po­site is one of the in­ter­roga­to­ries in a case from the 17th cen­tury in Rich­mond in the North East of Eng­land. This par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple is taken from a dis­pute be­tween Su­san Murth­waite and Mis­tress Anne Tay­lor.

Su­san Murth­waite, and her ser­vants had been keep­ing cows for a few years and had been mak­ing, ac­cord­ing to Su­san, “much hole­some but­ter, cheese and cur­d­des”, sell­ing the prod­ucts to the parish­ioners and in­hab­i­tants of Rich­mond.

Mis­tress Anne Tay­lor, ap­par­ently unim­pressed by Su­san’s ef­forts is re­ported to have said that Su­san made “dirtie cheese and stinkeinge but­ter” and by say­ing this, po­ten­tially dam­aged Su­san’s rep­u­ta­tion in the vil­lage. In this doc­u­ment Su­san is bring­ing the mat­ter be­fore the church courts in or­der to clear her name and re­in­state her rep­u­ta­tion.

What does it re­veal about the lives of our an­ces­tors?

Th­ese cause pa­pers are a fan­tas­tic source of in­for­ma­tion for le­gal his­tory, so­cial his­tory, lo­cal his­tory and fam­ily his­tory and cer­tainly here at Leeds have not been usedu to their full po­ten­tial. I see peeo­ple re­search­ing their fam­ily his­torry ev­ery day, keen to trace their an­ces­tors and find out about mmore about their lives.

What re­ally in­trigues me iss the re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple – not just about who was mar­ried too whom, but how they in­ter­actedd with the rest of their com­mu­ni­ity. Th­ese pa­pers high­light the tri­aals and tribu­la­tions of the av­er­age per­son and pro­vide a unique in­sight into their char­ac­ters. Thhe church courts pro­vided a meanns for or­di­nary peo­ple to bring casses against each other and as such youy are able to find out what causedd dis­putes amongst cou­ples, fri­en­nds and neigh­bours.

The church courts dealt withh a wide range of cases, from non-pay­ment of church rates annd tithes, to mat­ri­mo­nial dis­putes and defama­tion of char­ac­ter. Whilst usu­ally writ­ten in Latin un­til 1733, parts of the al­le­ga­tion are of­ten given in English and in defama­tion cases usu­ally con­tain some­what colour­ful lan­guage, al­low­ing you to lis­ten to the voices, and some­times even the ac­cents, of those bring­ing th­ese cases to court.

Up un­til the Mat­ri­mo­nial Causes Act of 1857 the Church Courts over­saw mar­riage lit­i­ga­tion so you can find cases of di­vorce,

adul­tery and dis­crep­an­cies about mar­i­tal rights which ppro­vide dde­tailedild in­for­ma­tion about a cou­ple’s re­la­tion­ship which would not be recorded any­where else.

Why did you choose this doc­u­ment?

I chose this doc­u­ment not only to high­light its use for his­to­ri­ans but be­cause it’s in a col­lec­tion which has only re­cently been fully listed. Thanks to staff and a very tal­ented vol­un­teer, de­scrip­tions of all of the cause pa­pers have been added to our on­line cat­a­logue within the last few w months and are noww avail­able for fam­ily his­to­ri­ans to view at home for the first time.

And it’s not some­thing that you would nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect to find at an ar­chive in Leeds as it cov­ers, ge­o­graph­i­cally, an area much fur­ther north. The cause pa­pers we hold cover the deaner­ies of Cat­t­er­ick, Rich­mond, Bor­ough­bridge and part of Lons­dale so it can be a lit­tle con­fus­ing for re­searchers who may not re­alise that those records are stored here with us.

Tell us more about your col­lec­tions....

The West York­shire Ar­chive Ser­vice has five district of­fices in Leeds, Brad­ford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wake­field. At Leeds, we col­lect and look af­ter the unique doc­u­men­tary her­itage of this area and help mem­bers of the pub­lic use and en­joy th­ese records. The Leeds col­lec­tions in­cor­po­rate the records of Leeds Metropoli­tan District Coun­cil and its pre­de­ces­sor bod­ies in­clud­ing Leeds Cor­po­ra­tion records dat­ing back to 1662.

Our ear­li­est doc­u­ment dates from circa 1156 and can be found amongst the Ingilby of Ri­p­ley pa­pers which is just one of the many fam­ily and es­tate col­lec­tions held here. As well as hav­ing the Dioce­san col­lec­tion we also hold records of most Angli­can parishes in the Archdea­conry of Leeds and some in the Dio­cese of Brad­ford.

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