Court of Arches series Eee project report

The project to complete the recataloguing of Arches series Eee has made good progress, especially in identifying plaintiffs and defendants and in recording names and details of witnesses. Twelve volumes have been completed, covering the years 1713-1780. The total of witness depositions in the online catalogue has risen to 5,512.

Recording the occupations of witnesses (from apothecaries to longbow string makers) has provided a wealth of opportunities for research, along with search terms such as laudanum, tobacco, coffee man, bagnio, clap, French pox, peruke maker, dram shop, dilapidations and divorce.

Amongst cases recently recatalogued is an appeal by Ann Robins against Sir William Wolseley, who, she claimed, had drugged and married her at midnight in Colwich church, Staffordshire, in 1752. Ann protested that she had married John Robins three months previously, but was the marriage register forged? The clergyman caught up in the affair made an anguished confession to his bishop (Frederick Cornwallis, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury), and died in distress soon afterwards.  Ann nevertheless won her case both in the Arches and on further appeal in the Court of Delegates. An equally sensational suit concerned the abduction of Fanny Fust from Bristol in 1787. Fanny was a rich heiress but was mentally disabled. She fell an easy prey to Henry Bowerman, who lured her into his coach with a promise of strawberries and cream, carried her off to Flanders and married her.  Happily the marriage was annulled in the Court of Arches and on appeal in the Court of Delegates. The dramatic potential of both these cases has recently been realised, the Fust case in a stage version to raise disability awareness.

More than 600 references to wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, held at the National Archives, have so far been added to the Library’s catalogue.

During December further Arches cases were identified as having been appealed to the Court of Delegates. A total of 371 process books recording proceedings in the Court of Arches, which were sent up to the Court of Delegates on appeal, have now been identified at the National Archives. Details of all of these, including order numbers in the National Archives series DEL 1, have now been added to the Lambeth Palace Library catalogue of archives and manuscripts. A few Arches cases were also identified in other series of the Delegates’ records but for these no process books survive in DEL 1.

Making these connexions between the Arches and the Delegates records is important not only because the Delegates’ records often bring to a conclusion the cases which passed through the Arches, but also because the process books sent to the Delegates often contain copies of Arches documents which no longer survive at Lambeth. A number of such process books were sampled at TNA. It is also likely (although not apparent from the catalogue) that some process books in the Delegates’ archive earlier than 1660 record lost proceedings in the Court of Arches. In addition, the work of connecting the two series of records brought to light innumerable variants in spelling of names and places and frequently corrected mistaken readings in the Houston index of Arches cases.

In the TNA online catalogue many of the entries for process books in DEL 1 (based on primitive data compiled in the early 19th century) contain a note that further description is available in DEL 11/12. These further descriptions were in fact published in Jesse Addams, ‘A catalogue of processes in the registry of the High Court of Delegates, from 1609 to 1823’ (London, 1824). These descriptions are being added to the Lambeth Palace Library catalogue of archives and manuscripts. These descriptions are valuable, often recording the case at first instance in the lower court, making it clear which party first brought the case against the other (whereas in the appeal courts the order of the parties is often confusingly reversed, X versus Y becoming Y versus X, depending on who is the appellant against the initial sentence).

As a small sequel, law reports on Arches cases identifiable in WH Bryson, ‘Miscellaneous reports of cases in the Court of Delegates from 1670 to 1750’ (Richmond, Virginia, 2016) will be added to the LPL catalogue.


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