Court of Arches: Act Books 1677-1682

The current project to catalogue the Act Books of the Court of Arches from 1677 to 1682 (Arches A 13-15) is well advanced and on course for completion by the end of 2022.

The diverse business of the Court during these years included suits concerning the dilapidation of parsonage houses and bishops’ palaces. The deaths of successive Bishops of Worcester, for instance, led to suits concerning the state of the palace at Worcester and Hartlebury Castle. The death of John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, whose efforts saved Lichfield Cathedral from ruin caused by the civil war, also led to a lengthy suit; his successor Thomas Wood, complained that Hacket had not lavished equal concern on his palace. The deeds and misdeeds of the clergy were also exposed in court, as in the case of Thomas Turner, Vicar of Milton-next-Sittingbourne (now Milton Regis, Kent), whose drinking and playing at cards and dice at the Three Hats, the Red Lion, the Crown, the White Hart and the Queen’s Head often ended in the gutter with the revelation ‘I am damned drunk’.

Suits concerning marriage and divorce were also to the fore. Lady Elizabeth Percy, the greatest heiress of her day, widowed at the age of thirteen, secretly married Thomas Thynne, known (on account of his wealth) as ‘Tom of Ten Thousand’. A suit followed, whereupon Thynne was murdered in 1682. Elizabeth then made a third marriage, at the age of 15, to the Duke of Somerset. Less fortunate was the life of Posthuma Bullocke, forced by her husband to wear a chastity belt, ‘an engine commonly called an Italian padlock’ for almost two years. No less remarkable were the marriages of Anne Pierrepont, daughter of the Marquess of Dorchester. Her marriage to Lord Roos, afterwards Duke of Rutland, was ended by a legal separation in the Court of Arches and then by a parliamentary divorce, the first in England. Anne went on to marry Henry Vaughan, only to return to the Arches in 1681 seeking yet another divorce on account of his cruelty. Marriage contracts were also disputed in court, as in the engagement of Donough O’Brien, Lord Ibrackan, to a daughter of Thomas Osborne, afterwards Duke of Leeds. In this instance the Dean of the Arches allowed himself a moment of candour, urging a speedy marriage to avoid ‘the distast and exasperation which judicial proceedings may begett’.

Other cases ranged from the violation of churchyards, the impersonation of the Vicar General at a visitation, and penances for adultery, to more mundane disputes over tithes, rates, institutions to benefices and rights to pews. Time and again the records reveal the unexpected. The elegant white marble monument to George and Judith Ayliffe in the church at Foxley, Wiltshire, celebrates their lives and five children. Few would guess the reality revealed in court, that Judith left her husband after having been cruelly beaten.

Ayliffe memorial, Foxley Church, Wiltshire. Photo: Sheona Beaumont, 2022.

Variations in the spelling of names in the seventeenth century present challenges to cataloguers. It was pleasing to rescue the poet John Dryden from the obscurity of ‘John Draydon’ and to identify ‘John Eveling’ as the virtuoso John Evelyn. Both were protagonists in Arches cases, as was another diarist, Samuel Pepys.

Richard Palmer

‘I do not wish to speak for long’: The Transcripts of the Church Assembly and General Synod, 1920-1972

Church Assembly Session, 6 November 1962 [CIO/PHO/NEG/188, 62117/1]

Lambeth Palace Library has recently catalogued the transcripts of the reports of proceedings from the Church Assembly, and the early sessions of the General Synod. From the mid-nineteenth century the Church of England sought to achieve greater self-governance as its legislation was dependent on Parliament. The historic Convocations of Canterbury and York (made up of clergy) both added a House of Laymen by 1892, and together formed the Representative Church Council. This body, with bishops, clergy and laity all represented, became the Church Assembly in 1919 with the ‘Enabling Act’ empowering it to become the Church’s legislative body. The transcripts cover sessions between 1920 and 1972, covering the entire lifespan of the Church Assembly, and the formation of its successor body, the General Synod, in 1970.

The transcripts are a fantastic resource that add colour to the published reports of proceedings, which tend to omit much of the actual speech. The reports of proceedings are a summary of speeches made, edited from present to past tense and often shortened. On occasion, whole passages found in the transcripts are missing from the reports. Presumably, the editor viewed these as superfluous to the argument being made. By just looking at the reports of proceedings, researchers miss most of the anecdotes and all the humour deployed by speakers, leaving a skeleton speech deprived of the original intonation.

A lively debate led by the Bishop of Ely about ‘Danger on the Highways’, February 1935 [CAGST/2/32]

The transcripts also give an indication as to how speeches were received by the Assembly and later the Synod. Incidences of laughter, cries of dissent and murmurs of discontent are noted, giving the reader an insight into the atmosphere of these meetings.

The period of 1920-1972 covers many tumultuous domestic and global events, and this is reflected in the topics discussed by the Assembly and Synod. Domestically, the transcripts show lengthy discussions on divorce, unemployment and racial discrimination. The passing of monarchs and the accession of new Kings and Queens are marked.

‘Death of King George V, and Address to King Edward VIII’, February 1936 [CAGST/2/35]

The rapidly changing geopolitical landscape of the twentieth century can be seen through the transcripts, moving from a debate on the ‘League of Nations’ in 1924 to the threat of ‘Nuclear War’ in 1963. Slightly more unusual subjects discussed include ‘Danger on the Public Highways’ and ‘Influence of the Cinema’.

‘Nuclear War’, November 1963 [CAGST/2/108]

The transcripts supplement many of the other collections at Lambeth Palace Library, including the photographic collections of the Church Information Office. The photographic collections provide a comprehensive library of photographs illustrating the teachings and activities of the Church. Church Assembly sessions in the 1950s and 1960s were photographed, as well as the inauguration of the first General Synod.

Church Assembly discussing ‘Horror Comics’, November 1954 [CIO/5/PHO/1/1a]
Debate on ‘Sordid Reading Matter’, November 1954 [CAGST/2/81]

The Church Assembly and General Synod transcripts are a wonderful resource for readers wishing to gain a full and comprehensive understanding of the discussions had by Church Assembly and General Synod, and how this shaped Church policy and thought throughout the twentieth century.

Inauguration of first General Synod by the late Queen Elizabeth II, 4 November 1970 [CIO/5/PHO/2/4]

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 – 1797), a remarkable man whose life story was of vital importance to the campaign to abolish slavery, was born in the Kingdom of Benin (now a part of modern day Nigeria) and, as a child, was kidnapped, sold into slavery and taken to the New World. Sold to Royal Navy Captain Michael Henry Pascal, he was renamed Gustavus Vassa and was baptised as a Christian in 1759 at the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster Abbey. After being sold twice more, including to a Quaker merchant who allowed him to earn a profit through trading, Equiano would eventually purchase his own freedom in 1766. He saw battle during the Seven Years’ War and was trained in seamanship, going on to travel the world, including the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Arctic.

Frontispiece and title page of 'The Interesting narrative...'
The Library’s copy of The Interesting narrative… is a first edition and is part of Sion College Library [B79.10/V44].

Equiano’s autobiography ‘The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, written by himself’ (London, 1789) was a huge success and went through many editions in his lifetime.

The first slave narrative to gain popularity among an English audience, Equiano’s autobiography would not only precipitate a literary genre, but become a voice for the growing anti-slave movement in Great Britain. His account of his childhood in Africa and his life as a slave captivated the public, from whom Equiano’s detailed and lucid writing elicited a strong emotional reaction.

Engraving of the shipwreck of the 'Nancy' on Bahama Banks.
An engraving from the second volume depicts the shipwreck of the Nancy, a slave vessel upon which Equiano worked in the Caribbean, and serves as an example of one of the many harrowing episodes he would survive and later write about [B79.10/V44].

Throughout his autobiography Equiano recounted several instances where he was accosted and threatened with violence, kidnapping, and re-enslavement even after becoming a free man. The bleak prospects and cruelties faced by himself and other Africans in the British Colonies, freed or otherwise, were a driving force in his decision to return to England in 1766.

Equiano would later marry a Cambridgeshire woman, Susanna Cullen, with whom he had two children. Moving in both popular and radical circles in the 1790s, he worked with Thomas Clarkson and the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and spoke at many public meetings where he described first-hand the cruelties of the trade alongside advocating for the Black community in London. As a leading member of the Sons of Africa, an early black campaign group, Equiano was a prominent voice for abolition in Britain’s political sphere. Ten years after Equiano’s death, the Slave Trade Act of 1807 finally made illegal the transatlantic slave trade; the practise of slavery in the British Empire would only begin to be phased out with the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

Court of Arches : Act books 1671-1677

With the support of the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, a further phase of the project to catalogue the acts of court of the Court of Arches has been completed, focusing on the act books from 1671 to 1677. 8,502 acts of court have been catalogued, raising the total in the online catalogue to 24,891. Each of these has been recorded and dated for the first time, with identifications of people and places and pointers to related material elsewhere. The catalogue now includes over 10,000 references to related documents, mainly in the National Archives. These have assisted the identification of protagonists in cases before the Court as well as providing further information concerning them.

In this period the Court was at its busiest, requiring extra sessions to be fitted into the legal calendar. Over a hundred cases were in progress at any one time, advancing in session after session, often over a period of years. The will of Nicholas Love, Warden of Winchester College, for instance, came before the Court 37 times over four years, complicated by the fact that his son was one of the regicides. A suit for dilapidations against the executors of Matthew Wren, Bishop of Ely, was before the Court for six years, delayed by the misfortune of his son and namesake. Hopelessly out of his element while attending the Duke of York on his flagship, and seasick too, Matthew Wren junior made his will as the Dutch fleet came into view and was mortally wounded not long after.

The Court concerned itself with the institution of clergy to benefices , the dilapidation of parsonage houses and bishops’ palaces, rights to pews, faculties for church buildings, tithes, rates, wills, marriage and divorce and the enforcement of morals. There were also numerous suits for defamation, as in the case of Kate Lingley, of St. Sepulchre, London, who was called ‘a whore, a hackney whore, everyone’s whore’. The Court was also active in the repression of nonconformity and clandestine marriages. Amongst errant clergy was John Cull, curate of Knightsbridge, who was rash enough to solemnise the clandestine marriage of Frances Hyde, daughter of the Earl of Clarendon. Edward Northmore, Vicar of Newton St. Cyres, Devon, was himself married in secret in a private room in Oxford, although in this case the Court found for the validity of the marriage, thwarting his efforts to rid himself of an unwanted wife. Conversely, when George Rodney Bridges MP sought to ditch his long-term partner Ann Smith, a shopkeeper in the New Exchange in the Strand, the Court dismissed Ann’s claim to be his wife and exposed her tampering with the parish register of Holy Trinity Minories.

That the past is a foreign country is vividly illustrated by child marriage. The abduction and forced marriage of children, as in the case of Hannah Hunt, below the age of twelve, carried off from Little Marlow and married in a private house in Southwark, was as unacceptable in Stuart England as it is today. However, marriages with consent (above all the consent of parents or guardians) were viewed quite differently, as in the marriage of John Power, Viscount Decies, aged seven, and Catherine Fitzgerald, aged about twelve, performed by Archbishop Gilbert Sheldon in Lambeth Palace Chapel in 1673. Mary Damerill, who came before the Court in 1677, was already into her second marriage at the age of fifteen, having been married first at the age of eleven. Bridget Hyde had also to shake off an early marriage in order to emerge (eventually) as Duchess of Leeds. In 1674, at the age of twelve, she had married her cousin, John Emerton. The courts upheld the marriage and it was only after 1682, when Bridget forced the issue by marrying (bigamously) the future Duke of Leeds, and only after the future Duke had paid 20,000 guineas to Emerton, that an annulment of her first marriage was achieved.

Richard Palmer

The Manorial Documents Register: Celebrating 100 Years

This year marks the centenary of the  Law of Property Act of 1922, through which a type of manorial tenancy agreement called ‘copyhold’ was abolished. This legislative change had a huge effect on the ways in which records associated with manors­­—or ‘manorial documents’—were held, as they became essential as the only proof of title (claim of ownership) to former copyhold land.

Manorial documents are records relating to the administration of a manor (an estate of land administered as a unit), providing a treasure trove of information about people and places in England and Wales from the twelfth to twentieth centuries. The National Archives defines them as:

“court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs or courts of a manor”
This excludes:
“deeds or other instruments required for evidencing the title to a manor or agreements or draft agreements relating to compensation, or any documents which came into being after 31st December 1925”.

Map of Lambeth Manor, 1812 (TD 210)

The records often hold detailed information concerning the history and customs of a house, family, or region, including practices of land ownership, urban development and agriculture. As manor courts sometimes held jurisdiction over minor offences, they can include useful and often colourful descriptions of crime and punishment.

Following the Act of 1922, a new set of rules was created for the preservation and care of manorial documents, and they became the only type of document (asides from public records) to have statuary protection. As part of this response, The National Archives created the Manorial Documents Register (MDR), an index that gives the location of documents made before 1926 relating to any manor in England or Wales. 

Manorial Records at Lambeth Palace Library: A case study

The manorial documents in Lambeth’s collection mostly relate to estates that have been owned by the central organisations of the Church, including the above map of the Manor of Lambeth, which features the palace in its lower left corner.[1] Taking one manor as a case study shows the rich material diversity of these documents, as well as the range of content that can be gleaned from them.

The manor of Boughton (or Boughton under Bleane) in Kent was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury since at least the 11th century, when the Archbishop was recorded as its Lord in the Domesday book.[2] Searching for ‘Boughton’ on the MDR provides a list of documents relating the manor, the majority of which are held by Lambeth Palace Library. Listed are court rolls, maps, rentals, and surveys dating from the 13th to 20th centuries, just a small selection of which are featured below.

Detail of court roll of 1742 (TH 8)

Rentals record the annual rent paid to a Lord (the tenant in chief) by their tenant. The earliest manorial document that mentions Boughton Manor is a 13th-century survey and rental of the possessions of the archbishopric (ED 2068), including information of a number of manors in the form of a roll over 6 metres long. The section on Boughton, like other accounts in the roll, begins with a summary of the rents and fees and the feast days on which they are payable, followed by a survey of the land and a description of its customs.

Caption: Survey and rental (13th century, ED 2068) with leather attachment

Survey and rental (13th century, ED 2068) with leather attachment
ED 2068 rolled showing leather cover

Court rolls were produced by a manor’s court, which held regular meetings to discuss the activities related to the manor and its inhabitants. Tenants needed permission from the court to sell, buy, sublet, or mortgage their property. Such actions were recorded in the court rolls, often alongside lists of tenants, surrenders of land, and other general matters. Lambeth Palace Library holds around 120 court rolls for Boughton Manor, dating from the 15th to mid-18th centuries.  Details of entries concerning Boughton in these rolls are available to view on our image database (see the list of sources below).

Court roll from the 15th century (ED 272)
Court roll from 1742 ( TH 8, a detail of which is shown above)

This information was not only kept in rolls but also in loose papers, often copied into the court rolls later on. In the below mid-18th-century example (TH 35) are lists of tenants, detailed information related to quit rent (a type of land tax), and warrants sent to the manor’s constable to hold courts, the latter often officiated with a wax seal.

Court papers: TH 35, f.34r
Court papers: TH 35, f. 37r
Court papers: TH 35, f. 37r (detail showing signature and seal)

Maps and surveys

The earliest map of Boughton in the Library’s possession is TD 25, made in 1631 by the map maker William Boycot (fl. 1615-48). Drawings of distinctive buildings and natural features are accompanied by symbols, used with the key on the lower right to show who owned land in Boughton and where. The largest group of manorial maps are those related to the work of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, made from the mid-19th century onwards, after the Commissioners took over the running of the Church’s estates. Within this series are multiple maps of Boughton, including the OS map below annotated in the early 20th century. Many of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ maps are accompanied by parish surveys, providing further information on the estate.

Map of Boughton under Bleane (TD 25)
Map of Boughton under Bleane (ECE/11/1/21357)


Podcast: Liz Hart, ‘The Manorial Documents Register’, The National Archives: The Manorial Documents Register | The National Archives

Details of ‘Boughton’ in manorial documents, LUNA: Search Results: All Fields similar to ‘Boughton and ED*’ – Lambeth Palace Library

Manorial documents and lordships and how to use the Manorial Documents Register – The National Archives

Background on the 1922 legislation, The National Archives: Manorial documents – The National Archives

Glossary of Manorial Terms and Definitions, Kresen Kernow: Glossary of Manorial Terms and Definitions (

[1] For more images of the palace, particularly the ground plans for the garden (from 16th century onwards), see The Lambeth Palace Garden in the Archives – A Monument of Fame