The Court of Arches II: Oxford v. Henly

Today’s visit to the Court of Arches concerns a matter that we would probably expect to find in an ecclesiastical court as ecclesiastical courts have jurisdiction over matters concerning clergy behaviour and  how they conducted services. The case in question was bought before the Court of Arches by the Bishop of Oxford, Francis Paget, against one of his clergy, the Revd. Oliver Partridge Henly, vicar of Wolverton St. Mary, Buckinghamshire. Henly stood accused of the rather serious ecclesiastical offence of “reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.”[1]

Rubrics set out in the book of Common Prayer stated that enough bread and wine for each member of the congregation should be placed upon the altar to be consecrated. If the sacrament should be totally consumed before everyone has had the chance to receive, then more bread and wine must be consecrated. If any of the sacrament remains, then it should not leave the church but must be consumed by those present, in most cases by the priest.[2]

Modern, as well as, medieval practice allowed priests to reserve the sacrament for the purposes of preforming Holy Communion for the infirm in hospitals and in their homes. However, in the early 20th century, when this case takes place, the Church of England generally adhered to a strict interpretation of Article XXV which states that “The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them”.

Unfortunately for Revd. Henly, the Bishop of Oxford was very particular in this matter. Even worse, while conducting a funeral, Henly had been seen by the Bishop of Reading reserving the sacrament. Reading is a suffragan bishopric in the Diocese of Oxford, so naturally, the Bishop of Reading went straight to his superior with the news.

Perhaps if this episode had been a one off occurrence, Henly may have escaped with just a flea in his ear. However, the Bishop of Reading gave the following evidence which suggested the contrary, “I was going to take part in the funeral service; when I was in the vestry Mr. Henly said, “I wish you to understand that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the church, and therefore it will be necessary to genuflect before it.” I went straight into the church without waiting for the choir. There I saw the lamp hanging near the altar, in front of and above it. Then I went to my place and waited there, and in due time the choir came in and they made their genuflexion quietly and reverently so much so that it was certain to me that they had been properly trained.”[4] To compound matters further, the Bishop of Reading claimed not to have seen a tabernacle or ambry where the eucharist may have been stored.

Upon hearing the news, the Bishop of Oxford wrote a letter to Henly asking him to confirm or deny Reading’s version of events. Henly replied confirming what Reading had said, but stated that “the choir was trained to genuflect before it [and] the only person occupying a position in the choir who on that occasion neglected this act of reverence [was] the Bishop of Reading himself.”[5] The Bishop of Oxford responded, asking Henly to abandon the practice immediately, to which Henly retorted saying that the bishop had no right to make such a demand and that he had never disobeyed the rubrics, which in his opinion did not affect the practice of reserving the sacrament for the sick.

Letter between the parties
“Francis, Bishop of Oxford v. Partridge H., V. of Wolverton St. Mary, Bucks.; leaving consecrated bread and wine unconsumed, 1905”, (Arches/HH/47, Lambeth Palace Library, London).

During the Arches Court sessions, these letters would provide the basis for the prosecution’s case, as Henly freely admitted to reserving the sacrament and to disagreeing with the Bishop of Oxford’s stance on the matter. However, as reported in the Times, the problem for the prosecution was the date of the offence. Had Henly reserved the sacrament before or after the Bishop of Oxford’s ruling? Had Henly directly disobeyed his bishop or merely disagreed with his theology?

In his letters, its clear that Henly disagrees with the church’s stance, however, even with the Bishop of Reading’s evidence, it was difficult to prove that Henly had wilfully committed an ecclesiastical offence. The prosecution’s case wasn’t helped by the fact that no witnesses had been summoned to give evidence. When the reporter from the Times had asked why the churchwardens for example hadn’t been called to testify, the Bishop of Oxford had admitted that “he had felt unable, under all the circumstances, to proffer any evidence except that of the letters”.[6]

This left the court in a remarkable position. Here was a charge being pleaded without any real evidence to support it. Ecclesiastical courts, just as in any criminal court, required due process to be followed in order to protect the right’s of the individual.

In the end, Henly was found not guilty, which supports the notion that ecclesiastical courts were not above due process. A common misconception is that ecclesiastical courts were free to operate as they wished behind closed doors. For the most part however, ecclesiastical courts were just as concerned with the just upholding of the law as contemporary secular courts were. Many, including the Times reporter, thought Henly was guilty, however, without definitive evidence it was impossible to lay charges against him.

However, it seems that Henly was unable to take the hint and in 1909 he found himself once again before the Court of Arches for “(1) the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament; (2) the holding of a Benediction service; and (3) disobedience to a monition of the Court issued in 1906 in respect to the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.”[7] Henly hindered his own defence by not being present during the trail. It was also reported by the Rhos Herald that Henly had threatened to “black” the eye of William Henry Partridge, clerk to the registrar of the diocese, when he attempted to serve Henly with the bishop’s monition.[8]Perhaps unsurprisingly, on this occasion the Court of Arches sided with the Bishop of Oxford and Henly was deprived of his ecclesiastical promotions within the Province of Canterbury. It seems that Henly and the Bishop of Oxford could not be reconciled, as Henly would leave Oxford for another diocese before later joining the Roman Catholic.


[1]Newspaper Cutting of “Arches Court” Article from the Times, 11 December 1906, Davidson Papers 1906-1907, Vol. 761, Lambeth Palace Library, London.






[7] Newspaper Cutting of “Court of Arches” Article from the Times, 4 August 1909.

[8] Newspaper Cutting of “Bishop v. Vicar” Article from the Rhos Herald, 24 July 1909.

Artefacts in the library collections

Although the main focus of the collections is archives and printed books, Lambeth Palace Library collections also include a small number of artefacts. This post will look at some of them in detail and explore a little of their background.

Godfrey Dagger

This striking silver dagger (artefact no. 94) is a commemorative piece following the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey in October 1678. Godfrey was the magistrate to whom Titus Oates had first spoken of his fears of a Popish Plot to murder King Charles II and overthrow the Protestant Establishment. The resulting hysteria brought about persecution and subsequent execution of a large number of Catholics. Godfrey’s body was discovered on Primrose Hill in London, having been strangled and stabbed with his own sword. His alleged murderers were hanged at Tyburn and Godfrey was declared a martyr amid fears of a mass slaughter of Protestants.

In London, a large number of commemorative daggers were produced in Godfrey’s honour and for protection against the perceived threat of harm. This fine example has a silver handle and a steel blade which is engraved with “Memento Godfrey” as well as the maker’s mark RF, and decorated with skulls. It is possible that it was a special edition for a pope-burning procession in London in November 1679.


The dagger was in private hands before being sold through Christie’s in the 1990s. It was purchased by Lambeth Palace Library in October 1999.


These metal hinges were found in a box of records from the Court of Arches series (Arches H 928/49). The Court of Arches is the court of appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury. It held significant jurisdiction over church-related matters such as marriage, morality of the clergy and as in this case, Church property.

The case in question, Case 7689 involved some badly behaved parishioners in Atherstone, Warwickshire. In 1867, Edward Cordingley forced entry into the church and was subsequently taken to court. The hinges must have been replaced in the meantime as the originals were kept as evidence in the case papers.


Although the Court of Arches dates from the 13th century, the majority of the collection which survives at Lambeth Palace Library dates from after 1660. Many of the earlier records were destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The collection is very substantial and diverse, and covers the whole of the Province of Canterbury, which extends through most of the south of England and into Wales. More information and the catalogues may be found on our website.

A piece of cake

This rather unexpected part of the collection (artefact no 88) is somewhat mysterious in both its survival (we enjoy cake here in the Library) and provenance. It has been suggested that it was baked by Miss Irene Churchill, the assistant librarian from a recipe by Mrs Tenison. The recipe is described as “the cake the queen likes.” The queen in question was not Queen Mary (alongside her husband William 1690-1694), but her namesake, the wife of George V who visited Lambeth in the 1930s. Perhaps she took tea with the Archbishop and a piece of cake was saved for later.

Mrs Tenison was the wife of Archbishop Tenison (in office 1695-1715) and four of her recipe books are held in the collections here (MSS 714-716 and 928a). Historic recipe books are very different to those we use today, often mixing attempts at home remedies, such as “The purging ale excellent for the spleen and hypocondriacke passion” alongside tips for preserving lemons. Mrs Tenison’s recipe collections are a hotchpotch of correspondence and recipes which have been shared within her social circle, very much like sharing information on social media today.

It is unusual for organic material like this piece of cake to survive, and it presents a peculiar challenge to conserve. Although nobody would want to eat it now, it presents a risk of attracting pests like rodents and insects, as well as the potential for mould development as it decays. For the time being, it is stored in a plastic container.


The Court of Arches: Saunders v. Davies

For over 700 years, the Court of Arches has been the Archbishop of Canterbury’s court of appeal. Established in the mid-13th century, the Court of Arches has remained part of the ecclesiastical court system ever since. Lambeth Palace Library has housed the records from the Court of Arches since 1865, save for a period during the Second World War when they were transferred to the Bodleian Library for safe keeping. It is a very rich scholarly resource, and recently, with the generous support of the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library a project to enhance records for two key series in the archive has been completed (see previous posts for details and for other scandalous stories).

The Court of Arches exercised jurisdiction over members of the clergy in matters of canon law, but also heard cases from the general populace. An ecclesiastical court didn’t deal with crimes in the modern sense, these were handled by civil courts. Instead, ecclesiastical courts dealt with matters relating to marriage, probate and testamentary cases, defamation, church property, and, in the case we will be discussing below, morality.

David Griffith Davies had been the curate of the parish of Charlbury, Oxfordshire since 1811 before supplementing this position with the curacy of Ascot under Wychwood in 1814. In addition to his curacies, Davies ran a small school from his house for university hopefuls. One of his students was a seventeen-year-old named Samuel Beale. For two years, Beale studied under Davies and was subsequently offered a place at Oxford University in 1816. On graduating, Beale returned to Charlbury and to the clergyman’s house. However, his return was “neither Davies’ wit nor wisdom”, nor was it to thank his former teacher for helping him secure a place at a prestigious university. Instead, his return was on account of Ann, the clergyman’s wife.[1]

We don’t know at what point Beale and Ann Davies began their affair, however, numerous chamber maids attested to the fact that they began to sleep together on a regular basis shortly after Beale’s return to the house. One servant testified that she found her mistresses’ nightgown more often in the lodger’s room than her own, while others claimed that they shared a bed most nights.[2]

But what of the cuckold clergyman? Was he so oblivious that he could not see this deception occurring under his very roof? Well, according to the court records, he knew exactly what was going on. “Servants attested that the curate was often seen conversing with the couple while they were in bed together and, indeed, was sometimes called in by Mrs Davies to lace up her stays, Beale presumably being too exhausted to do anything other than watch.”[3]

It appears that Davies was found more often in the Churchill Arms than he was in the marital bed. While Mrs Davies required help lacing up her stays, Mr Davies regularly needed assistance unlacing his boots due to the frequent visits to his local. This image of insobriety was compounded by allegations that Davies often frequented the kitchen of the Churchill Arms which was described by one witness as “one of the darkest [worst] places in the Country.”[4] In disreputable company, the curate was seen “drinking and singing bawdy songs, some of the grossest that could be heard.”[5]

In 1821, Davies, while on his way to conduct a funeral after a session in the Churchill Arms in the company of another regular, remarked of the parish clerk who was walking in the opposite direction, himself with a companion, “in a most irreverent, immoral and indecent manner”, “There’s a pretty pair, as the Devil said when he looked at his bollocks.”[6] According to numerous parishioners, Davies was frequently drunk at meetings of the vestry and his conduct of services left much to be desired.

However, despite these indiscretions, when complaints against Davies were bought before Dr. Cobb, the vicar of Charlbury, nothing happened. In fact, character witnesses stated that Davies was “a good-natured man” who “was generous, forgiving, [and] ready to assist anyone at any time.”[7] Including it seems, a young lodger with a taste for married women.

The image below lists people who vouched for Davies’ good character, and as we can see, it’s quite extensive.

List of character witnesses
2Samuel S. (office) v. David Griffith Davies of Ascot and Charlbury, Oxon.; indecent conduct, 1821”, (Arches/HHH/2/55, Lambeth Palace Library, London).

To those in authority however, Davies was an appalling candidate for the ministry, and in 1821 he was finally prosecuted for the many offences relating to his immoral behaviour. However, despite the overwhelming evidence laid against him, which included eye witness evidence from eighteen people, Sir John Nicholl, presiding judge and Dean of Arches, felt that he didn’t have the authority to deprive Davies of his benefice, which instead fell to his bishop.[8] Despite Davies exhibiting behaviour most unbecoming of a man in his position, it was felt that the most that could be done was to suspend him for three years and charge him for legal costs.

To legal reformers, this was evidence of a broken system. Here was a case of “drunkenness and profaneness, immorality and irregularity, and indecorum in the performance of divine office,” and despite being found guilty in the country’s highest ecclesiastical court, Davies could not be deprived of a benefice many felt he was unsuitable to occupy.[9]

Some, when reviewing this case with a 21st century perspective, might be forgiven for mistaking it for the sort of story featured in a tabloid newspaper or found in the kangaroo courts of daytime television, where self-righteous moral outrage goes hand in hand with poorly disguised voyeurism. However, to an ecclesiastical court, this was a most grievous matter. Davies got off rather lightly, all things considered.

These court papers remain a fascinating source of information, recording the lives of people that would otherwise have been lost to history. While it is safe to say that this case was chosen for its salacious content and colourful characters, the Court of Arches is a record of real people experiencing real life dramas. Each case reveals a different story, and there are thousands more stories to discover.



[1]R.B. Outhwaite, The Rise and Fall of the English Ecclesiastical Courts, 1500-1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 131.



[4]Ibid., p. 132.





[9]Ibid., pp. 132-133.

Court of Arches Project 4

With the generous support of the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, a project to enhance access to two key series in the archive of the Court of Arches has been successfully completed. The two series are Ee (personal answers by plaintiffs and defendants to allegations), and Eee (testimony from witnesses), spanning the years 1661-1798. They reflect the variety of the Court’s jurisdiction in areas such as marriage, divorce, wills and probate, defamation, clergy morals and conduct, tithes and church buildings. They are a treasure trove for myriad aspects of history, reporting word for word the lives and experience of thousands of English men and women.

The project has provided enhanced descriptions of the contents of fifty volumes of Court records (10,582 ff.), including new identifications of persons and places. Significant individuals have come to light, often adding new and surprising information missing from their biographies in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Amongst the private lives laid bare are those of John Lacy and Henry Harris, two of the leading actors of the Restoration stage, Sarah Fyge Egerton, poet and champion of women’s rights, Alexander Johnston, son of the executed Lord Wariston, Holcroft Blood, chief of artillery under Marlborough, and a galaxy of politicians, clergyman, peers, and landowners. Amongst the latter is Joshua Edisbury, who built Erddig Hall, near Wrexham. The domestic staff at Erddig is a focus of interest to its visitors and the Edisbury case adds the testimony of the Hall’s very first steward and butler. In another suit we meet Benjamin Overton (c.1647-1711), political pamphleteer, enticing a young heiress (deaf, mute and aged only seventeen) into marriage. We discover the reason why Morgan Godwin (1640-1685), advocate of the evangelisation of black slaves in America, first went to Virginia: to escape a disastrous marriage to the adulterous daughter of a Buckinghamshire innkeeper. Another case features Richard Atkyns (1615-1677), who muddied the waters of English bibliography by announcing that printing was introduced into England long before Caxton, his evidence being a book allegedly found at Lambeth. Robert “Beau” Fielding, rake and M.P., appears in two cases, first through his bigamous marriage to Barbara, Lady Castlemaine, once the mistress of Charles II, and second through his simultaneous affair with her granddaughter.

The project has also drawn attention to the importance for architectural history of suits concerning dilapidations. The palaces of bishops and archbishops, and the work required to restore them, are extensively documented, especially following their devastation in the era of the Commonwealth. Included is a case brought against the executor of the will of John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, whose heroic achievement in restoring his cathedral led only to accusations from his successor that he had neglected his palace. Such suits often provide significant documentation on bishops’ income and expenditure, and, in a suit brought against the executor of the will of Archbishop Juxon, there is a detail concerning his private library: that his books were worth no more than fifty pounds.

Book with the ownership inscription of Archbishop Juxon (ref: SA442.C7)


Parsonage houses are another prime subject of dilapidation suits, while cases arising from churchwardens’ accounts often document the fabric of churches, as in the case of Ware, Hertfordshire, which needed extensive repair after the Great Storm of November 1703.

The depositions of witnesses before the Court of Arches provide vivid glimpses of the lives of rich and poor alike.  4,268 depositions have been recorded in the Library’s online catalogue for the first time, with the names, ages, occupations and residences of witnesses and usually their place of birth. One of the rewarding aspects of  the project has been to identify signed witness statements not only by bishops and leading churchmen but also laymen as various as John Evelyn, Sir Roger L’Estrange, Walter Charleton, physician to Charles II,  Streynsham Master, pioneer of the East India Company, John Pordage, priest, astrologer and alchemist, Claude Sourceau, tailor to Charles II, Cave Underhill, comic actor, Sir Samuel Garth, physician and poet, and the anatomist William Cowper. No less vivid are the testimonies of more ordinary folk, literate and illiterate. Their occupations are now recorded in the online catalogue, opening windows into innumerable trades and professions. In the case of Hubbard versus Hubbard, for instance, we are taken into the world of a London peruque maker, while in the case brought by Lady Ashe against Sir James Ashe we find the testimony of physicians, surgeons and apothecaries concerning the transmission of two diseases which frequently break out in Arches cases, the clap and the French pox.

In addition the project has catalogued 164 documents which were missing from the published index (and hence from the online catalogue), completing the documentation in almost as many cases before the Court.


With the support of the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, a project to identify documents within the archive of the Court of Arches which were missing from the catalogue has been completed. The project focused on series E: libels, articles, allegations and interrogatories. In total 287 missing documents were identified and catalogued, comprising 95 parchments and 483 paper leaves. They range in date from 1662 to 1786 and reflect the variety of the Court’s jurisdiction in areas such as marriage, divorce, wills and probate, defamation, clergy morals and conduct, tithes and church buildings. The newly catalogued items enhance the documentation on hundreds of cases before the Court, providing vivid glimpses into forgotten lives. Interesting cases to which the project has added new documentation concerned the wills of Archbishops Juxon and Sheldon, the dilapidation of the bishops’ palaces at Lichfield and Peterborough after the destruction of the Commonwealth era, the clandestine marriage of Frances Hyde, daughter of the Earl of Clarendon, and the divorces of political figures such as Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford, John Vaughan, 2nd Viscount Lisburne, and Trevor Hill, 1st Viscount Hillsborough. A further divorce case concerned Sir John Reade who had the unusual distinction of being made a baronet by both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. The project also brought to light an unexpected item amongst the libels, an original rate book for the parish of St. Paul, Deptford, 1768.

A guide to the archive of the Court of Arches, with information on its jurisdiction and procedure and extensive bibliography, has also been added to the Library’s online catalogue of archives and manuscripts.

Example of a case in the Court of Arches (MQ808.G7S8TP)