Wednesday, 13 April 2016

‘Till death us do part’?: marriage, love and wills in the Archbishops' Registers

When David Cressy examined aspects of marriage in Tudor and Stuart times, he asked whether or not love played a part in courtship and marriage then (1). Unlike other historians, such as Laurence  Stone, he considered that love was fundamental to marriage in that era and in support of his argument cited one Stuart source which stated that ‘to the end that marriages may be perpetual, loving and delightful betwixt the parties, there must and ought to be knitting of hearts before striking of hands’(2).

So is it possible to discover the affection in which an Elizabethan testator held his wife from the wording of his will? Perhaps, judging from wills being examined in the ‘York’s Archbishops’ Registers Revealed’ project. A project generously supported by the Marc Fitch Fund is currently indexing the Archbishops' Registers for the period 1576-1650, and much of the content for this period consists of probate records, largely for beneficed clergy.

Take, for instance, the will of Charles Daintith (1557-1595), vicar of Kirk Ella, 1591-5, made shortly before his death (3). He mentioned his wife Isabel several times in strikingly loving terms, which do not seem to be merely formulaic, as ‘Isabell Jepson my beloved freind and my true and lawfull wief now by the lawes of this Realme established’ and ‘Isabell Jepson my welbeloved wief’.

'my beloved freind'
He left the residue of his estate to his ‘beloved wief’ and made her his executrix on one condition, which was ‘desiring as there was ever true love betwixt her and me ... that she will not forgett at hir ending if she keep hir so long unmaried my brother Gabriell and his children and my sisters children’.

Was this the same experience for all? Perhaps not, and the will of Barnabie Shepherd (d. 1588) may be a case in point (4) This was a nuncupative will, spoken before witnesses who recalled:
‘Memorandum that the Fyftenthe day of Februarie in the yeare of our Lorde God one thowsande, fyve hundrethe eightie seven, accordinge to the course and computacioun of the churche of Englande Barnabie Shepperde, bachelour of devynytye and parson of Bulmer, of the dyoces of Yorke being of perfecte mynde and memorye, and being asked and desyred to knowe to whome he woulde dispose or gyve his goodes, whether to his Wyfe, (meanynge Brygett Shepperde then his Wyfe) or not Annswered and sayd, yea to his wyfe, or the like wordes in effecte, in the presence of Fraunces Layton and Josias Fawether.’
So was he in pain or just bad-tempered or were relations between him and his wife less than loving?

'yea to his wyfe'
We will never know!

Are these just two examples at either end of the spectrum of marital affection or are there many others waiting to be discovered as work progresses? Watch this space!

Helen Watt
Marc Fitch Project Archivist


(1) David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 1997), pp. 260-3.

(2) Ibid., p. 262, citing from John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A Godly Forme of Houshold Government (1630).

(3) BIA, Register 31, fol. 132 v, entry 2, Will of Charles Daintith, vicar of Kirk Ella, made 24 June 1595, proved 3  October 1595; Alumni Oxonienses; Clergy of the Church of England database (CCEd), available at

(4) BIA, Register 31, fol. 105 v, entry 1, Will of Barnaby Shepherd, Rector of Bulmer, made 15 February 1588, proved 14 March 1588; Alumni Cantabrigienses; CCEd.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Introducing the Borthwick Catalogue

In April 2015 we launched Project Genesis, an ambitious two year project to create the Institute’s first online catalogue using AtoM, or Access to Memory, a web-based, open-source application for archival description and access.  One year on, we are proud to announce that the Borthwick Catalogue (or Borthcat as we’ve begun to call it!) is now live.

You can find the catalogue here (need some tips on searching? Try our help page or check out our Frequently Asked Questions)

The catalogue will continue to grow over the next year, and in years to come, but already it contains descriptions of 376 of our archival collections, spanning 28 countries and 825 years of world history.  The subject matter is impressively broad; church and parish, family and estate, manorial, health, television and theatrical, business and political records demonstrating changing attitudes to religion, morality, education, industrial welfare, health and human and civil rights from the medieval to the modern age.  

Each archive has a detailed ‘top level’ description in the catalogue, recording its unique reference code, the dates it covers and an overview of its contents, together with key information regarding access and links to related archives at the Borthwick and elsewhere.  Why not browse our archives alphabetically, or try our subject or place lists to find out what’s available.

Information about the creator of each archive is also available in a separate authority record, linked in the archival description.  You can browse these here.

In certain cases, full archival catalogues are included with these top level descriptions.  These include the catalogue for The Retreat psychiatric hospital, the British Music Society of York, and the papers of Sir Charles Wood, Secretary of State for India.  

For others, such as our popular parish record collections, we have made the paper finding aids available on the catalogue as a clickable PDF, enabling online users to browse these lists or search their contents via the catalogue search function for the first time.  Please note that these lists do not include parish register indexes which will continue to be available in our search room and on Findmypast. More complete catalogues will be added as we continue to develop Borthcat, opening up our holdings to international audiences and improving our online accessibility.

As Project Archivist, it has been very exciting to see the catalogue taking shape and there have been more than a few surprises along the way.  Personal highlights have included the log books of a 17th century admiral, Robert Fairfax, the discovery of a female Sexton at Holy Trinity Goodramgate in the 19th century and a school book with a link to Railway Children author Edith Nesbit, not to mention a 1956 letter from Harry Corbett and Sooty!  

Look out for new content over the coming months but in the meantime, we hope you enjoy using the Borthwick Catalogue to explore some of our holdings and if you have any thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear them.

Happy searching!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Project

A robin, after bathing, at Askham Bog. (BIA/YWT/A177)
The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) is one of the largest Wildlife Trusts in Britain and its 97 reserves cover some of the most varied landscapes in the UK. It works to protect and conserve Yorkshire's wild places and wildlife, with reserves including Spurn National Nature Reserve, Flamborough Cliffs, Potteric Carr, and my local reserve of Askham Bog. The Trust was established in 1946 and in the year it celebrates its 70th anniversary, it is very exciting to have launched a 12 month project to catalogue and promote the Trust’s extensive archive.

Working in partnership with YWT and supported by funding from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives, by 2017 we will have described the archive to file level and to have made this accessible through the Borthwick’s online catalogue. The archive of YWT, like their reserves, is of national and international importance. It documents the establishment of the Trust and its development through to the modern day, as well as the bio-recording of internationally scarce habitats, relationships with landowners and the precedent-making legal cases led by the Trust in the 1970s. The archive highlights the UK’s unique role in the development of nature conservation and is the largest body (both in volume and subject coverage) of such material as yet deposited in any public institution. It includes paper, photographs and digital material and covers 3.5m3.

As well as cataloguing the archive, thereby releasing its research potential to new and existing audiences, the project will also include the running of workshops on archival appraisal and conservation. We'll also be using new and traditional media to continue to promote the archive throughout the year.

The archive as it looks today!

Over the next few weeks, I will be starting some preliminary survey work on the boxes which will help me develop a structure for the catalogue. I’ll also be familiarising myself with Access to Memory (AtoM) the open-source, web-based application we're using to host our online catalogue. Personally and professionally, I am very excited to be working as the archivist on this project. It really will be a fascinating (not to mention busy!) twelve months and I look forward to keeping you all up-to-date as it develops. In the meantime, if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about the project or how we’re approaching it do feel free to comment below or to get in touch through our Twitter or Facebook.

Lydia Dean
Project Archivist

Box count: 2/200 surveyed...