Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Archbishops’ Registers Revealed: final thoughts of an indexer

A year has flashed by and the project to index two of the registers of the Archbishops of York, 1576-1650, will very soon come to an end. However, both registers are now fully indexed and the results are available for searching on line at

What will you discover?

Looking back over the work, it was perhaps a little surprising to find that the majority of the contents of those two registers comprised York Consistory Court wills (but no probate inventories), mostly of clergymen, but also some lay people. Earlier registers, such as those of Archbishop Neville (1374-1388) and Archbishop Lee (1531-1544), for example, appear to record a much greater variety of business.

However, wills have long been known to provide a very valuable source of information on many aspects of daily life in the past, revealing the testator’s material possessions, personal tastes, relationships and place in society. Needless to say, the wills in Registers 31 and 32 have done the same for the sixteenth and seventeenth century clergy and their families, offering a rich seam of interest and, on occasion, entertainment! Who would have thought that anyone would wish to receive a legacy of a chamber pot (Reg. 31, fol. 125 v, entry 3) or a ‘stoole of ease’ (commode) (Reg. 31, fol. 123 v, entry 2)? Who would have thought that cows would have been named ‘Daisy’ as long ago as in 1625 (Reg. 31, fol. 249 r, entry 1)? And would a testator leave his daughter his musical instruments if she were not able to play them or at least keen to learn (Reg. 32, fol. 113 r, entry 4)?

Otherwise, the registers have revealed such other aspects of the archbishops’ business as the technicalities of providing a diocese with a new bishop, following a strictly-laid down ecclesiastical legal procedure still adhered to today, requiring royal assent and formal election. The process of the archbishop’s visitation or periodical inspection of clergy and lay people in the province is also found in the registers, but few details of matters for concern discovered and corrected appear. This omission is explained by the fact that by around this date, a separate series of records for visitations, including visitation court books, had been created (YDA/6, 1567-).

Durham clergy list 1577
Another feature of this type of material was that records of the archbishop’s visitation of the diocese of Durham in 1577 are very detailed in including lists of names of all the clergy in the archdeaconries and deaneries of the diocese summoned to appear before the archbishop with their credentials, together with the names of several churchwardens and others, such as schoolmasters, in each parish (see for example, Reg. 31, fols. 30r-34-v, containing 105 names).

Nevertheless, even the routine business of the archbishops can have its lighter moments. That and other visitations of the diocese of Durham also show the immense difficulties encountered by the archbishops of York in carrying out these inspections. This was particularly true of visitations of the cathedral clergy, who strenuously resisted the process, to the point of excluding the archbishop’s deputy, the Bishop of Durham, also in 1577, from their chapter house by locking him out (Reg. 31, fol. 33v, entry 7). The registers then go on to present the farcical picture of the bishop, sitting on a chair near the entrance doors of the chapter house, attempting to continue the visitation proceedings from outside (Reg. 31, fol. 34 r, entry 2)!

Among the other high points of the project has been the discovery in Register 32 of a seating plan showing the allocation in 1636 of seats or pews in the chapel of Holmfirth in the parish of Kirkburton, in the West Riding of Yorkshire (Reg. 32, fols. 94 A & B). This plan is equally rich in names of local inhabitants, so giving a kind of snapshot of the area at the time, and would prove very useful for any local historians interested in the place in producing a study of the chapelry and its local families, perhaps similar to that created in 1700 by the English author and antiquarian, Richard Gough, who also based his work on such a plan of the church of Myddle, in Shropshire.

Pew plan, Chapelry of Holmfirth, 1636

It was excellent to be able to publicise the registers and discoveries such as these showing potential for research at the ARKDIS conference in Uppsala in Sweden this summer and also present a poster session on the project at the ARA conference in London this month. Next year, a presentation on the project, also showcasing material from the registers, particularly items found in wills, will also be given at the University of Huddersfield’s ‘The Material Culture of Religious Continuity and Change 1400-1600’ conference to be held there.

Going back to wacky names for animals, however, it has also been most enjoyable blogging about the project and revealing that cow’s name to the world!

So, now that the work is almost complete, very many thanks to all at the Borthwick, especially Gary Brannan and also Julie Allinson in IT, for all their help and support during my time on such a fascinating and absorbing project.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thoughts of an Indexer: I name this cow....

Our Marc Fitch project archivist, Helen Watt, reflects on some of the common (and unusual names) given to our bovine friends...)

As a recent authority states, we have been naming animals for thousands of years; not only did the ancient Egyptians give names to animals, but also the ancient Greeks, for example, Alexander the Great called his horse, Bucephalas (‘ox-head’)1. Apart from horses, other types of animal, particularly farm animals, may be given names for many reasons, predominantly because the animals are seen as individuals and are treated as such among the herd or flock, long before the days of factory farming with large herds and uniform breeds. Otherwise, they might be named according to any distinctive markings or characteristics, apparent to their handlers in everyday work.

Sources for names of animals are often provided by wills and when Canon J. S. Purvis, first Director of the Borthwick, compiled his Classified Subject Index for material held there, he included a section for Agriculture covering names of horses, cows and oxen. Examples for these were taken from various series of York Province ecclesiastical documents such as Probate Registers, Dean and Chapter Probate Registers and the Cause Papers. Only a few references to named animals in one of the registers of the Archbishops of York, Register 28 of Archbishop Lee (1531-1544), are given. However, it is now possible to add many more such references from other registers, thanks to the University of York’s project funded by the Marc Fitch Fund, developing the earlier Archbishops’ Registers Revealed Project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The results of this project are now available on line via and provide an index to all the entries in Registers 31 and 32, covering the period 1576 to 1650. In the process of adding keywords to entries for the many wills of clergymen found within, several legacies of horses and farm animals, especially cows, including those mentioned by name have been identified.

'a cowe called nightegale'
Apart from flower and bird names, such as ‘Primrose’, ‘Marigold’, ‘Nightingale’ (1581, Reg. 31, fol. 94r) and ‘Daisy’ (‘Daze’, 1625, Reg. 31, fol. 249r), names given to cows show many of the characteristics identified by scholars such as Leibring and also Keith Thomas and George Redmonds, particularly with reference to Yorkshire names and including some of those listed by Canon Purvis 2. For instance, ‘praise’ names, such as ‘Lucky’ (1632, Reg. 32, fol. 29r), or names celebrating the animals’ nature, such as ‘Stately’ (1599, Reg. 31, fol. 139r). Others might denote the animal’s physical markings or makeup, such as cows called ‘Brownie’ (1577, Reg. 31, 80v), ‘Great Brownie’ and ‘Young Brownie’ (1588, Reg. 31, fol. 106v), also ‘Great Allblack’ (1609, Reg. 31, fol. 158v).

Other names may seem to be harder to classify, including such names of heifers as ‘Jeliver’ (1594, Reg. 31, fol. 132r), ‘Tymlye’ (1629, Reg. 32, 96v), ‘Flowrell’ (1584, Reg. 31, fol. 97r) or ‘Sternill’ (1625, Reg. 31, fol. 249r). However, some of these appear to be favourites, handed down over the years. For instance, ‘Tymmyll’, perhaps a variant of ‘Tymlye’, occurs nearly a hundred years earlier (1546, Probate Register 13, fol. 171), as does ‘Starneld’, perhaps a variant of ‘Sternill’ (1565, Reg. 30, fol. 24r). One name which seems to have persisted in some form in the York Probate Registers between at least the 15th and 16th centuries is ‘Motherlike’ (‘Moderlybe’, 1441, Probate Register 2, fol. 25; ‘Motherlicke’, 1585, Probate Register 23, fol. 186), which may be of particular interest as it has been compared with similar types of cattle names from Scandinavia, perhaps suggesting an earlier origin, who knows, possibly even from Viking times 3.

This phenomenon is not restricted to Yorkshire, but is found in other areas of the country; evidence from Essex wills also shows the same kind of naming practices, with  cows called ‘Gentle’ and ‘Brown Snout’ and even ‘one black cow called Tytt’ 4. Back in Yorkshire, if I had to choose one of these kinds of name, my favourite of all – for a cow difficult to milk, maybe –  is Shorte Papps (1588, Reg. 31, fol. 106v)!

'A cow called shorte papps'
1. Katharina Leibring, ‘Animal Names’, in Carole Hough (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming (Oxford, 2016), Part VII, section 43, 615-627.
2. Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World (London, 1983), pp. 93-6; George Redmonds, Names and History: People, Places and Things (London, 2004), p.148.
3. Katharina Leibring, ‘Animal Names’, in Carole Hough (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming (Oxford, 2016), Part VII, section, Names in Europe’s Traditional Agricultural Societies.
4. F. G. Emmison, Elizabethan Life: Home, Work and Land, Essex Record Office Publication No. 69 (Chelmsford, 1991), p. 52.