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.