Glebe terriers

During the sixteenth century, considerable concern was expressed by ecclesiastical authorities about the effect of inflation on benefice income, that is, the income of rectors but more particularly vicars. [The main difference here depended on whether the living had been appropriated and who held the great tithes, the rectorial income]. This anxiety was first represented in an Act of 1571 which limited the length of leases of ecclesiastical land (and land of corporate colleges) to 21 years. That Act was complemented by the canons of 1571 for the production of glebe terriers. The extent of the problem of the decline of benefice income has recently been revised.

Before 1571, documents of terrier-type had been produced at the instance of the incumbent, not by higher authority. Some Elizabethan episcopal visitation articles had enquired whether any glebe had been lost. The legislation of 1571 regularised this procedure, requiring a copy of the terrier to be deposited in the Ordinary's (bishop's) registry. The earliest extant terriers in accordance with these canons are those for 1575 for the diocese of Rochester, 1576 for the archdeaconry of Sudbury, 1577 for Lincoln diocese, 1585 for Worcester diocese, and 1601 for Oxford diocese. The procedure, however, was not universally implemented.

Canon 87 of the canons of 1604 established the full implementation of making glebe terriers in preparation for episcopal visitations and their deposit in the diocesan registry:

'We ordain that the archbishop and all bishops within their several dioceses shall procure (as much as in them lieth) that a true note and terrier of all glebes, lands, meadows, gardens, orchards, houses, stocks, implements, tenements and portions of tithes lying out of their parishes (which belong to any parsonage or vicarage or rural prebend) be taken by the view of honest men in every parish, by the appointment of the bishop, whereof the minister to be one, and be laid up in the bishop's registry, there to be for a perpetual memory thereof'.


The regularity of their production varied by diocese. By the early 18th century there was renewed concern about benefice incomes, resulting in Queen Anne's Bounty, and in 1710 Convocation introduced new guidance for the making of terriers.

The inclusion of tithing customs was a contentious matter, as tithes were perceived to be increasingly a restriction on agricultural improvement and also disdained by dissenters. Conversely, because of inflation, tithes in kind rather than commutation or a modus, were more valuable for incumbents and lay rectors (impropriators) who held tithes. Incumbents thus had an incentive for inclusion of tithes and tithing customs in terriers to establish their rights. As early as 1550, the visitation articles of John Capon, bishop of Salisbury, had directed parishes to produce tithing custumals. The 1548 Act [see Easter Books] attempted to regularise the payment of personal tithes. From 1587, actions for the recovery of tithes were permitted at common law, although plaintiffs preferred the ecclesiastical courts which had a presumption in favour of the plaintiff (the demandant or claimant of tithes). Tithe disputes thus contributed to the resurgence of litigation in ecclesiastical courts in the late 16th, but more particularly early 17th, century. Tithe cases were increasingly thereafter withdrawn into Exchequer. Such cases were encouraged by the actions of lay impropriators of tithes, particularly their inducement to prosecute since double or treble damages were allowed in tithe litigation.

In the diocese of York, however, Sheils suggests that tithe disputes were not unambiguous litigation:

Probate records

Structure of a will

Invocation: In the name of God Amen; In nomine Dei Amen
[Date]; testator's names and abode
Preamble: body; burial; soul; religious affiliation
Residuary legacy
Appointment of executor/executrix [and overseer(s)]

Probate jurisdiction

From the twelfth century until 1858 (Probate Act of 1857), probate jurisdiction belonged to the ecclesiastical forum. From 1858, civil jurisdiction was constituted in the form of the Principal Probate Registry (Somerset House) and District Probate Registries.

The ecclesiastical courts operated in a hierarchical jurisdiction for purposes of probate: where the archdeacon was the Bishop's Commissary, as in Leicester, probate could be granted in the archdeaconry court; where the personal estate of the testator was otherwise located in a single diocese, probate belonged to the consistory (bishop's) court; where personal estate was dispersed in more than one diocese, probate was required in the metropolitan courts of York and Canterbury; at the very highest level, probate was administered by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Exceptional, however, were the Peculiar Jurisdictions, localities which had historically been exempt from the Ordinary's (bishop's) jurisdiction, such as manors formerly held by the Templars or Cistercians. In the case of Peculiars, probate was granted in the manorial court.

Problems of jurisdiction

The probate jurisdiction of the church was under attack in the pre-Reformation and immediately post-Reformation periods. This section relates to the contest between ecclesiastical courts and common lawyers in the post-Reformation period. The common lawyers patrolled the boundary of ecclesiastical jurisdiction (civil lawyers) at this time by adopting the writ of prohibition to Courts Christian which prevented ecclesiastical courts dealing with specific matters. One of the areas of contention was probate, in the following way:

For these problems, R. Helmholz, Roman Canon Law in Reformation England.


Probate inventories
The Probate and Mortuaries Act of 1529 (21 Henry VIII cc5-6) was introduced to regulate fees exacted by ecclesiastical courts, but in the process regularised the production of probate inventories, although it did not introduce them, for there had been earlier synodal decrees and legislation abour their production and fees for probate. [The following is taken from Moore and Wunderli].

All these required the production of inventories, but were largely unsuccessful.

The following were attempts to regulate fees:

During the later middle ages, fees had become established at 1-3% of personal estate, but with a lower rate of exemption for the poor (defined at less than 40s. in value). For the wills of absolute paupers, a special probate fee of 12d. was exacted to cover the cost of the scribe and apparitor. Richard Hunne's case of 1514 in the Consistory Court of London was a notorious case about the exaction of fees. The Act of 1529 set fees at a lower level of 2s.6d. with a maximum level of 5s., with personal estate valued at less than 100s. being exempt. The greatest benefit was thus to the rich, since even the wealthiest need pay no more than 5s. The Act was supposedly retrospective to the proceedings of 1416.

The practical effect

Traditional local historical use


New issues

'A jibe frequently directed at demographers is that they succeed in turning sex and death into dull issues. It can now be said of cultural historians that they seek to make the study of commodities fun, liberating the world of production and consumption from the dead positivist hand of the economic historian. The economists' continuing terminology of budget constraints, elasticities of demand and marginal utility is to be superseded by a symbolic and representational vocabulary whereby commodities reveal fantasies, fetishes, masochistic longings, power urges and internalized oppression.'
(Jan de Vries)

The problems of consumption

Preambles in wills
Since the research of Geoffrey Dickinson, preambles in wills have been exploited to assess religious change in the sixteenth century. The analysis has become increasingly sophisticated, culminating, perhaps, in the complex categories of Litzenberger.


Communitarian v. solifidian? - i.e. reliance on intercession for the deceased by the living, by Mary and the saints and by the whole company of heaven (i.e. a belief in purgatory) v. salvation by Jesus Christ our Redeemer alone? - but cf Duffy's contention that late medieval religioun was also Christocentric (new feasts such as the Holy Name of Jesus, the Transfiguration etc - Pfaff).

A solution?

Combining the evidence of the preamble with that of the bequests (figures by Whiting).

Churchwardens' accounts and Easter Books

The following account of Easter Books follows closely the exposition by Susan Wright. Easter Books remained, until recently, a little used source and even now the full extent of their survival is not known. Their potential use for demography and household and family size is very important. Sometimes found as separate books or listings, sometimes within general books of tithing or benefice income, they survive from the 16th century until the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836. The example from Ryton (Durham) for 1593-4 derives from a composite volume of tithing and Easter book (see further below). The tithing part consists of a modus on the fields, while the Easter Book comprises tithes taken at Easter on small stock and personal tithes and the Easter oblations or offerings.


Alongside churchwardens' account, they are the fundamental record of parochial finance, or, more particularly, benefice income of the incumbent. They are variously called Paschal Rolls, Easter Books and Easter Rolls, depending on their form. Basically, the income consisted of small tithes (small livestock, the produce of livestock such as milk and eggs, and horticultural produce) and eprsonal tithes (tithes on trade and wages, especially in urban areas) and Easter offerings, oblations or pence, which were often commuted to a fixed sum (2d. or 4d.) per communicant.

The calculation of oblations varied from place to place:

Gradations in contributions were common, as at St Margaret's, Leicester, in 1712:
The best examples provide a detailed listing topographically by household of all communicants. Thus the early 18th-century ones for Ludlow enumerated:
Less detailed ones provide only the head of household and the amount paid for the household.

Potential uses



The Ryton book contains a series for 1593-5, 1609-10 and 1615. Personal tithes were paid by single persons, married couples and children and servants. The listings give at the end of each year's account the number of communicants during Easter week. A reek was a standard oblation of 1d.

Churchwardens' accounts

The following is based on C. Drew, B. Kümin, and R. Helmholz. Churchwardens can be traced back at least to the early 13th century, when the Fourth Lateran Council confirmed financial responsibilities for the parish on the laity.

For the survival and potential use of churchwardens' accounts, you will need to read Ronald Hutton's The Rise and Fall of Merry England, now in OPUS paperback, which is on the bibliography of another module. You should also look at Beat A. Kümin, The Shaping of a Community. The Rise and Reformation of the English Parish, c.1400-1560 (Aldershot, 1996), but you will not have time to explore it in depth. Most importantly, therefore, you should read: Andrew Foster, 'Churchwardens' accounts of early modern England and Wales: some problems to note, but much to be gained', in K.L. French, G.G. Gibbs and B.A. Kümin, The Parish in English Life 1400-1600 (Manchester, 1997), from which these notes are derived.

Foster provides some interesting material on refurbishment in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.


Use of churchwardens' accounts

Manorial surveys

Manorial surveys had a long existence.

In the late sixteenth century, surveys became on some manors and in some villages a contested issue for a complex of reasons.

The context

Focus of the contention

Copyhold: copyhold of inheritance (Midlands) and copyhold for lives (S.W.): annuals rents difficult for lords to increase except when the tenancy fell in; some compensation through entry fines; attempts by lords to augment income from total rent ('rack renting'); the focus was copyhold.