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
'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'.
- parsonage house or vicarage and buildings;
- glebe land;
- [church plate];
- [customary fees and oblations];
- [rates and tithes].
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
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:
- the increase in tithe litigation occurred after 1600;
- the causes were more frequently initiated by lay impropriators (which resulted from the high proportion of previously impropriate or monastic rectories) or lay farmers of tithes (which resulted from the high number of livings in the patronage of the upper clergy, including the Archbishop);
- the tithe causes usually related to the great (rectorial) tithes, since the minor value of the small (vicarial) tithes did not merit the costs of litigation;
- there was an imperative for payment because tithes were still associated with the level of 'pastoral provision' and with Easter;
- but where there was a modus (fixed sum of money in commutation of tithes) conflict between clergy and laity was more likely to ensue as inflation diminished the real value of the sum.
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;
||Appointment of executor/executrix [and overseer(s)]
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
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:
- mixed wills: where a will purported to involve (after 1540) both real and personal
estate, the common lawyers claimed jurisdiction over the real estate;
- debts under testamentary jurisdiction: from the 1570s, ecclesiastical courts
introduced the tuition bond, which helped to contain defaulting executors/trices,
but such action traversed actions of debt at common law; in fact, the tuition
bonds were drawn into the common law courts, but with the interposition of the
ecclesiastical courts which had drafted the bond.
For these problems, R. Helmholz, Roman Canon Law in Reformation
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].
- 1215 Magna Carta c26: inventories for personal estate of tenants-in-chief;
- diocese of Bath and Wells c.1258;
- dioceses of York and Carlisle and Province of Canterbury 1258-9;
- Council of Lambeth for at least Province of Canterbury 1261;
- Cardinal Ottobuono's Legatine Constitution 1268.
All these required the production of inventories, but were largely unsuccessful.
The following were attempts to regulate fees:
- 1357 (31 Edward III cc4, 11)on complaint about fees for probate and
intestacy, but no fees defined;
- 1415-16 (4 Henry V c8) further complaints by parliament against probate
- 1529 Probate and Mortuaries Act which dealt (c5) with probate fees
and (c6) with mortuaries.
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
- It regularised the production of probate inventories;
- probate inventories were confirmed as relating only to personal estate
not real estate, but leases were included as personal estate;
- it defined bona notabilia as personal estate valued at £5; no
inventory needed to be produced for personal estate below that level; thus
there is under-representation in the earlier years as those with personal
estate below £5 were exempted, but inflation during the 16th century
captured more people;
- the valuation of the personal estate was to be produced by at least two
(often more) local men -- the (ap)praisers.
Traditional local historical use
- agricultural change: (a) new crops; (b)changes in implements (from
Hoskins on the Leicestershire farmer onwards);
- local and regional material culture: for example, vernacular architecture
(Hoskins on the 'great rebuilding' of 1580-1640 onwards -- cells/rooms; levels).
- Representativeness: the cohort with bona notabilia (over £5);
- seasonality: time of year in relation to agricultural production;
- administrative problems: laconic production of inventories after 1730s;
administrative rationalisation (diocese of York: no survival of inventories
until late 17th century);
- the relationship between real and personal estate in terms of status and wealth;
- life-cycle (see below).
'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)
- 'representation of the self' (Goffman) ('self-fashioning' - Greenblatt) or 'symbolic capital' (Bourdieu);
- capital accumulation;
- household economy: problematic of relationship between wages and earnings
(total household income) -- best explored through wages or household consumption?
- consumption as production: consumption alters the meaning or gives a different meaning; the social uses of things;
- defining the 'middling sort';
- the social use of space: privacy; representation through the use of space ('front' and public space; rear and private); ambiguously;
- household decision-making: reflected through consumer items.
The problems of consumption
- durables (1): continuity of use: become out of date: exist beyond their use?
- durables (2): inherited: become out of date;
- life-cycle: the 'stock-flow' problem: inventories taken at death: contraction of household size; propensity to consume declines with age?; propensity to save declines with age?; need to arrange inventories by age-cohort and household size;
- non-durables: probably not represented in inventories: newspapers; trinkets; toys; perishable foodstuffs;
- clothing (self-fashioning): but rarely described in detail and sometimes changes by life-cycle and may have a transitory nature;
- proportion of wealth in the inventory in goods of consumption: empirical analysis suggests that remains lowish and changes little, but: (i) depreciation of existing goods; (ii)decline of costs/prices of production as goods become established (market expands); and (iii)saturation level, but we are still left with the symbolic importance 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.
- How does a death-bed expression relate to previous life (radicalism and evangelism of youth - Brigden?)?
- Who wrote the will and its preamble and how did that relate to the testator's beliefs?
- How does the use of formularies (Alsop) relate to the testator's beliefs? How, in contrast, do some will preambles (Stacy) become
models for those of a religious persuasion (Litzenberger/Craig)?
- How should we interprete 'neutral' wills of the 1550s and 1560s - as indecisive (Litzenberger) or as 'cold statute Protestantism' (Craig)?
- How far is there latent coercion to conform because of the forum in which the will is proved (compare also the posthumous denunciation of Stacy as
- How far does obedience to a sovereign affect religious sentiment?
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).
Combining the evidence of the preamble with that of the bequests (figures by Whiting).
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:
- Chester: a modus of 12d. on the commercial elite and 4d. on
- Coventry (1538): a tenth of all rental income;
- St Margaret's, Leicester: based on hosue values: houses under £10 paid
1s.; those valued at £10-20 2s.6d.; those over £20 1s. for each additional £5
Gradations in contributions were common, as at St Margaret's, Leicester,
- Man servant 1s.;
- maid servant 6d.;
- apprentice 2d.;
- siblings aged 16-21 2d.;
- sons over 21 1s.;
- daughters over 21 6d.
The best examples provide a detailed listing topographically by household of all
communicants. Thus the early 18th-century ones for Ludlow enumerated:
- children over 16;
- lodgers and relatives in the same household.
Less detailed ones provide only the head of household and the amount paid for
- Where there is a series, some concept of population turnover or demographic
change can be inferred and they can be compared with the Compton Census of 1676;
- household structure can be ascertained, but a multiplier may be needed for
those under 16 (i.e. not yet communicants);
- urban topography can be reconstructed, included residential segregation;
- migrants, especially lodgers and 'sojourners', can be researched;
- kin propinquity can be detected, as well as social relationships within and
- local tithing customs and agrarian productivity can be assessed (except if a
modus had been established.
- communicants at Easter: satisfaction with Prayer Book religion? Interpretations of 'parish Anglicanism'. Christopher Haigh: Catholics abandoned to their fate by the failure of the Catholic missionaries; 'spiritual leftovers'; non-recusant Catholics (pace Bossy's sect by the 1570s); Judith Maltby: satisfaction with Prayer Book religion; positive conformity; satisfaction with the liturgy; what the Godly rhetorically denounced as 'Cold Statute' Protestantism; Alexandra Walsham: a porous boundary between recusancy and conformity; Church Papists; outwardly conformable; a modus vivendi with one's neighbours; possiblity of conformable men (husbands) who took communion in church, but 'popish wives' who received mass at home; casuistical. Penal Laws: Act of Uniformity of 1559 imposed fine of 1s. for non-attendance at church on Sundays and feast days; Penal Laws of 1581, 1587 and 1593 imposed £20 fines (aimed at gentry leadership of Catholicism). Overall, however, the penal laws allowed for occasional, outward conformity. The penal laws never intended to act as a window into souls as they never penalised non-participation in communion; church-going was the test of conformity, not communion. Non-communion not a civil offence, but it could incur excommunication -- but with what effect, since the power to do so was usurped? What does this mean for the interpretation of Easter communication figures in Easter Books?
- Impulsion towards communion: being in charity with one's neighbours; obedience to a sovereign; and the latent coercion of the 'community.' Impulsion against communion: 'Godly' abhorrence to kneeling.
- Nonconformity and dissent (not communicants); earlier Easter Books may include
these non-communicants, but the problem may become more real later on; the
numbers of communicants can be compared with the diocesan surveys of 1563 and 1603
and the Compton Census of 1676;
- the poor: probably not a great problem, since the poor tended to be listed
even if they were exempt; thus the census of the poor for Salisbury in 1635
compares favourably with the Easter Book, with only 5% difference;
- extent of survical of Easter Books: still unclear;
- Personal tithes: their collection is complicated; the Act for the True
Payment of Tithes (1548)exempted day labourers; tradespeople withholding tithes
could be brought before the consistory court, but could not be compelled to
declare their income; they could be questioned 'by all lawful and
reasonable meanes, other than by the parties owne corporall oathe'; thus
personal tithe smay be underrepresented;
- where there was a modus, it is impossible to establish personal wealth.
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.
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.
- Hutton used 662 sets of accounts 1558-1660;
- therefore there might be as many as 800 sets, that is, from 8% of all
- the S. and S.W. are better represented and 'given the conservative
nature of the south-west, this may have some significance for those historians
who like to argue about the survival of Catholic traditions nationally' (Foster,
- relative survival by diocese:
London 16% of parishes||Salisbury 15% of parishes
||Bath and Wells 11% of parishes
||Bristol 10% of parishes
||Exeter 9% of parishes|
- higher survival rate for urban parishes, reflecting wealth, which influenced
perceptions of patterns of expenditure -- what was the pattern in poorer parishes?
- patronage -- 40% of livings in gift of ecclesiastical or collegiate
institutions, 11% the Crown, 42% the laity - what was the effect on conformity?
Foster provides some interesting material on refurbishment in the late sixteenth
and early seventeenth centuries.
- origins in the early 13th century as the laity included in parochial
administration after 1215 Fourth Lateran Council;
- usually one appointed by the parish and one by the incumbent;
- responsibilities: poor law before 1601; maintenance of the fabric
and furniture; presentments for misconduct;
- from the 'middling sort' of parishioners;
- by canon 115 of 1604 exempted from actions against them in ecclesiastical courts
which might have been malicious in response to presentments by the churchwardens
through articles of enquiry and detections (comperta);
- how far were they involved in some places in the 'reformation of morality'
in the late sixteenth century (Wrightson and Levine, Spufford, Ingram etc)?
Use of churchwardens' accounts
- investment in late medieval religion;
- progress of the Reformation;
- 'community of the parish';
- differentiation by social status: the parochial elite and the politics of the parish: (i) communion wine (muscadine/claret); and (ii) seating/pew arrangements (the 'politics of place').
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.
- 'Tawney's century 1540-1640'? - expansion of gentry estates?
- Laurence Stone - 'crisis of the aristocracy'?
- Robert Brenner - the 'Brenner debate' - consequences of agrarian capitalism for relationships between landowners and
- inflation and the pressure on fixed capital (rents from landed estates)?
- new techniques for exploitation of landed income: (i) improvements in surveying (Norden); (ii) associated with
cartography for visual representation of landed estates (William Senior; Mark Pierce); (iii) manuals including actuarial tables for calculating
lives and return on estates (Clay).
- relationship between literacy and orality, control and authority: increase of written surveys v. custom (Adam Fox).
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.