|Content Description||Act Books are the principal record of the business dealt with by the Archdeacon and his officials, showing proceedings and judgments of the court. The records reflect two main categories of business: correction causes, or causes 'ex officio mero', which were dealt with by summary jurisdiction, and instance causes ('ad instantiam partium'), which were argued by proctors (ecclesiastical lawyers). By the 18th century, the ex officio volumes were known as 'Books of Correction', while the instance volumes were described as 'Books of Causes'.|
Correction causes were technically brought against the offender by the office of the judge of the Archdeaconry court, who was known as the Official. The causes were usually initiated out of Presentment Bills (see AN/PB) exhibited by the churchwardens of each parish or chapelry at court sessions usually held in the spring, at the Easter visitation, and in the autumn, at the Michaelmas visitation. The Presentment Bills named ordinary parishioners who had committed offences which came under the purview of the ecclesiastical courts. People were brought before the courts for a wide variety of offences, including religious dissent, non-payment of church dues, sexual misconduct, clandestine marriages, disorderly behaviour in church precincts, and superstitious practices. The causes were dealt with by summary jurisdiction - in other words, the judge of the court decided which causes should go forward for further investigation, and decided on the appropriate punishment to issue, such as excommunication or the imposition of a penance. The Act Books recorded all the stages in the progress of the cause once the offender had been cited to appear in court.
Instance causes, or causes 'ad instantiam partis' (brought at the instance of one or more parties against another party), were intended to resolve disputes of various kinds. A large proportion of Instance causes were brought by people alleging that they had been defamed by a neighbour. Most defamation causes hinged on accusations of sexual immorality. Tithe disputes made up another substantial area of business, in which rectors brought actions against parishioners for non-payment of tithes and other ecclesiastical dues. Matrimonial causes often related to breach of contract, or illegal separation. Testamentary disputes usually involved failure by executors to pay legacies - anything more complicated was sent straight up from the Archdeaconry of Nottingham to the consistory court in York. Other causes involved disputes over the ownership of pews.
Correction causes promulgated by individuals on behalf of the Official were also dealt with in the court of Instance, and were known as 'promoted Office causes'. These could include causes brought against parishioners for moral offences, for scolding or brawling in public places, or for alienation of church goods, or causes brought against clergy or churchwardens for not doing their duty - or any causes which could have been dealt with as disciplinary offences in the court of Office, but which for some reason were privately prosecuted rather than brought to the court by the Official. Additionally, Books of Causes in the 18th century recorded the granting of faculties for repairs or renovations to church buildings, the appointment of surrogates for granting marriage licences, and the election of proctors to represent clergy at Convocation meetings in York. Instance and promoted Office causes were argued by proctors, or ecclesiastical lawyers, through the means of written pleadings. The paperwork relating to each cause survives in the series known in the Archdeaconry of Nottingham as Libels (see AN/LB).
The last summary jurisdiction cause brought against a lay person and recorded in the final 'ex officio', or Correction Book (AN/A 82/1) took place in February 1796. A cause concerning neglect of duty by the Rector of Bingham was mentioned in February 1797, but by this stage the Archdeaconry Court appears to have ceased functioning as a place of detection and punishment. The book continued to be used until 1835, but its entries were confined to the recording of the election of clerical proctors for Convocation in York.
Similarly, February 1796 is the date of the last entry in the final Instance Act Book (AN/A 82/2) in the style which had been used up to that point. After that date no actual causes were recorded, the business before the court being purely administrative: the appointment of apparitors, surrogates for granting marriage licences, and other court officials, and the granting of faculties. The only entries after 1871 were the occasional records of the swearing-in of new Registrars and Officials.
The Act Books have been numbered in the following list to reflect the original parcels in which they were received by the Library. The courts frequently preserved both the Journals (abbreviated records compiled in the Court) and the fair copy Register, which was made up afterwards. However, in many cases, no fair copy Registers were ever written up, or have survived. The Registers often contain only a small proportion of the causes in the Journal, but on the other hand they sometimes add documentation about the causes which is not found in the Journals. For the most part the Journals remained unbound, but sometimes were bound up and made to serve as Registers. In the following list the parcels with single numbers are usually bound Registers, while those containing sub-numbers are usually Journals. This is not however a rigid distinction. Readers should note that the sub-numbers assigned to the contents of some parcels occasionally disturbs the chronological order.
Many of the records were primarily concerned with either 'ex officio' business or Instance litigation, but it should be noted that many Instance books will contain some office cases and vice versa.
Act Books were written out in the order in which causes were heard. The record of each court session is headed by the date and place and the names of the court officials hearing the causes. Any particular cause was liable to be heard over a number of different court sessions before it was concluded or dismissed. Some of the Act Books include contemporary indexes, but researchers should be aware that it is sometimes difficult to follow a cause through all its stages.
Tables listing Correction Act Books and Instance Act Books in chronological order are available on our Archdeaconry Resources webpages:
Most of the entries in the Act Books are in Latin until 1733, and are highly abbreviated and sometimes difficult to read. Some skill and experience is required to read Act Book entries before 1733, although the formulaic nature of the entries means that interpretation becomes easier with practice.
|Publication Note||58 of the Act Books, dating from 1565 to 1675 (not a full series), were translated and transcribed into 25 manuscript notebooks in the 1920s by R F B Hodgkinson. The original transcripts are held at Nottinghamshire Archives (DDTS Addit. 14/26/1-25). The notebooks comprise transcriptions of every entry, translated into English, up to September 1628 for Correction causes, and November 1630 for Instance causes. The transcriptions are sometimes rough, providing the gist of the judgments and orders, rather than transcribing and translating every word of the dense legal language used in the originals. However, where evidence is presented, this is usually translated in full. From the 1630s-1675, only entries deemed 'interesting or unusual' have been noted.|
Hodgkinson also produced three typescript volumes of edited extracts from his transcriptions, 1565-1675, which are available in the reference section of the Nottinghamshire Archives Office (M461-463). These typescript volumes have been indexed by surname.
A small selection of these edited extracts, dated 1565-1642, was published by Hodgkinson as 'Extracts from the Act Books of the Archdeacons of Nottingham' in Transactions of the Thoroton Society, Vols. XXI (1917), pp. 84-93, XXIX (1925), pp. 19-67, XXX (1926), pp. 11-57 and XXXI (1927), pp. 108-153.
The Act Books concerned are as follows:
AN/A 1, AN/A 2, AN/A 3/1/5-13, AN/A 3/2/7-12, AN/A 4-5, AN/A 7-8, AN/A 11/1-2, AN/A 13-23, AN/A 25-28, AN/A 31, AN/A 33-34, AN/A 35/1, AN/A 36-40, AN/A 42-43, AN/A 44/1, AN/A 45, AN/A 47/1-2, and AN/A 51/3.