|Content Description||The Presentment Bills contain reports from parishes and chapelries. The bills were produced in answer to specific articles issued to the churchwardens by the Archdeacon, and were normally presented in person at the regular visitations of the Archdeacon or his Official, which occurred at Easter and (from 1619) also at Michaelmas. Occasional presentments by the clergy have also survived. The bills were usually signed or marked by the churchwardens or their assistants (swornmen or sidesmen) to signify that they had sworn to the truth of the presentments, and then examined by an official of the court. |
The bills give the names of individuals who were accused of certain offences which fell within the purview of the ecclesiastical courts. The Archdeacon's court was responsible for matters concerning church buildings and the conformity and behaviour of the clergy. Additionally, it had oversight over the spiritual and moral well-being of the parishioners. Those people whose names were presented at the Archdeaconry court were liable to be called to answer the charges in person at the next meeting of the Correction Court, although only a proportion of those mentioned in the Presentment Bills were formally cited to appear.
The articles under which individuals might be presented were wide-ranging, and included poor maintenance of church buildings and property; failure by the clergy to perform their regular duties or to conform to the religious ordinances of the time; non-attendance by the laity at their own parish church; failure to receive holy communion regularly; breaking the Sabbath by working, keeping company or drinking alcohol; Catholic recusancy or extreme Puritanism; irreverent behaviour in the church and churchyard; arguing with one's neighbours; sexual immorality of all kinds (hence the term 'bawdy court'); and being involved in witchcraft or superstitious practices. The variety of offences mentioned in the Presentment Bills declined over time. Very few presentments relating to failures in religious observance were made after 1686. By the early 18th century, the vast majority of Presentment Bills recorded 'omnia bene', or 'nothing to present', rendering them less informative than the earlier records.
A list and explanation of the various offences for which people were brought before the Nottinghamshire Archdeaconry court, as mentioned in the churchwardens' Presentment Bills, 1587-1679, has been drawn up as a result of analysis carried out as part of the Special Project to catalogue these documents. See the Archdeaconry Resources pages in the Manuscripts and Special Collections website, http://tinyurl.com/q36u54f.
People found guilty of sexual offences in the Archdeaconry court were normally punished by the imposition of a Penance (see series AN/PN). Those who refused to appear in court, or who did not pay court fees and fines imposed on them could be excommunicated (see series AN/E). The progress of causes in the Archdeaconry court was recorded in the Act Books (AN/A).
This series of Presentment Bills concerns parishes in Bingham, Newark, Nottingham and Retford deaneries. The Archbishop of York's Visitations at Easter 1615, 1619, 1623, 1636, 1640, 1674, 1682, 1687, 1693, 1714, 1717 and 1726, during which time the work of the Archdeaconry court was 'inhibited', or suspended, would explain why no bundles of Presentment Bills exist for these particular dates.
The Presentment Bills were traditionally arranged by deanery and then by date, and this arrangement has been preserved. The numbering of the series reflects the numbering system for the boxes or packages in which the documents were stored before their transfer to the University, and this, again, has been preserved, despite the fact that it is, in some parts, not strictly logical.
The Presentment Bills are original documents. The records were kept in bundles (one bundle for each deanery and court session) by officials of the ecclesiastical court, with the papers pierced for filing and held together by a string or parchment thong.
From Easter 1630 onwards it became the general practice for Presentment Bills from each court session to be arranged in alphabetical order by name of parish, and for the occasional presentments forwarded at odd times after the court date to be added to the end of the bundle. Most bundles have been numbered up to reflect this original arrangement. However, some bundles which required urgent conservation attention before their correct order was ascertained have been incorrectly numbered from back to front.