Document ReferenceAN/LB
TitleLibels; c.1560-1791
Date1560 c-1791
Extent46 boxes
Access ConditionsIn common with the rest of the archive, these items may have suffered damage from damp and mould, and access may be restricted.

The reference numbers refer to bundles of Libels, with the number of documents in each bundle noted in the 'Extent' field. Readers should order small batches of up to twenty items in any one production.
Content DescriptionBundles of cause papers, including libels, depositions and related documentation.

The cause papers refer in the main to Instance business dealt with by the Archdeaconry court, in which individuals were in dispute with other individuals. 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 cause which could have been dealt with as a disciplinary offence in the court of Office, but which for some reason was privately prosecuted rather than brought to the court by the Official.

Instance and promoted Office causes were heard by the means of written plenary pleadings, producing a mass of documents known collectively in the archive of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham as 'libels'. In fact, a libel was only one of a variety of documents which could be produced in the course of a cause:

· The formal process began by the issuing of a 'libel' - a preliminary paper setting out the case of the plaintiff, with all the relevant facts 'propounded' in clear numbered paragraphs. In Correction and promoted Office causes, the paper was called the 'articles'. The person bringing the cause was called, in Latin, the 'pars actrix' or 'pars agens'. The defendant was called the 'pars rea'.
· The defendant was called into court using a 'citation'. The matter could finish here if he was prepared to make amends (by admonition, penance or other means) and pay the court fees.
· The defendant replied under oath, and his denials were written down, in the same order as the paragraphs in the libel, in his 'personal answers'.
· His counter-case could be stated in a document called an 'allegation', which was also the general name given to any subsequent pleas after the initial libel or articles. A period of time, called a term probatory, was then assigned in order for the plaintiff's proctor to collect evidence.
· Proctors produced 'interrogatories', which were lists of questions to be asked of the witnesses for the opposing party.
· Witnesses were called to court using citations. Their statements, taken down verbatim by the registrar, were termed 'depositions'. Depositions were statements by neighbours, family and friends of the parties involved, relating to the issue in question. They record the witnesses' exact words, in English, sometimes gave personal details about the witnesses, such as their occupations, ages, marital status, and place of birth, and were usually signed or marked
· 'Additional positions', 'excepted material', 'articulate material', or 'declaratory material' could sometimes be generated, giving further information on behalf of either of the parties. All these documents were forms of 'allegation', and followed the general form of the initial libel or articles.
· Supporting evidence such as petitions, letters and certificates were sometimes brought into court and filed with the cause papers.
· When all the evidence had apparently been collected, the Official gave a 'term to propound all acts', which assigned a period after which no more evidence could be submitted, and which was recorded in the Act Book. The final 'term to conclude' gave a date for the cause to be judged.
· After considering all the evidence, the Official pronounced a 'definitive sentence', or 'sentence', an official document which wrapped up the cause by explaining the process and assigning punishments.
· 'Bills of costs' were drawn up listing the fees which had to be paid to the court.

The Act Book was used to keep a summary record of proceedings. Some causes were 'inhibited' or 'prohibited' - transferred up to a higher court, or across to a civil court of law - and in such cases the Archdeaconry archive would not contain any evidence of the outcome. Similarly, some people appealed the verdict. All appeals were heard at the court in York. Some documents from York, relating to transmission of the relevant papers so that the appeal could be heard, survive in the Archdeaconry of Nottingham Libels series.

The punishments handed out in the consistory court were similar to those used for disciplinary causes in the correction court. People could be excommunicated for contumacy (not appearing in court) or for not paying their fees. People found guilty of defamation were usually asked to perform a 'declaration' or 'revocation' by way of penance. Schedules of penances, excommunications and citations are sometimes, especially for the 18th century, found filed with the relevant cause papers in this series, rather than in the main series of documents (see also AN/PN, AN/E and AN/C).

Disputed causes in the Nottingham Archdeaconry court of Instance were heard until February 1796, although no cause papers from after 1791 have survived. After that date, the business before the court, as recorded in the Act Books, was purely administrative.


The documents were found in roughly chronological order, and have been bundled into groups by year. Up to 1752, the Julian Calendar operated in England and the year began on 25th March. Yearly bundles of libels up to 1752, therefore, begin with 25th March and end with 24th March. Within bundles, papers relating to particular causes are usually to be found together.


Until 25 March 1733, the language of record in the Archdeaconry court was Latin. Most documents in the libels series are in Latin until this date. However, defamatory words were usually written out as spoken - that is, in English. The words spoken by witnesses in depositions, and by the parties in their personal answers, are also usually given in English. Additionally, articles in promoted Office causes or Correction causes are often predominantly in English - perhaps because the person being accused of the ecclesiastical offence needed to know what he or she was alleged to have done. Therefore, although the introductory paragraphs in many documents are in Latin and are full of legal jargon, there is often enough English present for researchers to pick out the main facts of the cause.

Up to 25 March 1733, the language of the bundle or document is given as 'Latin', 'English', or both. Documents dated after 25 March 1733 should be assumed to be in English unless stated otherwise.


In this catalogue, Christian names have been translated from the Latin and standardised, while surnames have been left as spelt in the original documents. The exception to this is in the 'Title' field, which gives an overview of the cause, in which the surnames of the litigants have been standardised. Researchers are advised to search for each variant of any particular surname they are looking for, so that all instances can be located.
Related MaterialThe Act Books (AN/A), particularly the Instance Books or Books of Causes, contain the official record of proceedings in the Instance Court, and may include causes for which the pleadings have now been lost.

Some cause papers, in their original bundles, are to be found in the Miscellaneous series (AN/M).
Some causes concerning people from the Archdeaconry of Nottingham were heard in York. Cause papers from the Diocese of York are held at the Borthwick Institute at the University of York. A searchable catalogue of these cause papers is available,
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