|Content Description||The Presentment Bills contain reports from parishes and chapelries, made by churchwardens and, in the 16th and early 17th centuries, by their assistants, called swornmen or sidesmen. 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 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 Collections in Context > Archdeaconry Resources pages in the Manuscripts and Special Collections website, especially the 'Examples of Offences' page, 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 earliest documents are transcriptions of Presentment Bills from 1587, and the series concludes in 1756. Survival of Presentment Bills is patchy up to the late 1610s. The work of the Archdeaconry court ceased during the Civil War and Commonwealth period, the last Presentment Bills being submitted in 1642 and 1643. The court was revived in 1663. Further gaps exist in the 18th century, with no Presentment Bills surviving from 1731, 1732, 1744, and 1746-1751. 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 system by which churchwardens reported the moral failings of their parishioners continued to the end of the 18th century, although the bills themselves have not survived. The Act Books (AN/A) contain a record of parishioners being called to account for their offences until February 1796. After this date, the court ceased to function as an arbiter of behaviour, and became concerned only with administrative matters. Visitation Articles to which the churchwardens had to give their answers became confined in the 19th century to matters of church fabric and ministry. Two bundles of 19th century Presentment Bills survive from Easter 1861 and Easter 1863 in this series. The main series of 19th century Books of Articles, on which the churchwardens' answers were written, is numbered AN/AR and survives from 1866 onwards.
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 earliest Bills have a slightly confusing arrangement, most notably in the Bills for 1601-1609, which were originally found in two large packets, one covering Bingham and Nottingham deaneries (now numbered AN/PB 293) and the other covering Newark and Retford (AN/PB 294). Within these packets, a more traditional arrangement by deanery and date can be discerned, although some bills have inevitably strayed into other parts of the series. The most obvious discrepancy is the splitting of a series of extraordinary presentment bills, dated 1603, between various parts of series AN/PB 292 and AN/PB 294. This reflects previous storage, and the arrangement has been preserved, with cross-references to guide the researcher to the other parts of the series.
The Presentment Bills for 1587 and 1589 are in the form of almost-contemporary transcriptions; otherwise 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. Up to 1608 the majority of surviving bills date from the Easter visitations. From 1609 to 1618, the Easter bundles were augmented by a trickle of further Presentment Bills submitted at various times throughout the following summer, autumn and occasionally winter. From 1619, the autumn Presentment Bills were gathered in their own bundles, and by the early 1620s a full Michaelmas visitation had been established.
Up to the 1620s the Presentment Bills, if in any order at all, were generally arranged in order of receipt by the court. However, from Easter 1630 onwards it became the general practice for them 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.
|Publication Note||Online catalogue of Presentment Bills:-|
In 2002-2004 the Heritage Lottery funded a two-year project by Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham in which Presentment Bills dated 1587 to 1699 were conserved and catalogued. The Presentment Bills are described at item level in the Manuscripts Online Catalogue. Work then continued to provide descriptions of those Presentment Bills dated 1700-1756 which included reference to offences. Due to the large size of the electronic catalogue, descriptions of the Presentment Bills have had to be split between five separate files in the Manuscripts Online Catalogue:
- Presentment Bills dated 1587-1619 (AN/PB 292-296/1; 352)
- Presentment Bills dated 1620-1643 (AN/PB 296/2-299; 302-303; 314-315; 326-328; 339-341)
- Presentment Bills dated 1663-1679 (AN/PB 304-305; 316-317; 329-330; 342-343)
- Presentment Bills dated 1680-1699 (AN/PB 300; 306-307; 318-319; 331-332; 344-345)
- Presentment Bills dated 1700-1756 (AN/PB 308-313; 320-325; 333-338; 346-351)
Details have been extracted of persons (individual parishioners and church officers), places, offences and other elements. Electronic access to this index data is available via the Names index of the Manuscripts Online Catalogue.
It is expected that the high level of cataloguing and indexing will give adequate access to the original evidence for many of those interested in the material and will thus limit the need for researchers to consult the original documents at Nottingham. Please refer to the web site or contact staff for further information.
Print publications relating to Presentment Bills:-
The Presentment Bills from 1587 (AN/PB 292/1) have been transcribed by A.C. Wood and are published in 'The Nottinghamshire Presentment Bills of 1587', Thoroton Society Record Series, 11 (1945) pp 1-42
Entries from a 1596 Visitation Book of the Archbishop of York, based on Presentment Bills from Retford deanery for that date (AN/PB 292/4/1-53), are printed in J.S. Purvis, Tudor Parish Documents of the Diocese of York (Cambridge University Press, 1948), pp. 40-45
Extraordinary presentments dated August 1603 (AN/PB 292/10, AN/PB 294/1/106-167 and AN/PB 294/1/224-273) have been transcribed by A.C. Wood and are published in 'An Archiepiscopal Visitation of 1603', Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 46 (1942), pp 3-14
Articles issued by Archdeacon Lowth in 1585 are published in A.C. Wood (ed). 'The Nottinghamshire Presentment Bills of 1587' in A Miscellany of Nottinghamshire Records (Thoroton Society Record Series, 11, 1945).
Articles issued by Archdeacon King in 1599 are published in W.P.M. Kennedy, Elizabethan Episcopal Administration Vol III: Visitation Articles and Injunctions 1583-1603 (A. Mowbray and Co. Ltd, 1924), pp 317-325