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The Elizabethan Parish in its Ecclesiastical and Financial Aspects by Sedley Lynch Ware

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Under the Direction of the Departments of History, Political Economy,
and Political Science



Fellow in History.


July-August, 1908


These chapters are but part of a larger work on the Elizabethan parish
designed to cover all the aspects of parish government. There is need
of a comprehensive study of the parish institutions of this period,
owing to the fact that no modern work exists that in any thorough way
pretends to discuss the subject. The work of Toulmin Smith was written
to defend a theory, while the recent history of Mr. and Mrs. Webb
deals in the main with the parish subsequent to the year 1688. The
material already in print for such a study is very voluminous, the
accumulation of texts having progressed more rapidly than the use of
them by scholars.

My subject was suggested to me by Professor Vincent, to whom as well
as to Professor Andrews I am indebted for advice and assistance
throughout this work. In England I have to thank Messrs. Sidney Webb,
Hubert Hall and George Unwin, of the London School of Economics, for
reading manuscript and suggesting improvements. For similar help and
for reference to new material my acknowledgments are due to Mr. C.H.
Firth, Regius Professor of Modern History, Oxford, and to Mr. C.R.L.
Fletcher, of Magdalen College. At the British Museum I found the
officials most courteous, while the librarians of the Peabody
Institute, Baltimore, have given me every aid in their power.































The ecclesiastical administration of the English parish from the
period of the Reformation down to the outbreak of the great Civil War
is a subject which has been much neglected by historians of local
institutions. Yet during the reign of Elizabeth, at least, the church
courts took as large a share in parish government as did the justices
of the peace. Not only were there many obligations enforced by the
ordinaries which today would be purely civil in character, but to
contemporaries the maintenance of the church fabric and furniture
appeared every whit as important as the repairing of roads and
bridges; while the obligation to attend church and receive communion
was on a par with that to attend musters, but with this difference,
that the former requirement affected all alike, while the latter
applied to comparatively few of the parishioners.

In the theory of the times, indeed, every member of the commonwealth
was also a member of the Church of England, and conversely. Allegiance
to both was, according to the simile of the Elizabethan divine, in its
nature as indistinguishable as are the sides of a triangle, of which
any line indifferently may form a side or a base according to the
angle of approach of the observer[1]. The Queen was head of the
commonwealth ecclesiastical as well as of the commonwealth civil, and
as well apprized of her spiritual as of her temporal judges[2]. For
both sets of judges equally Parliament legislated, or sanctioned
legislation. Sometimes, in fact, it became a mere matter of expediency
whether a court Christian or a common law tribunal should be charged
with the enforcement of legislation on parochial matters. Thus the
provisions of the Rubric of the Book of Common Prayer were enforced by
the justices as well as by the ordinaries. Again, secular and
ecclesiastical judges had concurrent jurisdiction over church
attendance, and--at any rate between 1572 and 1597[3]--over the care
of the parish poor. Finally, it must not be supposed that the men who
actually sat as judges in the archdeacon's or the bishop's court were
necessarily in orders. In point of fact a large proportion, perhaps a
large majority of them, were laymen, since the act of Henry VIII in
1545 permitted married civilians to exercise ecclesiastical

In the treatment of our subject the plan we shall follow is, first, to
make some preliminary observations as to the times, places and modes
of holding the church courts; second, with the aid of illustrations
drawn from the act-books of these courts, to show how their judicial
administration was exercised over the parish, either through the
medium of the parish officers or directly upon the parishioners
themselves; third, to analyze the means at the command of the
ecclesiastical judges to enforce their decrees; and, finally, to point
out that from its very nature the exercise of spiritual jurisdiction
was liable to abuses, and must at all times have proved unpopular.

Speaking generally (for the jurisdictions called "peculiars" formed
exceptions), England was divided for the purposes of local
ecclesiastical administration and discipline into archdeaconries, each
comprising a varying number of parishes. Twice a year as a rule the
archdeacon, or his official in his place, held a visitation or kept a
general court (the two terms being synonymous) in the church of some
market town--not always the same--of the archdeaconry. The usual times
for these visitations were Easter and Michaelmas. The bishops also
commonly held visitations in person, or by vicars-general or
chancellors, once every third year throughout their dioceses. Yet at
the semiannual visitations of the archdeacon as well as at the
triennial visitations of the bishop, the mode of procedure, the class
of offences, the parish officers summoned, the discipline
exercised--all were the same, the bishop's court being simply
substituted for the time being for that of the archdeacon.

There were other visitations: those of the Queen's High Commissioners,
and those of the Metropolitan. There were a very great number of other
courts, but for the purposes of the every-day ecclesiastical
governance of the parish the two classes of courts or visitations
above mentioned are all that need concern us. It is, however,
important to state, that while churchwardens and sidemen were
_compelled_ to attend the two general courts of the archdeacon (and of
course the bishop's court) and to write out on each occasion formal
lists of offenders and offences ("presentments" or "detections") these
parish officers might also at any time make _voluntary_ presentments
to the archdeacons. Those functionaries, in fact, seem to have held
sittings for the transaction of current business, or of matters which
could not be terminated at the visitation, every month, or even every
three weeks. Others may have sat (as we should say of a common-law
judge) in chambers.[5] Before each general visitation an apparitor or
summoner of the court went about and gave warning to the churchwardens
of some half-dozen parishes, more or less, to be in attendance with
other parish officers on a day fixed in some church centrally located
in respect of the parishes selected for that day's visitation.

The church of each parish was, indeed, not only its place for worship,
but also the seat and centre for the transaction of all business
concerning the parish. In it, according to law, the minister had to
read aloud from time to time articles of inquiry founded on the
Queen's or the diocesan's injunctions, and to admonish wardens and
sidemen to present offences under these articles at the next
visitation.[6] In it also he gave monition for the annual choice of
collectors for the poor;[7] warning for the yearly perambulation of
the parish bounds;[8] and public announcement of the six certain days
on which each year every parishioner had to attend in person or send
wain and men for the repair of highways.[9] In the parish church also
proclamation had to be made of estrays before the beasts could be
legally seized and impounded.[10] Here, too, school-masters often
taught their pupils[11]--unless, indeed, the parish possessed a
separate school-house. Here, in the vestry, the parish armor was
frequently kept, and sometimes the parish powder barrels were
deposited;[12] here too, occasionally, country parsons stored their
wool or grain.[13]

Finally, in the parish church assembled vestries for the holding of
accounts, the making of rates and the election of officers. Overseers
of the poor held their monthly meetings here. Occasionally the
neighboring justices of the peace met here to take the overseers'
accounts or to transact other business;[14] and in the church also
might be held coroners' inquests over dead bodies.[15] Last, but not
least in importance, in the churches of the market towns the
archdeacon made his visitations and held his court; and on these
occasions the sacred edifice rang with the unseemly squabbles of the
proctors, the accusations of the wardens and sidemen or of the
apparitor, and the recriminations of the accused--in short, the church
was turned for the time being into a moral police court, where all the
parish scandal was carefully gone over and ventilated.[16]

The ecclesiastical courts carried on their judicial administration of
the parish largely, of course, through the medium of the officers of
the parish. These were the churchwardens, the sidemen and the
incumbent, whether rector, vicar or curate.[17]

First in importance were the churchwardens. Though legislation
throughout the time of Elizabeth was ever adding to their functions
duties purely civil in their nature, and though they themselves were
more and more subjected to the control of the justices of the peace,
nevertheless it is true to say that to the end of the reign the office
of churchwarden is one mainly appertaining to the jurisdiction and
supervision of the courts Christian.

The doctrine of the courts that churchwardens were merely civil
officers belongs to a later period.[18]

After a churchwarden had been chosen or elected, he took the oath of
office before the archdeacon. In this he swore to observe the Queen's
and the bishop's injunctions, and to cause others to observe them; to
present violators of the same to the sworn men (or sidemen), or to the
ordinary's chancellor or official, or to the Queen's high
commissioners; finally, he swore to yield up a faithful accounting to
the parish of all sums that had passed through his hands during his
term of office.[19]

Before each visitation day, as has been said, the archdeacon's or the
bishop's summoner went to each parish and gave warning that a court
would be held in such and such a church on such and such a day.
Pending that day wardens and sidemen drew up their bills of
presentment. These bills were definite answers to a series of articles
of inquiry founded on the diocesan's injunctions, themselves based on
the Queen's Injunctions of 1559 and on the Canons.[20] Failure to
present offences was promptly punished by the judge.[21] Failure to
attend court when duly warned was no less promptly followed by
excommunication, and then it was an expensive matter for the wardens
to get out of the official's book again.[22] But of fees and fines
more hereafter.

Among the churchwardens' principal obligations, as laid down in the
injunctions and articles they were sworn to observe, was the keeping
in repair of the church fabric and its appurtenances, as well as the
procuring and the maintaining in good condition of the church
"furniture," a term which in the language of the time included all the
necessaries for worship and the celebration of the sacraments: church
linen, surplices, the communion cup, the elements themselves, bibles,
prayer books, the writings of authorized commentators on the
Scriptures, or the works of apologists for the Anglican Church; tables
of consanguinity and other official documents enjoined to be kept in
every parish by the diocesan.[23]

The visitation act-books of the period abundantly show the processes
employed by the ecclesiastical authorities in enforcing these and
other duties (which will be detailed in their turn), and prove that
the courts Christian were emphatically administrative as well as
judicial bodies. To show these courts at work it will be necessary to
give a number of illustrative examples taken from the visitation
entries. Thus the wardens of Childwall, having been presented at the
visitation of the bishop of Chester, 9th October, 1592, because their
church "wanteth reparac[i]on," are excommunicated for not appearing.
On a subsequent day John Whittle, who represents the wardens, informs
the court that the repairs have been executed. Thereupon the wardens
are absolved and the registrar erases the word "excommunicated" from
the act-book.[24] At the same visitation the wardens of Aughton are
presented because "there bible is not sufficient, they want the first
tome of the homilies, Mr. Juells Replie and Apologie[25] [etc.]...."
The two wardens are enjoined by the judge to buy a sufficient bible
and to certify to him that they have done so.

But--so careful is the supervision over parish affairs--mere
certification by vicar or wardens that a certain article has been
procured in obedience to a court order will not always suffice. If the
thing can be produced in court the judge often orders it to be brought
before him for personal inspection. Accordingly, when at the
visitation of the chancellor of the bishop of Durham, the 13th March,
1578/1579, the wardens of Coniscliffe are found to "lacke 2 Salter
bookes [and] one booke of the Homelies," they are admonished to
certify "that they have the books detected 4th April and to bringe
their boks hither."[26] Thus, too, the wardens of St. Michael's,
Bishop Stortford, record in 1585 that they have paid 8d. "when we
brought in to the court the byble and comunion booke to shewe before
the comysary."[27] There is a curious entry in the same accounts some
years earlier, viz.: "pd for showing [shoeing] of an horse when mr
Jardfield went to london to se wether it was our byble that was lost
or no and for his charges...."[28]

At the visitation held at Romford Chapel, Essex Archdeaconry, 5th
September, 1578, the wardens of Dengie "broughte in theire surplice,
which surplice is torne & verie indecent & uncomly, as appereth;
whereupon the judge, for that theie neglected their othes, [ordered
them to confess their fault and prepare] a newe surplice of holland
cloth of v s. thele [the ell], conteyninge viii elles, _citra festum
animarum prox_." Remembering that money was then worth ten to twelve
times what it is today, this was probably considered too great a
burden by the parishioners of Dengie. A petition must have been
presented to be allowed to procure a cheaper surplice, for on the 6th
October following the wardens were permitted to prepare a surplice
containing six ells only at the reduced price of 2s. 8d. per ell.[29]

It seems to have been the practice in the Dean of York's Peculiar for
the judge to threaten the churchwardens occasionally with a fine for
failure to repair their church or supply missing requisites for
service by a fixed day. Thus at Dean Matthew Hutton's visitation,
July, 1568, the churchyards of Hayton and of Belby were found to be
insufficiently fenced. The order of the court was: "_Habent ad
reparanda premissa citra festum sancti Michaelis proximum sub pena XX

So, too, the Thornton wardens at the same visitation are warned to
repair the body of their church "betwixt this and Michlmes next upon
paine of X s."[31] But as spiritual tribunals had no legal power to
fine[32] or to imprison, apparently the usual penalty prescribed by
the judges in case of disobedience to, or neglect of, their orders to
repair or replace by a certain day, was, in the words of Bishop Barnes
addressed to the churchwardens in Durham diocese, the "paynes of
interdiction and suspencion [_i.e._, temporary excommunication] to be
pronounced against themselves."[33] Yet here, too, the wardens did not
escape indirect amercement, for absolution from interdiction or
excommunication often meant a payment of various court fees, which in
many cases were by no means light. These fines the wardens put to
their credit in the expense items of their accounts if they could
possibly do so, and it is probable that the parish always paid them
except in cases of very gross individual delinquency in office. Thus
the wardens of St. Martin's, Leicester, record: "Payd to Mr.
Comyssarye whe[n] we was suspendyd for Lackynge a Byble & to hys
offycers xxiij d."[34] The wardens of Melton Mowbray register: "Ffor
our chargs & marsements at Lecest[e]r ... for yt ye Rood loft whas not
takyn down & deafasyed iiij s. iiij d."[35]

In the same accounts we find some years later: "Payde to ... at the
vicitacion houlden at Melton for dismissinge us oute of there bookes
for not reparinge the churche iij s. ij d."[36] So, also, we read in
the St. Ethelburga-within-Bishopsgate Accounts: "Paid in D[octor]
Stanhope's courte beinge p[re]sented by p[ar]son Bull aboute the
glasse windowes xvj d." And nine years later: "Paid for Mr Gannett and
myselfe ['Humfery Jeames'] for absolution iiij s. viij d." Also: "Paid
for our discharge at the courte for [from] our excomm[uni]cacon xvj

The act-books abundantly show that ecclesiastical courts were very far
from being limited to mere moral suasion or to spiritual censures.
They could never have accomplished their work so thoroughly if they
had been. This point will be brought out much more clearly, it is
hoped, when we come to consider excommunication as a weapon of
coercion.[38] The courts fined parishioners individually[39] and they
fined them collectively. What matters it that these fines were called
court fees, absolution fees, commutation of penance, or by any other
name? What signifies it that the proceeds could be applied only _in
pios usus_? The mulcting was none the less real. On the score of
bringing stubborn or careless wardens to terms through their purses,
the following extract from a letter written in 1572 to the official of
the archdeacon of the bishop of London is in point. The letter informs
the judge that Jasper Anderkyn, a churchwarden, "hathe done nothing of
that which he was apoinnted by your worshipp at Mydsomer to do, for
the churche yarde lyeth to commons and all other thynkes in the
churche is ondonne.... I praye you dele w[i]t[h] hym so yt he maye be
a presydent for them that shall have the offyce; for they wyll but
jess att itt, and saye it is butt a mony matter: therefore lett them
paye well for the penaltie whiche was sett on theire heads."
Continuing, the writer states that his reason for writing is "that you
be not abewseid in youre office by there muche intreatyng for
themselffes, for Jesper Anderkyn stands excommunicated."[40]

Sometimes for failure to perform the ordinary's[41] injunctions a
whole parish was excommunicated or a church interdicted.[42] Thus in
the Abbey Parish Church[43] Accounts we read under the year 1592 how
troublesome and how costly it was "when the church was interdicted" to
ride to Lichfield and there tarry several days seeking absolution. For
this 20 shillings was paid, a very large sum for the time, not to
mention a fee to the summoner, travelling expenses and the writing of
letters on the parish's behalf.[44] The wardens of Stratton, Cornwall,
had a similar experience "when the churche wardyns & the hole
p[ar]ysch was exco[mu]nycatt" in 1565. Among the expense items
relating to that occasion is a significant one: "ffor wyne & goodchere
ffor the buschuppe ys s[er]vantt[s] ij s. viij d."[45]

So close is the supervision of the ordinary over the churchwardens, so
effective the discipline of the church courts, that we seem to hear
occasionally a sort of dialogue going on between judges and wardens,
the former directing certain things to be executed, the latter
replying and reporting from time to time that progress is being made
on the work to be performed, or that the missing objects will be soon
supplied. Accordingly, at the archdeacon of Canterbury's visitation in
1595, we find the wardens of St. John in Thanet (Margate) reporting:
"The chancel[46] is out of repairs, for the repairing whereof some
things are provided."[47] Two years later they state to the court:
"For repairing of the churchyard we desire a day."[48] At the same
visitation the wardens of St. Lawrence in Thanet (Ramsgate) present:
"Our Church is repaired, saving that some glass by reason of the last
wind be broken, the which are [sic] shortly to be amended."[49]

As a final illustration on this score may be adduced the report of the
conscientious wardens of Kilham, Yorkshire, who certify to the judge
of that peculiar, August, 1602, "that there churche walles ar in suche
repaire as heretofore they have beyne. But not in suche sufficient
repaire as is required by the Article[50] for that effect ministred
vnto us."[51]

But the upkeep of the church and its requisites[52] was only one of
the churchwardens' many tasks. They had to look to it that the people
attended church regularly; that the victuallers and ale-houses
received no one while service was being held or a sermon was preached;
that each person was seated in his or her proper place, that each
conducted himself with decorum and remained throughout the service.
Accordingly the act-books tell their interesting story of ministers on
beginning service sending wardens and sidemen abroad to command men to
come to church. The churchwardens and their allies have all sorts of
experiences: they break in upon "exercises" or conventicles;[53] they
peep in at victuallers' houses or at inns where irate hosts slam doors
in their faces and give them bad words on being caught offending;[54]
they come across merrymakers dancing the morris-dance on the village
green during Sunday afternoon service,[55] or they surprise men at a
quiet game of cards at a neighbor's house during evening prayer.[56]

When admonished by the wardens to enter church, some merely gave
contemptuous replies, such as "what prates thou?";[57] others, when
the wardens approached, took to their heels and ran away.[58] Once
inside the church the wardens' task was by no means ended. They had
the care of placing each one in his or her seat according to
degree;[59] according to sex;[60] and, in case of women, according as
they were old or young, married or unmarried.[61] Finally, as has been
said, the wardens were expected to keep watch lest some one slip out
before the service was over or the sermon ended.[62]

But while they have one eye on the congregation lest they offend,
wardens and sidemen must keep another on the minister while service
proceeds or the sacraments are administered, in order that the rites
be duly observed and the Rubric followed. The curate of Theydon Gernon
(Essex) is presented by wardens and sidemen "_quia non fecit suam
diligentiam in dicendo preces_, viz. the communion and Litany";[63]
while the rector of East Hanningfield in the same archdeaconry is not
only complained of to the ordinary for not maintaining the book of
articles, and not using the cross in baptism, but he is also indicted
on the same occasion for not praying for the Queen "accordinge to hir
injunctions, viz. he leaveth out of hir stile the kingdome of
Fraunce."[64] The court's order was that the rector should acknowledge
his error on the following Sunday "_coram gardianis_." The wardens of
Wilton, Yorkshire, report to the commissary of the Dean of York that
their curate recites divine service "very orderlie," but not at a fit
time, for he holds service at eight in the morning and two in the
afternoon.[65] Finally, the rector of Pitsea is complained against to
the archdeacon of Essex for "that he is unsufficient to serve the cure
ine that theie are not edified by him...."[66]

If the parson neglected his duties it was incumbent upon the wardens
to exhort him to perform them.[67] When at the visitation of the
bishop of Chester in 1592 it was found that there was no surplice at
Bolton Church, Manchester Deanery, not only did the judge admonish one
of the Bolton wardens to buy the surplice, but he was instructed "to
offer hit to thee Vicar at the time of ministering the sacraments, and
to certify of his wearing or refusing of hit before the Feast of the
Nativity of our Lord next."[68]

By virtue of searching articles of inquiry administered to them,[69]
such as, Is your vicar a double-beneficed man, and, if so, is he
lawfully dispensated? Does he keep hospitality?

If non-resident does he give the fortieth part to the poor? Does your
minister wear a surplice at the appointed times, yea or no? Does he
use the cross in baptism and the ring in marriage?[70] Does your
schoolmaster teach without licence of his ordinary under seal, or no?
Do you know any person excommunicate in your parish who repairs to
church? Do you know anyone ordered by law to do penance, or
excommunicate for not doing the same, who still continues
unreformed?--by virtue of this strict questioning by the ordinary put
to them in written articles before each visitation, church wardens,
and their coadjutors, the sworn men or sidemen, were compelled to
exercise a continual supervision over their minister's conduct as well
as over that of the parishioners generally. This fact, coupled with
the circumstance that they were themselves liable to be reported to
the court and punished if they failed to indict, accounts for the
cautious presentments made by these Elizabethan wardens.

Those of Great Witchingham, Norfolk, for instance, inform the
chancellor that their parson "holdeth two benefices, but whether
lawfully dispensated they know not," and they add that a schoolmaster
in their parish "teacheth publicly, but whether licenced or not they
know not."[71] The wardens of Ellerburn, Yorkshire, present Jane Gryme
for fornication, and add "but whether the curate did churche hir or no
they cannot say."[72] And the following year they bring to the court's
knowledge "that their vicar ... is not resident upon his vicaredg, but
what he bestoweth upon the poore they know not."[73] Lastly, the very
prudent wardens of Pickering in the same peculiar bring in their
presentment in this fashion: "_Qui dicunt et presentant_ there vicar
for that he for the moste parte, but not alwaies dothe weare a
surplesse in tyme of dyvyne service. They present there vicar for that
they ar vncerteyne whether his wif[e] was commended vnto him by
justices of peace, nor whether he was licenced to marrye hir according
to hir Maiestie's iniuncions."[74] The almost unseemly interest here
displayed by the wardens in their vicar's matrimonial relations is
explained by the provisions of article xxix of the Queen's Injunctions
of 1559, which ordain that no priest or deacon shall wed any woman
without the bishop's licence and the advice and allowance of two
neighboring justices of the peace first obtained.

Other parish obligations enforced by the courts Christian through the
churchwardens were the keeping of annual perambulations (or, as we
should say today, beating the bounds of the parish) by parson, wardens
and certain of the substantial men of the parish, in the second week
before Whit-Sunday ("Rogation Week");[75] the exhibiting to the
official of the parish register, or the putting in of copies of it
once a year at Easter;[76] the choosing in conjunction with the parson
of collectors for the poor up to 1597, in most parishes at any
rate;[77] the levying of the 12d. fine on all those who absented
themselves from service;[78] the putting down of all "superstitious"
rites in the parish, such as the carrying of banners in perambulation
week or the wearing of surplices on such occasions;[79] the ringing of
the church bells on Hallowe'en, or on the eve of All Souls; excessive
tolling of bells at funerals,[80] etc.

From the point of view of their fellow-parishioners, no doubt, the
most important function of the wardens was that of administering the
parish finances. This subject will be considered at length in the
chapter which follows, but the fact that the spiritual courts enforced
the levying of rates for church repair, etc., through the wardens, as
well as an accounting to the parish of all monies received or
disbursed, concerns us here. When the Ealing wardens were "detected"
to the chancellor of the bishop of London because they had no
pulpit-cloth, no poor-box, nor the Paraphrases of Erasmus, they
appeared and declared in court that they had not provided these things
"nor can do it, for that there is no churche stock wherewith to do
it." Hereupon they were admonished that the judge's pleasure was that
they should procure Mr. Fleetwood and Mr. Knight (evidently two
prominent parishioners) to make an assessment on the parish in order
to purchase these articles, and further that they (the wardens) should
certify to the court at a later day fixed that the rate had been laid
and the missing requisites bought, unless, indeed, some refused to
pay, in which case their names should be handed into court.[81] So,
again, when rector and wardens of Sutton were presented in the same
court for letting their church go to ruin, they protested that the
reason was that L40 "will skant repayre it, and that so mutch cannot
be levied of all the land in the p[ar]ishe." But this excuse was not
for a moment admitted, and they were warned to appear in the next
consistory court to take out a warrant for the assessment of the

Though the wardens did not themselves in practice always make the rate
directed by the archdeacon, yet they were held responsible for its
making. So true was this that if, after a duly called parish meeting
for the purpose of laying the rate in obedience to the archdeacon's
orders, no parishioners appear, then, in the words of the archdeacon's
official to the wardens of Ramsden Bellhouse (Essex): "if the
inhabitants of the said p[ar]ish will not join with the said church
wardens &c., that then the said churchwardens shall themselves make a
rate for the leveinge of the said charges [etc.] ..."[83]

Finally, the archdeacons or their officials always stood ready to
enforce an accounting by the outgoing wardens to the parishioners or
their representatives. If the accounting was delayed too long, or if
the surplus was not promptly handed over to the incoming (or newly
elected) wardens, then the delinquent officers were cited before the
court. Numerous instances are found in the court records of the
enforcing of this duty. [84]

A permanent parish officer and one over whose appointment the
parishioners had usually no control [85] was the parish minister,
whether officiating rector, vicar or curate. [86] Elizabethan statutes
and canons sought to increase the dignity of the incumbents of cures,
[87] but royal greed did yet more to lower it. [88]

The minister was usually addressed by his parishioners as "Sir" John,
or "Sir" George, etc., quite irrespective of his actual rank,[89] and
this in an age of punctilious distinctions in forms of address. In the
small country parishes the incumbent was often the only, or almost the
only, educated man in the community. His advice had naturally
considerable weight in parish affairs, and his pen was often required
in the drawing up of official or legal documents, certifications or
testimonials, the casting up of parish accounts and the like.[90]

We find in the act-books officiating rectors or vicars presented for
non-residence upon their cures;[91] while rectors and other recipients
of great tithes are "detected" at visitations for not repairing the
chancels in their churches; or not maintaining their vicarage
buildings with barns and dove-cotes;[92] or for not providing quarter
sermons where the clergyman serving the cure was not himself licenced
to preach;[93] beneficed men not resident are arraigned for not giving
the fortieth part of their revenue to the parish poor;[94] resident
ministers indicted for not keeping hospitality,[95] or for not
visiting the sick.[96]

Just as the wardens were to look after the conduct of their minister,
so the minister was required to fill the office of a censor upon the
behavior of the wardens and to report to the ordinary their
delinquencies--as, indeed, the trespasses of any among his
congregation, though the latter task was more particularly assigned to
the wardens and sidemen.[97] Furthermore the minister was the vehicle
through which the commands of the authorities, lay or ecclesiastical,
were conveyed to the parishioners. He was compelled to read these
commands or injunctions at stated times and exhort his hearers to obey
them. For failure to comply with this duty, he might be cited before
the official,[98] and punished by that officer.[99]

The curate of East Hanningfield, Essex, is presented in 1587 for "that
he hathe not geven warninge to the church-wardens to looke to there
dutie in service tyme, for such as are absent from service."[100] The
curate of Monkton, Kent, is brought before the court in 1569 for that
he "doth not call upon fathers and mothers and masters of youths to
bring them up in the fear of God."[101] When the archdeacon sent down
an excommunication against any one of the parish, it was delivered to
the minister to be solemnly proclaimed by him from the pulpit,[102]
and thereafter he had to see that the excommunicate person remained
away from service until absolution was granted[103] by the ordinary,
which absolution was then publicly pronounced from the pulpit.[104]
When penance had to be done in church by an offender, it was the duty
of the parson to superintend the performance; to say, if necessary,
before the congregation the formula of confession prescribed for the
offence, in order that the guilty person might repeat it after
him;[105] to exhort the persons present to refrain from similar
transgressions; to read, on occasion, some homily bearing upon the
subject;[106] and finally to make out a certificate (together with the
wardens, if necessary) that the penance had been carried out as
enjoined by the judge.

Besides the celebration of the rites pertaining to his priestly
office, which need not detain us here, there were many other duties
which the ecclesiastical courts enjoined on the parish incumbent. Some
of these have already been referred to.[107] Others will appear as we
view the discipline of the courts Christian when exercised over the
parishioners at large, to which subject we shall now address

Foremost among the requirements exacted by the ordinaries from all
alike was the duty of attending church. Every one had to frequent
service on Sundays and on feast-days, and to be present at evening as
well as at morning prayer.[108] Nor might a man repair to a church in
another parish because it was nearer than his own.[109] Should his own
minister be unlicenced to preach--and only about one incumbent out of
four or five was licenced[110]--he was not permitted, except under
special authorization,[111] to hear a sermon in another church while
service was going on in his own.[112] If, however, a man were able to
pay the statutory[113] fine of 12d. for each absence on holy days he
could, it would seem, in practice resort to his parish church only on
occasions, say once a month, and yet not get himself written down as a

Heads of families were made responsible for the attendance of their
children and servants; innkeepers or victuallers for their

If it was not permissible to frequent service in another place of
worship, neither was it optional with a parishioner to get married
elsewhere than in his own church.[116] There, too, his marriage banns
had to be published--and it was a presentable offence to marry without
banns;[117] there he had to have his children christened[118] and his
wife churched;[119] there he was compelled to send sons, daughters or
apprentices to be catechized,[120] and there himself learn the
principles of religion (if he were ignorant of them), for without a
knowledge of the Catechism and the Ten Commandments he could not
receive communion.[121]

All persons over fourteen had to receive communion at Easter, and at
least on two other occasions during the year.[122] In fact readiness
to receive according to the Anglican rites became the test of a loyal

The strict requirement to report all non-communicants to the official
resulted in the keeping of books in which were written the names of
the parish communicants.[124]

Next in importance to church attendance and the observance of the
sacraments came the duty of all parishioners to contribute to the
parish expenses. We have viewed church courts at work, compelling
wardens to levy church rates; we have now to see how the judges forced
recalcitrant ratepayers to pay the sums assessed upon them to the
wardens or other collectors.

Among the earliest vestry minutes of the parish of St.
Christopher-le-Stocks, London, is one which, after ordering that an
assessment be made for the clerk's wages and for pews, decreed that
any rebellious persons should be summoned before themselves, the
vestry, to be reformed. But if the rebel would not appear, or, on
appearance, remain stubborn to reason, then the churchwardens should
sue him before the ordinary at the parish costs "vntill suche tyme as
he be reduced vnto a good order, and hath paid bothe the costys of the
sute and the chargs that he owith vnto the church...."[125] Fifty
years later we find this vestry ordaining the same procedure to be
followed against parish debtors, and referring to its former

It seems, in fact, to have been the well-understood thing that just as
parish rates to defray the costs of those matters of parish
administration, falling within the province of the ecclesiastical
courts, were to be assessed by the authority, and under the direction,
of those courts, so, too, the recovery of these rates was to be had
before the same tribunals. It is not denied that recourse may
occasionally have been made in these matters to the courts of common
law, but it is believed that the proper remedy was at ecclesiastical
law.[127] Furthermore, we believe that the means at the disposal of
the ecclesiastical courts for putting their judgments into effect were
quite sufficient and in practice effective.

What these means were will be taken up and discussed a little further
on. Returning to the matter of suing parish debtors in courts
Christian, it is interesting to find that in the language of the
period a suit "at law" did not always mean at common law. An order of
the vestry of Stepney, London, in February, 1605-6, after determining
the manner in which L50 should be raised to pay off parish debts due
to the bell founder, adds that persons refusing to pay their shares,
or neglecting to do so, should not find themselves aggrieved "if the
same be recouered against them by Lawe." And the meaning of this term
is fully explained by these subsequent words in the same order, that
the churchwardens shall "at the chardg of the p[ar]ish appointe and
entertayne one doctor and a proctor to sue and recouer the same by
lawe of any p[er]son [etc.]."[128] Now doctors and proctors practiced
before ecclesiastical tribunals only.[129]

That presentment to the ordinary was the common and usual way, not
only of recovering church rates, but any thing of value that belonged
to the parish and was unjustly detained, the act-books and other
documents of the time plentifully show. Thus in Archbishop Parker's
Visitation Articles for the diocese of Canterbury in the year 1569, he
requires all churchwardens to report to their ordinaries "whether
there be any money or stoke, appertaininge to any paryshe churche, in
anye manne's handes, that refuse or differeth to paye the same
[etc.]."[130] The wardens of Melton Mowbray record under the year 1602
an item for charges at the court at Leicester against a parishioner
"for not payinge his levi for the churche."[131] Those of Ashburton,
Devon, itemize in 1568-1569 two shillings "for a zytation to those
that wold nott pay to the power."[132] As the wardens of East Tilbury
were going about among the parishioners demanding money of each one
according to the rating inscribed on an assessment roll which they
carried with them, one Garrett, a constable, discontented that he
himself should be rated as high as four shillings, seized the roll and
refused to produce it. This, of course, put an end to further
collections. For this he was presented by the vicar before the
consistory court at Stratford Bow Chapel. Here he alleged that the
rating "was very unequally made." But the judge warned Garrett to
appear in court the following Tuesday to answer for his contempt.
Further he was to pay his four shillings to the wardens and bring to
the judge the wardens' certificate that he had done so. On the day
appointed Garrett was present in court with the vicar and wardens. The
decree of the court is headed: "_Negotiu[m] reparac[i]o[n]is
eccl[esi]e de_ East Tilburie," and is so characteristic of the
thoroughgoing and searching manner in which ordinaries supervised the
administration of parish affairs that we cannot forbear to quote a
large part of it in full. "Touchinge the same Wm Garrett," the
registrar inscribes in the act-book, "the churchwardens do here
testifie that he hathe payd his iiij s. w[hi]ch he was rated at...&
they saye they have receyved it. Towching the churchwardens & the
repayre [of] the church," the scribe continues, "the Judge doth order
that the minister, Mr Howdsworth, [and seven others named, including
wardens, sidemen and constables]...p[ro]cure workmen of all trad[es],
& then sett downe under their hand in writing what chardg it will be
to repayer the church sufficiently in all thing[s] wharein it is
decayd, as namely, tyling, paving, masonns worke, carpenters worke &
glasing...and when they have under the workmens hand founde what will
repayer the churche in every p[ar]ticuler, then shall they all nyne
assemple themselves in the church [on a day named]...and make a rate
to that proportion w[hi]ch shall remayne above the rate already
allowed of...and they shall certify in Stratford bowe Chappell bothe
of the vew making by the workmen, of the gathering of the rate already
made, of their making a new rate...and of the gathering thereof; and
likewise how farr they have p[ro]ceeded in the repayer of the church
the ixth of Aprill next: and for the punish[men]t of him, the said Wm
Garrett, for his contemptuous taking away of the rate, as is
complayned of, it is respited untill this p[resent] order be
p[er]formed; & he is now monished to appeare in the Consistorie the
first court day [etc]...."[133] So, too, when Richard Fynsett of
Clayton, Sussex, was "detected" to the official for not paying his
rate for church repairs, November, 1595, he appeared and claimed that
not only was his rating excessive, but that the assessment had not
been according to custom, to wit, made by the majority of the
parishioners. He was summoned by the judge to prove his allegation at
the next court day, and to pay his court and other fees. He was
probably unable to prove his point, for under the 9th December
following the record simply states "_Comparuit et solvit feoda

The wardens of Swalecliffe, Kent, complain to the archdeacon of
Canterbury in 1565 that their church is near utter decay, but the
parish is so poor that they cannot repair it unless an assessment be
made on the lands within the parish, for the making of which
assessment they ask for an authorization.[135] Two years later they
appear and say in court that their church still lacks windows, "and
the parish is not able to mend the same, without it may please you
that the rest of the cess that was made may be levied, which we cannot
get unless we have your aid."[136]

In the same way the wardens of St. Alban's "implored the aid of the
judge," because they wished divers persons who refused to pay their
rates "co[m]pelled therunto by aucthoritye of this court," otherwise
the unpaid workmen on their ruinous church would leave, and the
half-finished structure sustain damage by winter weather.[137] The
act-books teem with such presentments as the following: one Holaway
refuses to give to the poor-box, "and is found able by the
parish."[138] Thomas Arter will give but a half-penny to the poor.
Arter appears and "saithe that he is not of the wealthe that men
takithe him to be." The judge commands him to pay a half-penny every
week, and dismisses him.[139] "John Wilson haithe not paide his clerke
wages by the report of the clerke."[140] "Here follow the names of
such, as being able, refuse notwithstanding to pay to the poor man's
box [eight names follow]";[141] or "The presentment made by the
churchwardens and sidemen...of all such as are behind for a cess made
for the Church and refuse to pay [five names]."[142] John Baldwin
presented for that "the fame and report goeth" that he keeps back L10,
a legacy given seven years previously for church repairs and the
poor-box, "and the Church and the poor have wanted the same, having no
benefit thereof, as we know."[143] One Consant received a cow
belonging to the parish "and hath not made an account to the parish
for her."[144] Jeremy Robson is cited "for detaining our Clerk's wages
from the land which he occupieth in our parish after 6 s. 8 d. for a
plough land of 140 acres."[145] Two lessees of the parish are
presented "for withholding the farm of two acres and a half of church
land one year and a half unpaid."[146] John Smithe presented for
felling and selling a great oak which stood upon church land, "whereas
now we stand in lack of the same to repair our Church."[147] A
parishioner is cited before the ordinary because he withholds church
goods and refuses both to enter into bond for them and to make an
accounting.[148] So men are presented for not paying the parish fees
due for the burial of members of their family, or for the ringing of
knells;[149] for suffering a church tenement or a part of the church
fence, which they are bound to repair, to fall into decay,[150] and so
forth. In short, any one at all, whether in the capacity of parish
officer; rate payer; trustee; administrator or executor; lessee of the
parish cattle or its lands or tenements--any one, in fact, standing in
the relation of debtor to the parish in a matter falling within the
jurisdiction of the spiritual courts, could be, and was, compelled by
these to pay or to account to the parishioners.

Not only did the Church regulate many acts of a parishioner's life,
and preside over his moral conduct, making him pay in great measure
the costs of this disciplinary administration, but it also was
entrusted with his education, through which it sought to control his
ideas and convictions, and to direct and form public opinion. The
education and training of a nation depend, of course, in greatest
measure on its primary schools and its press. As for its universities,
these are but the apex on the educational pyramid, for a very select
few only. Now the primary schools were represented in the times
whereof we write by the parish schoolmaster, the familiar
"_ludimagister_" of the canons and act-books, and by the incumbent
himself. For the people at large the press was represented almost
entirely by the licenced preacher, and, in the larger towns, the
licenced lecturer.

The Canons of 1571 ordain that no one shall teach the humanities nor
instruct boys, whether in school or in private families,[151] unless
the diocesan licence him under his seal. Nor are schoolmasters to use
other grammars or catechisms than those officially prescribed. Every
year schoolmasters are to commend to the bishop of the diocese the
best read among their pupils, and those that by their achievements
give promise that they may usefully serve the State or the Church, so
that their parents may be induced to educate them further to that
end.[152] Bishop Barnes in his Injunctions of 1577 commands that all
incumbents of cures in Durham diocese not licenced to preach shall
"duly, paynefully and frely" teach the children of their several
parishes to read and write. Furthermore, teachers shall exhort the
parents of those boys who have proved themselves apt at learning and
of "pregnant capacitie" to cause their sons to continue their studies
and to acquire the good and liberal sciences. On the other hand they
shall induce fathers of sons of little wit or capacity to put them to
husbandry, or some other suitable craft, that they may grow to be
useful members of the commonwealth.[153] In this diocese we find
schoolmasters by profession ("_ludimagistri_") summoned at the
visitations very regularly, and there seem to have been a considerable
number of them in the towns, though not in the country parishes, where
the curates doubtless officiated as instructors of the youth according
to the bishop's monitions.[154] Everywhere in the proceedings of the
ecclesiastical courts schoolmasters are "detected" to the judges from
time to time for having no licence to teach.[155]

As for the pulpit, that great instrument of political guidance at a
period when politics consisted chiefly of religious contentions,[156]
it is well known that Elizabeth and her advisors grasped at once its
paramount importance, and that she had been on the throne but little
over a month when she issued her proclamation inhibiting all preaching
and teaching for the time being. This command was followed by her
Injunctions of the next year, forbidding any to preach unless licenced
by herself, her two archbishops, the diocesan, or her visitors.[157]
As is well known also, no command was more universally enforced. It is
constantly mentioned in the metropolitan or diocesan injunctions or
articles of the period,[158] and the proceedings before the ordinaries
bear witness to its enforcement.[159]

Parish opinion was further sought to be moulded by the reading in
church of various tracts, homilies, monitions, forms of special
prayers, etc., etc., which the wardens were ordered to procure from
time to time, and which are very often met with in their accounts.
These official mediums of information or edification conveyed to the
good people of the parishes some knowledge of the events and politics
of the realm and of the world beyond it. Thus they heard of the
overthrow of the rebels in the North of England (1569), the ravages of
the great earthquake of 1579; the progress of the plague; or, again,
of the struggle of the French Protestants led by Henry of Navarre, the
defeat of the Turks at Lepanto, and so forth.[160]

As food for the more advanced minds of the congregations, ordinaries
saw to it that volumes dealing with the interpretation of the
Scriptures, the polity of Church and State, and the defence of that
polity were provided for every parish church. Such works were Erasmus'
Paraphrases, Bullinger's Decades, Bishop Jewel's works, and other
writings of an apologetic nature. To a certain extent news was also
spread, and grievances were aired, in unofficial broadsides or
ballads. These treated of such subjects as the untimely end of
traitors great or small; the adventures of her Majesty's soldiers and
sailors; the rapacity of landlords and the evils of the enclosure

But these publications and all other printed matter were subject to
the strict censorship of Church and State. Extremely few presses were
permitted in England, and these few under the jealous supervision of
the high ecclesiastical authorities, as is evidenced by the numerous
orders or decrees issued by them to the Master and Wardens of the
London Stationers Company, which, with a very few special patentees,
enjoyed the monopoly of printing.[162]

Having now reviewed the chief administrative functions of the
spiritual courts and their mode of exercise, the question presents
itself, What were the means at the disposal of the ordinaries for
enforcing their decrees? The principal one of these has already been
mentioned incidentally, viz., excommunication. Excommunication was the
most usual, as it was by far the most effective, weapon for compelling
obedience to the mandate of the judge in any matter whatever. Indeed
without this instrument of coercion the ecclesiastical judges would
have been impotent.

Excommunication was of two kinds, the lesser and the greater. The
former was in constant use (to employ the words of a contemporary
document) "for manifest and wilful contumacy or disobedience in not
appearing when ... summoned for a cause ecclesiastical, or when any
sentence or decree of the bishop or his officer, being deliberately
made, was wilfully disobeyed...."[163] Even under the lesser
excommunication a man could not attend service, and he was deprived of
the use of the sacraments.[164] If an excommunicate sought to enter
church with the congregation, either he had to be forcibly expelled or
the service could not proceed.[165] If he continued in his contempt of
court he made himself liable to the greater excommunication,[166] and
then he was virtually an outcast from the society of his fellow
parishioners.[167] That excommunication was feared by the great
majority of parish folk there is no reason to doubt. Certainly the
greater excommunication might seriously injure a man in his business
as well as his social interests, not to mention the trouble and
expense of getting an absolution.[168] That excommunication reduced
most offenders to order the church court proceedings demonstrate. If,
however, a man were obdurate and hardened he was turned over to the
Queen's High Commissioners, and these, while making the fullest use of
ecclesiastical procedure and the oath _ex officio_,[169] also freely
employed the penalties of the temporal courts, viz., fines and
imprisonments. As no ecclesiastical offence was too small for the
Commissioners to deal with, and as their jurisdiction was not limited
(like that of the ordinaries) to a district or a diocese, courts of
High Commission may be called universal ordinaries.[170] Finally, if a
person stood excommunicate over forty days, an ecclesiastical judge,
on application to the diocesan, might procure against him out of
Chancery the writ _De excommunicato capiendo_. This writ was probably
not very often resorted to in practice, partly because of the great
expense involved, and partly perhaps, too, because of the slack
execution of the writ by certain undersheriffs or bailiffs, encouraged
as they were by the rather hostile attitude sometimes assumed against
the courts Christian by the Queen's temporal judges.[171] The writ
was, however, certainly no dead letter, and served also _in terrorem_
to reduce stubborn offenders.[172] Indeed Archbishop Bancroft in 1605
called it "the chiefest temporal strength of ecclesiastical

In view of the fact that "standing excommunicate" was in itself a
presentable offence before the ordinary, and an offence often
presented,[174] and in view of the further fact that the excommunicate
might, according to a contemporary who writes with authority, "be
punished for absence from diuine praier, neither shall his
excommunication excuse him, for it is in his owne default,"[175] it is
queried whether such an involuntary absentee from church did not make
himself just as liable to presentment at quarter sessions for
recusancy[176] as any voluntary recusant. Perhaps it is for this
reason that grand juries are sometimes complained of for
discriminating among the names sent in to them on the bishops'
certificates for indictment at quarter sessions, and for certifying
some and throwing out others "at their pleasure."[177]

But be this as it may--and it is conjecture unsupported by positive
proof--enough has been said, it is hoped, to show that ordinaries were
quite capable of making their decrees obeyed, and that excommunication
(contrary to the commonly received opinion) was a most effective means
of coercion. Many, indeed, were its uses. It might (or its equivalent
interdiction or suspension[178]), as has been seen,[179] be used to
compel a parish officer to perform the duties of his office. It might
also be employed, when persuasion failed, to induce a parishioner to
accept office when chosen by his fellows.[180] But, it would seem, one
single definition would comprise all cases: excommunication was
employed against all those who disobeyed some order of the spiritual
judge, express or implied--it was a summary process for contempt of
court, in fact, and was daily used as such.

To recapitulate: a very large part of the parishioner's life and
activity fell under the surveillance and regulation of the
ecclesiastical courts. They compelled him to attend on specified days
his parish church, and no other; to be married there; to have his
children baptized and his wife churched there; to receive a certain
number of times communion there; to contribute to the maintenance of
church and churchyard, as well as to the finding of the requisites for
service or the church ornaments or utensils. In his parish church he
and his children were catechized and instructed, and, if the latter
were taught in a neighboring school-house, it was under the strict
supervision of the ordinary and by his or the bishop's licence and
allowance. So true was this that the schoolmaster was, like the
parson, a church officer. For the parishioner his church was the place
of business where all local affairs, civil or ecclesiastical, were
transacted, as well as the centre of social life in the village. Here
the mandates of the authorities in Church and State were read to him;
here he was admonished of his duty to contribute to, or to perform,
the burdens of parish administration and warned of the penalties for
neglect; here he met with his fellows to settle parish affairs and
audit parish accounts, or to choose parish officers under the auspices
of the ordinary, being himself compelled, if necessary, by that
official to serve when his own turn for office came round. As
churchwarden it was his duty to collect the rents from parish lands
and tenements, and to see that parish offerings were gathered and the
parish rates assessed and paid, or recovered by means of the
ecclesiastical courts. If the church was ruinous; if bread and wine
were lacking for the communion; if any of the books, furniture,
utensils or ornaments enjoined by the diocesan's articles or by the
canons were missing; if the curate did not follow the Rubric, or
retained "superstitious" rites; if the yearly perambulation was
omitted; if faults of the minister or of the parishioners were not
presented: he and his fellow-warden were held responsible by the

The machinery which the canon and the civil law placed at the disposal
of the ordinary for his judicial administration of the parish was
extraordinarily flexible. Courts Christian were unencumbered by the
formalities of the common law or by the cooeperation of juries. They
could proceed _ex officio, i.e_., without formal presentment and upon
hearsay only, and they were armed with the formidable power of
administering the oath _ex officio_ by which a parishioner was forced
to disclose all he knew against himself. They could in all cases
command the _doing_, as well as the _giving_[181] of a thing--powers
far more extensive than those possessed by any court of equity of
today. Lastly, it was their custom to require that a return be made in
court, or in other words, a certification, that their commands had
been duly performed--thus stamping them as true administrative bodies.
It was inevitable from the nature of their jurisdiction and procedure
that abuses should be committed both by ecclesiastical judges and by
their officers, such as registrars, proctors and apparitors. These
judges wielded an admirable instrument of administration and
discipline, one that could be bent to meet any emergency, but this
efficiency had been attained at the sacrifice of some indispensable
safeguards for the carrying out of impartial justice. First, no
parishioner's acts, whether done in an official or a private capacity,
were ever quite safe from misrepresentation, or downright
falsification by his enemies, for secret denunciation to wardens or
sidemen (or to the ordinary himself) by any one[182] might start a
proceeding against the person denounced and force him upon oath to
disclose the most private, the most confidential, matters. Again,
proctors, apparitors, registrars, and other scribes whose fees
depended on citations and the drawing up of court proceedings,
documents, or certificates, had every interest in haling persons
before the official, because court fees had to be paid whether a man
were found innocent or guilty.[183] Hence the system tended to create
spies, of whom the chief were the apparitors, or summoners, and their
underlings. There is a very interesting contemporary ballad entitled
_"A new Ballad of the Parrator and the Divell_," attributed by its
modern editor to not later than 1616, which throws much light on the
proceedings of certain unscrupulous apparitors, and reflects also the
strong dislike entertained for the whole tribe of apparitors by people
of the time.[184] The devil going a hunting one Sunday and beating the
bushes, up starts a proud apparitor. During several stanzas the
apparitor narrates to the devil, as one consummately wicked man to
another, all the tricks of his trade to drum up cases for himself and
his court. He spies on lovers as they pass unsuspecting; he haunts the
ale-houses and overhears men's tales over their cups; if business be
dull he even devises scandal among neighbors, and sets them at enmity.
Thus he concocts his accusations of immorality, or drunkenness, or
profanity, or uncharity towards neighbors, and writes them busily down
in his _quorum nomina_, or formulas of citations to appear before the
official's court. "My _corum nomine_ beares such swaye," he boasts,
"They'le sell their clothes my fees to pay." But, remarks the devil
after listening to all this, surely the innocent pay no court fees,
"But answere and discharged bee." "My _corum nomine_ sayth not so,"
rejoins the apparitor, "For all pay fees before they goe.--The
lawier's fees must needs be payd,--And every clarke in his degree--Or
els the lawe cannot be stayd--But excommunicate must they bee." The
devil, amazed and disgusted at laws which "excell the paines of hell,"
turns to go, whereupon the apparitor seeks to arrest and fine him for
traveling on the Sabbath. Exclaiming "Thou art no constable!" the
devil pounces upon the unworthy officer and carries him off to
hell.[185] Thirdly, even when at their best and conducted by upright
judges and officers, the modes of proof in force in the courts
Christian were sometimes utterly inadequate as means for getting at
the truth. The inquest, or trial by jury, had never been introduced
into these courts, where the archaic system of compurgation[186] still

If a man for want of friends, or for want of good reputation, were
unable to procure compurgators to attend him at visitations or courts,
held sometimes twenty miles and more away,[187] he might be condemned
as guilty of specific acts which he had never committed.[188] He might
even fail in his proof because he was poor. When the judge arraigned
Lewis Billings of Barking, Essex archdeaconry, for "that he hath
failed in his purgacion," Billings pleaded "that he is a very poore
man and not able to procure his neighbours to come to the cort, and
beare their charges."[189] But, as is well known, contemporaries
attacked not only the inferior officers, but the judges themselves.
Complaints of great abuses were loud and long,[190] and when the
ecclesiastical courts were abolished by the Long Parliament in
1641,[191] the satirical literature of the day celebrated their
downfall with a verve, a gusto, and an exultation amazing to one not
familiar with the procedure of these courts.[192]

As was mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the secular judges
were given statutory authority to take cognizance of breaches of the
order prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer, of the offence of not
attending church, and other delinquencies against the legal settlement
of religion. Hence in these matters they exercised what might be
called a sort of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in aid of the ordinary
and concurrently with him, though their mode of procedure, of course,
was that of the common law, possessing nothing in common with the
practice adopted in courts Christian. Men who were "hinderers" and
"contemners" of religion; who refrained from going to church without
lawful cause; who had mass-books or super-altars[193] in their
possession;[194] who spoke in contempt of the Book of Common Prayer
and its rites;[195] who caused their children to be baptized with
forms other than those prescribed;[196] ministers who omitted the
cross in baptism;[197] who left off the surplice;[198] who refused to
church women;[199] who called purification "a Jewish ceremony," or who
in their sermons preached seditious doctrine[200]--all these and other
like offenders were indicted at quarter sessions or at the assizes.



Speaking generally of the average parish, Elizabethan churchwardens
accounts and vestry minutes show that for the purposes of raising
money amongst themselves to meet every-day parish expenditures,[201]
the parishioners of the period did not commonly resort to rates, if by
"rate" be understood a general assessment of all lands or all goods
alike at a fixed percentage of their revenue or value above a minimum

It must not be supposed, however, that in the case of offerings or
gatherings, or of levies to raise a certain sum where each man
assessed himself, it was entirely optional for each to give or to
refuse. What a man customarily gave, or what he had promised to give,
or, again, what the parish thought he ought to give, that the ordinary
might compel him to give.[202] From an offering or a voluntary
assessment to a rate is often but a short step, and the two former
shade off into the latter almost imperceptibly. The justices of the
peace and the ecclesiastical authorities usually cast lump sums upon
the parishes, leaving ways and means to the parishioners themselves.
But it was, of course, optional with the justices to rate each
individual separately when it seemed good to them, and for this they
had the Queen's subsidy books to guide them. Here, however, we are
chiefly concerned with the raising of money amongst the parishioners
themselves. How manifold, how ingenious were the parochial devices for
creating resources, it is the purpose of this chapter to set forth.

But before proceeding to the parish expedients, properly so called,
for raising money, it will be well to say something of parish
endowments, whether in lands, houses or funds. According as the
revenue from these was available for general, or at least for various
purposes, or, on the other hand, was impressed with a trust for some
specific object, these endowments may be divided into general and
special. Parishes well endowed might be able to dispense with some of
the devices for money-getting which we shall have occasion to
enumerate, but then, after all, endowments might come and they might
go;[203] moreover, the financial policy of any one parish would, of
course, differ according to the disposition or the ability of those
who shaped it.

Of Loddon, Norfolk, we are told that "no complaint appears about
Church Rates, for there were none, as the revenue of the Town Farm ...
rendered a tax of that description unnecessary."[204]

Of St. Petrock's, Exeter, we are informed that "the parish became so
well endowed by donations of land and houses as to enable the wardens
to dispense almost entirely with the quarterly collections entered in
the earlier accounts."[205] The editor of the Thatcham, Berks,
Accounts, writes: "In the early years of these churchwardens accounts
the available funds were derived chiefly from the two oldest
charities, one called 'Lowndye's Almshouses,' the first account of
which is for the year ... 1561 ... to 1562; the other known as 'the
Church Estate,' the first account of which begins in 1566."[206]
Summoned by the Bodmin, Cornwall, justices in January, 159-4/5, to
make a report as to the parish stock, the representatives of Stratton
certify at sessions that their stock "am[oun]ts to the now some of
Sixteene poundes, some yeares it is more & some yeares lesse...." And,
they continue, "the vsinge of our sayde stocke is by the two wardens &
the rest of the eight men w[hi]ch for the same stande sworne, And it
is bestowed aboute her ma[jes]ties service, for buyenge of armor,
settinge forth of souldiers w[i]th powder & shott.... And likewise for
the relievinge & mainetayning of the poore...." They thereupon give
the names of the impotent and decrepit persons and orphan children
"wholly relieved" by the parish, ten in number, and add that there are
upwards of a hundred poor "w[h]ich are not able to liue of themselues,
but haue reliefe dayly one thinge or another of the seide
p[ar]ish."[207] The little parish of St. Michael's in Bedwardine,
Worcestershire,[208] possessed lands and tenements in various
parishes, and in 1599 invested L10 in buying two more tenements in
Worcester city.[209] Its wardens accounts, we are told by their
editor, disclose that there was never any lack of money for parish
purposes "in spite of a rather lavish expenditure at times in the
luxury of law[suits]."[210] Lapworth, Warwickshire, had many acres of
parish land.[211] The churchwardens of St. John's, Glastonbury,
Somerset, return in their accounts the rent of the parish lands in
1588 at L9 13s. 10d.,[212] and, as these accounts show, they
occasionally received important sums for fines on changes of tenants.
The various properties managed by the wardens of St. Michael's, Bath,
numbered thirty-seven in 1527, yielding a revenue of L11 8s.;[213] and
even in 1572 the rent amounted to L11 8s.[214]

Indeed, though parish lands and houses were generally vested as to
title in trustees (often a numerous and cumbersome body),[215] the
churchwardens themselves and sometimes other accountants,[216] who
like the wardens were appointed from year to year, usually exercised
the actual management. The feoffees existed chiefly for the purpose of
making it difficult to alienate the parish properties, "and the larger
the trust body the more difficult such alienation was supposed to

Contenting ourselves with the above examples, which could easily be
multiplied, we pass on under this same head of general endowments to
an interesting form of personal property, viz., cattle, for not only
did the wardens derive receipts from parish holdings of real estate,
but also from _Endowments of Cows or Sheep_. The Pittington, Durham,
Twelve Men, a sort of parish executive and administrative body, enact
in 1584 "that everie iiij pounde rent[218] within this parrishe, as
well of hamlets as townshippes, shall gras[219] winter and somer one
shepe for the behoufe of this church;"[220] and we are told that these
"Church Shepe," as they were called, were here one of the chief means
of raising funds for parochial purposes.[221] It was the custom of
pious donors, especially among the lowly, to leave one or more sheep
or cows to their parish. In the year 1559 twelve sheep were thus given
or bequeathed to Wootton Church, Hants, by ten donors.[222] These
sheep, as well as the parish cows, were often hired out to
parishioners, who gave security for their return. Sometimes they were
given to poor men at a reduced rent, and thus they served to support
the poor.[223]

That the keeping of cattle was a well-recognized source of parish
income is seen by the Queen's Injunctions of 1559 in which she alludes
to "the profit of cattle" among other sources of parish revenue to be
devoted to the poor, "and if they be provided for, then to the
reparation of highways next adjoining," or to the repair of the

Leaving the topic of general endowments to take up those sources of
revenue destined to defray particular forms of expenditure, we find
that _Permanent Parish Endowments_ in lands, goods or money devoted to
the defraying of _Specific Parish Administrative Burdens_ or
_Utilities_ were very numerous in the local documents of the 16th
century. Sometimes a land or fund was set apart by the donor, or by
the parish itself, for the support of a parish servant or
officer;[225] sometimes its revenue maintained this or that cripple or
blind man,[226] or a number of them; sometimes it was used for feeding
the poor,[227] or for buying wearing apparel for them;[228] for
setting them at work in houses of correction,[229] or for parish

In particular, lands or funds were frequently set apart as special and
permanent endowments for the repair of bridges.[231] In fact, the
proceeds of parish lands or other endowments might be appropriated to
alleviate any tax burden whatsoever. In 1549 it was stated by the
wardens of North Elmham, Norfolk, that the net proceeds of the five
and thirty or forty acres which they rented out were devoted
exclusively towards the paying of the fifteenths due from time to time
to the king and his successors.[232]

To illustrate the variety of purposes for which parish trusts were
created, I cannot do better than quote part of the preamble of the 43
Eliz. c. 4, known as the Statute of Charitable Uses: "Whereas Landes,
Tenements, Rentes ... Money and Stockes of Money," it is there
rehearsed, "have bene heretofore given, limitted ... and assigned ...
some for Releife of aged, impotent and poore people, some for
Maintenaunce of sicke and maymed Souldiers and Marriners, Schooles of
Learninge ... some for Repaire of Bridges, Fortes, Havens, Causwaies,
Churches, Sea-bankes and Highewaies, some for Educac[i]on and
p[re]fermente of Orphans, some for or towardes Reliefe, Stocke or
Maintenaunce for Howses of Correcc[i]on, some for Mariages of poore
Maides, some for Supportac[i]on, Ayde and Helpe of younge Tradesmen,
Handiecraftesmen and p[er]sons decayed, and others ... for aide or
ease of any poore Inhabitants conc[er]ninge paymente of Fifteenes,
settinge out of Souldiers and other Taxes [etc.]...."[233]

As for money and goods left by testators or given _inter vivos_ for
_Temporary Expenses_ or _Special Occasions_ (as opposed to the
creation of permanent trusts and endowments), we find a constant
stream of such benefactions throughout the Elizabethan period.

By the Queen's Injunctions of 1559 parsons are diligently to exhort
their parishioners, "and especially when men make their testaments,"
to give to the poor-box, the surplus of which, after provision for the
needy, might be devoted to church and highway repair.[234]

Bequests made to the highways or bridges were considered as donated
_in pios usus_. "I thinke," wrote a prebendary of Durham Cathedral in
1599, "it also a deade of charitie and a comendable worke before God
to repaire the high-wayes, that the people may travaille saifely
without daunger. I therefore will to the mending of the highwayes

Noblemen and wealthy men were expected to help maintain the local poor
in particular. Elizabethan ballads celebrate the liberality
to the destitute of an Earl of Huntingdon,[236] of an Earl of
Southampton,[237] or of an Earl of Bedford.[238] At the funeral of
George, Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1591, eight thousand got the dole
served to them, and it was thought that at least twice that number
were in waiting, but could not approach because of the tumult.[239]
The churchwardens and overseers of the poor accounts, especially in
London and the larger cities, abound with receipt items of gifts from
great personages or wealthy merchants.[240]

Owing to the difficulty of investing money because present-day
intermediaries were absent between capital seeking employment and
would-be borrowers; and because the medieval stigma attaching to money
loaned at interest had by no means wholly disappeared,[241] there grew
up in Elizabethan parishes a system of laying out money, raised by the
parish or donated by benefactors, in various trades, such as
wool-spinning, linen-weaving, the buying of wood or coal to sell again
at a profit,[242] etc. Sometimes well-to-do parishioners with good
credit would themselves borrow parish money, returning ten per cent.
for its use.[243] Usually, however, parish money was loaned gratis,
the parish taking sureties for its repayment and sometimes articles of
value, being, apparently, not always above doing a little pawnbroking
business.[244] On the other hand, when the parish itself had occasion
to borrow money it would occasionally give its own valuables as
security. Thus the Mere, Wiltshire, wardens record in 1556 that they
have redeemed on the repayment of 40s. to one Cowherd, "borowed of hym
to thuse of the Churche," "certeyn sylver Spones of the Churche
stocke."[245] Finally, parishes would now and then make some cautious
speculation in real estate, such as the buying of a local market or
fair with a view to profit.[246]

Leaving the subject of endowments we shall now take up in order the
measures which may be called _Parish Expedients for raising money_.

Of all means ever devised for obtaining large sums of money for parish
uses, the most popular, as certainly the most efficacious, was the
_Church-ale_. Widespread during the first years of Elizabeth's reign,
church-ales, for reasons hereafter to be mentioned, ceased to be held
in many parishes towards the end of the reign. They constitute,
nevertheless, at all times during the 16th century an important
chapter in the history of parochial finance. In some wardens' accounts
the proceeds of these ales form a yearly recurring and an ordinary
receipt item; in others ales were resorted to when some unusually
large sum had to be raised, or some heavy expense was to be met, such
as the rebuilding of the church tower, the recasting of the bells, the
raising of a stock to set the poor to work, or the buying of a silver
communion cup.[247] Frequently, also, funds were raised by means of
ales called clerk-ales, sexton-ales, etc., to pay the wages of clerks,
sextons and other servants of the parish. "For in poore Countrey
Parishes," writes an early 17th century bishop, "where the wages of
the Clerke is very small, the people ... were wont to send him in
Provision, and then feast with him, and give him more liberality then
their quarterly payments [or offerings] would amount unto in many
years." Indeed, he continues, since these ales have been abolished
"some ministers have complained unto me, that they are afrayd they
shall have no Parish Clerks for want of maintenance for them."[248]

Church-ales were usually held at or near Whitsuntide, hence they were
also called Whitsun-ales or May-ales in the accounts. If the occasion
were an extraordinary one, and it was sought to realize a large sum,
notices were sent to the surrounding parishes, say to ten, fifteen, or
more, to be read aloud from the pulpits of their respective churches
after service, which notices contained invitations to any and all to
come and spend their money in feasting and drinking for the benefit of
the parish giving the ale. As the day approached for the opening of
the ale, which, if it were a great one, would be kept for four or five
days or more, all was bustle in the parish to prepare for a feasting
which often assumed truly Gargantuan proportions. Cuckoo kings and
princes were chosen, or lords and ladies of the games; ale-drawers
were appointed. For the brewing of the ale the wardens bought many
quarters of malt out of the church stock, but much, too, was donated
by the parishioners for the occasion. Breasts of veal, quarters of fat
lambs, fowls, eggs, butter, cheese, as well as fruit and spices, were
also purchased. Minstrels, drum players and morris-dancers were
engaged or volunteered their services. In the church-house, or church
tavern, a general-utility building found in many parishes, the great
brewing crocks were furbished, and the roasting spits cleaned. Church
trenchers and platters, pewter or earthen cups and mugs were brought
out for use; but it was the exception that a parish owned a stock of
these sufficient for a great ale. Many vessels were borrowed or hired
from the neighbors or from the wardens of near-by parishes, for, as
will presently be seen, provident churchwardens derived some income
from the hiring of the parish pewter as well as money from the loan of
parish costumes and stage properties. When the opening day arrived
people streamed in from far and wide. If any important personage or
delegation from another village were expected, the parish went forth
in a body with bag-pipes to greet them, and (with permission from the
ecclesiastical authorities) the church bells were merrily rung out. At
the long tables, when the ale was set abroach, "well is he," writes a
contemporary, "that can get the soonest to it, and spend the most at
it, for he that sitteth the closest to it, and spendes the most at it,
hee is counted the godliest man of all the rest ... because it is
spent uppon his Church forsooth."[249] The receipts from these ales
were sometimes very large. So important were they at Chagford, Devon,
that the churchwardens were sometimes called alewardens.[250] At Mere,
Wilts, out of a total wardens' receipts of L21 5s. 7-1/2d. for the two
years 1559-61, the two church-ales netted L17 3s. 1-1/2d.,[251] thus
leaving only L5 2s. 6d. as receipts from other sources for these two
years. At a later period, on the other hand, this relation of receipts
was entirely reversed. For instance, in 1582-3 the wardens secured
only L4 10s. 4d. from their ale, while proceeds from other sources
amounted to L17 9s. 7d.[252]

In the thirty-one years from 1556-7 to 1587-8 in this parish the
recorded wardens' expenditures had more than doubled. In the
first-named year they had been but L8 I2s. 5d.;[253] in the latter
year they had swelled to L18 14s 3-1/2d.[254] This characteristic is
true of all Elizabethan church budgets, and the writer has seen a
number of them.[255] The Wootton churchwardens enter under the year
1600 the following: "Rec. by our Kingale, all things discharged, xij
li. xiiij[s]. jd. ob.," an important sum for the day.[256]

Besides the churchwardens other wardens or gilds sometimes busied
themselves with the selling of ale for the benefit of the church. One
of these gilds at South Tawton, Devon, records in its accounts for
1564: "We made of our alle and gathering xl l. viijs. viijd."[257]

So important a source of parish income had to be carefully looked
after. A church-ale with its attendant festivities for drawing
visitors was an important business matter. Accordingly we find the
parishioners of St. John's, Glastonbury, making an order in 1589 "that
the churchwardens shall yearly keape ale to the comodeti of the
parishe upon payne of xxs. a yere."[258]

In Ashburton, Devon, in 1567 Christopher Wydecomb had to pay 20s. to
the wardens "because he refused the office of the drawer of the church
ale."[259] At Wing, Bucks, those refusing "to be lorde at Whitsuntyde
for the behofe of the church" were fined 35. 4d. apiece.[260] In some
places these masters of the revels were called Cuckoo Kings, and the
office seems to have gone in rotation like other parish offices.[261]

When invitations had been sent out to surrounding parishes,
interparochial courtesy seems to have required the attendance either
of the churchwardens or of some other more or less official
representatives of the neighboring communities. These representatives
carried with them some small contribution made at the expense of their
respective parishes ('ale-scot').[262]

Because of the alleged drunkenness and disorderly conduct attendant
upon some of these ales, the justices of assize and the justices of
the peace attempted in some shires to put them down on various
occasions.[263] More effective, perhaps, in doing away with them was
the gradual growth of Puritanism.

In conclusion it should be remarked that church-ales seem to have
obtained only in Central and Southern England. The huge and thinly
populated parishes of the North did not favor the development of an
institution so essentially social in its character.

_Church Plays, Games_ and _Dances_ were allied in a measure with
church-ales, partly because they were sometimes held concurrently with
them, partly because they served as a substitute for the ales when
these fell into disrepute. Miracle plays and other pageants were given
by certain parishes from time to time, too frequently in the churches
themselves, in which case the wrath of the ordinary was called down
upon the parish if he heard of them.[264] Some parishes kept various
costumes and stage properties, which were hired out to other parishes
when not in use.[265] May games, Robin Hood plays or bowers, Hocktide
sports and forfeits, morris-dances and children's dances were all
turned to the profit of the church, collections being taken up at
them.[266] Morris coats, caps, bells and feathers were frequently
loaned out for a consideration by wardens to other parishes.[267]

_Church-house_. Here were the brewing kettles and the spits, and here
was stored church grain or malt for beer making.[268] Here, too,
presumably, the pewter ale pots, trenchers, spoons, etc., which figure
in the accounts, were kept. These were hired out to other parishes for
their ales.[269] While ale was brewed and drunk in the church-house
for the benefit of the parish, and that apparently on other occasions
than church-ales, it does not seem probable that the place was often
allowed to degenerate into a common ale-house, even though in some
parishes it may have borne the name of "church tavern."[270] When not
required for parish purposes the church-house was rented out, and
rooms in an upper story were used for lodging.[271]

As church-ales fell into disfavor _Offerings_ or _Gatherings_ in
church or at the church door became more frequent[272] and more
systematized. As time went on these collections were regularly taken
up in many parishes every quarter, usually at Easter, Midsummer,
Michaelmas and Christmas.[273] Hence the name quarterage.[274] When
the proceeds went to general church furnishing and repairing, the
gatherings wrere sometimes called in the accounts "church works."[275]
As the sum given by each was often noted down in "quarter books" or
"Easter books,"[276] and was, on denial, occasionally sued for before
the official (together with dues for other purposes--clerk's wages,
pew rents, etc., presently to be noticed), an "offering" might become
virtually an assessment or rate.[277]

We come now to _Communion Dues_, or _Collections_ taken up at the time
of communion.

"_Paschall money_" is defined in a vestry order of Stepney parish,
London, in 1581 as a duty of 1d. paid by each communicant at Easter
"toward the charge of breade and wine over and besides theyre offering
mony due unto the vicar." These paschal dues, the order further
informs us, had long been farmed by the vicar for 40s. yearly. But now
the yield of a penny from each communicant was "thought a thing so
profitable and beneficiall," that only as a special mark of favor was
the vicar to continue to farm it, but at L4 thenceforth instead of at
40s.[278] "_Easter money_," an expression found not infrequently in
the accounts, may have referred to the same payment, or it may have
designated the offering which generally followed the celebration of
communion,[279] taken up, doubtless, from all those present, whether
communicating or not, the proceeds of which might go to the minister
or to the parish according to agreement or custom.

Though the Second Edwardine Prayer Book (1552) provided that the
elements were to be found by the curate and the wardens at the expense
of the parish, which was then to be discharged of fees, or levies on
each household, nevertheless, we meet with _Communion Fees_ or with
house-to-house levies to defray the cost of bread and wine in many
parishes during Elizabeth's reign.[280] In order to ensure payment of
the communion fee, tokens (or as we would say today, tickets) were
provided in some parishes which were first to be handed in before the
ministrant admitted the applicant to reception.[281]

In a number of parishes a fine wine such as muscatel or malmsey was
provided for the better sort, or the masters and mistresses, while the
servants, or poorer folk, were served with claret.[82] Indeed where
all were compelled to communicate thrice yearly the cost of wine was a
very serious item.

_Collections for the Holy Loaf_, that is, blessed but not consecrated
bread, which went to defray the costs of administering the Eucharist,
occur in some of the earlier Elizabethan accounts.[283] Surplus
communion fee money, or communion offerings were devoted to the care
of the poor and other expenses.[284]

The heading _Clerk's Wages_, which is so often met with in the
wardens' receipt items, frequently serves (as do several other special
headings) as a mere peg on which to hang a collection for various or
even for general parish expenses.[285]

_Pews_ and _Seats in Church_ were often made a source of revenue. Thus
at St. Mary's, Reading, it was agreed in 1581 by the chief men of the
parish, in order to augment the parish stock and to maintain the
church, because "the rentes ar very smale," that those sitting in
front seats in the church should pay 8d., those behind them 6d., the
third row 4d., and so on.[286]

At St. Dunstan's, Stepney parish, London, a book was made by the
wardens "whearein was expressed the pewes in the whole Church,"
distinguished by numbers. "Also there was noted against everie pewe
the price that was thought reasonable it shoulde yeeld by the
yeare.... The w[hi]ch rates by this vestrie is allowed and confirmed
to be imploied to the use of the parish Church." When a few months
later it was determined to build a gallery because the congregation
needed more seats, it was also settled that the cost should be met by
a year's pew rent in one payment down, over and besides the usual
quarterly payments for seats.[287] Sometimes the seats were sold
outright and for life only.[288]

_Mortuary Fees_ were a source of revenue in almost all parishes, and
sometimes an important one.[289] Consequently tariffs of fees were
drawn up in various places. So much is charged for interment within,
so much for burial without the church; so much for a knell according
to duration and according to size of the bell; so much for the
herse--a sort of catafalque--so much for the pall, the fee varying
from that charged for "the best" to that charged for "the worst
cloth"; so much if the body is coffined or uncoffined, most of the
dead being buried in winding sheets only, though the parish provided a
coffin for the body to lie in during service in church and for removal
to the graveside.[290] So, too, one fee was charged for interring a "
great corse," another for a "chrisom child."[291] All, in fact, is
tabulated with minute precision, the minister getting certain fees for
himself alone, and sharing others with the parish; and so of the clerk
and of the sexton, if any. Among other reasons alleged by the vestry
of Stepney parish for dismissing their sexton in 1601 was because he
made "composic[i]on with diu[er]s & sundry p[ar]ishoners for the
duties of the church to the hinderannce & great damage of the
bennefitt of the church & p[ar]ishoners."[292]

_Fees_ for _Weddings, Christenings_ and _Churchings_, and for the
ringing of the bells (at marriages), together with the _Offerings_
taken up on these occasions, might form a source of revenue to the
parish, either going directly into the parish coffers, or being paid
in whole or in part to minister, clerk or sexton, who, after all, had
to be supported by the parish (or otherwise), being essential officers
or servants.[293]

The parish poor and the parish church derived an uncertain, but by no
means negligible, income from the product of _Fines for various

In the previous chapter fines for non-attendance at church have been
alluded to.[294] A contemporary, writing in 1597, refers to these as
an important fund for the support of the poor if duly levied. He
writes: "Whereunto [he is speaking of various means to alleviate
poverty] if we adde the forfaiture of 12 pence for euerie householders
absence from Church (man and woman) forenoone and after, Sunday and
holiday (according to the statute without sufficient cause alledged)
to be duely collected by Churchwardens and other appointed to that
end, with the like regard for Wednesday suppers: there would be
sufficient releefe for the poore in all places ...."[295]

Ecclesiastical courts sometimes condemned offenders to pay a fine for
the use of the poor.[296] Sometimes they commuted a penance for money
to go to church-repair or to the parish poor.[297] The churchwardens
or overseers of the poor accounts also mention fines received for
profanation of the Sabbath and for offences during service time.[298]
The Star Chamber often condemned offenders, especially enclosers of
cottage land and engrossers of corn, to fines for the benefit of the
poor.[299] Finally, most parishes derived some income from fining men
various sums for refusing parish offices; for neglect of duty when in
office; and for not attending duly called vestry meetings. Sometimes a
parishioner would pay down a large lump sum for exemption forever from
all offices served by the parishioners.[300]

Yet another irregular but appreciable means of revenue might be
classed under the heading of _Miscellaneous Receipts_.

As the parishioners were always eager to turn an honest penny for
their own benefit, no possible source of receipts was neglected. If,
for instance, any part of the church or the church premises might,
temporarily or permanently, be rented out without drawing upon the
community the censure of the ordinary, the parishioners were happy to
do so. Owners of structures of any kind encroaching upon the
churchyard, or other church land, were promptly made to pay for the
privilege.[301] Occasionally parishes derived more or less large sums
from the sale of parish valuables. The sale of costly vestments,
embroideries, hangings, images, chalices, pyxes and other church
furnishings and ornaments condemned as superstitious by the Anglican
church, brought some income to the wardens of most parishes during the
first years of Elizabeth. Examples will be found in all the accounts.
Now and then, too, a parish would make a large sum from the sale of
the wood or other products of parish lands.[302] A fairly common item
in city parishes especially were fees paid for licences to eat flesh
during Lent and on other legal fast days.[303]

When an Elizabethan parish undertook some work on a great scale, such
as the rebuilding of its church, or of the church steeple; or, again,
when it had suffered great losses by fire or flood, it solicited
through _Begging Proctors_ the _Contributions of Outsiders_, sometimes
from all parts of England.[304]

To terminate our enumeration of means of raising money, or of
contributions of all sorts on which the wardens could count (as apart
from rates, properly so-called), we might mention _Fixed
Contributions_, of money or of labor, issuing out of certain
tenements; and _Annual Payments to Mother Churches_. Certain lands or
houses, generally abutting on the church grounds, had fixed upon them
the obligation to repair a certain portion of the churchyard
enclosure, Tenement X, so many feet of fence, Tenement Y, such a
portion of brick or stone wall, and so forth.[305]

Sometimes also certain houses or lands are spoken of as yielding so
much a year for the repair of the church and the support of the
poor.[306] Incidentally we might mention--though hardly connected with
parish finance--certain payments for church repair, etc., claimed of
old by some cathedral churches from the parishes of the diocese.
Originally a tax varying from a farthing to a penny for each household
(hence the names "smoke farthings," "hearth penny," "smoke silver"),
the payments were commuted for a small lump sum exacted yearly. Thus
we find in the Elizabethan accounts mention of "St. Swithin
farthings;"[307] of "Ely farthings;"[308] of "Lincoln farthings,"[309]
etc., according to the _name_ of the cathedral to which they were
paid; or, again, of "Whitsun farthings;" of "Pentecost farthings,"
etc., according to the _time_ of the year at which the payments were
made.[310] These payments must not be confused with "Peter's pence,"
which had before the Reformation been paid by English parishes to

Lastly the mother parish church, in large parishes requiring chapels
of ease, would exact (when it could) contributions from those
congregations who frequented for ordinary divine worship these chapels
of ease within the parish. And these exactions would be made
irrespective of the fact that these congregations were bound to repair
their own chapels and possessed their own churchwardens.[312]

When the means or expedients we have hitherto set forth were found
insufficient, or impracticable, or too tardy for an emergency, the
parish was compelled to resort to _Rates_ or _Assessments_.

Assessments were levied in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of
purposes. In an emergency, or if the sum to be raised was not large, a
levy might be made by the principal men of the parish upon themselves
only.[313] A "rate" might, however, be made to collect a very small
sum, as well as a very large one.[314] All kinds of units or rules of
assessment were resorted to from parish to parish, and (apparently)
sometimes no fixed unit at all was taken, men's ability to pay being
roughly gauged, or a man being permitted to rate himself,[315] or give
his "benevolence."

In the wardens' accounts are frequently seen long lists of names, each
being taxed at a sum varying from 1/2d. to three or four shillings.
Such lists may represent an attempt to tax each man at 1/2d. or 1d. in
the pound, or, likely as not, it may merely mean a crude sizing up of
the ability of each to contribute.

Furthermore, a "rate" might consist in a fixed sum, the same for all,
and levied by polls or by households,[316] say 1d. or 2d. each. Or,
again, it might be levied by pews at varying sums.[317] Assessments to
pay the parish clerk or sexton might sometimes be made in kind, and
issue from households, from cottages, or from ploughlands: so much
corn at Easter, so much bread, so many eggs.[318]

When it came to the more accurate basing of rates upon lands, or goods
at a valuation, the inhabitants of the various communities observed no
uniform ratio of taxation from parish to parish, nor even in the same
parish, and disputes were always recurring.[319]

It must be borne in mind that parish financiering was largely of the
hand-to-mouth variety. Indeed, it was difficult it should be
otherwise, for the exigencies of the civil or the ecclesiastical
authorities were constantly shifting, now a petty lump sum being
required (and to be spent as soon as raised), now a great one to be
disbursed in the same manner.

In conclusion, a few observations on the parish as a financial unit in
connection with county government may be made. There seems to have
been no general treasury at the disposal of the hundred or of the
county, but merely certain treasurers charged with the disbursement of
this or that special collection for this or that special purpose. A
collection is made by order of the justices, for instance, in certain
hundreds, or throughout the shire, for the support of the prisoners in
the county gaol, and a treasurer for the fund is appointed. Or it may
be that this treasurer is a more or less permanent official. And so
with collections for hospitals, for houses of correction, for great
bridges, etc. If the constables levied more than was sufficient for a
parish, or if the contemplated disbursement turned out to be less than
originally estimated, the surplus, if the justices had no immediate
use for it, might be returned to that parish to go back into the
pockets of the rate payers.[320] Furthermore, it seems scarcely
accurate in Elizabethan times to speak of any _county rate_,[321] for
there was no recognized basis of assessment common to all parishes,
unless it were at any given time the then prevailing subsidy rate, and
a rating according to the subsidy books by the justices would fail to
reach many whom a parish rating might attain. As a matter of fact the
justices, when they had a large sum to levy on the county at large,
almost always apportioned it in lump sums among the hundreds, or among
the parishes of their respective divisions, according to "the bygnes
or smallnes of their parishes."[322] It comes, then, to all practical
intents and purposes to this: that each parish is left to produce
according to its own local methods, or rating, the wherewithal for
carrying on county government.

While in local government itself the parishioners have practically no
voice, the large measure of freedom they enjoy for the devising of
ways and means to meet the demands made upon them (though they have no
option whatever in granting or withholding supplies) gives to the
parish a vigorous entity and a certain autonomous life of its own,
which otherwise it never could have possessed over against the
all-regulating and inquisitorial Tudor machinery of Church and State.

As the reign advanced the parish developed a selfish, jealous and
exclusive gild life of its own, especially under the operation of the
poor laws.

Non-parishioners, or "foreigners," were viewed with the strongest
suspicion. Generally they were discriminated against if they happened
to have dealings with the parish. Wedding or funeral fees were doubled
in their cases.[123] If the parishioners could have had their will no
alien poor could have gained a settlement amongst them--no, not even
after twenty years' residence. In 1598 the West Riding, Yorkshire,
justices were compelled to interfere in favor of divers poor persons
in various parishes, where officers were seeking to expel them as
vagrants born elsewhere, though they had been domiciled in their
adopted communities for twenty years and upwards.[324]

Already that "organized hypocrisy," so characteristic of parish life
in later reigns, shows itself in the many presentments of, and
petitions against, persons supposedly immoral--especially single
women. Not zeal for morality prompts these indictments, but fear that
the community may have to support illegitimate children.[325] Quite
typical of the times is the language held by the inhabitants of Castle
Combe in appealing to the Wiltshire justices against a townwoman in
1606. They are apprehensive, they say, lest "by this licentious life
of hers not only God's wrath may be powered downe uppon us ... but
also hir evill example may so greatly corrupt others than great and
extraordinary charge ... may be imposed uppon us."[326]

Few laws on the statute book were so frequently enforced as the 31
Eliz. c. 7, which required four acres to be laid to every cottage to
be constructed, for there was a powerful local backing behind the law.
When John Fletcher, "a meere stranger lately come into this Parish
with his wife and children," took certain parcels of land in Severn
Stoke in 1593, and was suspected of the intention to build a cottage
without laying to it the requisite number of acres, the parishioners
immediately complained to the Worcester justices, for they wanted to
provide against the contingent liability of having to support the
inmates.[327] Four acres was then the quantity considered necessary to
maintain a man and his family. It was an indictable offence to sublet,
for then there would be two families where only one was before. Nor
could lodgers be taken, for such increase of the inmates of the house
would surcharge the land.[328]

In short, that feeling of distrust and discrimination against the
outside world, which, in the 18th century, led a Lancashire vestry to
dub all outsiders "foreigners,"[329] is already fully developed by the
end of the 16th century. But we must also recognize that this feeling
engendered in the parish itself solidarity of interests, close
fellowship and local spirit.


[1] Richard Hooker, _Ecclesiastical Polity_, Bk. viii, 448-9 (ed.

[2] Coke, 4 _Inst_., 320 (ed. 1797).

[3] See 14 Eliz. c. 5, sec. 16, and 39 Eliz. c. 3.

[4] 37 Hen. VIII, c. 17, re-enacted I Eliz. c. I. "The real effect of
the statute was this--that lay lawyers were substituted for the
clerical canonists of pre-Reformation times." Lewis T. Dibden, _An
Historical Inquiry into the Status of the Ecclesiastical Courts_
(1882), 59. By canon cxxvii of the Canons of 1604 in order to be a
chancellor, a commissary, or an official in the courts Christian, a
man must be "_ad minimum magister artium, aut in jure bacalareus, ac
in praxi et causis forensibus laudabiliter exercitatus_." E. Cardwell,
_Synodalia_ (etc.), i, 236. Cf. Blomefield, _Hist. of Norfolk_, iii,
655-6 (Parker's report, 1563. Officials of the archdeacons not
required to be in orders). E. Cardwell, _Documentary Annals of the
Reformed Church of England_, i, 426 (Complaint in a document of circa
1584 [or later] that excommunication is executed by laymen. In the
answer by the bishops it is stated [_ibid_., 428] _inter alia_, "that
in later times, divines have wholly employed themselves to divinity
and not to the proceedings and study of the law"). To the same effect,
but for a later period, see White Kennett, _Parochial Antiquities_
(Oxon. ed. 1695), 642.

[5] Harrison, writing in 1577, says that archdeacons keep, beside two
visitations or synods yearly, "their ordinarie courts which are holden
within so manie or more of their several deaneries by themselues or
their officials once in a moneth at the least." Harrison, _Description
of England_, Bk. ii, _New Shakespeare Soc_. for 1877 (ed. Dr.
Furnivall), p. 17. Between 27th Nov., 1639, and 28th Nov., 1640, there
were thirty sittings in the court of the Archdeacon of London. Hale,
_Crim. Prec_., introd. p. liii. Any casual inspection of the
visitation act-books reveals the fact that the judge sits either in
court or in chambers between visitations, for offenders are constantly
ordered to appear again in a few days or in a few weeks. Compulsory
presentments were, however, limited by law and custom to two courts a
year. See canons 116 and 117 of the Canons of 1604. Also Gibson,
_Codex_, ii, 1001.

[6] See p. 18 and p. 20 _infra_. For the duty to read the injunctions
or the articles based on them see p. 32 _infra_.

[7] See 5 Eliz. c. 3. _Stats. of the Realm_, iv, Pt. i, 411. Also
Visitation of Warrington Deanery in 1592 by the Bishop of Chester in
_Lancashire and Cheshire Historic Soc. Trans_., n. s., x (1895), 186
_et passim_. Hereinafter cited as _Warrington Deanery Visit_. Cf. also
Grindal's Injunc. for the Province of York (1571), art. 17, _Remains
of Grindal, Parker Soc_., 132 ff.

[8] See Visitations of the Archdeacon of Canterbury, _Archaeologia
Cantiana_, xxvi (1904), 24 (1602). Mr. Arthur Hussey has published
copious extracts from the act-books of these visitations extending
over a considerable period in vols. xxv-xxvii of the _Arch. Cant_.
Hereinafter cited as _Canterbury Visit_., xxv (etc.). For
perambulations see p. 27 _infra_.

[9] Cordy Jeaffreson, _Middlesex County Records_, i, 100-1 (Indictment
reciting that John Johnson had had due notice in his parish church,
yet had not sent his wain, etc., 1576). Cf. provisions of the statutes
5 Eliz. c. 13, and 18 Eliz. c. 10, _Stats. of Realm_, iv, Pt. i,
441-3, and 620-1 respectively.

[10] Brownlow v. Lambert, C.B., 41 Eliz., I _Croke Eliz. Rep.,
Leache's ed_. (1790), Pt. ii, 716.

[11] _Canterbury Visit_., xxvi, 23 (1599); _ibid_., 20 (1591). W.H.
Hale, _A Series of Precedents in Criminal Causes from the Act Books of
the Ecclesiastical Courts of London_, 1475-1640 (pub. in 1847), 190
(Schoolmaster of Stock presented in court for defacing the church "in
makinge a fire for his schollers," 1587). This work hereinafter cited
as Hale, _Crim. Prec_.

[12] Constables Acc'ts of Melton in _Leicester Architec. and Archaeol.
Soc. Trans_., iii (1874), 72-3. Chelmsford Churchwardens Acc'ts in
_Essex Archaeol. Soc. Trans_., ii (1863), 225 ff.

[13] Stratton (Cornwall) Churchwardens Acc'ts, _Archaeologia_, xlvi,
200 ff. _s. a_. 1565 and editor's note.

[14] "Sir W.. A.. and I with divers other justices, being met together
at Sondon church" (1582). Strype, _Annals of the Reformation_, iii,
Pt. ii, 214. This meeting here may have been in the churchyard.

[15] See in the _Antiquary_, xxxii (1896), 147-8, the inquest held at
St. Botolph Extra Aldgate (1590), and the coroner's judgment delivered
in the church that a suicide should be buried at cross-roads with a
stake through her breast.

[16] For the noisy proceedings in Bow Church and in St. Paul's,
London, see _The Spiritual Courts epitomised_ [etc.], a satire printed
in 1641 at London. For this and similar satires see Mr. Stephen's
_Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires_ in Brit. Mus. (1870).
Cf. Strype, _Life of Grindal_ (Oxon. ed. 1821), 83 ff. (Proclamation
of 1561 for reverent use of churches). Also Augustus Jessop, _One
Generation of a Norfolk House_, 15. Sir J.F. Stephen, _Hist. of
Criminal Law_, ii. 404.

[17] In the Canons of 1571 the churchwardens are called "_aeditui_,"
in those of 1604 "_oeconomi_." In the older churchwardens accounts
their Latin designations are "_gardiani_" and "_custodes_," sometimes
"_prepositi_" (or 'reeves'). English equivalents are churchmen,
highwardens, stockwardens (alewardens even), kirkmasters, church
masters, proctors, etc. Sidemen are called also questmen, assistants
and (apparently) sworn men or jurates. They do not always appear in
small country parishes, neither are they generally found before the
latter half of Elizabeth's reign. Their Latin appelation was "_fide
digni_" and they were chosen from among the parishioners to the number
of two, four, six or more to present offences along with the
churchwardens, or offences which the wardens would not present
(Gibson, _Codex_, ii, 1000). The sidemen went about the parish during
service time with the wardens and warned persons to come to church
(See p. 23 _infra_). For rector, etc., see p. 30 _infra_.

[18] Toulmin Smith, _The Parish_ (2d ed., 1857), 69 ff., strongly
insists that churchwardens "never were ecclesiastical officers." But
the authorities he cites are post-Elizabethan. The courts in
Elizabeth's time held that the execution of the office "doth belong to
the Spirituall jurisdiction" (See Brown v. Lother, 40 Eliz., in _J.
Gouldsborough's Rep_., ed. 1653, p. 113). Lambard (_The Duties of
Constables_, etc., ed. 1619, p. 70) says that wardens are taken in
favor of the church to be a corporation at common law for some
purposes, viz., to be trustees for the church goods and chattels.

[19] See "The Othe which the Parsons ... shall minister to the Churche
Wardens," of which the text is given in Bishop Barnes' Injunctions and
other Ecclesiastical Proceedings, _Surtees Soc_., xxii (1850), 26
(Hereinafter cited as _Barnes' Eccles. Proc_.). The wording of this
oath is evidently very similar to, if not identical with, that of the
oath administered to the wardens by the archdeacon.

[20] For a number of examples clearly illustrating this point see
Visitations of the Dean of York's Peculiar, _Yorkshire Archaeological
Journal_. xviii (1905), 202, 221, 222, 224, _et passim_. Hereinafter
cited as _Dean of York's Visit_. We have a number of these articles of
inquiry formulated by archbishops or bishops. _E.g._, see in T. Nash,
_Hist. and Antiq. of Worcestershire_, i, 472 (Wardens of Grimley make
answer to the 5th and 6th articles inquired of by the bishop in 1585).
Cf. Cardwell, _Doc. Ann._, ii, 13-16 (Whitgift's Articles of 1588).

[21] _E.g., Canterbury Visit_., xxv, 12 (Birchington wardens arraigned
in court "for that they have not presented divers faults Committed
within the parish." 1591). Act-Books in _Barnes' Eccles. Proc_., 118
(A warden of Long Newton detected to the official because "he refused
to present faltes with his fellowe churchwardone, _et fatebatur
delationem_, viz., that he wolde not present his owne wief." 1579).
_Ibid_., 129 (1580). See also _Warrington Deanery Visit_., 188
("Departing and not exhibitinge there presentments"). W.H. Hale,
_Precedents in Causes of Office against Churchwardens and Others_
(1841), 81 (Wardens of Sarratt [Herts] excommunicated for not
exhibiting their "_billas detectionum_." 1577). The last named work
hereinafter cited as Hale, _Churchwardens' Prec_.

[22] For numerous examples of excommunication for non-appearance, see
_Barnes' Eccles. Proc_., 29 ff. Under the heading of each parish we
see "_aegrotat_" or "_excusatur_," or "_nullo modo_" (_sc. comparuit_)
placed after the name of each person cited to attend from that parish.
Incumbents, wardens and sidemen were almost always in attendance.
Schoolmasters usually so when there were such. Delinquent parishioners
were of course cited in person, or remanded to appear at the next
court day holden elsewhere. Upon non-appearance the formula usually
entered by the registrar or scribe in the act-book was "_et omnes et

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