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

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Keith M. Eckrich and PG Distributed Proofreaders SERIES XXVI NOS. 7-8 JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY STUDIES IN HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE Under the Direction of the Departments of History, Political Economy, and Political Science THE ELIZABETHAN PARISH IN ITS ECCLESIASTICAL AND FINANCIAL ASPECTS BY SEDLEY LYNCH WARE, A.B., LL.B. Fellow in History.
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  • 7/1908-8/1908
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Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Keith M. Eckrich and PG Distributed Proofreaders





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 jurisdiction.[4]

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 s_.”[30]

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 d.”[37]

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 lands.[82]

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 ourselves.

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 recusant.[114]

Heads of families were made responsible for the attendance of their children and servants; innkeepers or victuallers for their guests.[115]

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 subject.[123]

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 order.[126]

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 ecclWrong shortcode esi formate 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 debita_.”[134]

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 movement.[161]

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 jurisdiction.”[173]

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 official.

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 lingered.

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 exempted.

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 be.”[217]

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 church.[224]

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 education.[230]

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 [etc.]….”[235]

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 Delinquencies_.

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 Rome.[311]

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. 1666).

[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