Located AtStaffordshire Record Office
Alt Ref NoB/C & D142 (part)
TitleCourt records
Administrative HistoryUntil the 19th century, the ecclesiastical courts exercised a wide ranging jurisdiction, including probate, matrimonial, defamation, tithe and faculty causes. The main areas of jurisdiction retained at the present day are the granting of faculties and licences for marriage in an Anglican church.

Broadly speaking, cases were either office, instance or office promoted. Office cases were brought by "the office of the lord bishop" and may be regarded as the ecclesiastical equivalent of criminal jurisdiction (moral offences, non-attendance at church and disobedience to official policy, for example by Puritans). Instance cases, brought "at the instance of" a private person were equivalent to civil jurisdiction (tithe, matrimony, defamation and probate being the main types). Office promoted cases were office by nature but were promoted by a private person who usually had to enter into a bond to indemnify the bishop for costs incurred if the case failed. The main types of case were:

Tithe: these form a moderate proportion of cases heard. Jurisdiction over tithe was shared with secular courts, and was finally removed from ecclesiastical courts in 1836.

Probate: this jurisdiction represented a considerable proportion of the activity of the courts. The original wills and their inventories are filed separately (B/C/10). Papers of disputed probates are with the cause papers (B/C/5); in some cases these include inventories and, less frequently, wills. Probate jurisdiction was transferred to civil courts on 12 January 1858.

Matrimony: this jurisdiction was also transferred in 1858, except as regards the granting of licences for marriages to be held at Anglican churches.

Defamation: this jurisdiction was transferred in 1855 to civil courts.

Faculties: the granting of faculties for alterations to the fabric or furniture of a church was exercised in the 17th and 18th centuries chiefly for wholesale rebuilding of churches, for repewing, or for confirming individual pews. The increase in church restoration in the 19th century increased the number of faculties issued, and in the later part of the century the granting of faculties for lesser alterations to churches, such as the insertion of stained glass windows, became increasingly normal. Disputes over pews were frequent until about 1860 when they diminished as private pews became less common. A few cases of dispute over ritual took place in the later 19th century. Faculties until 1882 are with the cause papers (B/C/5); from that date they were filed separately, and are classed as B/C/12. However some faculty case papers continue in B/C/5 until 1900, so both series should be checked.

For more information on the working of the church courts, see Ann Tarver, Church court records: an introduction for family and local historians (Phillimore, 1995) and 'The Consistory Court of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry and its work, 1680-1830', unpublished PhD thesis, University of Warwick, 1998. Both available at Staffordshire Record Office.
Access ConditionsItems in this section (apart from B/C/5) require a minimum 2 working days' notice for production
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