Minute Book and Documents, Illustrative of the Dedham (Essex) Classis, 1582-89

Scope and Content

The volume is largely written in the hand of Richard Parker, vicar of Dedham (1582-90), secretary of the Classis, and evidently compiled from notes, etc., taken at the time. The manuscript contains:

  • folios 1-1v: rules drawn up at a Conference of 22 October 1582 (ending with the autograph signatures of 20 ministers);
  • folios 2-12: minutes of 81 meetings, held mostly in east and north-east Essex, December 1582 - June 1589;
  • folios 26-39: copies by Parker of letters and papers relating to and illustrative of the above meetings;
  • folios 13-25, 40-55: other writings conferred of in our meetings.

Folios 13-25 and 31 have been bound out of order and Parker's foliation, which ends with the present folio 39 (his folio 26), ignores them.

Administrative / Biographical History

Towards the end of the sixteenth century the writings of Thomas Cartwright, Andrew Melville and Walter Travers marked the birth of the Presbyterian movement within England. Apart from the doctrinal differences that separated Presbyterians from the Church of England, the major point of contention was over the structure of the Church. Rejecting the Episcopalian form of Church government, Presbyterians sought to order the Church from the grassroots and parish level upwards. This was to be achieved by means of setting up a parish presbytery that would be composed of the minister, elders and deacons of the parish. Above the parish would be the classis that would cover twelve parishes and would be attended by their ministers. Each classis would in turn send delegates to a provincial synod and the provinces would be under the control of a National Assembly. Although rejected by the Tudors and Stuarts, the Presbyterian form of church government was accepted by the Puritan-controlled Long Parliament in 1647 and it remained the system of government for the reformed Church of England throughout the Commonwealth period. After the restoration of Charles II, the Anglican episcopacy was reinstated and the Church of England resumed its Episcopalian form of government.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library, through the London booksellers Maggs Bros, at the Gurney sale held at Sotheby's on 31 March 1936 (Lot 187).


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Humpleby, project archivists.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Supplementary Hand-List of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937 (English MS 874).

See also list of Gurney Miscellanea, number xxvi in the Twelfth Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (London: HMSO, 1890), pp. 147-50.

Custodial History

Former owners: Sir Henry Spelman; Rev. Cox Macro; the Gurney family of Norfolk (from 1820).

The manuscript later formed part (folios 223-80) of a Gurney Miscellanea volume of 443 folios, the contents of which are listed in the Twelfth Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (London: HMSO, 1890), pp. 147-50, where it is numbered xxvi.

Related Material

The JRUL also holds a transcript of English MS 874 by William Arthur Shaw in the William Arthur Shaw Manuscripts Collection (GB 133 WAS).

The John Rylands Library purchased other manuscripts at the Gurney sale of 31 March 1936: see English MS 875, Gurney Miscellanea I (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 875), and English MS 880, Gurney Miscellanea II (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 880).


Selections only of this manuscript have been printed in Roland G. Usher (ed.), The Presbyterian movement in the reign of Queen Elizabeth as illustrated by the minute book of the Dedham Classis 1582-1589, Camden Society, 3rd Series, vol. 8 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1905).