Scope and Content

The records comprise act books of the upper and lower houses (the central series of records), and committee papers mainly from 1865 onwards.

Administrative / Biographical History

Convocation is the ancient legislative assembly for the province of Canterbury, which since the 15th century met as two houses, the upper house of bishops, presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury, and the lower house (of clergy) who elect their own chairman. From its prorogation in 1717 until its revival in 1852, Convocation conducted no business whatever, its meetings being purely formal.

The provincial synods or convocations of the Anglican Church developed from the early conventions of the Apostolical Church of Jerusalem and the provincial synods of the primitive church. (See 'A History of the Convocation of the Church of England', by Thomas Lathbury, London 1853, pp 1-19.) From the thirteenth century the acts of the Canterbury convocations constitute a continuous and distinct record of their proceedings. (See list of acts 1356-1689 in Edmund Gibson's 'Synodus Anglicana', Oxford 1854, pp lv-lvii.)

Convocation consists of bishops and presbyters, that is the metropolitan, his suffragans, and chosen representatives of the clergy. Until about 1369 (see Gibson pp 60-65) the inferior clergy sat with the bishops but from this date the practice of the bishops and clergy meeting separately gradually became the norm. The upper and lower houses of convocation thus came into being, the upper house consisting of the archbishop acting as president, and his suffragan bishops, the lower house of the representatives of the clergy, that is deans and archdeacons, or their proxies, and the proctors of the chapters and clergy of each diocese. This system necessitated the appointment of a prolocutor of the lower house to act as intermediary between the two and convey gravamina, representations and messages to the upper house. At first prolocutors were appointed for special occasions only, but in 1425 the canonist Lyndwood was the first member of the lower house to be appointed prolocutor at the beginning of a session before proceedings had started (see Gibson p 49).

The functions of convocation are the interpretation of the canon of the Scripture, decisions in matters of doctrinal belief, the condemnation of heretical tenets (e.g. the cases of Toland and Whiston, 1701 and 1710), the enactment of canons (e.g. the canons of 1603), and the authorisation of liturgical formularies (e.g. the 1545 Prayer Book). Their power to carry out these functions was restricted by the Clergy Submission Act, 1534 (25 Henry VIII c.19), which prescribed the power of the sovereign over convocation as it is today. Before this act the archbishops had summoned their convocations at will, except in the case of special 'state' convocations. The act ruled that no convocation was to meet without first being summoned by a royal writ addressed to the archbishop. These royal writs or mandates are usually issued at the same time as the writs summoning Parliament. In the same way convocation is dissolved with Parliament. On receipt of the royal mandate the archbishop of Canterbury issues his own mandate which is executed by the bishop of London as dean of the province. Citations are then sent to all parties to appear in convocation or to choose proctors to represent them. The returns of the names of these proctors are made to the archbishop (see Conv V/1). When sitting, convocation may be prorogued from day to day or to a date in the future by the archbishop or the sovereign.

Once the royal mandate has been issued convocation is legally authorised to deliberate matters within its jurisdiction. In special circumstances the sovereign may issue further injunctions. Royal letters of business set down any particular matter which the sovereign might wish to be deliberated. The royal licence allows convocation to enact canons (see 25 Henry VIII c.19) which then need the royal assent.

The convocations of the provinces of Canterbury and York usually meet separately. Business may be passed from one convocation to the other and each may discuss and ratify the decisions of the other.

After the formation of the General Synod (1970), Convocation survived, but was subordinate to it: i.e. the General Synod consists of the Convocations of Canterbury and York, joined together in a House of Bishops (the Convocations' Upper Houses) and a House of Clergy (the Convocations' Lower Houses), and having added to them a House of Laity. The separate Convocations of Canterbury and York now meet rarely (less than annually).

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Permanent deposit, administered by Lambeth Palace Library.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue descriptions based on provisional catalogue of the records of the Convocation of Canterbury (typescript).

Descriptions available on the National Archives Discovery site <> as well as the Library catalogue.

Custodial History

Various series were removed from the Manuscripts sequence and disbound. MS.1173, described in Todd as a "Chest of Convocation records", was transferred to Convocation in early 1960s by JH.

Additional records (Conv I/2/5B, 15-33; Conv XIII/1) from Church of England Record Centre, 2007.


Post-1969 records form part of the General Synod archive at the Church of England Record Centre.

Related Material

These form part of the archives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, which also comprise: Archbishops' papers (AP), Bishops' Meetings records (BM), Cartae Antiquae et Miscellaneae (Lambeth Charters) (CM), Court of Arches records (Arches), Faculty Office records (F), Lambeth Conference papers (LC), Temporalities records (ED and T), and Vicar General records (V).

Earlier records of Convocation were often recorded in the mediaeval archbishops' registers and were printed in David Wilkins' Concilia (1737). See also Archbishops' Papers; Manuscript series (Gibson papers especially MS 934; part of Conv/II - royal writs 1714-34 - is MS.1031; duplicate minutes etc MSS.4395-9). From 1858, proceedings of Convocation were published in 'The Chronicles of Convocation' (copies at Lambeth Palace Library to 1995). From 1995 the Chronicle is published online: The Chronicle was preceded by the Journal of Convocation: see printed books catalogue.

After 1919 (with the creation of the Church Assembly) records of the two Convocations acting jointly (e.g. House of Bishops, ref: HB) are held by the Church of England Record Centre. But note that 'joint' papers could also refer to the upper and lower houses of Canterbury Convocation.

After 1970 the Convocations fall within the remit of General Synod (records at Church of England Record Centre).

Records of the York Convocation before 1969 are held at the Borthwick Institute. Lambeth Palace Library holds copies of its published 'Journal'.


See also Gerald Bray's published 'Records of Convocation' (Boydell and Brewer, 2005-), and preceding 'Calendars of the records of the Convocation of Canterbury' (typescript). E. Gibson, 'Synodus Anglicana' (London, 1702) xiii-xvi. A Catalogue of the remaining Acts and Registers of Convocation.