Convocation records

Scope and Content

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 records comprise act books of the upper and lower houses, and committee papers mainly from 1865 onwards. Earlier records of Convocation were often recorded in the mediaeval archbishops' registers and were printed in David Wilkins' Concilia (1737). From 1858, proceedings of Convocation were published in The Chronicles of Convocation.

Administrative / Biographical History

The provincial synods or convocations of the Anglican church developed from the early conventions of the provincial synods of the primitive church. From the 13th century the acts of the Canterbury convocations consistute a continuous and distinct record of their proceedings. Convocation consists of bishops and presbyters, that is the metropolitan, his suffragans, and chosen representatives of the clergy. Until about 1369 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 former consisting of the archbishop acting as president and his suffragans, the latter consisting 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 to convey 'gravamina' or representations and messages from the lower house to the upper.The functions of convocation are the interpretation of the canon of the Scripture, decisions in matters of doctrinal belief, the condemnation of heretical tenets, the enactment of canons, and the authorisation of liturgical formularies. 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 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. 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 or business set down any particular matters which the sovereign might wish to be deliberated. The roayl licence allows convocation to enact canons 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.The houses of convocation have always been exclusively clerical assemblies. From 1885 a 'house of laymen' was associated with each provincial convocation, chosen by the diocesan conferences. Early in the 20th century joint sittings of the two provincial convocations commenced, and in 1904 a representative council consisting of members of both convocations together with the two houses of laymen sitting together began.Until 1920 this representative council had no legal position or authority, until it was supersed by the Church Assembly whose powers were defined in the Church of England Assemby (Powers) Act 1919.By the Synodical Government Measure 1969, almost all of the functions of convocation were transferred to the General Synod, which consists of three Houses (of Bishops, Clergy and Laity). Provision was made for each convocation to meet separately in its own province, and matters before the General Synod concerning doctrine and worship may be referred to the convocations if they require this (which they may do by right). This provision apart, the convocations may transact formal business only (with a few other minor exceptions).


The subfonds comprises the following series: act books: upper house, act books: lower house, royal writs, royal licences, royal letters of business, proctors, schedules, draft acts & minutes, petitions, papers, reports, royal assents, miscellaneous papers.

Conditions Governing Access

A full readers ticket is required for access to this collection.

Other Finding Aids

Provisional catalogue of the records of the Convocation of Canterbury (typescript). Calendars of the records of the Convocation of Canterbury (work in progress; typescript).

Conditions Governing Use

Custodial History

The Library was founded as a public library by Archbishop Bancroft in 1610, and its collections have been freely available for research ever since. The archives of the Archbishops of Canterbury have been deposited in the Library.



Related Material

Archbishops Papers; Manuscripts series (especially Gibson MSS (particularly MS 934); part of Conv/II (royal writs 1714-34) at MS.1031; duplicate minutes etc at MSS.4395-9).


Draft editions of the Acts of Canterbury 1414-1852, by G.Bray, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Alabama, USA (available at Lambeth Palace Library).