The bishops visitation of his diocese became frequent as far back as the thirteenth century, when the need for observation and correction of both ecclesiastical and lay members of the flock began to be taken seriously. The process was extended and modified by the reformed Church of England, and by the mid-sixteenth century had become an extremely powerful instrument for the maintenance of religious settlement and the discipline of church members. The bishops visitation sat alongside the annual visitation of the archdeacons (for which, see GB 193 C.V, GB 193 ER.V, GB 193 S.V and GB 193 Y.V).
It was customary for a bishop to hold his 'primary' visitation during the first year after his enthronement, and thereafter to repeat his 'ordinary' visitations at intervals of three or four years. The process of visitation produced voluminous court books, which in the Diocese of York are arranged by rural deanery. In some cases, chronological files containing each type of visitation document were made, but usually a general file was created for each visitation. In York, visitation papers supplementing the main visitation records include such items as premonitions, returns to articles of enquiry, examinations of clergy, calls, commissions, inhibitions, relaxations, presentments, correction citations, excommunications, penances, surrogations, conjunctions and letters of proxy. Bundles of miscellaneous correspondence illustrating the whole range of archiepiscopal responsibilities and duties survive in a few cases. From 1849 answers to articles of enquiry are entered in the spaces left for them on the printed enquiry forms. Occasionally the visitation also includes papers from the dioceses of Chester or Carlisle.
This sub fonds has recently been expanded to include the Bishopthorpe Papers: Visitation Records (reference Bp.V in the Borthwick Institute Guide).