York Diocesan Archive: Records of the Archbishop: Ecclesiastical Courts

Scope and Content

The records are arranged to reflect the scope of the ecclesiastical courts:

High Commission Court:

  • Court Books [HC.AB]. 1562-1641. 19 volumes.
  • Cause Papers [HC.CP]. Late 16th century – early 17th century. 6 boxes.
  • Bonds [HC.Bonds]. Late 16th century – early 17th century. 1 box.
  • Precedent Papers: Northern and Southern Provinces [HC.Prec]. Late 16th century – early 17th century. 1 box.
  • Miscellaneous returns [HC.Misc]. Late 16th century – early 17th century. 1 box.

Consistory Court:

  • Court Books [Cons.AB]. 1417-1911. 109 volumes. Books for 1371, 1371-1375 and 1426-1427 are held in the Minster Library, York.
  • Abstract Books [Abs.Bk]. 1634-1948. 92 volumes. Also to be found in Chancery and Audience, below.
  • Cause Papers [Cons.CP]. 1800-2003. 42 boxes, including one oversize.
  • Clerical Discipline and Offences: 
    • Records of offences under the Church and Clergy Discipline Acts and the Public Worship Regulation Act. Clergy discipline files [C.Disc]. 43 boxes. 1866-2003. Election of Assessors [C.Disc.Ass]. 1892-1922. 1 box.
    • Records of offences under the Pluralities Amendment Act. Case papers and correspondence [PAA]. 1906. 1 box. Election of Commissioners [PAA.Comm]. 1885-1922. 1 box.
    • Cautions and Caution Lists [Caut]. 19th century - 1995. 7 boxes.

Chancery/Audience Court:

  • Court Books [Chanc.AB]. 1525-1956. 53 volumes.
  • Abstract Books [Abs.Bk]. 1634-1948. 92 volumes. Also to be found in Consistory, above.
  • Cause Papers [Chanc.CP]. 1800-1885. 17 boxes, including one oversize.

Exchequer and Prerogative Court:

  • Court Books [Exch.AB]. 1548-1858. 40 volumes.
  • Commission Books [Com.Bk]. 1611-1683. 2 volumes.
  • Caveat Books [Cav.Bk]. 1521-1859. 9 volumes.
  • Sequestrations: 
    • Sequestration Book [Seq.Bk]. 1903-1959. 2 volumes. Each volume has a place index. Sequestrations from 1737 to 1902 are registered in the Faculty Books.
    • Sequestration Papers [Seq]. 1634-1975. 54 boxes.

Admiralty Court:

  • Miscellaneous papers concerning officials, fees, calls, presentments, warrants, forms and precedents [Adm.Ct]. Late 16th century - early 18th century. 1 box.
  • Constables' returns of seamen [Adm.Ct]. 1696-1779. 1 box.
  • Cause papers [Adm.Ct.CP]. Mid 16th century - 1735. 3 boxes.
  • Formularies and Precedent Books [Prec.Bk]. Late 17th century – early 18th century. 2 volumes. The bulk of the Precedent Books are referenced in All Courts, below.

All Courts:

  • Cause Papers [CP, series E-I]. 1300-2003. 677 boxes.
  • Court Returns [C.Ret]. 1828-1914. 1 box.
  • Deposition Book [Dep.Bk]. 1676-1678. 1 volume.
  • Testamentary Court Cause Papers [Test.CP]. 1700-1857. 53 boxes, including two oversize.
  • Transmitted Cause Papers [Trans.CP]. 1527-1883. 178 boxes, including three oversize, and one oversize roll.
  • Citations (all courts): 
    • Citation Books [Cit.Bk]. 1611-1692. 14 volumes.
    • Citations [Cit]. 1595-1857. 42 boxes. Citations of the Consistory, Chancery, Exchequer and Prerogative courts. Many early citations are included in the Cause Papers.
    • Citation Notes [Cit.N]. 17th-19th centuries. 2 boxes.
  • Faculties: 
    • Faculty Books [Fac.Bk]. 1737-1983. 24 volumes. Each volume has a place index. Early registers also contain licences for parish clerks, schoolmasters, surgeons and midwives, commissions for granting marriage licences, caveats and dissenters' meeting-house certificates.
    • Faculty Papers [Fac]. 1613-2001. 376 boxes. These comprise mostly petitions, citations, commissions to view, certificates, plans and estimates, copies and faculties and occasional correspondence.
    • Faculties not proceeded with [Fac.NP]. 1940-1967. 5 boxes. A summary list for the years 1940-1959 is available at the Borthwick.
  • Surrogates: 
    • Registers of appointment [Surr.Reg]. 1706-1830. 3 volumes.
    • Commissions, bonds and correspondence relating to the appointment of surrogates. 1663-1998. 15 boxes.
  • Matrimonial Records: 
    • Register of marriage licences [ML.Reg]. 1618-1620. 1 volume. This also includes caveats, licences to read prayers in churches, licences for curates, schoolmasters and parish clerks, and sequestrations.
    • Marriage bonds (to 1823) and allegations [MB]. 1660-1998. 726 boxes. Manuscript indices are available for male names between 1886 and 1914.
    • Certificates of marriage licences issued (fragmentary notes) [ML.Cert]. Late 17th century – 1750. 1 bundle.
    • Consent to marriages of members of H.M. Forces [ML.HMF]. 1943-1947. 1 box.
    • Correspondence concerning stamp duty repayment on marriage licences [ML.Cor]. 1914-1944. 1 box.
    • Applications for marriage licences [ML]. 1955-1967. 1 volume.

Papers of Court Officials:

  • Court Property Tax Returns [CPR.Ret]. 1805-1816. 1 box.
  • Chancellors' Papers: 
    • Papers of T.A.C. Coningsby. 1987-2001. 18 boxes.
  • Proctors: 
    • Admissions: 
      • Files of papers relating to the admission of proctors and advocates of ecclesiastical courts of York [Proct.Adm]. 1622-1864. 1 box.
      • Register of proctors' certificates in pursuance of the acts of 25 George III, c. 80 [Proct.Reg]. 1785-1910. 1 volume.
    • Resignations [Proct.Res]. 1758-1853. 4 items.
    • Proctors' Abstract Books [Proct.Abs.Bk]. 1674-1852. 18 volumes.
    • Proctors' Papers [Proct.P]. 17th-19th centuries. 53 boxes. Miscellaneous collection of case papers, working papers, notes and correspondence, private legal business, books and accounts.
  • Formularies and Precedent Books [Prec.Bk]. Late 16th century - 20th century. 47 volumes. The collection includes material from other dioceses in two form books and a 17th century formulary. Two other precedent books are devoted to procedure in the Admiralty Court (see above).

Administrative / Biographical History

The range of ecclesiastical courts was elaborate. From at least the mid-twelfth century those in England and Wales operated at four levels of increasing seniority: archidiaconal, diocesan, provincial and papal, presided over respectively by an archdeacon, bishop, archbishop and pope. First, this meant that cases requiring local input or a swift response could be dealt with easily and cheaply by the lower courts; and second, it allowed appeals to be made to a succession of higher courts. The final appeal was, until 1533, to the Papal Curia, after which time Henry VIII ordered that the final appellate in England and Wales be the Curia Regis, or King's Court. This structure was altered once more when Philip and Mary reintroduced Catholicism in 1553, and changed again by Elizabeth I's Act of Supremacy (1559) which lasted until the twentieth century. It is estimated that between 1300 and 1800 up to nine million cases, involving up to ten per cent of the adult population, were heard in the ecclesiastical courts. As Geoffrey Elton wrote in 1969, the court books, although voluminous and complex, illuminate the history of church and people in ways that few other sources can. The following biography provides a brief outline of the York ecclesiastical courts. (Note that the Dean and Chapter Court was a peculiar, and as such is entered under separate reference GB 0193 D/C.)

From Elizabethan times, there were two diocesan courts at York: the Consistory and the Exchequer. The Consistory Court, which normally sat in the diocesan cathedral building, heard suits between parties and thus had the greatest amount of business. Appeals came from the archdeaconries of the diocese and the consistories of the bishops of the Northern Province (Chester, Durham, Carlisle and Sodor and Man). The Exchequer Court was concerned with purely testamentary matters, exercising primary jurisdiction over the property of persons who had died intestate in the York diocese, or (occasionally) the property of unbeneficed clergy. Although only a few pre-Commonwealth court books are extant, they provide ample evidence of a sound administrative system. Indeed, the growing wealth of the population and consequent increase of ecclesiastical business led to the formation of the Prerogative Court in 1577, which dealt with bona notabilia and other testamentary matters. Both the Exchequer and Prerogative Courts existed concurrently until the 1850s, when the Ecclesiastical Courts Act (1855) effectively curtailed their jurisdiction.

The Court of Chancery, or Audience, was where the archbishop (or an auditor on his behalf) personally heard complaint cases. As the ‘maid-of-all-work', Chancery dispensed civil, criminal and administrative justice in the diocese. It performed administrative functions such as supervising institutions to benefices, issuing licences and faculties, and proving wills and granting administrations of estates of deceased clergymen beneficed in the diocese. During the time of the Northern High Commission (see below), the court's disciplinary powers were overshadowed. Whereas the Court of Audience in the province of Canterbury was merged with the Consistory Court of St Paul's in 1668, independent business in York was jealously guarded until well into the eighteenth century.

The Northern High Commission, established by royal letters patent in 1561 under the presidency of the archbishop, was the second most important conciliar court in the north until the collapse of royal government in 1641. Unlike the principal body, the Council of the North, the northern commission records have survived almost intact for this period, thus giving the fullest account of any ecclesiastical conciliar court. They reveal the conservative nature of Tudor kingship as first Elizabeth and then the early Stuart kings attempted to shore up the system of traditional church courts by the enforcement of religious uniformity, rooting out heresy in whichever form the monarch of the day chose to define it. As one of the longest of the long arms of church law, it not only used secular sanctions to enforce its decisions, but could pursue a delinquent from one ecclesiastical jurisdiction to another, thus circumventing the previous cumbersome process of citation and request for assistance.

The Admiralty Court of York is in many ways the most obscure of the ecclesiastical courts. Not enough internal evidence exists to indicate either the reasons for the existence of such a court, or the administrative position of the Archbishop himself. The records appear to have survived amongst diocesan administration because archiepiscopal and admiralty courts administered civil law, and because several generations of ecclesiastical lawyers presided over and practised in the Admiralty courts. The records themselves comprise general court and maritime business, ownership of vessels, domestic shipping and overseas trade.


The system of arrangement is reflected in the scope and content.

Access Information

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation and the wishes of the donors/owners.

Acquisition Information

The Diocesan Registrar has deposited records relating to the Diocese of York at the Borthwick Institute since 1953.

Other Finding Aids

Hard-copy finding aids are available at the Borthwick Institute, and an online guide (to 1980) can be found at http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/bihr/Guidesandfindingaids.htm.

The High Commission Cause Papers have been microfilmed, and copies may be obtainable in academic libraries. For a guide to the microfilm with an outline of the contents, see W.J. Sheils, Papers of the York Court of High Commission c.1560-1641 from the Borthwick Institute for Historical Research, University of York (Reading, 1988).

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Bound and unbound volumes, parchment, files of papers, certificates, bundles of correspondence, account books.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Martyn Lawrence, Archives Hub project archivist, June 2005, with reference to the following:

  • David M. Smith, A Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (York, 1973)
  • David M. Smith, A Supplementary Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (York, 1980)
  • Alexandrina Buchanan, A Guide to Archival Accessions at the Borthwick Institute 1981-1996 (York, 1997)

Conditions Governing Use

A reprographics service is available to researchers. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute, University of York terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Appraisal Information

These records have been appraised in accordance with Borthwick Institute policy.

Custodial History

See J.S. Purvis, Towards a University (York, 1968), for information regarding the history of the York Diocesan Archive and its deposit at the Borthwick Institute.


Accruals are expected.

Related Material

York Diocesan Archive.

Dean and Chapter Court [GB 0193 D/C].


Due to the sheer size of this sub fond, the publication notes have been subdivided for ease of reference.

General Reading

  • C.I.A. Ritchie, The Ecclesiastical Courts of York (Arbroath, 1956).
  • R.A. Marchant, The Church under the Law: Justice, Administration and Discipline in the Diocese of York 1560-1640 (Cambridge, 1969).
  • K.F. Burns, R.A. Marchant and B.D. Till, 'The Administrative System of the Ecclesiastical Courts in the Diocese and Province of York' (three unpublished typescript volumes, available for consultation at the Borthwick).
  • D.M. Owen, The Records of the Established Church in England, British Records Association: Archives and the User 1 (1970).
  • C.R. Chapman, Ecclesiastical courts, their officials and their records (Dursley, 1992).
  • R.H. Helmholz, The Oxford History of the Laws of England (Oxford, 2004).

Cause Papers

  • W.J. Sheils (ed.), Ecclesiastical cause papers at York: files transmitted on appeal 1500-1883, Borthwick Texts and Calendars 9 (1983).
  • D.M. Smith (ed.), Ecclesiastical cause papers at York: the court of York 1301-1399, Borthwick Texts and Calendars 14 (1988).
  • D.M. Smith (ed.), The court of York, 1400-1499: a handlist of the cause papers and an index to the archiepiscopal court books, Borthwick Texts and Calendars 29 (2003).

Marriage Licences

  • J.W. Clay (ed.), ‘Paver's marriage licences', Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 40, 43, 46 (1909-12).
  • C.B. Norcliffe (ed.), ‘Paver's marriage licences from the registry at York, from 1567 to 1630', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 7-20 (1882-1909), with consolidated index in Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, extra series 2 (1912).

Marriage Bonds

  • E.B. and W.R. Newsome (eds.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1830-1839, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 3 (1986).
  • E.B. and W.R. Newsome (eds.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1820-1829, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 4 (1987).
  • E.B. and W.R. Newsome (eds.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1810-1819, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 5 (1988).
  • E.B. and W.R. Newsome (eds.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1800-1809, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 6 (1989).
  • E.B. Newsome (ed.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1790-1799, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 7 (1990).
  • E.B. Newsome (ed.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1780-1789, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 9 (1991).
  • E.B. Newsome (ed.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1765-1779, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 10 (1993).
  • E.B. Newsome (ed.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1750-1764, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 13 (1994).
  • E.B. Newsome (ed.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1735-1749, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 15 (1996).
  • P.W.G. Chilman (ed.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1715-1734, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 23 (1999).
  • P.W.G. Chilman (ed.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1690-1714, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 29 (2001).
  • P.W.G. Chilman (ed.), Index to the Archbishop of York's marriage bonds and allegations, 1660-1689, Borthwick Lists and Indexes 34 (2003).


  • P. Evans (ed.), Church Fabric in the York Diocese 1613-1899: the records of the Archbishop's faculty jurisdiction, Borthwick Texts and Calendars 19 (1995).

High Commission Court

  • H. Aveling, 'The marriages of Catholic recusants, 1559-1642', Journal of Ecclesiastical History 14 (1963), 68-83
  • P. Tyler, 'The Significance of the Ecclesiastical Commission at York', Northern History 2 (1967), 27-44
  • R.G. Usher, The Rise and Fall of the High Commission, 2nd edition (Oxford 1968), including a new introduction by P. Tyler
  • C. Cross, 'Sin and society: the northern high commission and the northern gentry in the reign of Elizabeth', in C. Cross, D.M. Loades and J.J. Scarisbrick (eds.), Law and Government under the Tudors (Cambridge, 1988), 195-209
  • E.J. Carlson, 'Marriage reform and the Elizabethan High Commission', Sixteenth Century Journal 21 (1990), 437-51
  • R.W. Hoyle, 'Advancing the Reformation in the north: orders from York High Commission, 1583 and 1592', Northern History 28 (1992), 217-27

Admiralty Court

  • J.S. Purvis (ed.), The Records of the Admiralty Court of York, St Anthony's Hall Publications 22 (1962).

Personal Names