Author Archives: Arthur Burns

A critique of CCEd from Sinead Finn, University of Hertfordshire

Those interested in Digital Humanities and the various approaches to presenting historical data employed online might find the blog entry by Sinead Finn posted on 1 March 2014 of interest, in which she examines CCEd and questions some of its approaches to its sources. She raises some interesting points, which the team may briefly reply to at some point in the future. It is not the only recent student discussion of Digital Humanities to make use of the CCEd – we have also featured in a student blog at the University of Indiana: ‘Clergy of the Church of England Database: Is there a distinction between DH projects and tools?‘. Good to see the Database is being discussed in such forums.

CCEd update April 2014: CCEd goes global!

We are pleased to announce another upgrade of the CCEd. New data has been made available, in particular for the diocese of Canterbury in the modern era since 1780, where the data is now nearly complete save for a few records relating to schoolmasters, and which also supplies dispensation information of great value to other diocesan records in enabling the reallocation of events to specific individuals, merging records which could not previously be linked to one individual with confidence.There is also new material for the most modern period in Gloucester.

Two aspects of this upgrade should be highlighted. First, a great deal of new material for the diocese of London in the most recent and central periods of the database has been made available.There remains a significant amount of material still to be definitively linked and processed, But for the most modern period, after 1760, we have now linked all of that relating to people with surnames beginning A-F to persons, along with the majority of that relating to clergy with surnames G-Z,  All of this material has been linked to location. and we have for the first time offered our interpretation of material relating to proprietary chapels in London, which are often hard to identify from the records, as well as such anomalies as #the floating chapel off the Tower [of London]’ on the Thames!

Secondly, and perhaps most important of all, for the first time we are, as promised, making available data relating to locations in the Church of England overseas: records of appointments to chaplaincies and other posts in the colonies, and in settlements in Europe and elsewhere are now not only being linked to persons, but to places (‘locations’). Linkage is stlll progressing for this material, and we will shortly post some more detailed information on how to interpret and access it. But the search engines will now permit you to search for clergy and events in ‘dioceses’ for Asia, Europe, America etc which are listed at the end of the diocesan lists. Most of the linkage so far relates to the last eighty years covered by the database, but we will soon be linking that relating to earlier periods. This is an extremely exciting development for the project, and we hope it will be of interest to many of our users, not least those themselves resident in the locations now available!

Enjoy!

Arthur Burns for the CCEd team

Just published …

ccl005Users of the database might be interested in a volume which has just appeared in the Borthwick Texts and Studies series : Clergy, Church and Society in England and Wales c. 1200-1800, edited by Rosemary C. E. Hayes and William J. Sheils (Borthwick Texts and Studies no 41, York 2013; ISBN 978-I-904497-58-5; £40). The volume brings together papers relating to three database projects giving access to Church records over the medieval and early modern periods: The Records of Central Government in England and Wales: Clerical Taxes 1173-1664; Cause Papers in the Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York 1300-1858; and CCEd itself. All the essays are potentially of interest, but two in particular are of especial relevance to users of CCED.

The project directors have contributed an essay on ‘The problems and potential of pouring old wine into new bottles: reflections on the Clergy of the Church of England Database 1999-2009 and beyond’, which reflects on the nature of the project and the experience of working on it as academic historians trained in more traditional archival practices. Secondly, Dr Daniel Cummins, who has worked as a volunteer assistant on the project for some years, doing immensely valuable linkage of records for several dioceses, has contributed an essay on ‘The Clergy Database as a tool for academic research: A study of the parochial patronage of the archbishops of York  c. 1730-1800’, which draws on the important work he did on that region for his very interesting PhD thesis (‘Ecclesiastical Property in the Dioceses of York and Bath and Wells:a Reassessment of Church and Society  1730-1800’, Reading University, 2011).

The book is available from Borthwick Publications at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York.

Robert Pearson: a tribute from the CCEd team

Robert Pearson

The Clergy of the Church of England Database would not be what it is today were it not for the remarkable contribution made to the project by a number of volunteer associates who over the years have assisted the core project team in a variety of ways. Over the Christmas period the team received the very sad news that one of our most committed and long-term volunteers, Robert Pearson, had died after a long illness on 23 December 2013.

Robert  Pearson began working at the Wiltshire Record Office (as it was then) as a volunteer in 2002, where he did vital work in indexing the late 17th century clergy ordination papers for the diocese of Salisbury. This coincided fortuitously with the early years of the CCEd project during which the team was recruiting researchers to input the record we had identified as relevant to our purposes in diocesan archives. Robert was enlisted and played a key role in recovering the records of the diocese of Salisbury. He proved a very enthusiastic and reliable inputter, and went on to input records from the Canterbury archives as well. Such was his enthusiasm, in fact, that he later volunteered to join the core project team in the work of linking records to both person and place, and, drawing on his considerable local knowledge of the Salisbury records, continued to assist with the record linkage work up to his death. In October 2003, he was appointed as a part-time archives assistant in the WRO. This employment enabled him progress his career as an archivist and in April 2004 he began part-time distance learning with the University College Wales, Aberystwyth. He graduated with an MSc (Econ) in Archive Administration in 2008. At the end of that year he took on a secondment of 7 hours a week as an archivist at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre while still holding his post as archives assistant. In May 2011 he began work as the archivist cataloguing the archives of the earls of Radnor of Longford Castle, a collection that is deposited in the History Centre. Sadly he did not live to finish this work, but he laid down the arrangement of the collection and managed to list the bulk of the archives. His work will be completed by archivists at the History Centre.

Robert had by this time been suffering from his illness for some time, but he nevertheless undertook an index of records of the Wiltshire militia during the Napoleonic war which he completed, all bar a few months, work which combined his interests in military history and genealogy. Like his continued work for the CCEd project, this will leave a legacy of enduring value to researchers and the Wiltshire historical community, and for which we should all be most grateful.

The CCEd project in particular owes Robert a great deal. Together with his colleague Steven Hobbs, he helped  make the Wiltshire Record Office and then the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre a constant source of encouragement, support and sound advice for the project from which we all benefited. His commitment to the project in the most difficult of circumstances was humbling, as was the fortitude with which he faced his situation. The CCEd team is enormously grateful for his support over the years, and would through this posting both want to publicly acknowledge that gratitude and also to send its sympathy and condolences to Robert’s family in their loss, He will be much missed, and his contribution to the project irreplacable.

Robert’s funeral will take place at Hinton Park burial ground (Christchurch) on Mon 13 Jan 12.30.

Arthur Burns for the CCED team

 

 

 

Happy new year from the CCEd team!

The CCEd team would like to extend their best wishes for 2014 to all users!

What does 2014 have in store for CCEd? Well, we hope that the new website, to which we have had many appreciative responses, will bed down in ways that allow us to realise more of its tremendous potential. We have already been able to take advantage of it to post more regular updates of new and revised data than has been possible in the recent past. A lot of the contact details for record offices, for example, have been overhauled (it is really striking how many have changed either or both their name and their location over the past few years). We hope soon to add to the material in the journal and supporting documentation.

However, the most important developments will of course lie in the addition of new data on Anglican clergy in our period. And here the most immediate and very exciting prospect we can offer users is the imminent appearance for the first time of data relating to Anglican clergy overseas, both in the British empire and in other expatriate communities in Europe and beyond. Over the Christmas break we implemented a new element to our location structure which for the first time allows us to fully link material on chaplains and other expatriate clergy so that this data will appear in career narratives in the usual manner. For the moment the process of linkage is occurring behind the scenes, but at the next update its fruits will begin to be visible for the first time. With Anglicanism overseas currently a hot topic in academic research, this will be a very welcome development to all users of the database.

A great new look for the Clergy Database!

We are very pleased to be able to announce that the Clergy of the Church of England Database website is undergoing a major transition. Thanks to a series of upgrades carried out in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, a new front end has been created for the Database which for the first time allows the project team to take over active management of the website. This will greatly facilitate updating and posting, and as part of the upgrade a new blog facility has been created where we will be able to interact with our users much more directly and publicly than has hitherto been the case. We will also be able to expand the support pages much more regularly than has been the case in recent years. So we are not just a pretty ‘new’ face, but an much enhanced website! We look forward to exploring the new possibilities of the site in coming months

Arthur Burns for the Project Team

 

PS: Intrigued by our new front page image? Can you name the clerics depicted? Have a guess, then click here for the correct answers!

New content in CCEd Online Journal

We are delighted to announce the publication of two new items in our Online Journal. First is William H. Campbell’s account of reconstructing clerical careers based on his experience at the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae project. You can read it here.

Second, we are publishing a review of Annabelle Hughes’ edition of Sussex Clerical inventories by W. M. Jacob. This publication inaugurates the reviews section of the journal, where we hope in future to be able to alert users to important new resources for the study of the history of the clergy. Read it here.

Information For Academics

CCEd offers academics an important resource of use for research involving the clergy of the Church of England over the period covered by the Database. In what follows we indicate some of the most significant ways in which the Database can be exploited – but we are always happy to hear about others which have not yet occurred to us! Anyone using the CCEd is strongly advised to consult the guidance provided in ‘How to use the database’ before beginning their researches.

Document contents

Researching individuals

There are a few basic points to be aware of concerning the information in the database before you begin searching.

  • The Database only covers clergymen of the Church of England: those of other denominations will not be present.
  • As long as some part of the career of a clergyman falls within the date range covered in the Database, he will be present: but those records relating to events outside the range will not be present.
  • The Database is a record of clerical career events, and does not set out to include vital dates or other information unless it is easily recovered from the records relating to these events.
  • Therefore the date range associated with a name in CCEd is not intended as a lifespan, but records the years for which we have records associated with that person.
  • It is quite possible that records associated with an individual may be divided between several CCEd persons whom we cannot as yet confidently pronounce to be one and the same person; they may also have been incorrectly attached to the wrong person who shares your person’s name.
  • The Database is continually being updated and revised. Thus if information you believe should be there is missing, please check on the state of linkage for the relevant location and period in About the Database: Current Content of the Database.

You will find some helpful advice on vital dates and names in particular in our advice to genealogists here.

Researching individuals who were clergymen

At the most basic level, CCEd provides a means of obtaining biographical information on any individual who was a clergyman of the Church of England. For anyone researching a specific individual, there are several key respects in which the database can be especially helpful:

  • If you are researching a relatively obscure figure, whose biographical data are not easily obtainable from another source. The CCEd is particularly useful here for non-graduate clergy not covered in the University alumni volumes. But we also find that in many cases we can correct errors made in such volumes (and Foster’s Alumni Oxoniensis in particular is prone to confusion and omission).
  • For better known figures, however, we are often able to add to the information recorded in alumni volumes or ODNB entries, above all because we record information on the licensing of curates, schoolmasters, and other non-beneficed offices which can be omitted in other accounts of careers, but which may shed vital light on networks etc.
  • We also record information regarding the patronage involved in appointments, which may often differ in particular instances from the ‘standard’ patronage of a specific living (as when an archbishop exercises an option, or a patron is still a minor).

It is also worth noting the CCEd forms part of the Connected Histories project, which enables data-mining across a wide range of early modern datasets at once. We do, however, recommend any such search is preceded by a search within CCEd itself if the person you are investigating is known to be a cleric.

Researching other individuals

CCED has the potential to illuminate the careers of many non-clerics as well. They can be encountered in the database in several forms:

  • As schoolmasters and occasionally as diocesan officials: we have not excluded non-clerical schoolmasters who were licensed by the bishop
  • As patrons of livings
  • As the employers of chaplains
  • As clerics – some individuals aborted clerical careers at an early stage, but not before they had left an archival trace

In all these cases searching is a bit more hit and miss than for clergy, for obvious reasons, and we are often at the mercy of the quality of the information in archives. But we are increasingly able to link chaplains to named individual employers (this has become the norm at the modern end of the CCEd collection) who are effectively ‘locations’ in terms of our structure. At the moment these are best located using the Advanced Search engine, selecting ‘Domestic chaplains’ in the ‘Geographic Diocese’ box and ‘Lay chaplains’ in the ‘CCE region’ box, before entering appropriate free text and wild cards in the ‘Location’ box. This will bring up the career narratives of clergy which include an appointment event fitting these criteria. We hope soon to make the records browsable. To identify patrons, free text searches in the patron box are necessary.   The considerable difficulties which are encountered as a result of the variety of formulations used by those compiling the records make it impossible to link up patrons, so this is an area where it useful to has some information about which livings are involved in order to pin down the actual patronage exercised by individuals.

 Investigating clerical cohorts

The CCEd is also useful for anyone seeking to identify basic information about large numbers of clergy identified by name or office in lists or as a result of research into another topic. A good example is the use Nick Draper made of the Database in identifying clergy who had received compensation payments at the emancipation of slaves in the 1830s for his book The Price of Emancipation.

Investigating the history of the clerical profession

The CCED is obviously a seminal resource for anyone with an interest in this subject, and the work of the project team and others has already begun to reveal its potential in this respect (for publications from the team, see here). It can even help to illuminate periods not covered by the Database, as for example the Interregnum, as Stephen Taylor and Kenneth Fincham have recently demonstrated. The Advanced Search engine can be used to structure quite elaborate queries. The Project Team are also able to assist in ‘behind the scenes’ searches where data not yet fully linked can be observed, and where even more complex queries can be articulated. We therefore welcome enquiries from those with queries which they are not quite sure how to pursue within the Database front-end as publicly available.

The CCEd Website also includes a growing body of information on the jurisdictional context and historical development of the structure of the Church of England in the early modern period which is not readily accessible elsewhere. This is being regularly updated. Users should consult the Reference section.

Collaboration, discussion and dissemination

The new CCEd website greatly increases the potential of the CCEd as a hub for discussion of the history of the clergy of the Church of England. Our online peer-reviewed journal can now offer much faster turn-round times for pieces on the history of the clergy of the Church of England, and we welcome submissions. Shorter pieces and reflections can be accommodated in our Notes and Queries section, and we are keen to commission more reviews on relevant publications for our new Reviews section. Finally, our new Blog facility means we have a platform for more speculative and off-the-cuff reflections or questions which might interest our user community. We positively welcome postings which once moderated can appear there.

As already indicated, the CCEd has enormous untapped potential as it continues to develop for research not only into the Anglican clergy in England and Wales but also overseas, or into themes completely unconnected with the clergy. We are always interested in discussing potential collaborations with others for research projects which might untap some aspect of this potential, so please do not hesitate to contact the project team to see what might be possible. We also are very keen to hear about any research projects making use of the data here, and welcome suggestions about future development, so please keep us informed about how you are using the Database, not least what works well and what doesn’t!

Citing CCEd

For information on how to cite CCEd and its contents, see here.

 

Using the Clergy Database and the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1541–1857: problems of ‘career modelling’ and some potential solutions

whc7[at]pitt.edu
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg
150 Finoli Drive
Greensburg
Pennsylvania 15601
USA

Abstract

This paper examines the difficulties inherent in tracing a clergyman in the records of the established church in early modern England. It describes the problems faced by the compilers of the Fasti series and the Clergy Database in determining whether multiple records refer to a single individual or two or more contemporaries sharing the same names, and describes, for the first time, the methodologies followed by Fasti editors. For times when these secondary sources cannot resolve the issue, the researcher is directed to certain classes of primary sources that may do so.

Citation Information

To cite this article:

William H. Campbell, ‘Using the Clergy Database and the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1541–1857’, CCEd Online Journal 4 (2013). http://www.theclergydatabase.org.uk/cce_a4

 

‘One Mr John Le Neve hath published in Folio a Book called Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, containing a List of the Bps, Deans, &c. ’Tis of no great note.’

So wrote Thomas Hearne, peerless antiquarian and former Bodleian Librarian, in his journal on 2 October 1716.1 In a later entry, he made it clear that it was the quality of Le Neve’s scholarship, not the idea of his enterprise, that he found objectionable; and while it is true that other works to be published in the next few decades (such as Browne Willis’s Survey of cathedrals) were both intellectually superior and wider in scope, Le Neve seems to have been the first to publish systematic lists of higher clergy other than bishops.2 The difficulties Le Neve faced related as much to his personal circumstances as to his task, but any of the editors who have worked on the most recent edition of the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, based at the Institute of Historical Research since 1955, can attest to the inherent difficulties of the work, which themselves pale in comparison to those faced by the directors of the Clergy Database in terms of scale.

When I had the good fortune to become Fasti Research Editor in 2005, with responsibility for the period 1541–1857, a colleague asked why the project should be continued at all since the CCEd would be covering the same ground. In part, this article is an answer to that question, not as an apologia but to acquaint users of the CCEd with a complementary resource with which some may not be familiar. I also aim to explore where they share problems and how the different methodologies of the projects enable them to augment one another. Because of the problems of research, the different media used and the different aims in mind, neither the Fasti nor the CCEd can quite be ‘all things to all men’; but they can be more than the sum of their parts and, as we shall see, users are able to make positive and permanent contributions to each.

The Fasti volumes are both more and less thorough than the CCEd, covering fewer individuals and fewer benefices but in certain ways in greater depth. The focus is on the higher clergy – essentially meaning bishops; the dignitaries, canons and prebendaries of secular cathedrals; the priors of monastic cathedrals before the Reformation; and the archdeacons of the dioceses, who sometimes were accounted as cathedral dignitaries and sometimes were not, according to the ad hoc statutes that varied by cathedral. The endowments and values of the benefices are generally given, though not in the same form, in the 1066–1300 and 1541–1857 parts of the series (1300–1541, being the first undertaken, was less thorough). There is some discussion of the primary sources, the cathedral statutes and the personnel of the chapter, ranging from career patterns to unique institutions, such as the Praelector or Lecturer of Hereford Cathedral. As a general rule, the more recent the volume, the more thorough it has been in this respect.

Methodologically, the greatest difference between the CCEd and the Fasti is that the CCEd’s vast scope makes it possible to use records in their totality, such as every institution in a bishop’s register, with ‘linkage’ – connecting each record to an individual and a place – being done after the data are extracted. By contrast, since the Fasti project is interested only in certain office-holders, records are first skimmed to find all records of institutions and the like to those certain positions. Once fairly complete lists are drawn up, individuals are researched in more detail. This takes the Fasti researcher into records not often used by the Database, particularly parish registers. Many cathedral clergy, especially at the large secular cathedrals with dozens of non-resident prebends of minimal value, lived primarily on their rectories and vicarages elsewhere, where they often died and were buried. Parish registers usually record only the burial date for a layman, but for the parish priest the precise date of death is sometimes given as well, together with notes of other benefices or offices that the individual had held.

The CCEd’s ‘career modelling’ procedure, which enables the reconstruction of an individual’s career from the galaxy of individual acts recorded, is discussed elsewhere on the Database website, and on this I will let the directors speak for themselves. The experience of the Fasti editors over the past fifty and more years suggests that this can be a tricky process, even when undertaken with a careful eye on one individual at a time. For instance, it was possible to determine of the two contemporary archdeacons at Exeter Cathedral, c. 1558, both named John Pollard, which one was also prebendary of Salisbury and which one was prebendary and canon resident of Exeter, but only by repeated reference to the primary sources and my predecessors’ careful notes from researching the Salisbury volume in the series. No doubt they were related, probably as father and son, but this was not possible to determine. The strongest evidence that there were two men at all is the simultaneous holding of incompatible benefices, namely two archdeaconries in the same diocese. Likewise, at Hereford cathedral, John Davis or Davies, prebendary of Bullingham 1711–32, cannot have been John Davies, prebendary of Ewithington 1711–42.3 To be frank, however, such certainty whether contemporary individuals of the same names were the same person or not is often unattainable. Even the incompatibility rule has its weaknesses. For instance, one would not expect a cathedral prebendary to hold a vicarage choral at the same cathedral at the same time. Taking further examples from Hereford cathedral, Thomas Gwillim resigned his vicarage choral when he accepted the prebend of Piona Parva in 1706; at that time either the positions were considered canonically incompatible or retaining a vicarage choral was thought beneath a prebendary’s dignity.4 When John Woodcock was collated prebendary of Piona Parva in 1767, the chapter demanded that he explain why he would not resign his vicarage choral; his explanation is not preserved, but he did not resign it until 1769, by which time he was also a canon resident.5 In 1776, John Stone, custos (head) of the college of vicars choral, was installed prebendary of Eigne without any (recorded) dissent; he remained both custos and prebendary until his death in 1783.6 In these instances it was possible to determine that the vicars choral were also prebendaries (and not, equally possible, a succession of prebendaries’ sons bearing the same names as their fathers), but only by detecting the pattern through debates in the chapter act books. And even then uncertainties remain. I have not been able to determine whether Francis Woodcock, prebendary successively of Bullinghope and Moreton Magna at Hereford from the 1780s, was the contemporary vicar choral of those names.7

Occasionally, a record makes it clear that one named person held several named offices, but the existence of these is patchy. For the higher clergy covered by the Fasti, cathedral records such as chapter act books can give answers, but they do not always give them up easily: these were living men known to the chapter clerk, who kept records with the chapter, not later historians, in mind. Unless context made confusion likely, there was no reason for him to differentiate in the text, unless it was to give proper titles to Dr. — and Mr. — or Canon — and Prebendary —. Reconstructing the context to differentiate between the men now might mean reading two hundred folii for clues that might not exist in any case. In the course of Fasti research, problems of identification are most difficult in determining dates of death: was the rector or prebendary in question really the same man as the vicar in a neighbouring diocese who disappears from the records around the same time? Was Henry Welshe, canon resident of Hereford, who died some time before 28 June 1559, really the same Henry Welshe as the prebendary of York Minster who died by 10 April of that year?8

Within a diocese, it is often easy to make an identification: if a non-resident prebendary disappears from the record at the same time as a vicar of a local parish in the cathedral’s patronage, common sense suggests that they are the same man, especially if the name is uncommon or the diocese is a small one. At the other extreme is Wales, where fossilized patronymics led to a very small selection of surnames and a correspondingly large number of contemporaries of the same name in the same area, a problem that could even bedevil their own diocesan leadership. When crossing diocesan boundaries, as a general rule, successive Fasti editors have turned to antiquarians: associations can be found in Browne Willis’s Survey of Cathedrals, White Kennett’s manuscripts in the Lansdowne papers at the British Library, and especially the biographical registers of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge by Foster and the Venns, respectively. For Fasti editors to search university records for possible evidence that a certain graduate really did hold particular benefices has been out of the question for reasons of time. The methodologies of career modelling employed by Foster and the Venns remain (to my knowledge) opaque, though it is likely that much of it was inspired guesswork. But no matter how carefully records are checked, many facts were simply never written down. We may never know, for instance, whether I found very few Exeter cathedral clergy buried outside their diocese because the bishops preferred to collate local men to prebends, or because Foster’s career modeling for clergy in Devon and Cornwall was not as thorough as elsewhere, or perhaps even because of some quirk in the records at Exeter College, Oxford, where (predictably) many had studied.9

Occasionally in the Fasti, as in the case of our John Pollards, a footnote clarifies who was and was not who. A second resource is the index, which in some volumes is the only way to tell what entries the compiler of that volume combined as one man or separated as several. Multiple individuals of the same name are given separate lines in each volume index, and unless they are identified in the original records as junior and senior, they are typically distinguished by the years of their deaths. Currently, there is no certain means for the user to make the same distinction across volumes in the series, but a comprehensive index nominum has been kept as each volume has appeared. It is projected that it will be released, perhaps in electronic form, once the final two volumes of the series have been published.

The CCEd directors have acknowledged the inherent difficulties of career modelling and asked for users’ help in determining individuals’ identities. Except for the most recent volume (Exeter, 1541–1857), the entire Fasti series is freely available on British History Online.10 This initiative of the Institute of Historical Research offers an optional free registration which will allow users to provide additional information, and further relevant data, qualifications and clarifications are welcomed, particularly those based directly on primary sources. At least some of the corrigenda discovered by Fasti editors over the course of the publication project are to be submitted, though at present there is no timeframe for this part of the project. In sum, however, both the CCEd and Fasti projects have attempted to identify where records refer to one person and where to several, but given the nature of the material, there can be no foolproof system. Users of each would do well to consult both when possible because each bears classes of evidence not used by the other. Clergy call books for archdeacons’ visitations, for instance, have not been consulted by Fasti editors because cathedrals were not under archdeacons’ jurisdictions; but the appearance of a vicar for some years after a prebendary of the same name is known to have died would enable one to distinguish among the clergy involved.

There are original records that are likely to help the perplexed scholar determine an individual’s identity – what positions he did or did not hold. Although there will be a great many records that could potentially resolve difficulties, most are likely to be chance mentions in out-of-the-way places such as diocesan court proceedings. Some classes of records are easier to identify and search, if not on a nationwide basis, then at least for selected individuals, such as the successive incumbents of a particular parish.

The first is wills, for here a clergyman often identified his benefices. If the benefices were in multiple dioceses, and under certain other conditions, the will would have been proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) and is now accessible at The National Archives and through their website. If the clergyman were beneficed only in one diocese, however, the will would generally be proved in the archdeaconry or diocesan court, and (so far as I can tell) probate in an archidiaconal or diocesan court demonstrates that the cleric was not beneficed outside of that archdeaconry or diocese, respectively. Similarly, some cathedrals had peculiar jurisdictions over which the dean, the chapter collectively or even a single prebendary had archidiaconal jurisdiction and could prove wills; in these cases any surviving probate records may be in the cathedral archives. An important caveat is that a benefice formerly held, but since resigned or ceded, would cease to affect where a will was proved, while the clergyman writing his will years before his decease might mention the benefices he held at the time of writing, not all of which he necessarily held to his death. And further, a cleric might list only his most prestigious benefice, as did Robert Benett, prebendary of Durham, in 1558.11

A second source is parish registers. Churchwardens evidently took a certain degree of pride in well-connected clergy; if their rector or vicar were also an archdeacon, prebendary or some other dignitary, they were likely to mention it in the parish register when recording his death and burial. This may also be the case for rank-and-file clergy holding multiple non-cathedral benefices, though in the course of Fasti research I have had no cause to investigate this. Normally, one must successfully find the register of the parish where the cleric was buried to find such an entry, though in some cases a churchwarden considered the death and burial of his vicar or rector elsewhere a fact worth noting in his own parish’s register.

A third and more limited source for the researcher is monumental inscriptions, which likewise tend to trumpet the deceased’s earthly honours. Local histories are invaluable for giving these for clergymen and the local gentry, not only because the researcher need not travel to the church but also because many older memorial monuments have deteriorated, disappeared or been demolished in church rebuilding schemes. (Since clergy were often buried or at least memorialized within the church fabric, their memorials are sometimes paradoxically less likely to survive than others left exposed to the elements.) The Victoria history of the counties of England (VCH) series does not include monumental inscriptions, but many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century county and local histories do; and county historical and genealogical societies often have files of extant memorial inscriptions, searchable for a fee.

A fourth type of source, accessible to the academic historian but less so to the general public, is certain kinds of clergy lists. Those in diocesan archives deposited at county archive offices are easy enough to visit, but documents at the supra-diocesan level, recording clergy beneficed in multiple dioceses, are often kept in more restricted conditions. British Library, Harley MSS 594 and 595 contain returns made by bishops in 1563 and again in the early seventeenth century (some care must be taken to determine which is which, as they are intermingled); in some dioceses the names of incumbents are given, including such details as what other benefices were held by pluralists and on which benefices they actually resided. Better known are the returns made by bishops to Archbishop Matthew Parker c. 1561, now at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MSS 97 and 122. The returns themselves make some reference to pluralists’ other benefices, and it is to be hoped that the edition, study and database now beginning for the Church of England Record Society will enable further cross-identification from careful study of the internal evidence. (One John Smith, an unlettered and married priest, clearly is not the same as a John Smith reported elsewhere as a university graduate and celibate priest.)

A fifth source, and one that the Fasti and Clergy Database have used, is the state paper and home office warrant books at The National Archives. These include royal warrants for dispensations for individual clergy to hold multiple benefices with cure of souls. In some (but not all) cases they will be specific dispensations, permitting the holding of certain named benefices, such as the dispensation to Arthur D’Anvers to hold the vicarage of Totnes together with the rectory of St Martins, both in Exeter diocese. We can thus be confident that the vicar and the rector who appear in diocesan records were indeed the same man. These ecclesiastical warrants, which include many forms other than dispensation, were also extracted by the editors of the Calendar of state papers (domestic series), exhaustively so far as I can tell. The Calendar begins in the reign of Edward VI and runs through 1706, while the PRO SP 44 and HO 115 sources extracted by the CCEd begin in 1661 and run through 1835, the end of the database’s remit.

Sixth, though not least, diocesan and archidiaconal records such as the Lincoln libri cleri and visitation returns published by Canon Foster were part of the apparatus by which contemporary bishops, archdeacons and their administrations kept track of individuals. Since cathedral clergy were only under archdeacons’ jurisdiction insofar as they held parochial livings, I have had little cause to consult archidiaconal records such as visitation records in my Fasti research and can speak less authoritatively on them than on some other classes of record.

I have devoted most of my attention here to linkage and career modeling because it remains, and seems set to remain, one of the most vexing challenges for both the Fasti and the Database. In retrospect, it is one of the weaknesses of the Fasti in its current version that the question of how the editors confirmed or rejected the identification of one John Smith with another is very seldom addressed in print; I have made a small start on this in my own volumes, but the limitations of time and page space have restricted this to the trickiest cases. In fact, even the massive card file compiled by successive Fasti 1541–1857 editors does not always give the source or reason for a positive correlation made by past editors, though often it can be traced to one of the printed sources that I have described. Even in this exceedingly technical historiography, linkage has proved itself to be less a science than an art, though I hope that in this article I have at least rendered it less of a black art. Users of the CCEd and Fasti who are able to replace ambiguities with positive associations or distinctions, especially when primary sources hold the key, are warmly welcomed to report this further information to both ventures via the channels mentioned above.

William H. Campbell

William H. Campbell is an instructor in History and Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh in Greensburg. From 2005 to 2007 he was Research Editor on the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae project at the Institute of Historical Research, London.


  1. Remarks and collections of Thomas Hearne, ed. C. E. Doble et al. (11 vols, Oxford, 1885–1918), V, 318 

  2. Remarks and collections, ed. Doble, VI, 64. On Le Neve, Willis and related works, see J.M. Horn, comp., John Le Neve: Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300–1541, Vol. XII: introduction, errata and index (London, 1967), pp. 1–7. 

  3. Hereford Record Office, Hereford diocesan records, MSS AL 19/20, f. 185r, and AL 19/21, f. 12r, respectively. 

  4. Hereford Cathedral Archives, MS 7031/3, p. 566 

  5. Hereford Cathedral Archives, MSS 7031/4 (unpag.), 7031/5, p. 22. 

  6. Hereford RO, MS AL 19/23, f. 12v; Hereford Cathedral Archives, MS 7031/5, p. 144, f. 224v. 

  7. Hereford Cathedral Archives, MS 7031/5, p. 179, ff. 221v, 275v. 

  8. Calendar of patent rolls preserved in the Public Record Office (29 vols, London, 1924–2004), 1558–60, p. 123; Calendar of institutions by the chapter of Canterbury sede vacante, ed. C. E. Woodruff (Kent Records, 8, 1923), p. 58; York, Borthwick Institute, archbishops’ institution act book AB 1, f. 40v. 

  9. W. H. Campbell, comp., John Le Neve: Fasti ecclesiae anglicanae 1541―1857, Vol. XII: Exeter diocese (London, 2007). 

  10. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/subject.aspx?subject=2 [accessed 13 July 2009]. 

  11. Wills and inventories … of the northern counties of England, part I, ed. J. Raine (Surtees Society, 2, 1835), p. 172. An editorial footnote adds that he was also vicar of Gainford, though of course the editor’s source and reasoning are not elucidated. Given that the editor is doubtless correct in identifying this Robert Benett with the monk and bursar of Durham of the same name at the time of the dissolution of the cathedral priory, this probably is not Robert Benett (CCEd person ID 39736) ordained subdeacon, deacon and priest in Dec. 1541 on the title of a parish benefice in Peterborough Diocese. According to J. M. Horn et al., comp., Fasti… XI: Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Manchester, Ripon, and Sodor and Man dioceses (2004), p. 108, our will-writing Robert Benett was appointed to the 11th prebend of Durham in the royal foundation charter of May 1541. An obedientiary in a Benedictine cathedral priory was unlikely to be in minor orders; a prebendary was unlikely to be permitted to hold his benefice for six months in minor orders that, in the new dispensation, were no longer recognized as orders at all; and since a cathedral canon was expected to be in major orders, one wonders why the more prestigious prebend was not used as title for orders. By such means may we distinguish one Robert Benett from another. I use this as an example of the challenges facing anyone attempting such distinctions on a small scale, much less a massive one. 

Sussex Clergy Inventories 1600-1750, ed. Annabelle Hughes (2009)

Citation Information

To cite this review: W. M. Jacob, ‘Review: Sussex Clergy Inventories 1600-1750, ed. Annabelle Hughes, Sussex Record Society Vol. 91, 2009.’, CCEd Online Journal Reviews 1, 2013. http://www.theclergydatabase.org.uk/review_one/

Sussex Clergy Inventories 1600-1750, ed. Annabelle Hughes, Sussex Record Society Vol. 91, 2009.1

Clergy are the largest and most distinctive occupational group for whom extensive documentary evidence survives from the Reformation onwards, as The Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540-1835 well illustrates. The Database is enabling clerical careers to be traced in a detail that has never been possible before, so that education, moves, income, pluralism, residence, attendance at episcopal visitations can be traced, and one can begin to build up a picture of the professional lives of individual clergy and groups of clergy.

Diocesan archives also provide opportunities to build up a picture of the personal lives of clergy. Copies of parish terriers list the land [terra = land] with which benefices were endowed, which provides information about land available to an incumbent’s use, and sometimes an account of the parsonage house. Substantial alterations to, or rebuilding a parsonage house, required the consent of the patron and the bishop, and a faculty from the consistory court, which means that sometimes plans and drawings survive, ideally of what the parsonage house and its accompanying buildings were like before the alterations or rebuilding were undertaken, as well as what was proposed, (which, of course may not have been completed, or even started) and information may be included about the costs of the project. This can help to give a sense of the social standing of clergy, especially if information about or studies of buildings in the locality or region has been published, which puts clergy households in context.

Clergy were one of the most literate occupational groups, and significant quantities of archival material beyond episcopal and diocesan records make it possible to begin to flesh out the lives of some clergy, for example diaries and letters may give a limited picture of what they did and thought, and their relationships with family, friends and parishioners. However it needs to be remembered that this may be only a limited picture, for, occasionally when the diary or letters of another member of a family or circle of friends also survives, a rather different picture of a person and his activities may emerge. Some clergy kept account books, which sometimes were restricted to what they received from fees for marriages and burials, and collected in tithes from their parishioners, and spent on cultivating their glebe. All being well they placed these with the parish’s papers, in the parish chest, for the benefit of their successors, so they would know the customary payments of the parish, for sometimes, when a new incumbent arrived, parishioners discovered they had short memories about payments due to him. Account books throw significant light on the sources of income of an incumbent, especially in relation to how many weddings and funerals he conducted, whether he farmed his glebe himself, and the agricultural practices of the parish. Some account books are very full, recording, so far as one can tell, all the household expenditure, as well as income. These are very useful in giving a clearer picture of life in a parsonage house, of the extent to which a household was self supporting, and what had to be bought in, what was given in charity, or as loans, what the major items of expenditure were, what was spent on transport and travel, and about luxuries, including holidays, or their absence. One can see how standards and patterns of consumption changed over time, as someone matured, or became better off. James Woodforde’s diary, which begins as an account book, and in which he continued to record much of his expenditure shows him buying basic furniture for the first parsonage house in which he lived part-time as a curate in the 1760s, and then in the mid 1770s papering the ‘Great Parlour’ and ‘Study’ and buying curtains and carpets and beds for his rectory at Weston Longueville at the considerable cost of £41-19s, and buying from a cabinet maker in Norwich ‘a handsome mahogany wardrobe’, a bureau and bookcase and a sideboard. In the late 1780s he began to upgrade his furniture and bought ‘two large second hand double flapped Mahogany tables, also one second hand Mahogany dressing table with drawers – also one new Mahogany Washing Stand, for all of which I paid £4-14s-6d. I think the whole of it to be very cheap’. Four years later in April 1793 he bought at an auction in Norwich ‘a very handsome Mahogany Sideboard for £3-6s’ and ‘a very good Wilton Carpet paid £6-0-0’ and a cellaret. In December he replaced the tables, recording that he bought ‘new Tables ….secondhand  three in number all of the best Mohogany and new, the middle one is a very large on and very wide, the other two are half round ones to add to the middle Table  – I am to give for them seven guineas [Sudbury, the upholster of Norwich] took my two very large Tables and a smaller one in part exchange for the others, and he is to allow me for the three only £2-18s. He also bought silver cutlery, when he was passing through London on his way back from holidays in Somerset, and in Norwich.2 Account books and diaries throw considerable light on how local economies worked, in this case the furniture trade, and how a consumer society developed, meeting the needs of customers.

Another major, but little used, source of information about clerical lives and households held in diocesan record offices are probate inventories, which record a person’s possessions at death. Ideally items were recorded room by room, and information about cash in hand and loans and debts was noted at the end. Inventories were required to be prepared to be produced alongside a will, when probate for the administration of a will was applied for from a consistory court.

Sussex Clergy Inventories 1600-1750 is a transcript of 181 surviving probate inventories of clergy from Chichester diocese, comprising East and West Sussex, that Annabelle Hughes has edited with an introduction for the Sussex Record Society. It is helpful to have these in an accessible and legible form, with biographical notes about the various clergy, provided by John Hawkins who was the principal contributor for the Chichester Diocese entries for the Clergy of the Church of England Database, a glossary of archaic words, and a helpful introduction about the production and interpretation of inventories. In addition there is an analysis of rooms in parsonages, noting the deceased’s name, the year, the number of rooms, the parish, listing the rooms, whether there were any books, the valuation of the property, and whether there were any stock or crops. There is also a helpful bibliography, showing this is the first transcript of clerical inventories to be published, two maps showing the parishes represented, a list of inventories noting the deceased’s name, the parish, the year, the value, his title as recorded on the inventory, (ie curate, vicar, minister, parson, rector), and in which court probate was applied for (the consistory court sitting either in the archdeaconry of Chichester, or the archdeaconry of Lewes), and an index of persons and places.

Dr Hughes, is an historian of buildings, who has used Sussex probate inventories  for studying buildings as a social historian. Clerical inventories are particularly interesting for clergy form, as already noted, a cohesive social group, and their parsonage houses are identifiable, if they survive, and also, as we have noted, there may be additional information about the buildings in diocesan archives.

In her introduction Dr Hughes describes the process of securing probate, including the complexities of the peculiar jurisdictions in Sussex, and the Prerogative Court of Canterbury where wealthier people’s wills and the wills of those who held property in more than one diocese were proved. She notes that in Chichester, as in many  dioceses, few probate inventories survive after 1750, and that the survival rate for the period of 1600-1750 from Lewes archdeaconry was poor, only nineteen usable documents, perhaps indicating a ‘clearing out’ of documents at some stage. She also notes that numbers of inventories dropped between 1640 and 1650 perhaps reflecting the turmoil of the Civil Wars.

She notes that inventories normally only record ‘movables’, that is personal property although they may list cash, and debts, bonds, and loans, but do not include real estate, in the form of land, so they may not reflect the true value of a clergyman’s estate, if he owned land in addition to his life-time freehold of the benefice property. Supplementary sources of information are noted, including the diocesan surveys of 1686 and 1724, which provide brief information about parsonage houses (or their absence) and valuations of livings, and the amount of glebe, as well as terriers and faculties.3 However, Dr Hughes notes that it has proved difficult to positively identify parsonage houses featured in the 1724 survey and those described in these inventories perhaps, because, as she notes elsewhere, clergy did not always live in their parsonage house, so inventories may list rooms in a house other than the parsonage.

The inventories are put in context by a brief summary of recent studies of religion and society in post-Reformation Sussex, which should have included Jeffrey Chamberlain’s Accommodating High Churchmen.4

There is a helpful discussion of the chronological analysis of names of rooms in inventories. Of the 144 properties for which rooms were mentioned, twenty-five had up to five rooms, seventy-two had between six and ten rooms, thirty-six had between eleven and fifteen rooms, and eleven over fifteen rooms. Many of these rooms, however were work rooms, for example buttery, pantry, milkhouse, brewhouse, bakehouse, wash-house, cheesehouse, as well as ‘entry’ and cellar. These illustrate the complexity of the domestic economy of a parsonage house, and most households in early modern England. Dr Hughes notes the changing names and uses of rooms over the 150 years of these inventories, including the diminishing importance of the ‘hall’ as the main room of the house which served as dining room, reception room, and even bedroom for some of the household, and the increasing mention of ‘parlour’ and ‘pantry’. Until the beginning of the eighteenth century ‘loft’ and ‘garret’ were used almost interchangeably, but ‘loft’ disappeared after 1706. There was a marked increase in mention of ‘cellar’ from the 1690s. These changes probably reflect adaptations of existing buildings, as well as newly built houses and, new fashions in the use of space. However, it should be remembered that inventories only record rooms containing items belonging to the deceased. Empty rooms were not mentioned. Not many of these houses were really palatial in terms of numbers of rooms for sitting and relaxing: of sixty-nine houses between 1619 and 1690 for which ‘parlours’ are noted, only two had two parlours, and of the forty four where ‘parlours are noted between 1691 and 1741 only five had two parlours. Thirty-one in the first period mention studies, and twenty-six during the second period. She notes that ‘chambers’ were usually first-floor rooms, often identified by the ground-floor room below. Fireside implements may indicate there was a hearth in the room, and she refers for comparison to the surviving Hearth Tax returns for 1662. Given the limited literature available on parsonage houses, it would have been helpful to have had a reference to V.M.Chesher, ‘The Parsonage House’ on houses in Cornwall, which suggests there was a significant rebuilding and upgrading of parsonage houses in the early eighteenth century.5

The typical parsonage house for most of the eighteenth century, usually had one, or possibly two, parlours and a study and kitchen on the ground floor, with dairy, washhouse, brewery, etc in a back extension, and chambers about the parlour(s), study and kitchen, used as bedrooms by the ‘family’ and perhaps over some rooms in the back extension, and perhaps garrets above the chambers for servants. Some houses were much more humble. Apart from provision for a study, parsonage houses were very like farm houses and small gentry houses. Only from the 1770s were parsonage houses significantly extended or rebuilt. Many ‘Georgian’ parsonage houses date from the 1840s.

It would have been interesting if Dr Hughes, with her extensive knowledge of the building history of Sussex had compared parsonage houses, or at least houses occupied by clergy, with houses occupied by small to medium sized farmers, and minor gentry, or better-off tradesmen and merchants in market towns, with whom it seems likely clergy can be compared in terms of their levels of income and possessions. It is also a pity that the farm buildings and barns associated with parsonages or houses occupied by clergy, which presumably were included in the inventories as containing crops and implements and livestock, were not also listed, which would have helped to relate clergy to other socio-economic groups, and indicated to what extent the complex of parsonage buildings resembled farm complexes.

Dr Hughes notes that before 1680 fifty-four out of ninety-one inventories (over a half) record livestock and crops, but after 1680 only twenty-nine out of eighty-two (just over a third) do so, and speculates whether the time of year when the inventory was taken influenced whether these items were recorded, or whether clergy increasingly leased out their glebes after the 1680s. If there was a decline among Sussex clergy in cultivating their glebe from the 1680s, this did not happen in Norfolk, in sixty-one inventories of clerical goods among the Diocesan Registry’s surviving probate inventories between 1700 and 1739 forty-four record agricultural equipment and stock and crops, often on a large scale,6 and there is much evidence that some Norfolk clergy at the end of the eighteenth century continued to cultivate their glebe and keep livestock, not least James Woodforde, but others on a much larger scale.7

The inventories of the vast majority of Sussex clergy record books, which is likely to  be the most marked distinction factor between clergy and similar socio-economic groups, like small and medium sized farmers. Dr Hughes emphasises that the valuation placed on books should be treated with care, for laymen who made the inventories, may have had little idea of the value of books. The few instances when books are itemised, or summarised, suggest that some clergy had wide interests: Robert Waters of Shipley, who died in 1617 had ‘Divers books of divinity and physicke and surgery’, and Samuel Fowler of Earnley, who died in 1669 had ‘ a Parsell of books as dixenaries sermon books mathematickes Arethmaticke some Latin for Prayers some for Gardening some Geographie some manuscripts some Playe books some old some young’ valued altogether at 15 shillings. Seventy-two inventories note a ‘study’ and four a ‘library’  In Norfolk although nine of the sixty-one inventories do not mention any books, in some inventories books form a significant proportion of the total value of the goods listed, for example John Echard of Ashwellthorpe’s books were valued at £20, out of a total valuation of his goods of £23-13s-1 1/2d. There seems little correlation between the value of a clergyman’s goods and the value of his books; John Jessop of Raveningham in Norfolk who died in 1719 had an inventory valued at £1,604 – 15s – 4d, of which £1,428 – 4s – 10d was in ‘Bills, Bonds and other Securities’, but he only had ‘A parcel of old Books’ valued at £2.8

Dr Hughes in her analysis of the inventories by house sizes (by room and function) and relative valuations, concludes that the clergy included the very poor and the relatively wealthy. It would have been interesting if she had drawn on her wide knowledge of Sussex inventories to set the valuation of goods in clerical inventories alongside, for comparison, inventories of a range of farmers and minor county and urban gentry to show where, socio-economically, clergy fitted in Sussex society. In concluding her introduction she helpfully suggests further matters for investigation, including comparative values of livings and how these might reflect the living standards of the clergy shown by their dwellings and possessions, the value and extent of glebe land and changes over the period, variations in the numbers and values of books owned, and how these may have reflect the quality and ‘colour’ of clerical ministry.

When the total values of the personal estates of the clergy are analysed the enormous range of society that clergy ranged across, becomes clear, from the rather poor, to the rich, with a high proportion in the range of £100 to £300, which, discounting their real estate, would have put them in terms of personal possessions, in the range of modest county gentry

Total values of goods valued in probate inventories in the Diocese of Chichester

-£5 £5-£10 £11-£20 £21-£50 £50-£75 £76-£100 £101-£200 £201-£300 £301-£500 £501-£1,000 £1,000+
1613-1690 3 3 7 14 12 15 33 15 9 4 2
1691-1741 3 12 7 3 12 4 5 6 4

However, it should be remembered this is a random selection of the clergy in Chichester diocese during the period, and that a significant proportion of clergy, who left possessions worth less than £50 may be missing from the sample.

David Hey suggested that though the income and value of the possessions of clergy may be somewhat similar to small to medium sized farmers in the villages they served, their inventories reflect a more cultivated taste and greater refinement of social standards than the inventories of most farmers.9 This may reflect the fact that many clergy were Oxford or Cambridge-educated sons of prosperous urban professional men and tradesmen who might be expected to have more sophisticated tastes than their village neighbours This may perhaps be seen in these Sussex inventories: forty-eight of the sample between 1613 and 1690 and thirty between 1691 and 1741 owned some silver ware, twenty-five in the earlier period, and twenty-three in the later period had looking glasses, including John Prosser of Winchilsea, who died in 1723 who was recorded as having a ‘glass’ in every chamber, the same number possessed clocks or watches, one in the earlier period had a coffee pot, while eleven in the later period had a coffee pot or tea kettle, or rather nine, for Charles Spencer of Westbourne, who died in 1705 had three ‘coffey pots’ in the kitchen, as well as a modish ‘Wallnutt Tree Table’, nineteen in the earlier period had desks, and six in the later period, nine in each period owned pictures, and four in the later period owned ‘weather glasses’. Nearly all houses had large quantities of linen, and all had feather beds; cushions and window curtains feature quite often; nearly all have considerable quantities of pewter, as opposed to wooden vessels, including chamber pots; quite a lot have ‘close stools’, a mark of gentility. Thomas Pelling of Rottingdean, who died in 1732 had a particularly well-equipped ‘studdy’ including ‘About 800 books, a pair of globes, i table, 2 Ring Dyalls, 1Telescope, I Speaking Trumpet’, but his goods were valued in total at £1,065 -13s-6d.

Some clergy had money owing to them: fourteen who died between 1613 and 1690, and eight between 1691 and 1741, and in the earlier period fourteen also had tithe owing to them, while only eight in the later period had tithe owing to them. Twenty in the earlier period had money laid out in bonds, securities and mortgages, and seventeen in the later period. Only three died in debt in the earlier period, and one in the later period.

In the period 1613-1690 twenty-two inventories noted a gun, pistols or a musket, and seven between 1691 and 1741. This may represent the need for arms for protection of oneself and family during the troubled days of the civil wars, and possibly the continuing threat of invasion from the Channel during the first half of the eighteenth century

A significant number of women – wives, daughters and sisters – feature as executors of these wills: sixty during the earlier period from 1613 to 1690 and thirty-five between 1691 and 1741. This total of ninety-five out of 185 wills suggests that clergy had a high level of confidence in their womenfolk’s capacity to manage their affairs. However, it may hint at the personal tragedies the deaths recorded in these wills brought upon clergy families. Clergy only had a freehold for life in their parsonage and glebe land. The moment they died their interest in it ceased, and the income passed to sequestrators, and they were under notice to quit the parsonage. Widows with children, sisters, daughters, households were cast adrift. Nancy Woodforde, having been her uncle’s companion for twenty-three years, at the age of forty-six had to leave her home and friends, see everything sold up, and go to live with her relations in far way Somerset. The invalid Elizabeth Postlethwaite, who had grown up at Denton rectory in Norfolk where her father had been rector, and was succeeded by her brother, when he was tragically killed in a riding accident, intestate, and subsequently suspected of being deeply in debt, described in letters to her sister the arrival of the appraisers to list her brother’s personal effects, within a fortnight of his death, and the break up of her home, and the few things that she takes – the bed in the hall chamber, and the easy chair, for the room she has rented in Norwich, and the disposal of small domestic items, including one of the maids taking the linen lines for herself, for hers were rotten. She reports looking after herself for the first time in her life, and the anxieties she experienced when more and more debts of her brother’s came to light.10 William Jones, the curate of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire commented on the sad fate of the widow and daughters of the rector of Wormley, in which parish he was himself very interested.

His poor wife and three unestablished daughters (the youngest of them not very young) are, I fear, left in distressed circumstances. How must their hearts droop at exchanging their present convenient, beautiful home for a cottage. A rectory or a vicarage is but a caravanserai; for it frequently changes its inmates.11

Perhaps this was why clergy sometimes lived in houses other than their parsonage house. At least their families would be left with a roof over their heads, and would not immediately have to dispose of most of their possessions.

W. M. Jacob

Dr Jacob is archdeacon of Charing Cross in the Anglican Diocese of London. He is the author of many works on the history of the Church of England, notably in the eighteenth century, including The Clerical Profession in the Long Eighteenth Century 1680-1840 (Oxford University Press, 2007)


  1. Copies can be obtained from the Assistant Secretary, Sussex Record Society, Barbican House, High Street, Lewes, BN7 1YE, at a cost of £20 (post and packing extra). 

  2. Diary of a Country Parson: The Revd James Woodforde 1758-1802, ed. James Beresford, 5 vols (Oxford University Press, 1926-31), iii-iv; for a full transcript of the diary see Diary of James Woodforde 1759-1803, 17 vols (Parson Woodforde Society, 1978-2007), vols vii-ix passim. 

  3. Chichester Diocesan Surveys 1686-1724, ed Wyn K.Ford (Sussex Record Society, 78, 1994). 

  4. Jeffrey S. Chamberlain, Accommodating High Churchmen: The Clergy of Sussex, 1700-1745 (University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1997). 

  5. V. M. Chesher, ‘The Parsonage House’, in Calendar of Cornish Glebe Terriers 1673-1735, ed. R. Potts (Devon and Cornwall Record Society, NS, xix, 1974).  

  6. Norfolk Record Office, Norwich Archdeaconry Inventories: NRO, NDR ANW23 Norfolk Archdeaconry Inventories ANF11; Norwich Diocesan Registry Probate Inventories, NRO, NDR INV68-80. 

  7. W .M. Jacob, The Clerical Profession in the Long Eighteenth Century, 1680-1840 (Oxford, 2007), pp 144-147. 

  8. NRO, NDR INV74/A148 and INV79/E37. 

  9. David G.Hey, An English Rural Community: Myddle under the Tudors and Stuarts, (Leicester University Press, 1974), p. 126.  

  10. See ‘Your affectionate and loving sister’: the correspondence of Barbara Kerrich and Elizabeth Postlethwaite 1733-1751, ed. Nigel Surry (The Larks Press, Guist Bottom, Dereham, Norfolk, 2000). 

  11. The Diary of the Revd William Jones 1771-1821, ed. O. F. Christie (London, 1929), p. 106.