Manuscripts and Special Collections

Catholicism in the Archdeaconry of Nottingham Presentment Bills 1587-1699

This article looks in detail at presentment bills made by churchwardens and clergy to the Archdeaconry of Nottingham Correction court. It was written by Manuscripts and Special Collections staff and published in October 2021. 

Roman Catholics were referred to in legal records in the 17th and 18th centuries as ‘recusants’, and their actions as ‘recusancy’. 

Table of contents 

Civil penalties against recusants 
Recusancy in the Archdeaconry Presentment Bills 
Recusants in West Markham 
Recusants in Fledborough and Farndon 
Recusants in Ollerton 
Recusants in Norton Cuckney 
Recusants in Kelham 
Recusants in Edwinstowe 
Smaller communities of recusants 


Civil penalties against recusants 

Until the Reformation in the reign of King Henry VIII (1491-1549), England was a Roman Catholic country. The King broke away from the Catholic church in the 1530s and created the Church of England, with the monarch at its head. 
From the mid-16th century onwards, legal action was taken against Roman Catholics in England. There was a powerful political dimension to this. As plots in favour of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots had demonstrated in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), adherence to the Catholic faith could be associated with treason. This fear continued to influence government policy following the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and during the Jacobite conspiracies of the 18th century.  

Illustration showing Gunpowder Conspirators at work in the Vaults
Illustration, 'The Gunpowder Conspirators at work in the Vaults', from Cassell's illustrated history of England Vol III. p.27. East Midlands Special Collection, Not 1.W8 HOW/W

Practising Catholicism became a civil offence by the Statute 35 Eliz c.2, sec. 4 (1593). Under this Act, the minister and constable of each parish were asked to compile a book of recusants and to certify the entries to the Justices of the Peace at the next Quarter Sessions. The names were then entered into the Sessions Rolls. 
After the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a further Act was passed (3 Jas I, c.4), under which the churchwardens and constables of each parish were required to make annual presentments to the Justices of the names of all ‘popish recusants’ who were absent from church each month, together with the names of their children over the age of nine, and their servants. Recusants were fined the very high sum of £20 per month, and could be jailed. A prescribed oath of allegiance and supremacy was drawn up, which any person over the age of 18 could be required to take. If they refused to take it, they could be imprisoned until the next Quarter Sessions. Some people who had been presented as recusants in the churchwardens' Presentment Bills later conformed and voluntarily took the civil oath, for example Richard Kirke and Elizabeth Gibbon of Car Colston in 1614 and 1615 respectively, and Valentine Revill of Blyth in 1616. 
A list of persons presented to the Justices as 'Popish Recusants', 1603-1643, is found as an appendix in H. Hampton Copnall, Nottinghamshire County Records: Notes and Extracts from the Nottinghamshire County Records of the 17th Century (Henry B. Saxton, 1915), and has been made available online. 

Whereas Protestant nonconformist groups were allowed to meet and worship openly under the terms of the Toleration Act of 1689, Roman Catholicism remained a proscribed religion, with its members denied full involvement in civic society, until 1829.  


Recusancy in the Archdeaconry of Nottingham Presentment Bills 

Committed Catholics usually showed their contempt for the Archdeaconry court by failing to appear in court to answer the allegations made against them. Repeated non-appearance in court, or 'contumacy', automatically led to the excommunication of the offender. Being prevented from attending Anglican church services or taking holy communion in the parish church was not a punishment likely to upset Catholic worshippers (the civil penalties, such as the threat of imprisonment, and a bar on administering wills, were more serious inconveniences). Therefore, we find many of the same names being presented by churchwardens time and time again. Often, they were presented for 'standing excommunicate', rather than for the original offence of recusancy. Also, many recusants were presented for not attending church, for not receiving holy communion, or for failing to pay their dues to the vicar or their parish assessments, rather than specifically for the offence of 'recusancy'. It can therefore be hard to distinguish Catholic recusants from those who failed to attend church for dissenting Protestant reasons. However, all the people mentioned below in discussion of recusant groups throughout Nottinghamshire were described at some point in the Presentment Bills series as 'popish' recusants or Catholics. 
The number of references to ‘popish recusancy’ varied over time. From 1587 to 1599, only five Presentment Bills reported instances of recusancy, from five separate parishes. In the decade 1600-1609, 34 parishes or chapelries presented at least one recusant; this declined to 27 in the decade 1610-1619; but from 1620 to 1639 a wider range of parishes reported recusancy: 43 overall, out of a total of 182 within the Archdeaconry. The Archdeaconry court was abandoned in 1643 with the onset of the Civil War, but revived after the Restoration of King Charles II. The first Presentment Bills were made out in 1663. From 1663 to 1679, 29 parishes or chapelries reported Catholic recusants in their area. References to recusancy in the Presentment Bills decline sharply after the 1670s. This probably reflects practice within the Archdeaconry administration (which seemed less willing to prosecute any offenders, except sexual offenders and those who did not pay their church dues), rather than a decline in the Catholic population of the county. 
In terms of the location of Catholic populations, while many places were home to individual obstinate recusants (often elderly people, such as Mistress Amy Widmerpool of Widmerpool, aged at least 50 in 1607 and presented almost every year until 1628), other parishes became the home of what looks like communities of Catholics, often based around the big house of a substantial family with the resources to protect them. 

County map of Nottinghamshire by John Cary, 1793 (Bre 20), marked up to show prominent Roman Catholic communities in the early 17th century

County map of Nottinghamshire by John Cary, 1793 (Bre 20), marked up to show prominent Roman Catholic communities in the early 17th century


Recusants in West Markham 

This community was centred around Rutland Molyneux and his family. Molyneux was a member of a Catholic family, and a distant relation of the Molyneux baronets of Teversal. He was a younger son of John Molyneux of Thorpe, M.P., and brother of John Molyneux of Farndon and Fledborough (see below). Molyneux married Mary Bevercotes in 1591, heiress of the manor of Bevercotes in the parish of West Markham. He sold the manor to the Earl of Clare in the early 1600s, as documented in the Newcastle Estates collection (Ne D). This marriage produced no children, but his second marriage, to Frances Timperley, in or before 1625, produced a son, Rutland (died c.1665) and a daughter, Anne, both of whom were presented as recusants in West Markham just before the Civil War. Rutland senior died in 1646. Frances’s death date is not known but she appeared in Fledborough presentment bills in the 1660s. 
Rutland was first presented as a recusant in 1608, in the parish of Fledborough, where the Molyneux family had a house, in the hamlet of Woodcoates (AN/PB 294/2/23). In 1609 he appeared in West Markham for the first time, as an ‘absolute recusant’, aged at least 40 (AN/PB 294/2/230). Members of his household, who appeared again in 1610 and 1613, tended to be referred to by their first names and their position (e.g. Elizabeth the Brewer, Grace the Cooke, Elizabeth the Maltster, George the Miller, and Joane the Kitchen Maid, to name a few). One of his servants in 1609 was referred to as ‘Blacke Elizabeth’, hinting that she may have come from Africa. 

Presentment bill naming people in West Markham, 1609

Image: West Markham presentment bill, 1609, including reference to 'Blacke Elizabeth, about the age of l'tie [50], spinster', AN/PB 294/2/230

Rutland Molyneux was next presented back at Fledborough, in 1618 (AN/PB 295/7/177), along with his brother John Molyneux, and Lawrence and Anne Sperry, who later appeared in West Markham. In the 1610s, the most regular offender in West Markham was George Cawthorne, who was perhaps related to the William Cawthorne who was constantly presented as a recusant in Fledborough in the same period. There certainly seems to be a clear link between the two Catholic communities at West Markham and Fledborough, villages only about six miles apart. 
From 1620, Rutland Molyneux was back at West Markham, and was presented along with his wife almost every year until the series of Presentment Bills ceased in 1641. In 1625, he was accused of having his child secretly baptised by a seminary priest (AN/PB 339/9/47). A community of recusants was formed, with a number of names appearing every year, the most regular offenders being: 
Dorothy Alsop, widow (1631-1641) 
Dorothy Alsop, her daughter (1633-1641) 
George Cawthorne (up to 1624) 
Elizabeth Eckenfield (1620-1621, and one of the same name, 1639-1641) 
Anne Sperry (1618-1641) 
Lawrence Sperry (died c.1638) 
Margaret Terrall (1625-1634) 
Rutland Molyneux junior and his wife Jane, née Rayner, were again presented for recusancy when Archdeaconry court business was resumed after the Civil War, in 1665 (AN/PB 342/5/51). The following year, according to the International Genealogical Index (IGI), Jane married Thomas Wilbore, presumably after Rutland's death. No further Molyneux family members are noted in West Markham after that date.  
Bibliography: Memoirs of the Molineux family, by Gisborne Molineux (1882), available online at 


Recusants in Fledborough and Farndon 

The main figure in Fledborough recusancy was John Molyneux (fl 1608-1629). He was a son of John Molyneux of Thorpe, M.P., and brother of Rutland Molyneux of West Markham. John was first presented as a recusant in the parish of Farndon in Easter term 1608, along with his wife Ruth (née Delwood, fl 1608-1642), his maidservant, and Thomas Kitchin alias Jaques (AN/PB 294/2/36).  
In 1612, John and his wife were presented as recusants in the parish of Fledborough (AN/PB 295/2/97), along with William Cawthorne and his wife Joan (fl 1608-1639) and Mrs Scrimshaw (fl 1609-1612). All were described as being of Woodcoates in the parish of Fledborough, a hamlet about one mile west of the village. John had been a recusant for one year (perhaps since his arrival from Farndon), while the others had remained so for seven. This community continued to be presented in 1613, 1614, 1616 and 1618. In the Presentment Bill for Easter 1618, the group was joined by John’s brother Rutland Molyneux, and by Lawrence and Anne Sperry, prominent recusants usually found in the parish of West Markham (AN/PB 295/7/177). In the 1620s and 1630s, the families of William Dent, Thomas Smyth and George Booth regularly appeared in the Fledborough Presentment Bills as recusants. 
John appeared again in Farndon at Easter 1619, along with his wife, his daughters and his maidservant, for not coming to church. He appeared for the last time in 1629, but his family continued to be presented for recusancy at Farndon until 1642. 
The Archdeaconry court resumed its business after the Civil War, in 1663. Some of the Molyneux family formerly of West Markham were presented by the churchwardens for recusancy over the next few years, together with some neighbours. Frances Molyneux, widow of Rutland Molyneux of West Markham, was presented from 1664 to 1666. Her fourth son Mark and his wife Anne appeared up to 1672, and her fifth son Francis up to 1666. The other prominent recusants in the parish were Mrs Magdalene Sudbury (1664-1686), and her daughter Dorothy (1676-1677). 


Recusants in Ollerton 

This Catholic community was centred around the Markham family. Thomas Markham, known as ‘Black Markham’ (1545-1607) was a younger son of Sir John Markham of Cotham, and inherited Markham family property in Ollerton. He married Mary Griffin (c.1545-1633) in 1567, and fathered two recusant sons, along with 14 other children. One of the sons, Sir Griffin Markham (born 1569) was arrested for treason for taking part in the Bye Plot and the Main Plot against King James I in 1603. He was spared execution, but forced into exile. His wife, Lady Anne Markham, shared his religion, and was presented in Arnold for not attending church or receiving communion in 1610 and 1612 (AN/PB 295/1/157 and (AN/PB 295/3/115). In 1616 she was presented for adultery with Jervis Sandforth (AN/PB 295/6/67), whom she is said to have bigamously married in 1618. Thomas's daughter Anne married Sir Francis Smith of Ashby Folville in Leicestershire. Their son Thomas was the owner of Broxtowe Hall in the parish of Bilborough, Nottinghamshire, which he garrisoned for the King during the Civil War, for which he was knighted. He was presented for recusancy by the churchwardens of Bilborough from 1638 to 1665. He was unrelated to the Thomas Smith, founder of Smith’s Bank in Nottingham, who came into possession of Broxtowe Hall later in the 17th century. 
Thomas's other son, George Markham (born c.1588), married Judith Withernwick (1594-1632) and was the focus of the Ollerton community of recusants. A Presentment Bill of 1603 reported that there were about 10 recusants in the chapelry (AN/PB 294/1/246), but the offenders were not individually named until 1612. The most prominent recusants up to the Civil War were: 
George Markham (presented 1612-1631) 
Mary Markham, George's mother (1621-1633), and many of her servants 
Judith Markham, his wife (1612-1631) 
Thomas Markham, his son (1633-1635) 
William Fitzwilliam (1612-1625) 
Elizabeth Fitzwilliam (1612-1625) 
Randall Brett (1612-1625), and his wife Margaret Brett (1618-1626), and son Peter Brett (1622-1626) 
Clemence, wife of William Yarwood (1618-1642) 
Robert Bullock (1634-1642), who ‘kept his child unchristened’ according to a Presentment Bill of November 1640 (AN/PB 299/122) 
Alice Burley (1629-1635) 
William Eaton (1625-1635) 
John Ebdon (1637-1642) and his wife 
Mrs Elizabeth Hewitt (1622-1630) 
Anthony Jackman (1633-1642) 
George Lister (1625-1641) 
John and Alice Mawer (1631-1635) 
Richard Needham (1625-1633) 
Mrs Anne Smith (1625-1631) 
Anne Stuffin (1625-1631) 
Mrs Ellen Toytall (1638-1641) 
John Walker (1629-1634) 
Griffin Watts (1627-1642) 
When the Archdeaconry court reconvened in 1663, it was evident that the community was still in existence. Anthony Jackman (presented 1663-1671), Robert Bullock (1663-1671) and Richard Tatham (1664-1670) were presented time and time again. The court became slack at insisting on the presentment of religious offences in the 1670s, but the new Archdeacon Thomas White, who served from 1683 to 1685, encouraged the churchwardens to present offenders with renewed vigour. Robert Bullock (perhaps the same man) was presented from 1684 to 1686, as were John Jackman, George Markham's grandson Thomas Markham, and his wife Anne, née Neville. 
Bibliography: Markham memorials. Being a new ed., with many additions and corrections, of the History of the Markham family, by David F. Markham, written by his son, by Sir Clements Markham (1913).  


Recusants in Norton Cuckney 

Recusancy in this parish centred around the households of Mrs Marie Hodson or Hodgson at Holbeck Woodhouse, and of the Pickering family. Scattered Pickering references were made from the very early 1620s, but the main series of presentments concerning non-attendance at church and recusancy commenced in 1624 and continued until the outbreak of the Civil War. The main offenders were as follows: 
Robert Boye, Mrs Hodgson’s manservant (1630-1642) 
Roland Freeman and his wife (1625-1626) 
Mrs Marie Hodgson (1625-1642) 
John Pickering (1625-1642), his wife Elizabeth (1624-1642) and their children Robert, William, Anne and Agnes 
George Rodes and his wife (1625-1630) 
Mrs Anne Wilkes (1625-1632) and her daughter Amy (1626-1632) 
Robert Boye (presented 1663-1670), his widow Bridget (1663-1675) and son John (1663-1686), remained prominent recusants after the resumption of court business following the Civil War, together with many of their neighbours: 
John Pickering (1663-1665), and his daughter Anne (1663-1669) 
James Hage (1663-1669), and his wife Frances (1663-1666) 
Thomas Hage (1666-1686) and Robert Hage (1665-1684), son of James and Frances, and their wives 
Mrs Mary Hewitt (1663-1665) 
Arthur Bradley (1663-1669), and his wife Elizabeth (1663-1665) 
James Thorneley (1665-1671) 
Margaret Dyker (1666-1671) 
Dorothy Wilson (1666-1672) 
Mrs Alice Vaudery (1667-1675) 
Martha Walker (1667-1670) 
Richard Stanley (1675-1686), and his wife Frances (1675-1686) 
John Stanley (1679-1686) 
Thomas Justice and his wife Dorothy (1684-1686) 
Roman Catholicism at Holbeck continued for centuries; Gervase and Elizabeth Pierrepont of Holbeck Hall (brother and sister of the Marquess of Dorchester) were known Catholics in the late seventeenth century (although were never presented by the churchwardens), and maintained a Jesuit mission at their home. The house was raided in 1679, following the exposure of the Titus Oates plot against King Charles II, but Catholic worship continued there until the early nineteenth century, when it was transferred to new premises at Holbeck Woodhouse. The Catholic chapel at Woodhouse was converted into an Anglican church by the Duke of Portland in 1841. 
‘A College of Jesuits at Holbeck’, in Recusant History, 19 (1988), p. 484 
Hendrik Dijkgraaf, The Library of a Jesuit Community at Holbeck, Nottinghamshire (1679) (Temple, Arizona : Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies ; Cambridge : LP Publications, 2003) 


Recusants in Kelham

The principal recusant family in Kelham was the Sutton family, led by Mr Henry Sutton (presented 1613-1625) and also comprising his wife Marie (1612-1617) and daughters Katherine (1612-1642), Marie (1613-1627), Anne (1616-1625) and Frances (1618-1631). Also appearing as recusants in the parish were Mrs Marie Harrington (1623-1625), Mr Robert Swinburne (1622-1624) and Mrs Barbara Cooper, widow (1622-1626). Mrs Cooper might be the same Barbara Cooper who appeared as a recusant in the parish of Hawksworth from 1596 to 1614. A Barbara Cowper, aged around 80, then appeared in the parish of Nottingham St Peter in the 1630s. Mr Henry Sutton was committed to gaol on 30 April 1617 for refusing to take the oath of allegiance (see Nottinghamshire County Records, p. 132) 


Recusants in Edwinstowe 

Recusants appear regularly in the Presentment Bills from the parish of Edwinstowe in the 1620s and 1630s. The parish was scattered, comprising the chapelries of Clipstone and Budby, and the offenders lived all over the parish, suggesting that there was no ‘leader’ of the Edwinstowe recusants as there was in other places. Some of the most prominent names are as follows 
Thomas Beedson senior (presented 1624-1643) 
Thomas Beedson junior (1629-1637) 
William Daykins (1629-1638) 
Richard Fretwell (1625-1638) 
Edward Hopkinson (1635-1643) 
William Jakeman and his wife (1634-1637) 
Mrs Anne Lawrenson (1621-1636), who was ordered by the Justices on 21 April 1626 to be sent to gaol unless she attended her parish church by a week on Sunday (see Nottinghamshire County Records, p. 133) 
Mr Daniel Tharald and his wife Alice (1634-1640) 
After the Civil War, the community shrank greatly. John Fielding the elder, of Budby (presented 1663-1667), and William Snoden and his wife Anne (1663-1670) were presented in the 1660s, but by the 1670s only one recusant was regularly mentioned: John Palethorpe, cordwainer (presented 1676-1692). 


Smaller communities of recusants 

Attenborough: Mrs Anne Smith of Chilwell (presented 1666-1686); Mrs Mary Day (1663-1675); Mary Kendall (1669); and Alice Attenborough (1669) 
Basford and Radford: John Pickering and his wife (presented 1626-1642); Thomas Blyth and his wife and mother, of Aspley Woodhouse in the parish of Radford, and later of Basford (1633-1642); Francis Beard of Aspley and his mother Mary (1663-1680); and William Mash, miller, of Bobbers Mill (1663-1680). 
Bilborough: Sir Thomas Smith, of Broxtowe Hall (presented 1638-1665); and Mrs Mary Wightman (1663-1671); additionally, Simeon Wightman and his wife were presented from 1684 to 1686 for not attending church and standing excommunicate, but were not specifically described as recusants. 
Carlton in Lindrick: members of the Else family were presented yearly from the 1610s to the 1630s, along with their sister in law Isabel Atkinson, and William Hallam. Anthony Else was indicted in the Quarter Sessions on 15 July 1608 for keeping a papist recusant in a house (see Nottinghamshire County Records, p. 134) 
Colston Bassett: a community centred around the Golding family. Sir Edward Golding, 1st Baronet, married Eleanor, daughter of John Throckmorton of Coughton, Warwickshire (a member of which family hatched a plot against Queen Elizabeth I and was executed). He first appeared as a recusant in 1641; his son Sir Charles Golding and his wife Lady Mary, and various other villagers appeared regularly from the 1660s to the 1680s. The most prominent surnames of recusants in Colston Bassett were Abercrumby, Collier, Cooke, Crabtree, Gibson, Golding, Hopkins, Needham, Wadham and Wetherill. 
Cossall: Mrs Elizabeth Willoughby (presented 1663-1668); her son Mr George Willoughby (1663-1666); and Mr Francis Willoughby junior, and his wife (1684-1685) 
Cotgrave: Henson, alias Hall, family. John Henson (presented 1624-1629) and his children Alice (1622-1635), Esther (1626-1640), and Gregory (1628-1642). 
Egmanton: Sudbury family. John Sudbury senior (presented 1620-1634), and John Sudbury junior (1623-1630) and his wife Marie. 
Flawborough, sometimes described as being within the parish of Shelton: Anthony Clarke (presented 1623-1665), Henry Clarke (1624-1642), and Christopher Clarke (1642-1665) and their wives. 
Mansfield: members of the Rodes family (presented 1616-1625); Nicholas Fielding alias Fieldsend and family (1618-1639); Edward Dawes the elder (1624-1639) and his wife Grace, and their children Edward, Henry, Frances and Susan; Robert Eyre and wife (1624-1628); and many occasional others. In the ecclesiastical returns of 1669, the houses of Henry Dawes and Samuel Clay were stated to be usual meeting places for 'papists' in Nottingham. Henry Dawes the elder and his wife (presented 1663-1673). Henry Dawes junior (1668-1672), and Edward Dawes (1668-1675) and his wife Jane (1674-1675) were regularly presented in Mansfield for not receiving holy communion or standing excommunicate, although it was never specified that they were Roman Catholics. A Henry Dawes, miller, then appeared in Mansfield Woodhouse, as a recusant, in 1673. Henry Dawes, joiner, was again presented in Mansfield Woodhouse (1680-1686). Samuel Clay appeared in Mansfield presentment bills (1664-1676), with his wife Alice (1663-1675), daughter Mary (1674-1676), and presumed family members Daniel Clay (1664-1675) and his wife Lydia (1663-1673), and Mary Clay (1669-1672). 
Lenton parish: Harrison family (presented 1616-1633); John Hamerton and his wife, of Bestwood Park (1616-1632); and John Weston presented in 1635 'for saying that the Papists’ prayers are better than ours that are protestants, and that the scriptures lie' (AN/PB 303/333). 
Newark: centred around Lady Martha Sanders (presented 1676-1686); other names include Robert Smith, John, Elizabeth and Hester Pattinson, Robert Banks, Elizabeth Haslam and Francis Wetherill. 
North Collingham: better known for its Protestant dissenting community, this parish was also home to William Ward (presented 1613-1640), his wives Mary (1610-1635) and Theodocia (1637-1640), son George (1633-1640), and daughter Theodocia Smith, wife of Edward Smith (1624-1640). 
Nottingham St Peter: Richard Lee/Lea (presented 1607-1623), his wife Dorothy (1607-1630), and their children; Mrs Katherine Cooke (1620-1641), and her daughters Katherine and Marie; and Thomas Walker (1626-1631). Members of the Lea family were also presented at the Nottingham Borough Sessions in the 1620s. 
Sutton Bonington St Michael: Anthony Fielding (presented 1596-1614), his wife Elizabeth; and Thomas Bond (1621-1642), and his wife and family; John Hall (1663-1664) and his wife; and George Barton, innholder (presented 1663-1678). 
Thorney: various inhabitants of the house and hamlet of Broadholme, including Mrs Anne Smith, alias Mrs Anne Vause (presented 1612-1616), and her servants; Mr Edward Matthews (c.1613-1624), and his wives Jane and Ellen; Anne Oxbey (c.1613-1622); Mr Charles Townley (1622-1632) and his wife; Tobias Taylor (1621-1625) and family; and Mr Robert Nettleton (1627-1631) and his wife. See our blog post about Anne Vause, alias Vaux, of Broadholme


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