Manuscripts and Special Collections

Glossary of terms found in 16th and 17th century Presentment Bills

The following list is not exhaustive, but aims to cover most of the terms which would be unfamiliar to modern researchers.

More in-depth explanations of Archdeaconry terminology can be found in the web page relating to the history and procedure of the court, and also in the descriptions of many of the Archdeaconry record series in the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, especially those relating to Act Books, Citations, Excommunications and Absolutions, Libels, Penances and Presentment Bills.

See also the Further Reading suggestions for published works relating to Diocesan and Archdeaconry court records.


Latin terms

Latin termMeaning
gardiani churchwardens
nuper gardiani old churchwardens (those elected the previous year)
jurati, juratores, swornmen, sidesmen, sidemen (in early 17th century), assistants all terms for the churchwardens' assistants
comparuit in (date) s/he appeared (in court) on (date)
dimissit dismissed - court case closed without any punishment
emanavit, usually abbreviated to 'emat' or 'emt' it (a citation) was issued  
expeditur, usually abbreviated to 'expr' let him be freed
monitio admonishment - court case closed with a warning


Clerical and religious terms

benefice ecclesiastical living - property held by and used to support the rector or vicar of a parish
beneficed term for a clergyman supported by property attached to the parish
curate paid clerical assistant, not beneficed
farmer (of tithes/ parish/ rectory/ vicarage) a person entitled to keep the revenues of a benefice or of the tithes of a parish, on payment of a fixed sum
impropriator person or institution to whom a clerical benefice has been annexed as their private property
minister person having responsibility for leading or co-ordinating preaching, public worship and pastoral care; often used as a general term for a clergyman such as a rectorvicar or curate
parson beneficed member of clergy; popular term often used in place of the modern 'rector'
rector person or institution receiving the tithes of a parish; usually the beneficed clergyman who is a minister to the parishioners there, but sometimes a layman, called a lay rector
tithes one-tenth of agricultural produce (hay, corn, sheep etc.), given to support the church
vicar beneficed clergyman ministering to a parish in place of the rector who received the tithes
catechism questions and answers used to instruct children and young people in the principles of the Christian religion
chancel east end of church building, usually reserved for clergy and choir, and housing the altar
churching ceremony of bringing a woman to church after childbirth and performing certain rites and ministrations to give thanks for her safe delivery
churchwardens one or two, occasionally more, parishioners elected each year by the minister and the congregation to undertake specific roles and responsibilities in the church and parish
homilies religious discourses, provided in the late 16th century for ministers who were not licenced preachers to read in place of a sermon
litany form of supplications and intercessions read by the minister, with responses from congregation, as appointed in the Book of Common Prayer
recusancy deviation from the tenets of the Established (Anglican) church, usually referring to Roman Catholicism
surplice loose, full-length clerical vestment supposed to be worn by minister when administering sacraments such as holy communion and baptism


Technical terms relating to the Archdeaconry and its court

absolution acceptance of an individual back to the church after excommunication
Act Books the principal record of the business dealt with by the Archdeacon and his officials, showing proceedings and judgements of the court
apparitor court messenger, whose duties included issuing and returning citations
articles/ books of articles lists of questions to be answered at a visitation by churchwardens
banns usual way in which people advertised their intention to marry, called three times in each of their parish churches; the alternative method was to procure a licence from the church court
call book list of clergy and churchwardens summonsed to attend a visitation
citation summons to attend court
compurgate provide a number of credible people (compurgators) who will swear to the innocence of an accused person
contumacy wilful disobedience to authority, especially used for failing to appear in court when called
defamation verbal abuse or accusation, slander
deposition witness statements, usually in English, in Instance business brought before the Archdeaconry court.
excommunication forbidding of an individual from attending church services or taking communion; greater excommunication involved the exclusion of the individual from all Christian company; the punishment was lifted by absolution 
exhibit particulars of a clergyman's career and induction into a benefice
induction formal process of investing a clergyman into a benefice
interrogatory written questions and answers in Instance business brought before the Archdeaconry court.
Instance business causes in the Archdeaconry court brought by individuals against other individuals
libel preliminary paper setting out the case of the plaintiff in Instance business brought before the Archdeaconry court.
marriage bond and allegation two-part document entered into in order to procure a licence to marry without the calling of banns
marriage licence authority from the church courts for a couple to marry without the calling of banns, allowing the wedding to take place more quickly
notary public official charged with writing down and certifying acts of the court
Office business, or correction business causes in the Archdeaconry court brought by the Office of the judge, usually as a result of churchwardens' presentment bills
Official judge of the Archdeaconry court
peculiar area falling outside the usual ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and responsible for its own probate, correction business and Instance business
penance public display of repentance for an ecclesiastical crime
presentment bills reports usually made by churchwardens or sidesmen, but sometimes by clergy, at regular visitations by the Archdeacon; they detail failings in church buildings, conduct of clergy, and conduct of parishioners; cases were taken forward as correction business of the court
process official mandate authorising the issue of citations to clergy and churchwardens to attend a particular court session
proctor lawyer in an ecclesiastical court
register/registrar court official responsible for writing and filing acts and documents
sentence official document wrapping up a case of Instance business by explaining the process and assigning punishments.
swornmen, sidesmen, sidemen (in early 17th century) all terms for the churchwardens' assistants
visitation regular and formal visit by an Archbishop, Bishop, Archdeacon or Rural Dean to the parishes under his control, or to a convenient central meeting place, usually in conjunction with a fact-finding exercise


Archaic, dialect or unusual English terms

being occupied having sexual intercourse with; cohabiting with (16th-17th century)
brawl quarrel or fight noisily; wrangle; make a clamour or disturbance
cessment, assessment, levy, lay rate levied by churchwardens on parishioners for expenses of repairing church etc.
codder person who works leather goods/saddler (early 16th century), or, person engaged in picking pea pods (late 17th century)
fellmonger dealer in sheepskins
fettle make ready, arrange, tidy
fleer laugh derisively
give the lie to to accuse another person of lying
heckler dresser of hemp fibres
incest sexual intercourse between any persons related within prohibited degrees of kindred or affinity; can include non-blood relatives such as deceased brother's wife
incontinence/incontinency lack of restraint with regard to sexual desire; promiscuity
litting dyeing
perambulation annual Rogation week walk around the boundaries of a parish ('beating the bounds')
pescod/peasecod pea-pod (archaic/dialect)
rail to utter abusive language; complain persistently and abusively; rant
scold to behave as a scold; quarrel noisily; grumble or complain at somebody; use violent or vituperative language
shovelboard/ shuffleboard game involving pushing coins or discs across a table marked with lines or squares
whittawer leatherworker/tanner


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