Manuscripts and Special Collections

Penance and Punishment

On 27th November 1753, the churchwardens of Lenton appeared at the Archdeaconry court. They alleged that Anne Jilman had given birth to an illegitimate child, father unknown.

Dr Scrope Berdmore, the Official or judge, issued a citation on 18th December, ordering her to attend court for further investigation. The citation was taken in person by one of the court messengers, or apparitors.


Presentment Bill referring to Anne Jilman from 1753

Presentment Bill referring to Anne Jilman, Lenton parish, 27 November 1753, AN/PB 313/230

'We the Church Wardens there whose Names are hereunto subscribed having diligently perused the Booke of Articles which for our Direction was delivered unto us by virtue of our Oaths Do say that We have nothing to present save Anne Jilman for having a Bastard Child the Father not known us.' 


The Act Book records that Anne appeared in front of the Official on Tuesday 15th January 1754 and admitted the charge was true. For this 'sin' she was admonished to perform a penance. By this time, she had also confessed the name of the father of the child - one James Smith.

A penance was a public display of repentance. It was usually performed in the parish church during a busy Sunday service, when all the penitent's friends and neighbours were present. According to the terms of the penance shown below, Anne was required to kneel at the front of the church, listen to a sermon denouncing her sin, and read a statement saying that she was sorry and asking for forgiveness. Her humiliation was compounded by the outfit that she was forced to wear - a white sheet wrapped around her, with bare head, legs and feet, and carrying a white rod.


Penance relating to Anne Jilman from 1754

Penance relating to Anne Jilman, issued 15 January 1754, AN/PB 369/12


Anne failed to perform her penance, and because of this a sentence of excommunication was passed, preventing her from receiving holy communion and setting her apart from the rest of the townspeople. The notice of her excommunication was read out in her parish church by the curate, George Wayte, on 14th July 1754.


Certificate of excommunication of Anne Jilman from 1754

Certificate of excommunication of Anne Jilman, 14 July 1754, AN/E 194

'These are to Certify that Ann Jilman of the Parish of Lenton was publickly denounced & effectually declared Excommunicate in the Parish Church of Lenton on Sunday the 14th of July 1754'

She finally performed her penance on Sunday 29th July. The curate and churchwardens signed the paper giving the details of the penance to certify that it had been done and Anne returned it to the Archdeaconry court. The costs and fees for the whole case were 11 shillings, payable by Anne. A notice of absolution was read out in Lenton parish church by the curate on 11th August 1754, and Anne's ordeal was over.


Illustration of a 17th century court

Woodcut showing a court or tribunal (17th century) from the Euing Collection of English Broadside Ballads held at the Department of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library


Next: Summoned to Court


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