Manuscripts and Special Collections

Falling foul of the law

Laxton Church

Most of the records of local justice in Laxton are held at Nottinghamshire Archives. Minor offences were heard by the Petty Sessions. More serious cases were dealt with at the Quarter Sessions, presided over by magistrates (Justices of the Peace), which were held four times a year. The National Archives holds the records of the most notorious cases, which were heard at the Assizes.

However, until the 18th century ordinary parishioners were also subject to the control of the church courts. The records of the court of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham are held at The University of Nottingham. Twice a year the churchwardens of Laxton would make out 'presentment bills' for the court, listing the people in the parish who had committed offences such as religious dissent, sexual misconduct, clandestine marriages, disorderly behaviour in and around the church, and superstitious practices. The punishments employed by the church courts, such as penance and excommunication, were designed to humiliate and ostracise the offender, but ultimately to bring them back into the Christian fold. The progress of each case was written up in an 'Act Book' in Latin, the language of the court.

The workings of the Archdeaconry court can be illustrated by looking at the misdemeanours committed by members of the Roos family in the late 16th and early 17th century. Examples of presentment bills and Act Book entries involving the Roos family are given in Documents 14-21.

The Archdeaconry court could also be used to settle grievances between individual people. The most detailed information in the Archdeaconry court records can be found in the depositions (witness statements) submitted in such cases. Document 22 and Document 23 record the prosecution in 1610 of Peter Roos of Laxton, who had been accused by Nicholas Walker of Bilsthorpe of committing adultery with his wife Rose. They provide an extraordinary amount of detail about everyday lives, and read like a modern-day soap opera!

More details about Archdeaconry records and the Archdeaconry court are available on the Archdeaconry Resources pages on the Manuscripts and Special Collections website.


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