Spiritual Court Records

The Spiritual Courts appear to have had three main purposes: firstly to administer probate, secondly to discipline offenders against the spiritual laws (which included adultery, misusing the Sabbath etc.) and thirdly to deal with disputes and trials for serious offences. These purposes correspond to the specific categories of wills, presentments and causes (as recorded in the Libri Causarum), the records for which are described separately elsewhere within this section. It was only from the late seventeenth century that these categories were consistently broken out into different record series however. Before that they are usually each contained within the more generic spiritual court records.


The main spiritual court was the Chapter Court which was responsible both for wills and presentments. It was presided over for six months each by the Bishop or his representative (between 25 April and 28 October) and the Archdeacon or his representative (for the other six months). Different record series exist for these two jurisdictions, although it would appear that much the same people attended the court in both cases. Appeals could be made from the Chapter Court to the Bishop and causes would seem to fall under this latter category. It is generally held that the Bishop's Court (or Constituory Court) was not considered distinct from his summer Chapter Court until the mid 17th century.


Format of the Chapter Court Records


There is no obvious structure to the records beyond a mix of the three categories mentioned above. The Chapter court (also known as the circuit court) did proceed around the island two or three times each year. We would therefore expect records of the different types associated with the same parish (or small group of parishes) to be clumped together. This appears to be occuring in the early 17th century, however it is difficult to validate for the 16th century due to the lack of parish identifications.


A significant quantity of 16th century court records have survived (as outlined under the wills index in the transcription section). These will require further examination before conclusions can be drawn. Many lists of court officials can be seen.