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Church Authority and Power in Medieval and Early Modern England: The Episcopal Registers: Parts 1-8

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About this Collection

Introduction: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts from the Society ofAntiquaries; London: Parts 1 and 2

Introduction: ChurchAuthority and Power in Medieval and Early Modern Britain


Bishops Registers are the working records of the medievalprelates whose power transcended the ecclesiastical and extended over temporalaffairs and the lives of whole communities. They record benefices, royal writsand patronage and are one of the fullest quotes to the nature and extent of therole of the medieval Church.


The medieval diocese of London was divided into fourarchdeaconries: London, Middlesex, Essex and Colchester. It contained severalexempt jurisdictions and peculiars including the Archbishop of Canterburyspeculiars of Booking (Essex) and the Arches (London). The London registersoffer an insight into the religious and social life of these archdeaconries as wellas the new Bishopric of Westminster formed in 1540 and the archdeaconry of St.Albans, formed in 1550 from twenty-six parishes in Hertfordshire andBuckinghamshire.


The Cathedral Registers, although not Episcopal registersform an important part of the series. They include the records of the dioceseof Canterbury kept during the numerous vacancies in the Archbishopric. Theyalso cover vacancy business sent to Canterbury from other sees in England andWales. Such vacancies often lasted several years and the priory registers are avaluable complement to the main series of registers for these dioceses.


Additional material contained within the priory registersincludes manorial and estate records dating back to the seventh century, twocartularies for the period 1284-1331, anaccount of Archbishop Grindals election to York in 1570 and a record ofArchbishop Lauds first visitation in 1634.


The rich see of Chichester covered all of present-daySussex. From its earliest register, dated 1396, the Chichester records containa wealth of detail on every aspect of church business from ordinations,monastic confirmations and royal writs to wills, licences to preach andaccounts.


In 1541 the diocese of Gloucester was created from thedioceses of Worcester and Hereford. This archive documents the work of theBishops of Gloucester from 1541 to 1681, and includes the controversialbishopric of Godfrey Goodman, 1625-1656.


The Bishopric of Rochester, consisting of Kent west of theMedway, stood in a special relationship of Canterbury. Claiming to be of thesee, the Archbishops administered Rochester church business during a vacancy.Rochester was one of the earliest to adopt the practice of keeping registers.


The final item included with the Rochester registers is the TextusRoffensis. This is the earliest register of the Cathedral Priory and Bishopof Rochester, and the most precious of the cathedral manuscripts. Most of itwas compiled in the early 12th century during the episcopate of Ernulf of Bec(1115-1124), and is written in both Anglo-Saxon and Latin. It includesAnglo-Saxon charters, laws and pedigrees, lists of Popes, Bishops of Jerusalem,and Archbishops and Bishops of English dioceses. It is thus a key document forthe history of Anglo-Saxon England.


The Rochester archive has recently been refoliated.Accordingly, in the contents of reels listing we give the Rochester referencefirst, followed by the David Smiths Guide reference in parenthesis.+


Under the editorial guidance of Mrs. Dorothy Owen, Keeper ofthe Archives University of Cambridge and Dr. David Smith, Director of theHorthwick Institute of Historical Research University of York, the series spansrecords from the beginnings of registration in the thirteenth century to theabolition of the episcopacy in 1646. Some records have been included for alater period, but Episcopal Registers beyond this date are usually of a moreformal and less interesting nature for the historian. As a basis we have usedDavid Smith's Guide to Bishops Registers of England and Wales.