Manuscripts and Special Collections

Cause papers in the Archdeaconry of Nottingham archive

April 13th, 2011 at 08:04

A new set of pages, Libels (Cause Papers), in the Collections in Context > Archdeaconry Resources part of our website, aims to de-mystify the arcane processes of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham’s consistory court. The court dealt mainly with complaints made by one person against another. The most common complaint was ‘defamation’, and thousands of records describe the defamatory words spoken by ordinary people in Nottinghamshire between the 16th and the 18th centuries. There were also many other types of complaint brought before the court, and the cause papers are rich pickings for family historians and people investigating the social history of particular towns and villages. A ‘curator’s choice’ of interesting cause papers is presented on the website to give you a flavour of the wealth of interesting detail that can be discovered by using these papers.

However, if you have searched the online catalogue and come up with results from the Archdeaconry of Nottingham’s ‘Libels’ series (AN/LB), you might need some guidance on what some of the terminology means. What is a ‘libel’ anyway? Who made ‘depositions’, and why? And what is an ‘instance cause’ as opposed to a ‘promoted office cause’? Most importantly, how can you make sense of the material when you see the original documents in the Reading Room, if some parts were written in Latin until 1733?

Luckily, the procedures in the Archdeaconry court did not change much over time, and the clerks who recorded the cases heard there used very formulaic language. If you can understand a few key words and phrases, you will be able to pick out the important information from the mass of legal jargon.

The ‘Libels (Cause Papers)’ web pages include complete guides to two example causes: a defamation cause brought by Anne Selbye against Margery Sambach of the parish of St Peter, Nottingham, in 1611; and a matrimonial cause from 1732, in which the marriage of Edward and Martha Robinson was declared null and void because they were too closely related to each other. The guides contain digital images of each of the documents recording the cause, and transcriptions and translations of the words used, and can be used as models to help researchers understand similar causes.

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