Archive of cause papers from the oldest complete ecclesiastical courtroom in England

The influence of the church touched almost every aspect of sixteenth-century life and a wide range of matters came within the jurisdiction of its courts so that the surviving documents generated by the court process are of interest and value to historians and genealogists alike. The church court at Chester, the consistory court, was presided over by a chancellor or ‘official principal’, usually a man with legal training. Initially the court was under the nominal control of the archdeacons of Chester, officials of the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, but following the foundation of the diocese of Chester in 1541, the bishops of Chester assumed responsibility. The venue was then moved from St John’s church in the city to the new cathedral where the oldest complete example of an ecclesiastical court room in the country may still be seen.

The numerous and varied documents generated by the court process are known as cause papers, many of which are in Latin. This project aims to make available online images, transcripts and translations of all the surviving sixteenth-century cause papers held by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.

The sixteenth century was a time of momentous change for the English church. Henry VIII introduced legislation to break with Rome and make himself head of the church. Catholicism was restored some twenty years later by his daughter, Mary. Following Mary’s death her sister Elizabeth broke away from Rome again and by the end of her reign Protestantism was firmly established as the state religion.

During all these changes the church courts continued to function almost unaffected.

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