Compurgation was a process whereby those accused of an offence punishable by the church (such as immorality) might, in some circumstances, be permitted to clear their name if several honest neighbours were prepared to swear that the accusation was unfounded. Those who took the oath were known as ‘hands’ and were usually of the same sex and social standing as the accused. The required number of hands would be specified at the time that compurgation was agreed. However, if any objections were upheld or insufficient compurgators could be found the accused was judged to have failed compurgation and his offence would then be judged by the ecclesiastical authorities.
M. Ingram, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640 (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 51-2.
Claim for compurgation
EDC 5/1580/5 – The plaintiff claimed that he should have been given the opportunity to clear his name through compurgation without the matter coming to court