Clergy of Church of England (in England)

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Vast numbers of records contain information about Anglican clergy but although the places of origin of many can be traced with ease, there are unfortunately others whose origins and careers will remain obscure even after extensive research.

Definitions[edit | edit source]

The incumbent of a parish is the person in charge of its spiritual well being, the "cure of souls". He held the benefice with its income, mostly derived from its land, and might be a rector, receiving a tithe or ten per cent of the crops and grain, hay and timber (the great tithes) and of new born animals, wool, garden and other produce of the parish (the small tithes) or a vicar, receiving only the small tithes. The estimated value of each benefice in 1535 was set out in the Valor Ecclesiasticus, printed in six volumes by the Record Commissioners in 1810-34 [FHL only has Diocese of Llandaff on Film 1696528.1].

The incumbent may be known colloquially as a parson and live in the parsonage. Before the 17th century, curate was often another word for parson. Although a clergyman is technically ordained as a priest, the use of the general word priest to denote a minister of the Church of England (or Anglican Church) declined after the Reformation, being more often used in the Roman Catholic and Eastern churches. Anglican clergy were described as clerks in holy orders or clerks (a writing clerk was a "writer"). Until the 18th century a clerk who had been to university was, in Latin, called Magister. A non-graduate clerk was Dominus, a word often translated as Sir, but this does not mean that he was a knight.

The person who originally founded, built or endowed the church had the right as its patron to make presentation to the bishop of a suitable person to be its incumbent. This right (called the advowson) descended to the patron's heirs and might be bought and sold like any other property. A college might thus buy the advowsons of lucrative benefices in order to provide positions for its future Fellows. The descent of the ownership of the advowson is recorded in the older county histories and in the Victoria County Histories.

The person presented, who might well be a relative of the patron, had usually already been ordained by his local bishop as a deacon or priest in order to celebrate mass and hear confession. He was supposed to be over 21 and of legitimate birth. It is said that the usual age at ordination was 23 years and six months.

Following approval by the bishop, the priest is then admitted to the benefice. Institution follows, putting him in charge of its spiritual cure, and then induction, which gives him rights to the land and income. The two acts are usually combined in a ceremony at the parish church (though institution may take place elsewhere) when the induction is symbolised by the archdeacon putting the bell rope into the hands of the newly instituted priest and by the latter tolling the bell.

Chaplains and curates were licensed by the bishop and, not having benefices, were not instituted or inducted. Curates, who may be assistant, temporary or stipendiary, assist the rector or vicar and are employed and paid by him. A perpetual curate, however, was nominated to a benefice by the lay owner or impropriator of its great or rectorial tithes. This lay patron kept the income from the benefice and paid (or granted land to) the curate. The latter needed only a licence from the bishop and was "perpetual" as he could only be removed by the withdrawal of that licence. A chapel of ease could be established in the outlying parts of a parish provided the bishop, patron and incumbent agreed. This might be convenient for the patron but the curate of such a place was paid from the income of the "mother church" and disputes frequently arose about the division of fees, tithes and the costs of repairs to the benefice house and the two churches.

Outline History[edit | edit source]

The Reformation halved the number of clergy in England and there was a severe shortage in the second half of the 16th century, many being quite poorly educated. In Lincolnshire in 1576 less than a third were thought adequately qualified. In 1585 it was said that only about seven per cent of parishes could provide sufficient income to support a clergyman, and most clergy served several parishes at the same time, an evil called pluralism. In this period, unlicensed preaching and intrusion into the cure of others were the subjects of many cases in the church courts. The latter also heard cases against the clergy for perceived laxness in personal life and in church and parish matters.

By the 1630s, however, it seems that most parishes, at least in the south of England, had a clergyman with a university education. Most stemmed from the middle ranks of society. In the north of England and the north Midlands, however, many clergy came from humbler social backgrounds, were educated locally, often in recently founded grammar schools, and never went to university. That broad generalisation seems to have been valid even into the 19th century. From the 18th century onwards the younger sons of country gentleman came to fill the majority of the higher and best remunerated positions in the church (as they did in the state), though there were always occasional exceptions.

From the 17th century many more clergy were ordained than could be provided with permanent benefices and the less well connected clergy spent their lives as assistant curates doing duty for others, often supplementing an inadequate stipend by acting as the local schoolmaster.

Many clergy who were thought inadequate by the Puritans were driven from their parishes during the Commonwealth (1649-60) and in 1662 many Puritan ministers suffered the same fate. Edmund Calamy's account of those in the second group, published in 1702, prompted John Walker's account of the "sufferings" of those in the first group in 1714. These accounts were corrected and revised by the Reverend A.G. Matthews as Calamy Revised (1934) and Walker Revised (1948) [not in FHL].

From 1704, Queen Anne's Bounty (the records of which are at The National Archives, Kew, with an index by parish) provided a fund to help parishes with an income of less than £50 a year, but in the 18th century a curate might consider himself "passing rich with forty pounds a year". It was not until 1796 that the minimum stipend for a curate was raised to £75 per annum.

Although the position slowly improved, it was found in 1833 that 47% of the parishes in England and Wales could not provide a reasonable standard of living of about £200 a year. Many were worth less than £100. The pluralism of earlier days remained a problem, the more desirable parishes often being held jointly with other offices by those with the best connections. Following the appointment of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1835, however, a series of reforms attempted a more equal distribution of endowments. These Commissioners were united with Queen Anne's Bounty in 1948 to form the present Church Commissioners.

The standard of university education declined in the 18th century and, for the clergy at least, did not greatly improve until the mid-19th century. Many university students, whose future incomes from family benefices were guaranteed, were targeted by moneylenders and the debts they then incurred were a frequent problem to them in later life. The general overstocking of the profession continued. Non-graduate clergy from humbler backgrounds suffered the most, finding secure benefices, a regular income and advancement difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

The situation was made worse when non-university training became possible with the foundation of the first theological colleges at Lampeter in Cardiganshire (1822), St Aidan's at Birkenhead, and St Bees in Cumberland (1817). The products of these institutions found temporary places as curates to absentees and pluralists and then, perhaps more permanently but still as curates, in the large industrial parishes of northern England and south Wales and in the colonies. By 1890 a quarter of the clergy had been educated at such colleges. The north/south divide remained. In 1865 some eighty percent of new clergy in the south had been to university; in the north the figure was only forty per cent.

Diocesan Records of Clergy[edit | edit source]

Early bishops kept bishops registers briefly recording the ordination of priests and the institution of clerks to benefices. Loose documents such as those by which patrons formally presented clerks to vacant livings (presentation deeds) and the notarially attested declarations by clerks resigning their benefices (resignations) begin to survive from the late 15th century. These were filed separately. At the same time the bishops registers themselves were subdivided into various series, more organised systems developing in the late 16th century. The registers normally travelled with the bishop and are often incomplete for the first half of the 17th century.

Stray ordination papers may exist from the 16th century but are not frequent until the 1670s, and do not survive regularly until reforms in 1716. They should then contain a signification of the name and abode of the candidate, a certificate (or Si quis) that his intention to enter holy orders has been announced in his parish church and not objected to, letters testimonial of good life and behaviour from three beneficed clergy (which may include mention of his education), proof of age in the form of a baptismal certificate or an explanation as to why one is not available, and perhaps a title proving that he can support himself or has been offered a curacy at so much per annum. If he has already been ordained a deacon in another diocese, this may be confirmed by letters dimissory from its bishop.

The bishops had power to dispense with or licence breaches of canon law and did so in cases of bastardy or insufficiency of age at ordination. The bishop also licensed preachers and curates. A curate needed a nomination from the incumbent he was to assist and proof of ordination. Records may exist from the 16th century in a general register of licences, in ordination records, in subscription books or even in visitation books, but none are complete. There may be separate registers for each of these categories from the early 19th century.

All the above records, where they survive, are found in those record offices marked with a "D" for "Diocesan" in the official Record Repositories in Great Britain [11th edition, 1999, FHL 942 J54r].

Archbishops' Records[edit | edit source]

Licences to hold livings in plurality or to live away from the benefice (non-residence) might be issued by bishops (particularly after an Act of 1803) but dispensations for plurality were more frequently issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury through his Faculty Office. See the Index to the Act Books of the Archbishop of Canterbury, 1663-1859, published in the Index Library (British Record Society) volumes 55 (surnames A-K; 1929) and 63 (surnames L-Z and index of places; 1938) [FHL 942 B4b].

By an Act of 1529, chaplains can be appointed by archbishops, some officers of state, noblemen, and their widows. Certificates of appointment, dismissal or death, from 1660, also registered by the Faculty Office, are indexed by the names of those making the appointment. The Faculty Office records are at Lambeth Palace Library.

Institution Books[edit | edit source]

Following the induction of a new vicar or rector, the profits of the benefice for the first year, its first fruits, and one tenth of its annual income, the tenths, were, after 1534, payable to the Crown. The records are at The National Archives, Kew (E331-347) and include Clergy Institution Books 1556-1838 arranged by county (by diocese from 1661) and then by place. Indexed by name, they show the names of the previous incumbent and the patron and the reason for the vacancy. There are also bishops' certificates of institutions to benefices 1544-1912 (E331).

University Graduates[edit | edit source]

Those clergy who were educated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are listed in Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1886 (8 volumes, 1891-2) [FHL 942 57/O1 J2ox] and J. and J.A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses from the earliest times to 1900 (10 volumes, 1922-7) [FHL 942 49/C1 J2c]. Entries show the student's age at entrance and the degrees obtained. The father's name, place of residence and status generally appears but is lacking in many early instances and, at some Cambridge colleges, even in the 19th century. They may also provide the name of the school attended and some outline of the subsequent career of the student, where this has been identified with reasonable certainty. From the late 18th century the date and diocese of ordination of those students entering the Church is usually included. The volumes for Cambridge are in general much more detailed than those for Oxford. Where the register of the college attended has been published this may give additional detail.

Clergy Lists[edit | edit source]

The names of many beneficed clergy in the period 1800-1840, with the dates of their institution, are given in Joseph Foster, Index Ecclesiasticus 1800-1840 (1890) [not in FHL]. These details seem to have been taken from the Institution Books mentioned above but, if that is the case, they are not complete.

The names of the beneficed clergy in each parish, arranged by name and by parish, were printed in the Clerical Guide, first published in 1817, and in the Clergy List, published from 1841 [FHL has copies for the years 1844, 1862, 1868, 1871, 1873, 1899, 1912 at 942 E4kLy].

It was not until 1858, with the appearance of the first edition of John Crockford's The Clerical Directory, that a more detailed biographical listing of all the clergy was given. Known from 1876 as Crockford's Clerical Directory, it came out annually (but now only appears every two or three years) and provides biographical details of all ordained clergy of the Church of England, the Church of Wales, the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and (until 1985) the Church of Ireland, anywhere in the world. It shows the diocese in which ordination took place (something which in earlier times may be difficult to find), sometimes the place of education or training, positions or benefices previously held, and the current address. An index by parish shows its population, the benefice's income, and the name of the patron. Recent editions may include the clergyman's date of birth [FHL has copies for many years from 1858 on fiche and film in British and Irish Biographies 1840-1940 and subsequently at 942 E4c].

Many county and local histories contain lists of incumbents by parish but there are several works that list institutions in specific areas. They include: Hampshire: F.T. Madge,Hampshire Inductions in the Archdeaconry of Winchester 1660-1846 (1918) [not in FHL]. Hereford: E.N. Dew,Diocese of Hereford: Institutions, &c., 1539-1900 (1923) [not in FHL]. London: George Hennessy, Novum Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Parochiale Londinense: or London Diocesan Clergy Succession from the Earliest Times to 1898 (1898) [not in FHL]. Sussex: George Hennessy,Chichester Diocese Clergy Lists ... to 1900 (1900) [not in FHL]. Northamptonshire and Rutland: Henry Isham Longden, Northamptonshire and Rutland Clergy from 1500 (16 volumes, 1938-52) [FHL 942.5 D3; film 1426209-10]. Somerset: F.W. Weaver, Somerset Incumbents 1300-1730 (1889) [FHL 942.38 K2; film 990072.1]. Wiltshire: Sir Thomas Phillipps, Institutiones Clericorum in Comitatu Wiltoniae 1297-1810 (2 volumes, 1825) [not in FHL]. Yorkshire: York Clergy Ordinations have been published by the Borthwick Institute of the University of York in a series of volumes: 1561-1642 (2000), 1662-1699 (1998), 1700-1749 (1998), 1750-1799 (2000) and 1800-1849 (2001) [FHL has them at 942.74 K2].

Archbishops, Bishops, Archdeacons, etc.[edit | edit source]

A Calendar of the Principal Ecclesiastical Dignitaries of England and Wales was published by John le Neve as Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae in 1716. This included only those who rose to be archdeacons, bishops, archbishops, etc. It was revised in 1854 but a new edition is being published by the Institute of Historical Research at London University, diocese by diocese, in three series. The first series of this new Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, 1066-1300, is almost complete in ten volumes (1968 etc), the second series 1300-1541 is complete in twelve volumes (1962-7) and the third series 1541-1857 is almost complete in 11 volumes (1969 etc.) [FHL has all available volumes at 942 B4nf].

Some Other Records[edit | edit source]

Only the main records since 1540 that may lead to a clergyman's place of origin are described above, but there are many others that may throw light on his career and family, not least those found in the parish where he served. Many marriages and deaths of beneficed clergy appear in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1731-1868. Several charities for the relief of relatives of poor clergy were founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, e.g. the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy (1655, with records at the London Metropolitan Archives). The sons of a deceased clergyman may have been educated at the Clergy Orphan School (1751) and its published Register of the Clergy Orphan School for Boys 1751 to 1896 edited by M.J. Simmonds (1897) [not in FHL], gives their dates of birth and admission and where their fathers served. The widows may have gone to some institution such as Bromley College, Kent (1666, with some records at Kent Archives Office).

Bishops may be warned against fraudulent and unsatisfactory clergy by their archbishops and the Caution Books 1758-1884 of the Archbishops of Canterbury, for example, are at Lambeth Palace Library.

Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd)[edit | edit source]

A collaborative project of Kings College London, the University of Kent at Canterbury and the University of Reading, to create a relational database documenting the careers of all Church of England clergymen between 1540 and 1835 has made great progress from the official records of a majority of dioceses and is freely available at Clergy of the Church of England Database.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Peter Towey, My ancestor was an Anglican clergyman (Society of Genealogists, 2006) [FHL 942 D27tpa].
Rosemary O'Day, The English clergy: the emergence and consolidation of a profession 1558-1642 (1979) [not in FHL].

H. Sharp, 'Wolf at the church door: sons of the clergy (and their wives and daughters too)' in Family Tree Magazine (UK), vol. 25, no 6 (March 2009), pages 36-39, lists the records of the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy at the London Metroplitan Archives.

Adapted from an article by Anthony Camp on 'Clergymen of the Church of England' in Family Tree Magazine (UK;, vol. 17, no. 3 (January 2001), pages 20-21.

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