England Churchwardens Presentments (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Court Records-Criminal, Civil and Ecclesiastical  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Churchwardens' Presentments

The detecta (replies from the articles of enquiry) would form the basis for presentments brought as causes to an ecclesiastical court, when sentences or punishments would be imposed.

Weller’s article on Kentish presentments relates the problems experienced by a vicar of the large rural parish of Ash who also held in plural the living of a tiny one called Snave 30 miles away. He found it difficult to keep a curate to attend to the clerical duties in this remote village on Romney Marsh and the parishioners presented the vicar for his failure to do so. Another plural vicar was presented in the 1720s for not teaching the Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer etc., refusing to let the churchwardens see the parish register, prevaricating on burying a child and several other failings.

A typical 17th century one is shown below, but many of the later replies to articles of enquiry simply report Omnia bene (All is well) or Nothing to present.

Leysdown, Kent. 1689 [Film 1736839]
A Bill of Presentments of all and singular the crimes and offences done and committed in ye p’ish of Leysdowne for this last year ... are enquirable by his Majestys Ecclesiasticall Lawes as followeth:
  1. Our church and churchyard and ye furniture thereof are in good repayre.
  2. Our viccariage house and gleab-land be in sufficient repayre.
  3. Our minister is orthodox and of a pious life and conversation.
  4. Or pishoners are conformable and come to church.
  5. We have a pish chest and sexton.
  6. We have no schoolm’r
  7. We have no Chyrurgion nor any yt occupay the office of a midwife.
    John Swift churchwarden

Barber (1973) notes the Elizabethan return in the archdeaconry of Leicester which refers to William Dansey, vicar of Sproxton, resident there, presented by Edward, Earle of Rutland, patrone, and parson of Hareston, presented by my Lord Keeper, 80 yeres of age, married, ordered by Nicholas, Bysshop of Lincoln, dispensed, utterlie ignorante!

One has to feel sympathy for this churchwarden trying to do his best in Davington, Kent in 1664:

Davington: I, Henry Squier, sole churchwarden of the said parish of Davington, do certify that wee have noe minister in or parish: and that the churchwarden of the said parish the last year 1663 is dead. 6 July 1663 [Film 1736691]

Published (and mostly filmed) detecta, presentments and visitation returns include:

  • Detecta for diocese of Canterbury 1559-1565 (Willis)
  • Detecta for Diocese of Oxford 1738 (Jukes).
  • Visitation returns from the Archdeaconry of Derby, 1718-1824 (Beckett, Tranter & Bateman).
  • Answers to queries before visitation 1821, Diocese of Exeter (Cook).

Examples of filmed original material includes:

  • Bishop of Salisbury detecta books 1550-1585 and Archdeaconry of Wiltshire detecta books 1586- on film 1517728.
  • The bishop’s transcripts for Bolton-le-Sands, Lancashire 1676-1889 includes some visitation returns on film 1656767.
  • Diocese of London visitation books (including churchwardens’ presentments), 1554-1850 on 64 films starting at 2299149. These are arranged by archdeaconry except for parishes in the county of Essex which are arranged by deanery.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Court Records-Criminal, Civil and Ecclesiastical offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.