The Canterbury and York Society was founded in 1904 for the purpose of publishing medieval bishops' registers and other ecclesiastical records. Through its work it has published nearly 100 volumes and more than fifty complete registers (some in several volumes).
One of the most significant medieval archive sources is the wealth of bishops' registers. By the late thirteenth century all but one of the seventeen dioceses of England had begun formal registration of episcopal business, in particular of the institutions of clergy to benefices and of ordinations. (Of the four Welsh dioceses, the earliest registers to survive are from the late fourteenth century). To this basic record were frequently added details of judicial business in the bishop's court, visitations, confirmations of the heads of religious houses in the diocese, royal and papal letters, indulgences, commissions, licences, dispensations, records of estate and financial administration, and much more.
Episcopal registers are the obvious source for any study of the administrative structure of the late medieval church. In addition, at a period when nearly all medieval scholars and civil servants were ecclesiastics, their biographical value is great. Since the church had jurisdiction over all inhabitants in matters of faith, morality and testaments, the registers frequently contain material on heresy and witchcraft and matrimonial irregularities and full copies of wills proved. Episcopal mandates deal with a wide variety of topics, including prayers for successful harvests, the capture of recalcitrant excommunicates, contributions for the repair of roads and bridges, and the consecration of churches.
The registers of the archbishops of Canterbury and York contain material on the proceedings of the convocations of the clergy and on provincial jurisdiction. Registers are therefore widely consulted not only by church historians, but also by those interested in political, social, architectural and local history and in demography. Despite serious losses, the number of registers up to the Reformation approaches three hundred, preserved in cathedral libraries, county record offices or university libraries.
Finding out more
Bishops' registers are also published by some local record societies. For a survey of the manuscripts themselves and where printed versions exist see D.M. Smith (ed.), Guide to Bishops’ Registers of England and Wales (Royal Historical Society, 1981) - brought up to date in his recent Supplement to the Guide to Bishops' Registers (Canterbury and York Society, 2004). The original Guide is now out of print, although second hand copies can still be found. The Supplement is available from the Society’s Honorary Secretary, priced £5.
|Canterbury and York Society|
|Printing Bishops' Registers and Other Ecclesiastical Records|