Dr. Campbell's Index.
Phillimore, Somerset Marriages.
Register Transcriptions.

Establishment of and legislation relating to Parish Registers


England was able to legislate over ecclesiastic matters after it separated from the See of Rome when authority was transferred from the Church to the State with the sovereign as head of the Church of England.

You may use the links provided to jump to each piece of legislation or you may choose to read how the Church of England evolved. All dates are Julian calendar up to 1752.


1538, Second Henrician Injunctions              Establishment of Parish records


1547, The Edwardian Injunctions


1559, The Elizabethan Injunctions


1566, The Advertisements for Due Order


The Canons of 1571                                       Age of marriage


The Canons of 1584                                       Marriage without Banns


The Canons of 1597                                       The first legislation to have formal ratification


The Canons of 1604


1653, Commonwealth Legislation


1666 & 1668, Burial in Woollen Acts


1694, Burials, births and marriages Act


1733, Receipt of the Exchequer Act               English only to be used in records


1738, Methodist registers commence


1750, Calendar Act                                        Gregorian calendar adopted


1753, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act


1783, Stamp Duties Act


1812, Parochial Registers Act


1823, Marriage Act


1837, Civil Registration


1929, Age of Marriage Act


1978, Parochial Registers and Records Measure



The Genesis and Evolution of the Church of England


Henry VIII ascended the English throne in 1509 at the age of 17. He made a dynastic marriage with Catherine of Aragon, widow of his brother Arthur, in June 1509; he required a special dispensation from Pope Julius II to allow the wedding to take place. In 1521 Henry defended the Catholic Church from Martin Luther's accusations of heresy in a book entitled The Defence of the Seven Sacraments, for which he was awarded the title “Fidei Defensor” (Defender of the Faith) by Pope Leo X. By the late 1520’s Catherine had not produced a male heir who survived into adulthood, Henry claimed that this was because his marriage was against biblical teachings (Leviticus 20:21) and therefore "blighted in the eyes of God". For centuries England had used the papal curia as a final court of appeal. Church law was governed by the code of canon law with final jurisdiction in Rome, it was the Pope and general councils of the church that decided doctrine. In 1527 Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage, but the Pope refused. According to Canon Law the Pope cannot annul a marriage on the basis of a canonical impediment previously dispensed.


Once the Pope had refused to annul the marriage Henry could no longer accept Roman legislation and legal judgments if he was to secure a divorce. The Parliament summoned in 1529 to deal with annulment brought together those who wanted reform but who disagreed what form it should take; it was anti-clerical in complexion, more so than the King and was a ready instrument of the royal will. The convocation of the prelates and clergy met in tandem with parliament to produce a new set of canons for the English Church. Its members were generally opposed to the king's reforming policies and did what they could to resist them, they were particularly sensitive to the accusation of corruption.


Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, a lawyer and a Member of Parliament, was an evangelist who saw how Parliament could be used to advance the Royal Supremacy, which Henry wanted, and to further evangelical beliefs and practices which both he and his friends wanted. One of his closest friends was Thomas Cranmer. Cromwell and his allies simply wished to ignore the Pope; but in October 1530 a meeting of clergy and lawyers advised that Parliament could not empower, William Warham, the archbishop of Canterbury to act against the Pope's prohibition. Henry finally resolved to charge the whole English clergy with praemunire in order to secure their agreement to his annulment. Praemunire, which forbade obedience to the authority of foreign rulers, had been around since the Statutes of Praemunire, 1352 & 1392. Now Henry, having first charged the Queen's supporters: Bishops John Fisher, John Clerk, Nicholas West, Henry Standish and the archdeacon of Exeter Adam Travers, then decided to proceed against the whole clergy with the Act for the Pardon of the Clergy, 1531 (22 Henry VIII, c.15) Henry claimed £100,000 from the Convocation of Canterbury for their pardon, which was granted by the Convocation on 24 January 1531. The clergy wanted the payment to be spread over five years; Henry refused. The Convocation responded by withdrawing their payment altogether and demanded Henry fulfil certain guarantees before they agreed to give him the money. Henry rejected these conditions, agreed only to the five-year period of payment and then added five articles to the payment which he wanted the Convocation to accept. These were:

1. The clergy recognise Henry as the 'sole protector and Supreme Head of the Church and clergy of England'.

2. The King had spiritual jurisdiction.

3. The privileges of the Church were upheld only if they did not detract from the royal prerogative and the laws of the realm.

4. The King pardoned the clergy for violating the statute of praemunire.

5. The laity were also pardoned.


In Parliament, Bishop John Fisher was Catherine's and the clergy's champion; he had inserted into the first article, the phrase 'as far as the word of God allows'. In Convocation, however, Archbishop Warham requested a discussion but was met by a stunned silence; then Warham said: 'He who is silent seems to consent' to which a clergyman present responded: 'Then we are all silent'. The Convocation granted consent to the King's five articles and the payment on 8 March 1531.


Benefit of Clergy Act 1531 (23 Henry VIII, c.1)


Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act 1531 (23 Henry VIII, c.9)


Cromwell’s next move brought before Parliament the Supplication Against the Ordinaries, something he had been working on since 1529 which listed nine grievances against the Church, including abuses of power and Convocation's independent legislative power which was taken to the king on 18 March. It was read in convocation on 12 April (The delay was due to the Easter recess. Easter fell on 31 March in 1532) and debated there until 6 May. On 8 May the clergy petitioned the king for the protection of their traditional rights, The reply of The Ordinaries, this statement pointed out that the clergy was by and large innocent of the charges brought against them but this was ignored. The bishops lacked sympathy in Parliament and the nation. Instead, Edward Fox, the royal almoner, appeared in convocation on 10 May with three articles approved by the king, which he ordered the clergy to accept.

These articles read as follows:

1. That no constitution or ordinance shall be hereafter by the clergy enacted, promulged or put in execution unless the king's highness do approve the same by his high authority and royal assent, and his advice and favour be also interponed for the execution of every such constitution among his highness's subjects.

2. That whereas divers of the constitutions provincial, which have been heretofore enacted, be thought not only much prejudicial to the king's prerogative but also much onerous to his highness's subjects, it be committed to the examination and judgment of thirty-two persons, whereof sixteen to be of the upper and nether house of the temporally and other sixteen of the clergy, all to be appointed by the king's highness, so that finally, whichsoever of the said constitutions shall be thought and determined by the most part of the said thirty-two persons worthy to be abrogated and annulled, and the same to be afterward taken away and to be of no force and strength.

3. That all other of the said constitutions, which stand with God's laws and the king's, to stand in full strength and power, the king's highness's royal assent to be given to the same.


Convocation proceeded to debate these articles, but although there was some opposition to them, they were passed on 15 May 1532, the Submission of the Clergy was subscribed, which recognised Royal Supremacy over the church so that it could no longer make canon law without royal licence; thus completely emasculating it as a law-making body. The next day Thomas More resigned as Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister. Also, Archbishop Warham went to the King with his submission of canons for the English Church. Over the previous two years convocation had discussed and approved a series of twenty six canons including a preamble. After unexpected opposition from the lower house and corrections by the King eventually there were seventeen agreed canons which were entered into the statute book. In spite of the pressure from both king and parliament the canons indicate that convocation thought largely in terms of traditional remedies for traditional evils, a solution which was no longer adequate. Archbishop Warham died in August later that year.


Henry’s final attempt to get his way with the Pope concluded with the Act for the Conditional Restraint of Annates 1532 (23 Henry VIII, c. 20). The act proposed that the clergy should pay no more than 5% of their first year's revenue (annates) to Rome. The sums involved were considerable and perhaps as a reaction the Pope quickly dispatched the Bulls necessary for the consecration of Thomas Cranmer, Henry’s choice, as Archbishop of Canterbury; an annulment was not forthcoming. The bill was controversial, and required Henry's presence in the House of Lords and the browbeating of the Commons to get it approved.


In January 1533 Henry married Anne Boleyn, who was known to be already pregnant. The Ecclesiastical Appeals Act, 1533 (24 Henry VIII, c. 12), also called the Statute in Restraint of Appeals, was drafted by Cromwell making the King the final legal authority in all on religious or other matters in England, Wales, and other English possessions, appeals to the Pope on religious or any other matter was forbidden. This was achieved by claiming that England was an Empire and the English crown was an Imperial Crown. The Act was passed with great urgency in February 1533 in order to expedite the King’s divorce. Archbishop Cranmer was prepared to grant the annulment of the marriage to Catherine as Henry requested. Anne gave birth to a daughter, Princess Elizabeth, three months after the marriage. The Pope responded to the marriage by excommunicating both Henry and Cranmer from the Roman Catholic Church.


Henry continued with further anti Papacy legislation. The Act for the Submission of the Clergy and Restraint of Appeals, 1534 (25 Henry VIII, c. 19) consolidated the legislation from 1531 to 1533 and brought into statute law the reforms which had already taken place.

The effect of this Act may be summarized as follows:

(a) Parliament recognized and affirmed the power of the Church to legislate in ecclesiastical matters.

(b) Parliament limited and controlled this power by providing:

1. That the clergy can assemble in convocations only in pursuance of a writ in that behalf received from the Crown.

2. That they can make canons only with the licence of the Crown.

3. That canons so made are inoperative unless and until they receive the Royal Assent.

4. That even then they are inoperative if and so far as they offend against the royal prerogative or the Common or Statute Law or the custom of this country.

The Clergy shall not make any Constitutions except in Convocation with the King’s Assent, &c. On Penalty of Fine and Imprisonment


The Act Restraining the Payment of Annates and Concerning the Election of Bishops, 1534 (25 Henry VIII, c. 20) outlawed all annates (taxes) to Rome, and also ordered that if cathedrals refused the King's nomination for bishop, they would be liable to punishment by praemunire.


The Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1534 (25 Henry VIII, c. 21) was passed by the Reformation Parliament in the early part of 1534 it put an end to Papal power to grant dispensations which were exceptions to Canon law and outlawed the payment of Peter's Pence and other payments to Rome.

Peter's Pence was originally an annual tribute of one penny from each householder owning land of a certain value to the Pope and had been collected in England since the reign of King Alfred. In the twelfth century it was fixed at an annual sum of £200 for the whole realm. It was not the largest payment to Rome but it is argued that it was deliberately mentioned in the Act because it was theoretically paid by laymen and thus might have seemed more intolerable than payments affecting clerics only.

The Act abolished Peter's Pence and all other payments to Rome and accorded to the Archbishop of Canterbury the power to issue dispensations formerly given by the Pope. The fees which might have been charged for the dispensations were set and required the Royal Assent, confirmed by the Great Seal of the Realm, in matters for which the usual fee was over £4.

The Act's preamble is noteworthy because it is written in the form of a petition from the Commons to the King and is one of the first mentions of a "papal usurpation" and because it reasserts the theory that England has "no superior under God, but only your Grace". It also claims that the authority of the King's "imperial crown" is diminished by "the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions" of the Pope.


Following the decisions taken by the Convocations of Canterbury and York, acknowledging the Abjuration of Papal Supremacy by the Clergy, 1534 and ratified by the Archbishop on 2 June 1534. Henry was able to proclaim the abolition of Papal supremacy on the 9 June. The proceeding was approved by parliament and passed into statute in November 1534 with the Supremacy of the Crown Act, 1534 (26 Henry VIII, c. 1)  making Henry "supreme head in earth of the Church of England" and disregarded any "usage, custom, foreign laws, foreign authority or prescription". Henry maintained that he was restoring his ancient rights of secular power which the Papacy had taken over the centuries. In case any of this should be resisted Parliament passed the High Treason Act, 1534 (26 Henry VIII, c. 13) which made it high treason punishable by death to deny Royal Supremacy; the following year Thomas More and John Fisher were executed under this legislation.


The Act of First Fruits and Tenths, 1534 (26 Henry VIII, c. 3) and the Act of First Fruits and Tenths, 1534 (26 Henry VIII, c. 17) transferred the taxes on ecclesiastical income from the Pope to the Crown.


Cromwell initiated a ‘Visitation of the Monasteries’ to value their assets with a view to expropriation. He had previously raised funds from the monasteries on the instructions of Cardinal Wolsey. He realised that by selling Church lands to the gentry and nobility he could bind them to Royal Supremacy. The visiting commissioners claimed to have uncovered sexual immorality and financial impropriety amongst the monks and nuns this became the justification for their suppression. In 1535 Henry VIII appointed Cromwell as his "Vicegerent in Spirituals" giving him the power as supreme judge in ecclesiastical cases. The office provided a single unifying institution over the two provinces of the English Church (Canterbury and York).


The experience of the 1529 Canons demonstrated that the bishops could not be trusted to overhaul canon law, to the satisfaction of the royal advisers and the king, on their own. Hence the Ecclesiastical Canons Act (27 Henry VIII c 15) 1535, was passed appointing a joint commission of both clergy and lay representatives to undertake the task. As it turned out, the commission never materialized, and the legislation authorizing it had to be repeated in 1544.


The dissolution of the Monasteries, Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1535 (27 Henry VIII, c. 28), began in 1536 with the smaller houses, those valued at less than £200 a year. The revenue was used by Henry to help build coastal defences against an expected invasion.


In 1536 Parliament passed the See of Rome Act, 1536 (28 Henry VIII, c. 10) which removed the last part of papal authority still legal; this was Rome's power in England to decide disputes concerning Scripture.


The Ten Articles, 1536 were drawn up at the king’s request and reflected his traditionalist views. The fact that a number of Protestant ideas were included indicates that change was in the air. They were never widely used and the so called Bishop’s Book effectively limited their authority. As an accompaniment to the Ten Articles Thomas Cromwell drew up The First Henrician Injunctions, 1536 their major purpose was to ensure that the doctrinal provision of the articles was translated into church practice at a parochial level.


A committee of forty six divines and bishops headed by Thomas Cranmer authored The Institution of the Christian Man, also called The Bishops' Book, published in 1537. The purpose of this work, along with the Ten Articles of the previous year, was to implement the reforms of Henry VIII in separating from the Roman Catholic Church and establishing the Ecclesia Anglicana. It was considered "reformed" in basic orientation, though it was not strongly Lutheran. The work functioned as an official formulary of the new Anglican faith in England.


On 5 September 1538 Cromwell issued The Second Henrician Injunctions these were drawn up to facilitate educational and administrative reforms. With item 12 Cromwell initiated a system of national record keeping instructing each parish to record baptisms, marriages and burials.

He instructed: that you and every parson, vicar or curate within this diocese for every church keep one book or register, wherein you shall write the day and year of every wedding, christening and burying made within your parish for your time, and so every man succeeding you likewise; and also there insert every person’s name that shall be so wedded, christened or buried; and for the safekeeping of the same book, the parish shall be bound to provide of their common charges one sure coffer with two locks and keys, whereof the one to remain with you and the other with the wardens of every such parish wherein the said book shall be laid up; which book you shall every Sunday take forth and in the presence of the said wardens, or one of them, write and record in the same all the weddings, christenings and buryings made the whole week before, and that done, to lay up the book in the said coffer as before; and for every time that the same shall be omitted, the party that shall be in the fault thereof shall forfeit to the said church three shillings and fourpence, to be employed on the reparation of the same church.

Early registers were generally made of paper, sometimes even loose sheets and the order was received with suspicion many believed it was the forerunner for some new tax. Many parishes ignored it.

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The abolition of papal authority was not wholly popular; iconoclasm, destruction, violent disputes within communities and radical challenge to all forms of faith were daily reported to Cromwell, something which he attempted to hide from the King. Once Henry knew what was afoot, he acted. At the end of 1538, the Proclamation by the Crown Act 1539 (31 Henry VIII, c. 8) was issued, among other things, forbidding free discussion of the Sacrament and forbidding clerical marriage, on pain of death. Henry personally presided at the trial of John Lambert in November 1538 for denying the real presence of Christ; the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Cranmer condemned these views, even though he was later to adopt them himself.


In 1539 Cromwell moved to the dissolution of the larger monasteries, Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1539 (31 Henry VIII c. 13). Many houses gave up voluntarily, though some sought exemption by payment. When their houses were closed down some monks sought transfer to larger houses; many of those who were persuaded to leave their orders became secular priests. A few, including eighteen Carthusians, refused and were killed to the last man. Monasteries had supplied free food and alms for the poor and destitute, the removal of this and other charitable resources was one of the factors in the creation of the army of "sturdy beggars" that plagued late Tudor England, causing the social instability that led to the Edwardian and Elizabethan poor laws.


The marriage of priests had been outlawed in 1123. After the Reformation in Germany, Martin Luther declared that Roman legislation against clerical marriage was unbiblical and he himself took a wife. This was seen by many as a breach of the vow of celibacy which all monks, nuns and secular clergy were obliged to take. In England, clerical marriage came in by stealth, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, one of the "offenders". However, Henry VIII would not accept it, and in 1539 Parliament passed the Religion Act, 1539 (31 Henry VIII, c. 14) or the Act of the Six Articles, designed to enforce uniformity in religion, which reaffirmed Catholic practices such as transubstantiation, clerical celibacy (Cranmer and the other married clergy were obliged to forgo their wives) and the importance of confession to a priest to be upheld on pain of death if anyone denied them. This act was highly unpopular with those with protestant sympathies who referred to it as “the bloody whip with six strings”.


In the same year Henry began his attack upon the free availability of the Bible. Cromwell had previously instructed each parish (Second Henrician Injunctions 1538, item 2) to acquire 'one book of the whole Bible of the largest volume in English' by Easter 1539. This instruction had been largely ignored. A new version the Great Bible, largely William Tyndale's English translation of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, was authorised in August 1537 but by 1539 Henry announced his desire to have it 'corrected'; which Cranmer referred to the universities to undertake. Many parishes were, in any case, reluctant to set up English bibles which expressed itself in the fear that Bible reading led to heresy, allowing those bibles which had been put in place to be removed.


The Religion Act, 1542 (34 & 35 Henry VIII, c. 1) passed by the Parliament on 12 May 1543 restricted the reading of the Bible to clerics, noblemen, the gentry and richer merchants. Women below gentry rank, servants, apprentices and generally poor people were forbidden to read it. Women of the gentry and the nobility were only allowed to read it in private. The Act allowed moral plays to be performed if they promoted virtue and condemned vice but such plays were forbidden from contradicting the interpretation of Scripture as set forth by the King.


Attributed to Henry VIII, The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man, also known as the King's Book, was published in 1543. It was a revision of The Institution of the Christian Man, and defended transubstantiation and the Six Articles. It also encouraged preaching and attacked the use of images.


The Canon Law Act, 1543 (35 Henry VIII, c. 16) essentially repeated the Ecclesiastical Canons Act of 1535 but this commission never met either.


Following the death of Henry VIII his nine year old son, Edward VI, inherited the throne. Edward Seymour was made Lord Protector and was commissioned as virtual regent with near sovereign powers. On 31 July 1547, in conjunction with Archbishop Cranmer he published The Edwardian Injunctions these were a more tightly drawn version of the injunctions of 1538 and were much more fiercely enforced, at first informally, and then, by instruction. Item 13 repeated item 12 of 1538 (for keeping register books) except any money raised by forfeit was to be employed to the poor men’s box of that parish.


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On Whitsunday 9 June 1549 the Act of Uniformity, 1549 (2-3 Edward VI, c. 1) came into force it established “The Book of the Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the Church after the use of the Church of England" as the sole legal form of worship in England. Before 1549, the churches of England continued to use a slightly altered version of the Latin-language Missal. The Book of Common Prayer was far from just an English-language translation of the Latin liturgical books; it was largely a new creation which in its text and its ceremonial directions reflected various Lutheran doctrinal influences. Clerical marriage continued to seem an anomaly to many people but Convocation approved of it in December 1547, as did the House of Commons, but because of opposition in the Lords it was not until February 1549 that Parliament enacted the Act to take away all positive laws against the marriage of priests (2-3 Edward VI, c. 21). This statute was repealed by Mary I in 1553 and not revived until 1604.


The Act of Uniformity, 1552 (5-6 Edward VI, c. 1) became law on 1 November 1552 it introduced the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI. The Act also stipulated weekly church attendance.


It was not until 6 October 1551 that a canon law commission expressed in the Canon law Act, 1549 (3-4 Edward VI, c. 11) was finally appointed. In 1552 it produced a draft code, which became known as the Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum. The document was presented by Archbishop Cranmer to the house of lords in March 1553, where it was rejected, the accession of Mary 1 a few months later effectively consigned it to oblivion. The Reformatio never became law, in the meantime, the 1535 statute had provided that, until a new code was devised, the existing canon law should continue in force. It is a curious fact that because of the failure of the Reformatio, no new canons have ever been devised within the meaning of the 1535 act, and so the 'general canon law', as it is usually called, continues to enjoy residual legal authority in the ecclesiastical courts of England, at least in so far as it has not been superseded by subsequent legislation.


Under Mary I, the Reformation legislation was repealed and Mary sought to achieve the reunion with Rome. The First Statute of Repeal (1 Mary, st. 2, c. 2), nullified all religious legislation passed under the previous monarch, Edward VI, and the de facto rulers of that time. The Second Statute of Repeal (1 & 2 Phillip & Mary, c. 8), built on it by abolishing all religious legislation passed against the Papacy from 1529. It did this while allowing Mary to keep the title of Supreme Head of the Church of England.


The Pope was only prepared to accept reunion when church property disputes, arising from the Dissolution of the Monasteries, had been settled, which, in practice, meant allowing those who had bought former church property to keep it. Only when English landowners had secured their claims did Julius III's representative arrive, in November 1554, to reconcile the realm. Cardinal Pole arrived to become Archbishop of Canterbury in Cranmer's place. After 1555, the initial reconciling tone of the regime began to harden. The medieval heresy laws were restored. The so-called Marian Persecutions of Protestants ensued and 283 Protestants were burnt at the stake for heresy. This resulted in the Queen becoming known as 'Bloody Mary'. As part of Poles plan to reform the church he convened a synod to produce a new set of canons these were passed on November 10 1556 (The Canons of 1556) and stayed in force at least until Mary’s death; how widely or effectively they were applied remains a mystery. On the advice of the Holy Roman Emperor Mary married his son, Phillip II of Spain. Even though it was provided that Phillip would never inherit the kingdom if there was no heir there was opposition, there was even a rebellion in Kent led by Sir Thomas Wyatt. Mary never became pregnant; her apparent pregnancy was one of a number of symptoms which suggests she may have suffered with a pituitary tumour. Ironically, another blow fell. Pope Julius died and his successor, Paul IV declared war on Phillip and recalled Cardinal Pole to Rome to have him tried as a heretic. Mary refused to let him go. The support which she might have expected from a grateful Pope was thus denied her.


When Mary died childless in 1558, her sister Elizabeth inherited the throne. Communion with the Roman Catholic church was again severed. Parliament was summoned in 1559 to consider the Reformation Bill and to create a new church. The Bill met heavy resistance in the House of Lords, as Roman Catholic bishops as well as the lay peers voted against it. They reworked much of the Bill, changed the litany to allow for a transubstantial belief in the Communion and refused to grant Elizabeth the title of Supreme Head of the Church.


Parliament was prorogued over Easter, and when it resumed, the government entered two new bills; The Act of Supremacy, 1559 (1 Elizabeth I, c. 1) replaced the original Act of Supremacy of 1534 and The Act of Uniformity, 1559 (1 Elizabeth I, c. 2) which was more cautious than the initial Reformation Bill was passed by only three votes. It revoked the harsh laws proposed against Roman Catholics, removed the abuse of the pope from the litany and kept the wording that allowed for both consubstantial and transubstantial belief in the Communion. It also reintroduced the requirement for people to attend Sunday service in an Anglican church where a revised version of the Book of Common Prayer, which had been suppressed under Mary, was to be used. The Acts rewound the clock to the state of religious affairs as they were on the death of Edward VI and made up what is generally referred to as the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. It revived 10 acts which Mary had reverted, significantly tightened up the definition of what constituted heresy, and confirmed Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Supreme Governor was a suitably equivocal title that made Elizabeth head of the Church without ever saying she was. This was important because many felt that a woman could not rule the church.


After Parliament was dismissed, Elizabeth, along with William Cecil, drafted what are known as The Elizabethan Injunctions, 1559 these were additions to the settlement and largely stressed continuity with the Catholic past. There had been opposition to the settlement in the shires, which for the most part were largely Roman Catholic, so the changes were made in order to allow for acceptance of the Settlement. Injunction 10 reiterated the instructions (for keeping register books) set out in Item 13 of 1547 which itself repeated Item 12 of 1538, except any money raised by forfeit was to be employed one half to the poor men’s box and one half towards the repair of the church.

Elizabeth who disapproved of married clergy did not reinstate the law allowing them to marry. However, she was forced to make some provision for them, and did so in the twenty-ninth of her Injunctions.


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In 1564 Queen Elizabeth commanded Archbishop Matthew Parker to draw up guidelines for behavior in church. The Advertisements for Due Order, 1566 was the first official statement of what would later be called anti-puritanism. When he presented the results to the queen she refused to sign them into law. Later he tried again, and Elizabeth once more refused to authorize them. At which point Parker published them anyway, a fact which has sometimes called their legality into question. However, their publication must have been with the queen's full knowledge and consent, and they were treated as authoritative in the canons of 1571. They are a series of orders and rules to unify the manner in which the clergy and the people were to conduct themselves with regard to religious practice.


3. Articles for administration of prayer and sacraments.

Item 9, that the font be not removed, nor that the curate do baptize in parish churches in any basins, nor in any other form than is already prescribed, without charging the parent to be present or absent at the christening of his child, although the parent may be present or absent, but not to answer as godfather for his child.

Item 10, that no child be admitted to answer as godfather or godmother except the child hath received the communion.

Item 12, that when any Christian body is in passing, that the bell be tolled and that the curate be specially called for to comfort the sick person, and after the time of his passing to ring no more but one short peal and one before the burial, and another short peal after the burial.

4. Articles for certain orders in ecclesiastical polity.

Item 9, that no persons be suffered to marry within the Levitical degrees mentioned in a table set forth by the archbishop of Canterbury in that behalf, in 1563, and if any such be to be separated by law.




     degrees in bold are still in force. Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986









































6. Protestations to be made, promised and subscribed by them that shall hereafter be admitted to any office, room or cure in any church or other place ecclesiastical.

Item 3, I shall keep the register book according to the queen's majesty's injunctions 1559/10


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The excommunication of Queen Elizabeth by the pope in 1570 made it clear that the Church of England would continue to be a protestant body. The articles of religion, conceived with the Forty-two Articles, composed by Cramner in 1553, reintroduced after revision as the Thirty-eight Articles in 1563 and with further revision, in 1571, the Thirty-nine Articles were issued in their present form and subscription to them was enjoined on every clergyman; they remain an official doctrinal statement of the Church of England.


Thomas Norton introduced the Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum in the house of commons on 5 April 1571 and tried to have it adopted as the basis of English canon law, but the queen would not go that far. Instead, a committee was appointed to confer with the bishops, who promised to draw up a new set of canons (The Canons of 1571) in convocation. This was done with remarkable speed, and a draft was apparently ready by the time convocation was dissolved on 30 May. On 4 June Archbishop Parker sent the text to the queen. The final version was ready by midsummer, and was printed sometime in July or August. The canons were issued in Latin, though an unofficial English version was produced for popular consumption. They were officially signed and approved by all the bishops, including those who were not actually present at the synod which approved them. This is evidence of the growing concern, after the divisions of the previous generation, to show that the episcopate was fully united behind all new church legislation. The possibility that absence from the deliberations might later be used by a bishop as an excuse for not accepting their results was obviously felt to be a real one. Elizabeth may have wanted a comprehensive church, but did not mean that bishops or other responsible officials were at liberty to dissent from elements of her settlement that they did not happen to like.


Canon 4. Chancellors, commissaries and officials.

12. They shall also warn their parishioners that for great and weighty causes it was appointed in the convocation by the reverend father in God, Matthew, archbishop of Canterbury, and the other bishops, that children marry not without consent of the parents, and that no young man hath power in himself to contract marriage before he be sixteen years of age, and no maid before she be fourteen years old.

Canon 5. Churchwardens and sidemen.

3. ... Last of all they shall see that in every church there be a holy font, not a basin, wherein baptism may be ministered, and it be kept comely and clean.

Canon 10. Patrons and proprietors.

5. All matrimonies which anywhere are contracted within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus shall be dissolved by the authority of the bishop, but especially if any man, his first wife being dead, shall take her sister to wife; for this degree, by common consent and judgment of learned men, is thought to be forbidden in Leviticus.

6. It shall not be lawful for any man to marry within those degrees which are forbidden in the table written and published for that end, by the reverend father in God, the archbishop of Canterbury.


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The accession of Archbishop Edmund Grindal to the See of Canterbury meant that a puritan sympathizer was now established as primate, and it was not long before convocation found itself being asked to approve new canons (The canons of 1575) which reflected some of the puritans' concerns. The emphasis was squarely on learning - clergy were to teach the catechism to the youth of the parish, they were to possess copies of the New Testament in both Latin and English (or Welsh), and they were to upbraid their congregations for immorality and ungodliness of all kinds.

The canons were taken seriously by the puritans, as can be seen from the fact that they were quoted in the petition of the house of commons to the lords in December 1584. Canon 12, which insisted that private baptism be performed only by a clergyman, was dropped because it was felt to be impractical; too many babies died in childbirth, long before the parson could be called to the bedside.


Shortly after the passing of the 1575 canons, Archbishop Grindal was sequestered at the queen's  command  because  of his support for puritan 'prophesyings', and he was not able to make any further changes to the church's law. It was not until the accession of John Whitgift in September 1583 that the church was able to return to normal. Whitgift was commissioned by the queen to stamp out puritanism, and he lost no time in setting about the task. Convocation assembled in November 1584 and was soon confronted with the petition of the house of commons. Both archbishops replied to the petition in February 1585 the furore was such that convocation felt obliged to enact six new canons, (The canons of 1584), dealing with matters which had not been adequately covered in earlier documents including the 1575 strictures against appointing unsuitable men to benefices were repeated and slightly augmented, and the rules governing the commutation of penance. For the first time it was decreed that a table of fees for clerical services should be posted in every church. Rules were also devised for episcopal visitations, with heavy emphasis being placed on the need to assess the income of each parish in the light of the Valor ecclesiasticus of 1535.

The canons did little to satisfy the house of commons but were ratified on the 24 March 1585. In her closing speech to parliament on 29 March  the Queen chided the excessive zeal of the puritan element, but that was by no means the end of the story, and the frustration of the puritans merely increased their determination to bring about reform as soon as the opportunity presented itself.


Canon 3. For restraining of licenses to marry [for the celebration of matrimony] without [the threefold proclamation which they call matrimonial] banns.

1. As persons of honest, worshipful and honorable calling may necessarily and reasonably have occasions sometimes to solemnize marriage by licence for the banns' asking, or for once or twice without any great harm, so for avoiding generally of inconveniences noted in this behalf it is thought expedient that no dispensations be granted for marriages without banns but under sufficient and large bonds, with these conditions following.

First, that there shall not afterwards appear any lawful let or impediment, by reason of any precontract, consanguinity, affinity or any other lawful means whatsoever.

2. Secondly, that there be not at that present time of granting such dispensation, any suit, plaint, quarrel or demand, moved or depending before any judge ecclesiastical or temporal, for or concerning any such lawful impediment between such the parties.

 And thirdly, that they proceed not to the solemnization of marriage without consent of parents or governors. (Parental consent was not just confined to minors)

  And that the marriage be solemnized openly in church at a convenient time. The copy of the bond is to be set down and given in charge for every bishop in his diocese to follow.

3. Provided that whoever offend against this order be suspended for one half year.


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The Religion Act, 1592 (35 Elizabeth I, c. 1) imprisoned without bail those over the age of sixteen who failed to attend Church; persuaded others to do the same; who denied Her Majesty's authority in matters ecclesiastical; and who attended unlawful religious conventicles. If after offending they did not conform in the next three months they would be exiled forever from England. The Act fined those who harboured recusants £10 for every month hidden. The Act would continue no longer than the end of the next session of Parliament.


Popish Recusants Act, 1592 (35 Elizabeth I, c. 2 ) forbade Roman Catholic recusants from moving more than five miles from their house or otherwise they would forfeit all their property.


The canons of 1584 were widely accepted in principle, but in practice they suffered from abuse. The canons of 1597 were a reissue of those of 1584, with a number of significant additions. Begun at London on 25 October 1597 and established by letters patent in the fortieth year of Elizabeth’s reign, dated at Westminster, 18 January  1597, sealed with the great seal of England. A level of formal ratification which the queen had not previously granted.

During November 1597 there were a series of complaints in the house of commons about the abuses by the ecclesiastical courts and their officers. On 28 November the Act for the Relief of the Poor, 1597 (37 Elizabeth, c. 3 ) was introduced against the excessive fees they charged. Apart from, as the name suggests, going some way help the parish poor, Justices of the Peace were to examine the Church Wardens and Overseers accounts. Convocation could not afford to ignore the church's need for greater discipline; Archbishop Whitgift was given the chance he needed to tighten up the regulations. He issued the new canons as a supplement and a reaffirmation of the 1584 ones. They included the introduction of a table of fees for services rendered and directed that a copy of the table should be set up in every church. This was an important reform which did much to correct one of the most widespread abuses. The principle of a public system of fixed fees has continued since that time.

Canon 5. Tightened the regulations for granting a marriage licence and stated that a minister could not perform a marriage without dispensation from a competent judge unless the banns had been read three times at legitimate intervals.

Canon 6. The question of divorce was addressed for the first time. The dissolution of a consummated marriage was not allowed by western canon law prior to the reformation. This canon set out the procedures and requirements which had to be met to allow a divorce to be granted.

Canon 12. On keeping church registers in a safe place.

1. And because we desire that the register in the churches where it is greatly used, shall be faithfully kept, we believe that it should first be enacted that at each visitation the ministers and churchwardens should be admonished to observe the royal injunctions regarding this matter more diligently. (1566/6.3)

2. And so that the books designed for this purpose may be kept more safely and handed on for the record of posterity, they shall in future be made of parchment, at the charge of the parishioners, and not only shall the names of those who, during the reign of her most serene highness our lady Elizabeth, have either been baptized or married or buried in the churchyard be copied into them, in order, from the old paper books, but also the names of those who in future shall be baptized, married or buried.

(The reason why so many registers begin in 1558 is that many transcribers only complied with the last part of the injunction otherwise, often, only the bare essentials were copied).

3. And lest anything done by fraud or omitted by neglect call into question what names have been written in these books in particular weeks, they shall be read openly and distinctly by the minister on Sundays, after morning or evening prayer, with the day and month on which particular events took place, and with his seal attached.

4. And when the inscription of many names has filled an entire page, then we desire that the page shall be certified by the signatures either of the minister or of the churchwardens of the same parish.

5. And likewise when transferring individual pages from the old paper books, care shall be taken to see that they correspond, nor do we think that that book should be placed in the custody of any one individual, but stored in a public chest with three different locks, so that neither the wardens without the minister nor the minister without both wardens may add anything to it.

6. And lastly, that a copy of the inscriptions of names added each year be sent annually to the registrar of the diocesan bishop by the churchwardens, within one month after the feast of Easter, and that it be accepted without any fee and faithfully deposited in the bishop's archives. And whoever omits any of the premises shall be punished according to the seriousness of the offence and the provisions of the law.


A sample of the license or dispensation required for marriage performed without banns or where one of the parties was under the authority of their parents was included. The licence required the names of the parties, their parents names and the names of their parishes to be recorded. All the clauses requiring the consent of parents could be omitted if either of the contracting parties was widowed.


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The death of Queen Elizabeth on 24 March 1603 and the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne, as James I, created an entirely new ecclesiastical situation. The new king had been brought up in an atmosphere of strict Calvinism, and the English puritans thought that he would show them greater sympathy than Elizabeth had done.


Under the first sitting of Parliament the Continuance of Acts, etc, 1604 (2 James I, C.25) paragraphs 49&50 revived and be in force for ever the statute allowing the marriage of Priests and for the legitimation of their children.


Bishops and puritan divines met together on three separate days in the middle of January 1604 and reached agreement on a number of reforms. The best known of these was the decision to undertake a new translation of the Bible, this involved 47 different translators and eventually appeared as the authorized version of 1611. James and his bishops recognized that the time had come to collate the reformed canons and establish them on a permanent foundation. In particular, it was to be decreed that the canons would no longer lapse on the death of the sovereign - the first concrete step away from personal government.


The royal licence to produce a new set of canons (The Canons of 1604) was dated 12 April 1604 and was read to convocation the following day. Bishop Bancroft of London delegated the work to three members of doctors' commons (Sir Thomas Ridley, John Cowell and Sir Edward Stanhope) who proceeded to sift through the different canons and royal injunctions which had been issued since the reformation. These were to form the bulk of the new collection, but for the first time they were arranged in a systematic and consistent way.

The code, a series of 144 canons, was passed by the Convocation of Canterbury on June 25th, 1604, and confirmed on September 6th 1604 by Letters Patent under the great seal on the basis of the Submission of the Clergy Act (25 Henry VIII, c. 19) 1534, according to which the reformation parliament had given the church the authority to adopt new canons. James and the church authorities claimed that this made subsequent parliamentary approval unnecessary. Parliamentarians were furious that they had been by-passed in this way and contended that the canons could not apply to the laity because they had not been passed by their legislature. The commons petitioned the king as early as 13 June 1604. Later, a bill was read in the lords which would have effectively annulled the canons (6 May 1606) and it went for a second reading four days later. However no more was heard of the matter.

James I, in an arbitrary fashion, ordered the code to be observed in the province of York, though it had never been considered or approved by the Convocation. The latter protested, being afraid that this pro­cedure might become a precedent and that it would in future be obliged to give automatic approval to what the other Convocation should see fit to determine. The King gave way and issued the royal licence to enact canons; and the code was passed at York in due form in 1605-6. Although many of their provisions are now obsolete, many have been modified by process of time, statute or by episcopal regulation, the constitution of the church is today practically as Bancroft left it.


29. Fathers not to be godfathers in baptism, and children not communicants not to be godparents in baptism.


62. Ministers not to marry any person without banns or licence.


63. Ministers of exempt churches not to marry without banns or licence.


68. Ministers not to refuse to christen or bury.


69. Ministers not to defer christening if the child be in danger.


70. Ministers to keep a register of christenings, weddings and burials.

In every parish church and chapel within this realm shall be provided one parchment book at the charge of the parish, wherein shall be written the day and year of every christening, wedding, burial, which have been in that parish since the time that the law was first made in that behalf (viz:1538/12) so far as the ancient books thereof can be procured, but especially since the beginning of the reign of the late queen.

And for the safekeeping of the said book, the churchwardens, at the charge of the parish, shall provide one sure coffer, with three locks and keys; whereof the one to remain with the minister, and the other two with the churchwardens, severally; so that neither the minister without the two churchwardens, nor the churchwardens without the minister, shall at any time take that book out of the said coffer. And henceforth, upon every Sabbath day, immediately after morning or evening prayer, the minister and churchwardens shall take the said parchment book out of the said coffer, and the minister, in the presence of the churchwardens, shall write and record in the said book the names of all persons christened, together with the names and surnames of their parents, and also the names of all persons married and buried in that parish in the week before, and the day and year of every such christening, marriage and burial; and that done, they shall lay up that book in the coffer, as before, and the minister and churchwardens unto every page of that book, when it shall be filled with such inscriptions, shall subscribe their names.

And the churchwardens shall, once every year, within one month after the twenty-fifth day of March, transmit unto the bishop of the diocese, or his chancellor, a true copy of the names of all persons christened, married or buried in their parish in the year before, ended the said twenty-fifth day of March, and the certain days and months in which every such christening, marriage and burial was had, to be subscribed with the hands of the said minister, and churchwardens, to the end the same may faithfully be preserved in the registry of the said bishop; which certificate shall be received without fee.

And if the minister or churchwardens shall be negligent in performance of anything herein contained, it shall be lawful for the bishop or his chancellor to convent them, and proceed against every of them as contemners of this our constitution.

In all three injunctions mentioned above, the penalty was 3s4d, to be divided equally between the poor box and the repairs of the church.


81. A font of stone for baptism in every church.


99. None to marry within the degrees prohibited.


100. None to marry under twenty-one years without their parents’ consent.


101. By whom licences to marry without banns shall be granted and to what sort of persons.


102. Security to be taken at the granting of such licences and under what conditions.


103. Oaths to be taken for the conditions.


104. An exemption for those that are widowed.


105. No sentence for divorce to be given upon the sole confession of the parties.


106. No sentence for divorce  to be given but in open court.


107. In all sentences for divorce, bond to be taken for not marrying during each other’s life.


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In 1618 James I sent a delegation from the Church of England to Holland to attend the Synod of Dort. The Canons of Dort 1619 were never sanctioned by the Church of England but they represent what the “Calvinist” party in the Church of England stood for, any chance of their endorsement ended with the death of James I in 1625. Charles I was not prepared to sanction Calvinism in this form. In 1628 Charles declared the Thirty-nine Articles of 1571 as the official doctrinal statement of the Church of England his intention was to reinforce Anglican rejection of pure Calvinism. The legacy of the Synod of Dort was the special relationship between English and Dutch Protestants culminating in the invitation to William of Orange to succeed to the British throne.


On February 5th 1644 the Solemn League and Settlement was imposed on all Englishmen over the age of eighteen. More than any other document this was the charter of the Commonwealth of England. In 1647 the Westminster Confession of Faith was authorised and published, it replaced the thirty-nine articles and remained the official doctrinal statement of the union of Churches of England, Scotland and Ireland until the restoration of the monarchy, where along with other Commonwealth legislation it was rescinded.


There are often gaps in the registers in the period leading up to and shortly after the Civil War and the Interregnum (especially from about 1645-1660).


1649-1653: Following the execution of Charles I an English republic was established and represents a period in English history known as the Commonwealth.

Under the Commonwealth and then the Protectorate of England from 1649 to 1660, Anglicanism was disestablished and outlawed, and in its place, Presbyterian ecclesiology was introduced in place of the episcopate. In addition, the 39 Articles were replaced with the Westminster Confession, and the Book of Common Prayer was replaced by the Directory of Public Worship. Despite this, about one quarter of English clergy refused to conform to this form of State Presbyterianism.


29 August, 1648 Ordinance to settle the Form of Church Government in the Church of England and Ireland.


9 February, 1648/9 Act to repeal several clauses in the Acts of 1° Elizabeth and 3° Jacobi, touching the Oaths of Allegiance, Obedience and Supremacy.


The Commonwealth proper ended in 1653 with the establishment of Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate. The Commonwealth is a most difficult time period for those of us engaged in family history research because there are large gaps in the records, the burden to complete the registers wasn't always done efficiently or effectively, especially in parish registers. Ironically, it was Oliver Cromwell's intention in an act of 24 August, 1653 Act touching Marriages and the registering thereof, and also touching Birth and Burials to remedy poor record keeping in parish registers by placing the responsibility for the records in the hands of appointed officers called "Parish Registers" elected by ratepayers of the parish. Sometimes these records were written in the old parish register, sometimes in new volumes, but standards of record keeping remained low. The records kept by Parish Registers became known as Civil Registers but many do not survive. After Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Registers were dismissed (some appear to have become parish clerks). Restored clergy in some areas confiscated the Civil Registers and destroyed them. Other clergy simply went around the parish writing down vital events by asking people to remember what had happened in the previous years. Because of the loss of the Civil Registers, this time period is sometimes referred to as the "Commonwealth gap" by family history researchers.

During this same period marriages were no longer to take place in a church. An intention to marry could be stated at a Market cross or the couple could go to a Justice of the Peace to be legally joined. Many couples did not like the new system and secretly went to the church to be married - if the clergy had managed to stay in office! The importance of this little diversion in the rules governing marriages is that following the restoration, marriages before Justices of the Peace were just legalised in retrospect. Some clergy simply refused to accept such blasphemy and forced a second marriage in the church or simply branded the children illegitimate. This bit of history may help to explain entries and remarks in some parish registers such as, "Franklin alias Cox" or "Smith alias Jones".


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By the time of Oliver Cromwell’s death, in 1658, division within the church was growing between the Presbyterians, who wanted a centralized church and the independents who wanted the local congregation to have full autonomy. The independents were gradually moving towards a position of complete separatism. They issued the Savoy Declaration a document which after 1662 became the doctrinal basis of the Congregationalist Churches.


As the restoration of the monarchy became increasingly likely Charles II bent over backwards to placate everyone who was not sympathetic to the restoration of the civil and ecclesiastical order which had prevailed prior to 1640. In 1660 he issued the Declaration of Breda as a guarantee that the past would not be held against anyone and that in future liberty of conscience would be preserved. The King made his triumphal entry into London on May 29th 1660.


The restoration ended the period in which Puritan Calvinism was the leading movement within the Church of England. The Corporation Act, 1661 (13 Charles II,  c. 1) provided that no person could be legally elected to any office relating to local government, unless he was an active member of the Church of England. It was aimed against the Presbyterians who were influentially represented in the government of cities and boroughs throughout the country. On December 25th 1663 the Act of Uniformity, 1662 (14 Charles II, c.4) came into force, the Book of Common Prayer was again slightly modified and it has remained the official prayer book of the Church of England since. Penalties for non-compliance were less severe than in previous acts of uniformity perhaps indicating popular support was not that great. Over 1700 ministers left the Church of England almost all were puritans; these “dissenters”  formed churches of there own many of which still exist as “Free Churches”. The Act also reinforced the Thirty-nine Articles as the only statement of faith.


The Burying in Woollen Acts, 1666 (18 & 19 Charles II, c. 4) and 1678 (30 Charles II, c. 3), directed that ‘Noe person or persons whatsoever shall be buryed in any Shirt, Shift or Sheete made of or mingled with Flax, Hempe, Silke, Haire, Gold or Silver or other than what shall be made of Wooll onely, or be putt into any Coffin lined or faced with any thing made of or mingled with Flax, Hempe, Silke or Haire upon paine of the forfeiture of the summe of Five pounds.’ An affidavit was sworn at each burial that the law had been complied with. The act was eventually repealed by the Burying in Woollen Act, 1814 (54 George III, c. 108) but it appears to have been generally disregarded long before then.


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The Test Act, 1673 (25 Charles II. c. 2) "An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants". In addition to the Corporation Act enforced upon all persons filling any office, civil or military, the obligation of taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and subscribing to a declaration against transubstantiation and also of receiving the sacrament within three months of admittance to office. The act was extended further by the Continuance of Acts, 1678 (30 Charles II, c. 6) which disabled Papists from sitting in either House of Parliament.


Charles II was not motivated by religious fervour and it was widely suspected that his toleration would extend to the legalisation of Roman Catholicism; this did not happen. But he did convert to to Catholicism on his deathbed in 1685.

His brother and heir, James Duke of York, had converted to to Catholicism in 1673 as James II his Catholicism was an anomaly and would lead to his downfall. He used of his dispensing power to allow Roman Catholics to command several regiments without having to take the oath mandated by the Test Act. The previously supportive Parliament objected to these measures, James ordered Parliament prorogued in November 1685, it did not meet again in his reign.


The next year saw the papal nuncio, Ferdinando d'Adda welcomed at court and Catholic favourites were given positions of high office. In 1687, James issued the Declaration of Indulgence to negate the effect of laws punishing Catholics and Protestant dissenters. James ordered the Declaration read from the pulpits of every Anglican church, further alienating the bishops.


Most Englishmen were prepared to accept Protestant Dissent but they would not allow legalisation of Roman Catholicism. When it became known the Queen was pregnant several influential Protestants entered into negotiations with William, Prince of Orange. The birth of James' son would threatened a Catholic dynasty. By September 1688, it had become clear that William sought to invade. When William arrived on 5 November 1688, many Protestant officers, in James army, defected and joined William, as did James own daughter, Princess Anne. James lost his nerve, and in December attempted to flee to France after first throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. James was captured in Kent. Having no desire to make James a martyr William let him escape. A Convention Parliament was convened to decide how to handle James's flight. While Parliament refused to depose him, they declared that James, having fled to France and having dropped the Great Seal into the Thames, had effectively abdicated the throne. James' elder daughter Mary was declared Queen; she was to rule jointly with her husband William, who would be King. This “Glorious Revolution” created a state in which Protestantism was the accepted religion.


The Act of Toleration 1688, (1 William & Mary, c. 18), the long title of which is "An Act for Exempting their Majestyes Protestant Subjects dissenting from the Church of England from the Penalties of certaine Lawes". The Act granted freedom of worship to Nonconformists who had taken the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and formally rejected transubstantiation, i.e. Protestants who dissented from the Church of England such as Baptists and Congregationalists but not to Catholics. It allowed Nonconformists their own places of worship and their own teachers and preachers, subject to acceptance of certain oaths of allegiance. It deliberately did not apply to Catholics and non-trinitarians and continued the existing social and political disabilities for Dissenters, including their exclusion from political office and also from universities.

Dissenters were required to register their meeting locations and were forbidden from meeting in private homes. Any preachers who dissented had to be licensed.

The Bill of Rights, 1688 (1 William & Mary, Sess. 2 c.2) specifically named and declared illegal the abuses of power which James II had enjoyed. The people, embodied in the parliament, were granted permanent civil and political rights. It also stipulated that no Catholic would henceforth be permitted to ascend to the English throne, nor could any English monarch marry a Catholic. William secured a Protestant settlement of the church which remains the basis of the constitution of the United Kingdom to this day.


The burials, births and marriages Act, 1694 (6 & 7 William & Mary, c. 6) granted the Crown a tax, initially for five years, on every birth, marriage and burial and an annual tax of 1/- upon bachelors over 25 years of age and childless widowers. These taxes were granted 'for carrying on the war against France with vigour'. Implementing the Act was a huge task involving the complete enumeration of the population and a comprehensive system of vital registration, in some places the initial assessment required by the Act was met with violent opposition. In order to prevent evasion it was necessary to improve the reliability and scope of the parochial system. The scope of the parish register was widened to cover everyone married, buried, christened or born in a parish and stillbirths were to be notified. Persons in Holy Orders (and their substitutes) were instructed to keep accurate records of marriages and burials and of all persons ‘Christened or born', under penalty of a fine of £100. The taxes were graduated in accordance with the social status of the individual, the ordinary rate being 2/- for every birth, 2/6 for every marriage, and 4/- for every burial; paupers were excepted, but a duke for example paid £30 upon the birth of his first son. The tax was payable upon birth and not upon christening. In the following year the Marriages without Licence, etc Act, 1695 (7 & 8 William III, c. 35) was passed imposing a fine of 40/- upon parents who did not inform the minister within five days of the birth, whether live or stillborn, of a child.  The parents were to pay 6d to the clergy for recording the birth of a child who was not christened. The act was extended by the Bank of England Act, 1696 (8 & 9 William III, c. 20) allowing duties on burials, births and marriages to be continued until 1 August 1706. There was so much avoidance of the tax and it was recognised that the clergy had not always kept accurate accounts of the vital events in their parishes that as part of the Taxation Act, 1705 (4 & 5 Anne, c. 23) the clergy was safeguarded from the heavy penalties they had incurred by not applying the law effectively. Very few of the statistical surveys produced as a result of the 1694 Act survive which seems strange since several copies of the assessments were required, including copies for central Government.


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The Act of Settlement, 1701 (12-13 William III, c.2) made a reversal of the reformation impossible the innovation of the Act required that the Sovereign accepted the Religion professed by the people and not the other way round. It also set up a protestant succession which would be universally accepted.


The Occasional Conformity Act also known as the Toleration Act, 1711 (10 Anne c. 6), was passed on 20 December 1711. It extended the original act to prevent Nonconformists and Roman Catholics from taking "occasional" communion in the Church of England in order to become eligible for public office under the Corporation Act and the Test Act. Under these acts only members of the Church of England were allowed to hold any office of public trust. The 1711 Act was repealed in 1719.


The Receipt of the Exchequer Act, 1733 (6 George II, c. 6) was passed that from 25 March 1733 all written records were to be recorded in English only and not in Latin or French or any other language whatsoever.


In 1738, Methodist registers commence. At the time the registers had to be hidden since they were illegal.


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The year starting on 1 January (known as the historical year) was in general use for various purposes and had always been celebrated as the New Year festival. The year starting 25 March, The Feast of the Annunciation or Lady Day as it was more usually known, was called the Civil or Legal Year, although the phrase ‘Old Style’ was more commonly used. Increasingly parish registers, in addition to a new year heading after 24 March showing, for example "1737", had another heading at the end of the following December indicating "1737-8". This showed where the New Style 1738 started even though the Old Style 1737 continued until 24th March. An individual date would be shown as, for example, 3 March 1737-8 so there is no doubt that the date intended was in March 1737 Old Style and 1738 New Style, that is, the month before April 1738. In Britain the Gregorian calendar was adopted by the Calendar (New Style) Act,  1750, also known as Chesterfield's Act (24 George II, c. 23). The year 1751 was a short year of 282 days, running from 25 March to 31 December. From 1752 the year would start from the 1 January. England had taken the year 1700 to be a leap year and the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars was thus eleven days and it was decreed that the eleven days 3 - 13 September 1752 should be omitted. These changes were to apply throughout Britain and all lands under the British crown.


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Marriage was not an essential function of the parish church. The Church of England had followed the old, pre Tridentine, Western Canon law and accepted that marriages contracted by mutual declaration between the partners in the presence of witnesses in any place whatsoever were valid but irregular. Provided they were of age and not incestuous. The legal age for marriage was 14 for a boy and 12 for a girl, although parental consent was required up to age 21. The church did not establish a monopoly until 1753 when the Marriage Act specified that a wedding was only legitimate if carried out in an Anglican church; only Quakers, Jews and the foreign churches were exempted. Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act, 1753 (26 George II, c. 33) came into force on the 25 March 1754 and decreed that records should be kept of both banns and marriages, and that these should be in proper books of vellum or good and durable paper to be provided by the churchwardens. The entries were to be signed by the parties and to follow a prescribed form, and the registers were to be carefully kept and preserved for public use. These marriage registers were the first to consist of bound volumes of printed forms and contained information on marriages alone. Until then, baptisms, marriages and burials usually used the same volume.


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The Stamp Duties Act, 1783 (23 George III, c. 67) was passed in order to raise money to pay for the American War of Independence. Under the provisions of the Act baptism, marriage and burial entries in each parish register were subject to an unpopular tax of 3d. Ministers were empowered to collect the duty, and were allowed to keep 10% of this fee as compensation for their trouble. Refusal to pay carried a fine of £5. It was extended by the Stamp Duties Act, 1785 (25 George III, c. 75) to include non-conformists and finally repealed by the Stamps Act, 1794 (34 George III, c. 11).


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To enable the first census of Great Britain to be undertaken the Population Act, 1800 (41 George III, c. 15) was passed. On 10 March 1801 the census was carried out to help the government understand the demographic layout of the country. In England and Wales the administration of the early census returns was mainly the responsibility the clergy as the answers to some of the questions raised in the census were contained in the parish registers.


In England the Parochial Registers Act also known as George Rose's Act, 1812 (52 George III, c. 146) was passed on the 28 July 1812, and stated that amending the Manner and Form of keeping and of preserving Registers of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials of His Majesty's Subjects in the several Parishes and Places in England, will greatly facilitate the Proof of Pedigrees of Persons claiming to be entitled to Real or Personal Estates, and otherwise of great public Benefit and Advantage, and enacted that separate register books should be kept for baptisms, marriages and burials from 31 December 1812. The king's printer was to supply each parish with a copy of the Act and three books printed on parchment or durable paper, each printed in conformity with the standard lay-out and numbered entries laid down by the Act.


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Further measures to better prevent clandestine marriages was introduced with the Marriage Act, 1823 (4 George IV, c. 76)


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As a result of the select committee’s report on the 1831 census returns, published in 1833, further legislation was introduced in the Marriage Act, 1836 (6 & 7 William IV, c. 85) and the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1836 (6 & 7 William IV, c. 86). These Acts came into force on 1 July 1837 and established the present system of civil registration. This did not affect the registering of baptisms and burials in the parish registers which continued according to the patterns introduced in 1813. A new form of marriage register was introduced to provide the same details as the civil marriage register, two copies of the marriage register had to be kept, one of which was to be forwarded to the Superintendent Registrar when full. With the passing of the Population Act of 1840, a new approach to the census was adopted under the responsibility of the Registrar General and was first implemented in the 1841 census.


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With the Age of Marriage Act, 1929 (19 & 20 George V, c. 36) the age of marriage with consent of parents was raised to 16 years for both boys and girls.


Passed by the General Synod of the Church of England the Parochial Registers and Records Measure, 1978 was a step taken to ensure the long term care and preservation of and access to parish records. As a result of this, every custodian of parish registers and records that were over 100 years old were required to deposit them in the designated record office unless exemption was obtained from the bishop. The designated record office was normally the County Record Office. It was a response to the awareness of the interest and use of parish records in historical research, recognition that church employees did not necessarily have the skills or appropriate storage conditions to care for parish records, and the development of archival services in the country.


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Documents of the English Reformation
By Gerald Bray


A compilation of fifty-eight of the essential contemporary documents of the English Reformation from 1526 to 1700, showing how the momentous changes of that period took place.


The Anglican Canons, 1529-1947, ed. Gerald Bray, 1998.

This volume is a major scholarly edition of some of the most important sources in the history of the Anglican Church. It includes all the canons produced by the Church of England from the opening of the Reformation parliament in 1529 to 1947.

Gerald Bray is Anglican Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, USA.


Statutes of the English Parliament



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A man may not marry his:

A woman may not marry with her:

1. Grandmother

1. Grandfather

2. Grandfather's wife

2. Grandmother's husband

3. Wife's grandmother

3. Husband's grandfather

4. Father's sister

4. Father's brother

5. Mother's sister

5. Mother's brother

6. Father's brother's wife

6. Father's sister's husband

7. Mother's brother's wife

7. Mother's sister's husband

8. Wife's father's sister

8. Husband's father's brother

9. Wife's mother's sister

9. Husband's mother's brother

10. Mother

10. Father

11. Stepmother

11. Stepfather

12. Wife's mother

12. Husband's father

13. Daughter

13. Son

14. Wife's daughter

14. Husband's son

15. Son's wife

15. Daughter's husband

16. Sister

16. Brother

17. Wife's sister

17. Husband's brother

18. Brother's wife

18. Sister's husband

19. Son's daughter

19. Son's son

20. Daughter's daughter

20. Daughter's son

21. Son's son's wife

21. Son's daughter's husband

22. Daughter's son's wife

22. Daughter's daughter's husband

23. Wife's son's daughter

23. Husband's son's son

24. Wife's daughter's daughter

24. Husband's daughter's son

25. Brother's daughter

25. Brother's son

26. Sister's daughter

26. Sister's son

27. Brother's son's wife

27. Brother's daughter's husband

28. Sister's son's wife

28. Sister's daughter's husband

29. Wife's brother's daughter

29. Husband's brother's son

30. Wife's sister's daughter

30. Husband's sister's son