Love Lost and Found in the Church Courts

by Peter Wilkinson

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The opposite approach would be to make a purely factual abstract - but this would mean the sacrifice of the personal perceptions of the witnesses and the vivid patterns of their speech. This latter, "calendar" style has been used in the only comprehensive attempt at publication, Oxford Church Courts: Depositions, 1542-1639 by Jack Howard Drake, which has appeared over the period 1991-2008, filling over 1500 pages in 18 booklets. Other publications, from the dioceses of Durham, York and Norwich, are older and savagely selective.[1]

The depositions which follow have been edited in the style I have adopted for my SRS volume. For each case I provide a brief initial commentary setting out the main elements. Each witness starts their deposition with a brief biographical statement (normally in Latin). All editorial comment and translation from Latin is given in italic. The witnesses respond to carefully structured formal statements ('Libels',[2] 'Interrogatories',[3] 'Additional Positions'[4] and 'Allegations'[5] are the most frequent), each made up of a series of numbered 'Articles' or statements.

A series of witnesses responding to the same series of articles must inevitably produce repetition. To avoid this I have adopted the following method of transcription. I have transcribed in full the deposition of the first witness to respond, but have heavily edited those who follow so as to reduce them to those statements which produce new or significantly different information. In all the depositions I have retained the article numbers to make it possible to compare between the witnesses.

In the Appendix I have given a fuller explanation of the editing principles and process.




Richard Tayler of Racton cum Lordington v Margaret Osborne, daughter of George Osborne of West Wittering: Matrimonial (breach of betrothal contract)

Richard Tayler's action was intended to establish that there was a binding contract of marriage, which if successful would commit the parties. The action also prevented either party marrying during the proceedings.

Judgement in favour of defendant, 7 May 1603. On 14 May 1603 licence granted for marriage of Margaret daughter of George Osborne to John Markwick; marriage solemnised 19 May 1603.

Proctors: Cooke for plaintiff; Barker for defendant. Process: personal responses by defendant to libel of six articles [L1-6]and to additional positions of 12 articles [AP1-12]; three depositions for plaintiff to same libel and additional positions and to interrogatories of 10 articles [In 1-10]; five depositions to same libel, additional positions and interrogatories and to additional interrogatories of eight articles [In (2) 1-8].

[1] The most comprehensive project to include deposition material is the magnificent online catalogue Cause papers in the Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York, 1300-1858, produced with the aid of a grant of $744,000 from the Andrew Mellon foundation

[2] The libel was an initial statement by the plaintiff setting out the grounds of the case. The term can cause confusion because it has come to be used a kind of shorthand producing the modern sense of the word as a written defamatory statement.

[3] Interrogatories were questions submitted by the defendant, to be added to the libel to clarify or oppose its statements.

[4] Additional positions were additional articles to supplement a previously submitted document.

[5] Allegations could be submitted by either side.

[6] Depositions and responses: West Sussex Record Office (hereafter WSRO) Ep I/11/9 ff 160r-172v, 174v-176v; Ep I/15/1 1602 (responses).

[7] WSRO Ep I/15/1 (1602 responses). Responses of the parties to the case are not entered in the deposition books and do not contain the biographical details required from deponents.

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