England & Wales Ecclesiastical Court Indexes

Marriage Bonds & Allegations.

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Holmote Court Proceedings

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History and Context

"The Church of England courts have existed since the middle ages, summoning vast numbers of ordinary people to appear before representatives of the bishop or archdeacon for the "reformation of their souls and correction of their manners". The courts were also used by ordinary people to bring causes against each other - for defamation, unpaid tithes, matrimonial disputes and testamentary arguments over wills and legacies. Proceedings were carefully recorded, produced in a prolific quantity of act books and copious documents."

Source: - Church court Records By Anne Tarver Published by Phillimore.

Counties palatine were established in the 11th century to defend the northern (Scottish) and western (Welsh) frontiers of the kingdom of England. In order to allow them to do so in the best way they could, their counts were granted palatine ("from the palace", i.e. royal) powers within their territories, making these territories nearly sovereign jurisdictions with their own administrations and courts, largely independent of the king, though they owed allegiance to him.

The Counties palatine of Durham and Chester, ruled by the prince-bishops of Durham and the earls of Chester respectively, were established by William the Conqueror. Cheshire had its own parliament, consisting of barons of the county, and was not represented in the parliament of England until 1543, while it retained some of its special privileges until 1830. The earldom of Chester has since 1301 been associated with the title of Prince of Wales which is reserved for the heir apparent to the throne or crown of the UK (though originally the throne of England).

As well as having spiritual jurisdiction over the diocese of Durham, the bishops of Durham retained temporal jurisdiction over County Durham until 1836. The bishop's mitre which crowns the bishop of Durham's coat of arms is encircled with a gold coronet which is otherwise used only by dukes, reflecting his historic dignity as a palatine earl.

Lancashire was made a county, or duchy, palatine in 1351 and kept many of its special judicial privileges until 1873. Although the dukedom of Lancaster merged into the Crown in 1399, it is to this day held separate from other royal lands, and managed by the Duchy of Lancaster. The title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is still used by a member of the British cabinet. In Lancashire, the loyal toast is to "the Queen, Duke of Lancaster".

The king's writs did not run in these three palatine counties until the nineteenth century and, until the 1970s, Lancashire and Durham had their own courts of chancery.

Source: - Wikipedia.

Marriage Bonds & Allegations

Marriage Bonds and Allegations are related to the granting of Marriage Licenses. This description of Marriage Licenses has been extracted from the National Index of Parish Registers by D.J. Steel Pages 223 to 236.


Before Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753 a marriage was valid if performed by a priest even without either banns or license. In such a case the parties concerned were subject to legal penalties and the minister was likely to lose his benefice. A considerable number of such technically valid marriages did take place at local "Gretna Greens", the Fleet Prison and other "peculiars" or extra-parochial places and the scandal these provoked was the main reason for the passing of the 1753 Marriage Act. In effect, if banns were not published, to avoid a legal complication a license was necessary.

In 1604, the Canon Law was thoroughly overhauled and the new canons laid down that licenses could be granted only by an Episcopal authority and not by holders of peculiar jurisdictions and that bonds should be entered into, binding the sureties under certain strict conditions. It is these bonds and the applications for the licenses known as allegations that have survived in the records not the actual licenses.

Reasons for Marriage by License

Some reasons for the popularity of licenses were given by the Convocation in answer to Parliamentary Criticism in 1597. It was said that it facilitated marriage of persons of full age against parental opposition and the marriage of persons of different social stations. Such reasons must, however, have been exceptional. A more widespread motive particularly among the gentry was that of avoiding the publicity of announcements from the pulpit. Sometimes, no doubt, the marriage was one of real urgency. Thus sailors might wish to marry in haste before their ships sailed. Another important reason was that Marriages were prohibited in Lent and on Fasting Days because the mirth attending them was felt to be inappropriate to the Humiliation and Devotion of those times.

Authorities empowered to issue Licenses

Licenses might be issued by the authority of any of the following officials:-

Records Searched

Type of Court









Faculty Office



Prerogative Courts


Archbishop of Canterbury:




Archbishop of York:

1750 - 1839.


Diocesean Courts


Diocese of Carlisle:

1668 - 1739



Diocese of Durham

1594 - 1782


Archdeaconary Courts


Archdeaconry of Bedford


No Ismay Entries


Archdeaconry of Chester

1600 - 1616, 1639 - 1644, 1661 - 1719.

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Archdeaconry of Nottingham

April 1701 to Nov 1701

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Archdeaconry of Richmond

1613 - 1839.

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Commissary Court of Surrey



Deacon Courts


The Deaneries of Lonsdale, Kendal, Furness & Copeland in the Archdeaconary of Richmond:

1648 - 1755


Peculiar Courts


Peculiar of the Dean & Chapter of York

1613 - 1839.

No Ismay Entries


Peculiar of Hexham

1615 - 1792.

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Peculiar Jurisdiction of Southwell

April 1701 to Nov 1701

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