By Peter Wilkinson, Kim Fleming, Wendy Walker and Abigail Hartley
In 2017 the Sussex Record Society published a fascinating volume of church court proceedings taken from the Diocesan Archives held at the Record Office. Depositions, which can be found in the Ep/I/11 series, are the accounts of cases held at the Bishop of Chichester’s Consistory Court. These courts covered a plethora of local issues and disputes including quarrels over wills, tithe disputes, matrimonial disagreements, and the ever amusing defamation cases. However they can be difficult to read and interpret for the modern reader, which is where the Sussex Record Society and Peter Wilkinson got involved.
Chichester Archdeaconry Depositions 1603-1608 edited by Peter Wilkinson, a former deputy county archivist, gives us an intriguing insight into the life, loves and behaviour of everyday people in the early 17th century. Peter’s earlier blog about his work describes how these cases were brought to trial in Chichester. They include vivid eye-witness accounts of incidents and events in rural Sussex and paint a unique picture of everyday life at that time.
Since then Peter and his colleague, Kim Fleming, have been busy working on more of these records. The Sussex Record Society will be publishing Kim Fleming’s Witness Depositions of the Chichester Archdeaconry 1599-1603 on its website later this year and Peter’s article, Love Lost and Found, is already available online.
A couple of months ago Peter and Kim were invited to give a research seminar for the academic staff of the English department at the Mid Sweden University’s campus at Sundsvall. The three hour session on 22 May presented material from the extensive holdings on the Bishop of Chichester’s Consistory Court from the 16th and 17th centuries. The context and operation of the court, and analyses of the 1599-1603 volume of depositions, were discussed.
The speakers were invited by Professor Terry Walker, who at Kim’s suggestion had visited the Record Office last July to view the deposition manuscripts.
Professor Walker’s research is particularly concerned with the recording of actual English vernacular speech (and Latin) of the period. Together with colleagues from Uppsala and Kansas universities she has published a major study of the Latin and English used in both secular and church courts in England in the period, but had not until last year come across the Chichester sources.
This new collaboration between Sweden and Chichester holds out the promise of more of the consistory court material being published and of further international interest in these important records.
About the Sussex Record Society:
Founded in 1901, Sussex Record Society publishes the transcribed records of the county’s history from documents found in local and national archives. The Society is due to launch its 100th volume later this year and also publishes a growing series of Online Records including databases, archives, images and texts covering many aspects of historic Sussex. You can find out more about the work and publications of the Sussex Record Society at www.sussexrecordsociety.org.