Monday, 24 September 2012

A source of scandal ...

Bothamsall Church from Southwell & Nottingham Churches
Adultery, bastardy and incest - it sounds like the latest episode of Eastenders! But it is in fact the goings on in Bothamsall, a small north Nottinghamshire village, in the 17th Century and all revealed in the Presentment Bills that Church Wardens submitted twice yearly to their Archdeacons.

Church Wardens were required to report in the Presentment Bills on both the morality and religious practices of the people of the parish plus the behaviour of the clergy.  Hence, the Bills provide insight not only into the social mores of the time and place but also religious dissent in a century riven by the English Civil War and migration to America.

Bothamsall never appears to have had more than a few hundred residents but at first glance certainly seems to have had its fair share of sexual scandal with in just 30 years from 1608, 7 reports of fornication, 2 of adultery, 3 of bastardy, 3 of drinking on Sundays and 1 of general sexual immorality, whatever that might be:
Adultery: Richard Nicholson, Isabel Trundle
Bastardy: Elizabeth Baker, Katherine Reckingham, John Greenswood
Fornication: Margaret [no surname], Jane Wakeland, Margaret Staniland, Elizabeth Tomlinson, Francis Tomlinson, 
Drinking on Sundays: George Marriot, Christopher Warriner, Athren Whitehead
Sexual Immorality: Robert Sharpe

Although, the sexual affairs of Bothamsall in the 17th Century seem lively enough, they were in fact very restrained compared with the goings on in some other Nottinghamshire villages where there are multiple accusations of fornication at every Presentment.  And accusation seems to be the key word here as in some cases the level of "misbehaviour" seems quite incredible and one has to suspect that at least some of it is sheer gossip mongering and point scoring between neighbours.

Bothamsall Church from Southwell and Nottingham Churches
The Presentments ceased during the English Civil War, (1642-1651), and then resumed after the Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660, but they are perhaps at their most interesting in the period up to the Civil War when they provide a record of the simmering cauldron of religious dissent in villages across the country.  Bothamsall itself was very close to the Scrooby Congregation of dissenting Protestants who migrated to Leiden in Holland and founded the community from which the Mayflower Pilgrims would set sail for America.  The presence of dissenting Protestants in Bothamsall can be seen in the Presentment Bills for 1608-1610 with 10 parishioners being accused of either "Not attending church - lay non-conformity" or "Not receiving holy communion".  These specific  accusations stop after 1610 and it would be interesting to know if any of the accused did migrate to the Leiden community which was founded at this time:

Not attending church, lay non-conformity: Robert Carlisle, Mrs Carlisle, Anne Dobson, Joyce Lanfield, Stephen Lanfield
Not receiving holy communion: Barnaby Williamson, Mrs Williamson, Francis Marriot

There is another burst of religious dispute within the village in 1625 and 1626 when 4 villagers - George and Anne Booth, Elizabeth Cos and William Robson - are repeatedly accused of Recusancy, that is Roman Catholic worship and rejection of the Anglican settlement.  Again this flurry of accusations dies down and again it is not clear whether this is because the accused changed their behaviour or left Bothamsall or whether  more tolerant church wardens were in place.  Whatever the case, it is clear that contrary to the intentions of Queen Elizabeth 1, prayer and how people prayed was very much treated as a window on people's heart and a source of scandal and dispute within even the smallest of English villages.

The Nottinghamshire Presentment Bills are available in the excellent Nottingham University archive.  To search the Bills, Click on the Search Archdeaconry link on the right and in the new search page enter the village in the Name field and select Presentee from the role list.  Most of the offences which fabulously include - playing unlawful games, abuse of church wardens, clandestine marriage, working on Sundays, and harbouring a fornicator - are fully listed in the search results but you can click on the hit links on the right and then the view link by the presentee to see if any more detail is given.

I haven't yet explored the Presentment Bills outside Nottinghamshire but will update the blog with details of their availability when I do.

If you have any great posts on using Presentment Bills please do add links with the linky below ...


  1. Hi, this is a great link. Ill be definitely having a look through this later to see if I can find any of my Nottinghamshire Ancestors up to no good!
    Thank you for putting it up.

  2. Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed Grant - great to see your blog. Sherwood is certainly a Nottinghamshire name so look forward to hearing of your family before they made it to America

  3. Wow! Looking forward to reading more. Great Blog.

    The Root Digger

    1. Glad you liked the blog Yvette - really fascinated by yours, some amazing photos!

  4. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist:

  5. Alice, when I saw the description of your blog on GeneaBloggers today, I fell in love with it. Your purpose of bringing your ancestors' stories to life is my core mission, too! We are certainly on the same wavelength--even though our ancestors weren't from the same place--and I look forward to reading more here.

    1. Hi Jacqui - glad you liked the blog. Loved reading yours. Particularly interested to hear how your Irish answers became Polish :-)

  6. You have won my heart with your understanding of the need for the social history of the time of your ancestors. It's what I do also and, surprisingly, I never seem to run out of amazing subjects. You write so very well and I'll be back for more, even though I have no ancestors with roots in the UK.

    1. Hi Kathy - so glad you like the blog and likewise although I have no relatives from Germany, I will be constantly returning to your blog - it's very inspiring. I am trying to work out ways of helping more people "add" social history to their family tree research - would love to hear your ideas

  7. We have similar records in Scotland - the Kirk Session Minutes. It can make rather interesting reading. Really enjoyed your post :-) Jo

    1. Hi Jo - I noticed the Kirk Session records in the WDYTYA episode on Annie Lennox. They really do make great reading don't they - tragic and laugh out loud stories all mixed up together.

  8. Hi Alice,
    I enjoyed your post. Whilst at Uni I did a module on 'Deviant Society' which covered all the general naughtiness the church liked to keep an eye on. The records of Earls Colne was a fab resource for this.
    Linky -