subfonds YDA/10 - Peculiar Jurisdictions

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Peculiar Jurisdictions


  • 14th century-20th century (Creation)

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Extent and medium

Approximately 26 cubic metres

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A peculiar was a unit of ecclesiastical jurisdiction which was outside the normal scheme of jurisdiction in the diocese. The normal jurisdiction was by the bishop, as ‘ordinary’ (ie exercising the regular jurisdiction attached to his office), but in medieval times a huge number of peculiar jurisdictions were created as episcopal and parochial boundaries were developed and English bishops increasingly asserted their authority over their dioceses, provoking resistance from other ecclesiastics, laity and religious houses who sought their own jurisdictional independence.

Peculiar jurisdiction might include the right to grant probates and administrations, the right of visitation, the right to grant marriage licences and the right to hear contentious litigation (ie hearing court cases between two parties). There were a great number of peculiars, they were of different jurisdictional types, they covered areas which ranged widely in extent, they varied in their scope and jurisdictions, and their numbers and powers of jurisdictions might change over time.

Bishops themselves had peculiar jurisdictions, which were of two kinds. First, a bishop might have peculiar jurisdictions within other dioceses. These were in effect ‘mini-dioceses’ in which the bishop exercised all episcopal functions within his peculiar, although these jurisdictions had limits: they were inhibited at visitations and cases from peculiar courts could be appealed upwards to the diocesan or provincial jurisdiction. Secondly, a bishop might also have peculiar jurisdictions within his own diocese, in which he exercised jurisdiction directly rather than through an archdeacon as would be normal in the rest of the diocese.

Some religious houses developed their own peculiar jurisdictions during the medieval period, usually through grants of exemption from diocesan authority by papal privilege. With the dissolution of the monasteries during the Reformation, the peculiars tied to the former religious houses were generally merged back into the normal diocesan structure, though sometimes they remained as peculiars but were transferred to another body or came into lay hands.

The deans and chapters of cathedrals developed extensive peculiar jurisdictions during the medieval period. The dean and the individual dignitaries, officials and prebendaries of the cathedral chapter might also have their own individual peculiar jurisdictions. These peculiar jurisdictions survived the Reformation.

The Diocese of York included examples of all of these different types of peculiar.

The Archbishop himself had his own peculiar jurisdictions. In the medieval period he was, like all other bishops, a major landowner (from which derived his income); in addition he had a secular jurisdiction over a number of liberties and bailiwicks, and, within these he also had a spiritual jurisdiction, bypassing the normal authority, whether it be archdeacon (if the peculiar was situated in the diocese) or bishop (if outside the diocese). These liberties and bailiwicks were located at Beverley, Sherburn in Elmet, Ripon and Otley in Yorkshire, and Southwell in Nottinghamshire, all of which were in the Diocese of York. Outside the Diocese he also had possessions at Hexham in Northumberland situated in the Diocese of Durham, and at Churchdown in Gloucestershire which was within the Diocese of Worcester. Over the course of time all these medieval secular jurisdictions, with their accompanying spiritual jurisdictions, came to an end (although the Archbishop’s role as a landowner was, and continued to be, an important one until all church estates were taken over by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the mid nineteenth century). The way in which the jurisdictions ended, however, differed in each case. The Lordship of Beverley was alienated to the Crown in 1543 and 1545 by Archbishops Lee and Holgate, in exchanges for property elsewhere and it did not return to the see. The Barony of Sherburn (in Elmet) covered the manors of Cawood, Wistow, Sherburn, Bishopslaithes and Bishopthorpe and also included some property in York; the manors of Sherburn and Bishopslaithes were alienated to the Crown by Archbishop Holgate in 1545 leaving only the manors of Cawood, Wistow and Bishopthorpe as well as a small quantity of land in Sheburn and the property in York. The remaining secular jurisdiction over Cawood and Wistow was subsequently extinguished in 1836 by the Liberties Act of 6&7 William IV c.87. In Ripon, the whole of the Archbishop’s Lordship was also alienated by Archbishop Holgate in 1545, but it was restored to the see of York by Mary in 1557. This secular jurisdiction was also extinguished by the 1836 Act. The Lordship of Otley remained with the see throughout the Reformation changes, the secular jurisdiction being also extinguished by the 1836 Act. The Liberty of Southwell and Scrooby in Nottinghamshire changed hands in the Reformation: Archbishop Lee alienated the Lordship of Southwell to the Crown in 1543 and Archbishop Lee alienated the Lordship of Scrooby to the Crown in 1545; however, both were restored under Mary in 1557, and the secular jurisdiction in the Soke of Southwell was ended by the 1836 Act. The Liberty of Hexham and Hexhamshire in Northumberland, within the Diocese of Durham, was alienated to the Crown by Archbishop Holgate in 1545 and it never returned to the see, being subsequently granted to lay owners. However, the spiritual jurisdiction remained with the Archbishop, and he, rather than the Bishop of Durham, thus exercised ordinary jurisdiction in the Liberty. The Barony of Churchdown in Gloucestershire in the Diocese of Worcester, was also alienated to the Crown by Archbishop Holgate in 1545; this too did not return to the see but later came into lay hands.

By far the largest number of peculiars in the Diocese of York belonged to the Dean and Chapter of York and the dignitaries and prebendaries of the Minster. These endowments had been acquired by grants from successive Archbishops of York between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, and by the end of the medieval period the York Chapter was one of the richest in the country, holding lands and churches throughout the province of York. At their fullest extent these peculiars comprised 134 parishes and townships of which 42 belonged to the Chapter itself and the remainder to Minster dignitaries and prebends. Most were within 20 miles of York but several were further afield, in Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Northumberland. These holdings were free from the jurisdiction of the archdeacons and their courts; they were also free from most archiepiscopal jurisdiction. The Dean and Chapter exercised all episcopal functions in these peculiars except for ordination and confirmation. The peculiar courts of the Dean and Chapter constituted a separate jurisdictional unit within the Diocese of York. The Courts heard office cases (ie cases instigated by the court), instance cases (ie cases between parties) and probate. There was a central court of the Dean and Chapter and there were lesser courts operating within the peculiars of individual dignitaries and prebends. These lesser courts were subordinate to the central Dean and Chapter court, which had appellate jurisdiction and, eventually, all the contentious jurisdiction - ie all cases between parties (the Peculiar Court of the Deanery, however, continued to retain its right to hear contentious jurisdiction). The central Dean and Chapter Court also had jurisdiction over the Diocese of York during vacancies of the see. By the mid nineteenth century the extent of Dean and Chapter peculiar jurisdiction was less extensive than it had been in the Middle Ages, but it was still very extensive.

There were also other peculiars in the Diocese belonging to other ecclesiastics. In Nottinghamshire the Chapter of Southwell exercised all episcopal functions except for ordination and confirmation within their Peculiar of Southwell. In Yorkshire, there were two Peculiars of Allerton and Allertonshire: one belonging to the Dean and Chapter of Durham and the other to the Bishop of Durham. The Dean and Chapter of Durham also possessed the Peculiar of Howden, Howdenshire and Hemingbrough. The Bishop of Durham also held the Manor of Crayke, which was a detached part of the County Palatine of Durham and a detached part of the Bishopric of Durham, until 1837 when the parish was transferred to the Archdeaconry of Cleveland in the Diocese of York and the peculiar jurisdiction extinguished.

In the Reformation period, some peculiar jurisdictions of Minster dignitaries and prebendaries came into the possession of lay proprietors. The office of Treasurer of the Minster came to an end in 1547 when it was resigned to the Crown with all its lands, manors, rights and appurtenances and its advowsons. The jurisdiction of the Peculiar of the Treasurership covered Acomb, Alne and Tollerton and the Prebend of Wilton and Newthorpe, and the three peculiar courts of Acomb, Alne and Tollerton and Bishop Wilton subsequently came into lay ownership. In the 1540s a number of the Minster Prebends also came to an end. The Prebend of Masham was dissolved in 1546 and it then came into the hands of Trinity College Cambridge. The Prebend of South Cave was alienated to the Crown by the last Prebendary in 1549 and it subsequently came into lay ownership. The Peculiar of Wadworth, formerly part of the Prebend of South Cave was also transferred into lay ownership after 1549. The Prebend of Salton was formerly annexed to the Priory of Hexham until the dissolution of the Priory in 1540; it then came into the hands of the Crown and thence to lay proprietors. Although these peculiars had passed into lay hands, the Dean and Chapter continued to exercise contentious jurisdiction over the Peculiar of Acomb and the Dissolved Prebends of Bishop Wilton, Masham, South Cave, Salton and Wadworth.
The dissolution of the monasteries saw other peculiars in the Diocese transfer into lay ownership. The Peculiar of Selby and the Peculiar of Snaith had both formerly belonged to the Abbot and Convent of Selby; they were transferred to the Crown in 1539 and were subsequently held by lay proprietors.

This complex picture of peculiar jurisdiction finally came to an end in the nineteenth century. Between 1836 and 1852 most of the peculiar jurisdictions in the Church of England were abolished by Orders in Council made under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Acts 1836 and 1850. All Peculiars in the Diocese of York were ended by Order of Council dated 27 August 1846.

Records in this section comprise records for the following Peculiar Jurisdictions.

Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Archbishop, comprising the Liberty of Hexham and Hexhamshire (1588-1849) and the Liberty of Ripon (1686-1844).
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of York comprising records of administration (1509-20th century), records of jurisdiction (14th – 20th centuries), records of visitation (1513-1778), records of vacancy jurisdiction (1588-1860).
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Deanery of York, comprising records of administration (1600-1861) and records of jurisdiction and visitation (1666-1844)
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Precentorship of York (1566-1812).
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Chancellorship of York (1669-1812).
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Subdeanery of York (1680-1812).
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Succentorship of the Canons (1737-1812).
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Dissolved Treasurership of York, comprising the Peculiar Court of Acomb (1529-1863), the Peculiar Court of Alne and Tollerton (1524-19th century) and the Peculiar Court of Bishop Wilton (1699-1865).
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Prebendaries of York Minster, comprising the jurisdictions of the Prebend of Ampleforth (1601-1812), Barnby (1637-1767), Bilton (1626-1812), Bugthorpe (1631-1812), Fenton (1600-1812), Holme Archiepiscopi (1601-1812), Husthwaite (1660-1812), Knaresborough (1776-1777), Langtoft (1601-1812), North Newbald (1601-1812), Osbaldwick (1619-1812), Riccall (1627-1812), Stillington (1601-1812), Strensall (1417-1812), Warthill (1631-1812), Weighton (1600-1812), Wetwang (1601-1812), Wistow (1576-1812), Dissolved Prebend of South Cave (1601-1812), Dissolved Prebend of Salton (1634-1812), Dissolved Prebend of Wadworth (1603-1812).
Other Peculiar Jurisdictions, comprising the Howden and Howdenshire Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Durham (early 16th century- 1865), Selby Peculiar (1617-1868) and Snaith Peculiar (1599-19th century).

Records include court books, cause papers and other court records, faculty papers, sequestrations, visitation records, penances, matrimonial records, parish register transcripts, papers relating to incumbents, administrative records and correspondence. There are also records from the Chapter Registry.


System of arrangement

This is part of the new arrangement of the York Diocesan Archive which is currently being prepared.
The new arrangement draws on the earlier arrangements of 1973 and 2003-2005 but will also incorporate some reorganisation, based on a comprehensive survey and inventory of the archive, and much new cataloguing.

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  • English
  • Latin

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Finding aids

Until the new arrangement of the York Diocesan Archive is complete, the online finding aids to series level on the Archives Hub, should be consulted. These reflect the 1973 arrangement as modified in 2003-2005.

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For the Peculiars of the Archdeacons of York see YDA/8 Archdeaconries.
The records relating to the probate jurisdiction of all the peculiar courts are at YDA/11 Probate.

For the bulk of the administrative and visitation records of the Dean and Chapter see the holdings at York Minster Archives. The records held at the Borthwick relating to the peculiar jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter comprise those records which had been left in the Diocesan Registry when the rest of the chapter records were moved elsewhere, together with the parish register transcripts and marriage bonds that were later transferred to the Borthwick by the Minster Library.

For the records of the Southwell Peculiars belonging to the Archbishop and to the Chapter of Southwell, see the holdings at Nottinghamshire Archives.

For records of other Peculiars belonging to the Bishop of Durham and to the Dean and Chapter of Durham, see the holdings at Durham University Library Archives and Special Collections.

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Created by K. Webb April 2016




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