Licence for Papists to Leave Their Homes.

Devon Notes and Queries 1 (1900-01) pp.199-200.

Transcribed by by Michael Steer

The Five Mile Act, or Oxford Act, or Nonconformists Act 1665, was an Act of Parliament (17 Charles II c. 2), passed in 1665 with the title "An Act for restraining Non-Conformists from inhabiting in Corporations". It was the most recent of legislative penal laws passed in the reigns of Elizabeth and James that sought to enforce conformity to the established Church of England, and to expel any who did not conform. Such laws required an elaborate process of Licenses to nonconformist permitting them to work or travel more than five miles from their homes. The extract, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from google books, with a search by either author or title, and also from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.


1679. By statutes of Queen Elizabeth and King James I., Papists were forbidden to depart above five miles from home without licence from the Privy Council, or under the hands and seals of four Justices of the Peace. 

The licence quoted below, granted to certain members of the Arlington branch of the Chichester family, shows that the statute was by no means a dead letter in North Devon. The Arlington branch of this family professed the Roman Catholic religion until about the year 1795, when John Palmer Chichester read his recantation in Exeter Cathedral. This gentleman was the great grandson of the John Chichester to whom the licence was granted, and great grandfather of Miss Chichester, of Arlington Court, the present representative of the family. 

Forasmuch as John Chichester of Arlington in this County of Devon Esq. did come this day before us and did take his corporall oath that Ursula his wife and Prudence his daughter 
are in a very ill condition of health and strength and that they are advised by there Physitions for the recovery thereof to make use of the Bath Waters. We, therefore John Gifford, 
Richard Coffin, Edward Lovett and Arthur Ackland Esqrs foure of his Maj s Justices of the Peace for this County do hereby upon the request of the said John Chichester and by Virtue of 
a Statute made in the 3 d yeare of King James of blessed memory, so farr as in us lies licence the said John Chichester together with Ursula his wife and Prudence his daughter and 
such Servants as are for there necessary use not exceeding the number five to travell the direct way from Arlington where they now dwell to the City of Bath in the County of Somersett so as there journey be not of longer continuance than two months after the date hereof and then to return to there said habitation of Arlington aforesaid. Praying you and every of you nott to molest or trouble the said John Chichester or Company in there said travell but to permit and suffer them peaceably to pass so as they show themselves in no respect offensive to his Maj tis Laws. 

In Witness whereof We have hereunto set oar hands and Seals the i5th of June in the 3ist year of his Maje s Reign, Anno Dom 1 1679. 

To all Justices of the Peace 

Mayors Bailiffs Con bles and all other his Maj ties officers and Ministers whatsoever.