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THE COURT OF ARCHES (1661-1853)

Transcribed by Brian Randell

Historical background

This was a church court of appeal and the archives, which are still held at the Lambeth Palace Library, are quite extensive. The following quotation is from the Library's web site:

"The Court of Arches, the court of appeal of the Archbishop of Canterbury, dates back to the 13th century, but with the exception of a dozen volumes, the extensive archive dates from the Restoration. In its heyday the court exercised an extensive jurisdiction over marriage, probate and testamentary disputes, defamation, church property (rates, tithes, fabric of churches), and morals of the clergy and laity. The archive is very extensive. It includes over 2000 process books, transcripts of proceedings in the lower court sent up on appeal, and exhibits, including mediaeval title deeds (Fineshade cartulary), court books, probate accounts, churchwardens' accounts, rate books etc."

 

The Source (ARCH)

A published volume lists all the cases heard in the court: Index of cases in the records of the Court of Arches at Lambeth Palace Library, 1660-1930, J. Houston, ed. (British Record Society, Index Library, Vol. 85).

 

DWP's editing process

Records on Devon people in this volume were originally extracted by Jean Harris: see Devon Names - Court of Arches. To fit the present index, the format of items from Jean Harris's list has been altered, the name of the testator (rather than the contestants in the court case) being selected for indexing, and detailed references have been omitted. Very seldom is the name given in this volume of the probate court in which the original will was proved, but it is certainly possible that in many instances Court of Arches papers may be the only surviving evidence of wills that were destroyed in Exeter in the Blitz.

 

Locating the source and acquiring copies

Regarding probate cases heard at the court, though it is reasonable to assume that a copy of the relevant will was available at the time of each court case, it is not at all clear whether the case documents that do survive include that will copy. An enquiry to the Lambeth Palace Library, giving the names of the contestants in a case and the case number (both shown in our 'Reference' column), should enable the librarian there to determine whether such a copy has survived.