The following notes are culled from Dr F G Emmison's introduction to one
of his volumes in the 5-volume set "Elizabethan Life" subtitled :
Morals and the Church courts
Home, Work and Land
Wills of Essex Gentry & Merchants etc
Wills &c [can't find this title pro tem]
I am extracting names from these books into a series of text files
- Home, Work and Land
- The wills of Gentry
- The wills of Merchants
- The wills of Yeomen
- Morals and the Church Court
It is very clear from Dr Emmison's introduction that he
has only quoted names sparsely and the books have only a tiny part of the
names available within the Essex records. Nevertheless by putting these
name indexes into the BBS system I feel the names are being given a great
increase in accessibility. My practice in compiling indexes is to give as
much information as possible so that the indexes are more than simple
references to a source.
Dr Emmison's introduction to "Disorder" runs to eight pages and I have
extracted parts that seem to give the best background to his work, his
intentions, and to the availability of data. My own comments are in
I have written to Dr Emmison and have had a very encouraging response.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
My commission from the ECC is to include as much information as possible
within three volumes of about 300 pages [they became 5], selecting from
Sessions, Assize, Queen's Bench, Archidiaconal, Manorial, Municipal,
Probate and Parochial archives for 1558-1603. Only a tiny fraction of the
material has previouslky appeared in print.
The preservation almost intact of the great series of Quarter Sessions
rolls of Essex from as early as 1556 is little short of miraculous. The
small number possessed by other counties date from the 1580s or 1590s or
are incomplete with only a few exceptions. The Essex rolls 1556-1603
number about 10000 documents. Many contain a large number of individual
entries. The cost of printing would be quite prohibitive. The writs,
jury lists and recognizances to keep the peace are of little value. Many
indictments for theft are of minor interest. [Though for genealogists they
would be an invaluable source of names].
A solution [to the problems of publishing these books] was found. It was
arranged that I should retire as County Archivist three years before the
normal age and be commissioned to undertake the preparation of the books.
Volumes of the court records of the two archdeaconries and the other two
ecclesiastical courts in Essex contain approximately 25000 entries, though
there are repetitions where persons failed to appear. Some thousands of
extracts have been card-indexed by myself as a preliminary task. There
are now in ERO court rolls for 200 manors for Elizabeth. They may contain
up to 100,000 entries. All the 10000 Elizabethan wills housed in the ERO
have also been read and indexed. Parish records have been deposited for
nearly all parishes.
[In producing this series of books] what are the chief omissions ? Jury
lists and writs, which are virtually confined to personal names, are
completely ignored. No mention is made of the hundreds of recognizances
and indictments for larceny where the personal names are those of humble
people or the articles are of common use. Many personal names are
omitted, to save space, where their being quoted would add little or
nothing to the context; but they are included where identification, for
instance in a long narrative, facilitates narration. Documents referring
to esquires, gentlemen or persons with important or unusual occupations
are among those selected for citation. The early presentments by the
hundreds contain hundreds of names of those who had failed to appear or
failed to scour their ditches or so forth. The great majority of
documents relating to persons or parishes are of interest mainly to family
historians and genealogists and to parish historians.
For them the ERO has compiled not only full indices to the calendars of
the criminal court records but also what is probably the biggest index of
personal names for any county. Those interested in individual families or
particular towns and villages will still need to visit the Office or to
employ a professional record searcher. The County has spent large sums of
money in providing these indices - as well as detailed indices of subjects
to all classes - which save the searcher an immense amount of time and
As it is, I have done considerably more work than anticipated, and, partly
in consequence, the volume [Disorder] has exceeded my authorised length.
Dr Emmison wrote these books, and the introduction that I have quoted
from, long before the explosion of interest in family history and long
before the staggering growth of research by individuals, researching the
wealth of documents now available on fiche and microfilm, many of us armed
with home computers. His work was done in the days of the card index (as
he says), and many of the great indexes produced by offices such as ERO
remain accessible only to personal visitors. Thus at this stage there is
still value in the work done by indexers over the world in producing
computerised indexes from books such as Dr Emmison's. It seems likely
that the resources of the ERO in particular would lend themselves to being
microfilmed or fiched for more general access, though it is extremely
unlikely that any of them are "narrative indexes" such as I have
produced. They would be a reference to a source but would not themselves
contain personal information.
Wellington, New Zealand
Accessible via GenBoard
In the volume "Morals and the Church Courts" (published 1973), Dr Emmison
refers to a thesis published by Dr J P Anglin entitled "The Court of the
Archdeacon of Essex, 1571-1609: An Institutional and Social Study". It
was published by the University of California 1965 and a copy is held by
the ERO. I suspect that Dr Anglin's book may well be another useful
source for Essex names of the period.
"He (Dr Anglin) is at present extending the scope by a more comprehensive
study on the administration of the Essex spiritual courts and the clergy,
which will also include the material for the Archdeaconry of Colchester
and much complementary evidence from the records of the episcopal
Consistory Court and the secular courts."
Dr Emmison also says "The foundation work, often quoted in our present and
previous volumes, is T.W. Davids "Annals of Evangelical Nonconformity in
Another quoted book looks interesting - R.G. Usher, "The Presbyterian
Movement in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth as Illustrated by the Minute Book
of the Dedham Classis, 1582-1589", published 1905.
I would hope that these three works might give us a good many more names
from Elizabethan Essex.
In a useful footnote, Dr Emmison says "Photostats of all Elizabethan Essex
wills in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (now in the Public Record
Office, about 1000) were recently purchased by the Friends of Historic
Essex and will be deposited in the E.R.O. when the present writer has
finished using them."
He also notes "Clerical wills were mostly proved in the Consistory Court.
These wills are deposited in the Greater London Record Office."