|London Consistory Court Depositions Index 1700
London Consistory Court Depositions Index 1700-1713
What was the Consistory Court of London?
The Consistory Court of London, one of numerous Church Courts, was the main court dealing, inter alia, with legal separation and matrimonial disputes. This index contains over 3,000 records to cases and witness depositions in the period 1703-1713. These cases may involve matrimonial matters such as divorce and separation, breech of promise, arguments over estates and probate, defamation, and "criminous conversation". This preoccupation led to them being referred to as the Bawdy Courts.
What do the index records contain?
The index records typically contain full name of the deponent, their age, birthplace, current place of residence, name of their spouse, occupation of their or their spouse and the length of time they have been married.
Records can be searched by first and last names of deponent, year (of deposition) and county of birth
The Consistory Court had jurisdiction over the whole of the bishopric of London, and so cases concerning not just London and Middlesex but parts of Hertfordshire and Essex appear in its records.
About the depositions
The procedure of the church courts was very different from the civil court system of today. The parties to a case provided witnesses to attempt to persuade the court of their case (or defence). These witnesses were known as deponents, as their evidence was given, not orally, but by deposition, a written statement of the facts. Depositions were taken in response to written lists of questions (called interrogatories) drawn up in advance.
People from all walks of life and place of origin appeared as witnesses in these cases. Servants and tradesmen would be called upon to tell their story and, in this prurient age, to "shop" their master or neighbour. Though used primarily by the local London community there are entries relating to people from outside London and Middlesex. The church courts were one of the few ways to obtain a legal separation and to solve matrimonial disputes between husband and wife. Although relatively expensive they were used by a significant number of people. The lure of London has always been strong and it was a community made up of both Londoners and in-comers. However the sheer number of parishes in the City of London and Middlesex can make finding an individual as difficult as looking for the needle in the haystack. Indexes such as this are invaluable for anyone who needs to look for Londoners or migrants to London at this period.
Slightly over half of the depondents are female.
What do the index records tell you?
These index records are quite rich, and typically contain (where given in the deposition), the following information about each deponent:
The depositions themselves from a very early date are in English but the preambles, giving the biographical information about the deponent, are in Latin until 1733. In the index records all terms have been rendered into English. With some occupations this may introduce inaccuracy, for example pistor has been translated as baker but sometimes may mean miller, while agricola
has been translated as yeoman though it may just mean husbandman.
- Full name
- Parish of birth
- Current parish of residence
- Occupation of the deponent or their spouse
- The length of time they have been married
- Folio reference and date of the deposition
Depositions frequently give substantial genealogical and biographical information, which may be difficult or impossible to obtain from any other source. Deponents often gave quite detailed information about themselves before they answered the remaining questions in their deposition; it is this personal information which is included in the index records here. The most informative depositions give the present parish, occupation and age of the deponent and his or her birthplace. They may give the amount of time he or she had spent in the parish, and where they had been before. Married women often state the period of time they had been married. The information is greater, in general, the earlier the deposition, varying however from case to case. Key genealogical information such as birthplace is given fairly commonly in the late seventeenth century, getting rare by the 1730s and unknown in the 1760s. Searchers who do view the original records should also examine the depositions of other witnesses in the case.
For examples of the index records and for details of where the source records are held see About London Consistory Court Depositions Index 1700-1713.