The Consistory Court was established in Bristol following the creation of the bishopric and diocese in 1542. Previously the Bristol parishes north of the river Avon had been part of the diocese of Worcester, while the parishes south of the river were in the diocese of Bath and Wells. In this article, Joseph Bettey explores a neglected source for local history and genealogy in Bristol and the surrounding area: the records of the Church or Consistory Court. Proceedings of the court, including statements by witnesses, were recorded in detail, and 45 Cause Books survive starting in 1545, as well as numerous bundles of Cause Papers from 1600.Ecclesiastical jurisdiction dealt with many aspects of daily life, including disputes over wills, marriage and inheritance, offences such as heresy, immorality, drunkenness and slander, failure to attend church and misdemeanours of the clergy.
In the years after 1600 Taunton was marked by a heady mixture of radical Puritanism and the volatile wool trade. Together these pitched Taunton into the centre of the Civil War in the area and, on two occasions in the second half of the seventeenth century, into open rebellion against the government. William Gibson follows Taunton’s transition from a centre of rebellion to peaceable borough in the eighteenth century.
Market practices could be the cause of many disorders throughout the early modern period, so food riots were a common occurrence. Rural customs and traditional rights were based on the belief that the rural community were entitled to a fair price of grain, even in times of dearth. These core beliefs naturally came with strong rules about which market practices were acceptable, and which were not. In this article, we meet a particular type of market villain: the ‘badger’. Neil Howlett uncovers the story of a Midford food riot in 1630 following the arrival of corn badgers.
Mary Hamilton was perhaps the most notorious cross-dresser or ‘female-husband’ of her day. She lived in Somerset, among other places, and was the subject of scandal across the country for her habitual crime of marrying other women. Her story was preserved in the pages of an anonymous pamphlet by a famous contemporary novelist and dramatist. Through the story of Mary Hamilton, Sheila Hannon considers the rights and responsibilities of modern-day novelists and dramatists in their use of historical evidence. To what extent can writers take liberties with historical record in the name of ‘dramatic license’, when much of the ‘historical evidence’ that remains is itself fiction?