The Quarter Sessions in the seventeenth century were greatly concerned in religious questions; and in the compelling of people to go to church, and to observe the ordinances of the church.


By the Statute 35 Eliz. c. 2, sec. 4, it was enacted that all "Popiste Recusants" should deliver their true names in writing to the Minister of the Parish and to the Constable or Tything man of the towne and the Minister shall enter the same in a Booke to be kepte in everie Parishe for that Purpose and afterwards the Minister and the Constable shall certifie the same in writing to the Justices of the Peace of the Countie at the next General or Quarter Sessions and the Justices shall cause the same to be entered by the Clarke of the Peace in the Rolles of the same Sessions.

In consequence of the Gunpowder Plot a further Statute was passed in 1605 (3 Jas. I, c. 4) which enacted that the Churchwarden and the Constable of every Parish were once in every year to present the monthly absence from church of all Popish Recusants and the names of each of their children being of the age of 9 years and upwards and the names of the servants of such Recusants. The presentments were to be accepted, entered and recorded in the Sessions by the Clerk of the Peace. The Justices were to enquire of offenders and to have power to make proclamation by which it was commanded that the body of every such offender be rendered to the Sheriff of the County, or bailiff, or other keeper of the gaol before the next Sessions, and if at the next Sessions the offender so proclaimed did not appear, it operated as a conviction, as if upon trial of the indictment a verdict of guilty should have been found.

The penalties were very heavy, viz., £20 per month in respect of every offender.

If a recusant was convicted the Churchwarden or Constable got a reward of 40/- out of the recusant's estate.

The Justices also had power to require any person of the age of 18 to take a prescribed oath of allegiance and supremacy. A certificate of the taking of the oath was to be recorded by the Clerk of the Peace; and on refusal there was a committal to prison till the Sessions or Assizes.

There are several Records of persons attending in Court and voluntarily taking the oath of allegiance according to the Statute, viz.: Richard Kirke of Car Colston, yeoman, on 5th October, 1614; Andrew Reynes of Stanford, yeoman, and Elizabeth Gibeon of Car Colston, spinster, on 2nd October, 1615; Valentine Revill of Stirrop, gentleman, on 4th October, 1616; and Wm. Nevill and Robert Huddleston, on 2nd May, 1617. The effect of so taking the oath was that the Court ordered that "the several sums by them heretofore forfeited for absence from Church are condoned, and are not extracted from them."

For refusing to take the Oath Edward Sutton of Kelham, gentleman, was committed to gaol on 30th April, 1617, and a Richard Wolf on 9th April, 1619.

On the 7th October, 1625, a man was indicted "for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance before the present Justices in open Court, and for secretly leaving the Court in contempt."

The Records from 1603 to 1642 (in the reigns of James I. and Charles I.) contain long lists of persons presented as Recusants under the Statutes above mentioned, most of whom were also proclaimed and convicted. The same names appear over and over again.

The following statistics of the number of presentments in each year show the activity of the Constables and of the Justices:

In the Reign of James I.
1604 . . . 11 1611 . . . 1 1618 . . . 120
1605 . . . 44 1612 . . . 0 1619 . . . 125
1606 . . . 37 1613 . . . 41 1620 . . . 163
1607 . . . 63 1614 . . . 6 1621 . . . 183
1608 . . . 25 1615 . . . 8 1622 . . . 169
1609 . . . 3 1616 . . . 0 1623 . . . 245
1610 . . . 13 1617 . . . 85 1624 . . . 369
In the Reign of Charles I.
1625 . . . 242 1631 . . . 271 1637 . . . 237
1626 . . . 208 1632 . . . 257 1638 . . . 282
1627 . . . 177 1633 . . . 274 1639 . . . 242
1628 . . . 213 1634 . . . 139 1640 . . . 339
1629 . . . 163 1635 . . . 162 1641 . . . 260
1630 . . . 216 1636 . . . 293 1642 . . . 124

The names of the persons presented, arranged in the order of parishes, will be found in the Appendix A (pages 149 to 156).

The Statute 3 James I. c. 4, sec. 11, provided that if any persons indicted of recusancy "that at any tyme hereafter submitt and conforme hym or herselfe, and become obedient to the Lawes of the Church of England and repaire to the Parish Church and there heare Divine Service and there publikely receive the Sacrament according to the Lawes of this Realme of England then every such person so indicted shall be allowed to reverse and undoe the said Indictment."

On 30th April, 1617, the Vicar and Churchwardens having testified that Edward Matthewes, Esq. had come to divine service and "there orderly and "soberly" stayed the whole service he was discharged from his conviction, and he attended and took the Oath."

On 5th May, 1619, Roger Jackson, Vicar of Colston Bassett, produced in Court a "Certificate of conformity" of Thos. Taylor, gentleman.

On 10th July, 1626, John Fielding a proclaimed recusant and Margaret wife of John Marnham a convicted recusant produced a Certificate of Conformity under the hand of Brian Brittayne, Vicar of the Parish Church of Mansfield.

On 2nd October, 1626, Lady Frances Pierrepont attended and presented the following Certificate of the Archbishop of York:
          "To all Xtian people to whom these presents shall come Tobie by the providence of God Lord Archbishop of Yorke Primate of England and Metropolitane sendeth greeting in our Lord God everlasting Whereas I am crediblie informed that the Ladie ffrances Pierrepont of Holme Pierreponte in the Countie of Nottingham widow hath beene noted to bee a Popish Recusant forbearing to heare devine service used and allowed in this Realme Know yee that the said ladie ffrances Pierrepont did this daie videlt the ffourteenth daie of June instant 1626 repaire to my Castle of Cawood and there in the fforenoone of the same daie was present and verie attentivelie and religiouslie heard devine service in the presence of myself and of Robert Pierrepont Esquire Mr. Henry Wickham Archdeacon of Yorke and of my ffamily and sundrie others than and there assembled And wthall did willinglie before me take the oathes of Supremacy and allegiance submitting herself in her due obedience to the King's most excellent Majesty In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and Archiepall seale the saide ffourteenth daie of June 1626 and in the second yeare of the Reigne of our Sovereign Lord Charles by the Grace of God Kinge of England Scotland ffraunce and Ireland Defender of the faith &c." Lady ffrances Pierrepont was duly exonerated on her professing and promising all her life to conform to the laws and Statute under consideration.

On 10th January, 1626-1627, John Molyneux of Farndon, gentleman, was presented for not receiving the Lords Supper for an entire year; but on 11th July, 1627, he was exonerated from the presentment made against him without any fine for the same because William Howitt, Vicar of Farndon, and Richard Simney, Vicar of East Stoke, "credibly gave the Court to understand and informed it that the same John Molineux at all times customary and appointed within the year above said received the aforesaid Lords Supper in the due manner as the other Parishioners received it."

Apparently there was generally a locus penitentice left even after conviction, and punishment could be avoided by attending church.

On 15th July, 1618, Jane, wife of Ludovic Mills, yeoman of North Collingham, was bound over to appear at next Assizes for not coming to church at the time of celebration of Common prayer except at the time of the sermon nor receiving the Sacrament. Ordered that if the said Jane in the interim shall conform then the recognizance shall not be certified, if under the hand of . . . . . Langdon, clerk there, such conformity of her be certified to the Justices.

On 21st April, 1626, Ann, wife of Richard Lawrenson of Edwinstowe, being a convicted recusant was ordered to be sent to gaol "unless she attends her parish church before the Lords day next after one week."

On 27th April, 1636, John Hinton of South Collingham was indicted "for accepting bribes from divers papists (papibus)." The records do not say who John Hinton was. Presumably he was a person whose duty it was to present persons for not attending church.

On 8th April, 1616, a warrant was granted to apprehend Nicholas ffielding of Mansfield, weaver, "to find security before the Justices to produce the body of his wife at the next Sessions, for concealing her name, being presented for a popish recusant."

On 15th July, 1608, Anthony Else of Carlton, was indicted "for keeping a papist recusant in a house."

On the 12th April, 1616, William Aldredge, the son of a laborer at Bothamsall, was committed for trial at the Assizes "for that he being a papist recusant and not come to the church for the space of nyne months last past (as he himself confesseth) hath received divers books of one Roger Bown and of late been seduced from the religion established by God in England, to the Romish Religion."

Edward Smyth of Walesby, clerk, was bound over to prosecute.

The Roger Bown referred to, who is described as a "piper" and late of Dranfield in the County of Derby was also committed for trial at the Assizes "for having and on him carrying round beads crucifixes and books brought from beyond the seas; and for seducing a certain William Aldredge from the English Religion to the Romish Religion."

On the 21st April, 1615, William Wynne, clerk, late of Edwinstowe was presented "because he is a recusant, and teaches as a Schoolmaster."

On the 7th April, 1624, Richard Hughes of Caunton, clerk, was presented "for a private meeting or sermon (concion) in a house," and six persons were presented for attending same.

There are no lists of persons presented as Popish Recusants in the Records of Quarter Sessions during the Commonwealth period.

In 1655, the Lord Protector issued a Proclamation which is entered on the Records of Quarter Sessions.

The following is the preamble of this document:

"Whereas it hath been found by experiance that notwithstanding the strict and severe Laws made and standing in force against Jesuits and Popish Priests, many of them have presumed to resort unto and remaine within this Comon wealth, and the Dominions thereunto belonging and do with greate audacity exercise all office of their profession both saying Masses and reconciling the people to the Church of Rome and by consequence seducing them from the true persuasion which all people ought to have of their duty and obedience to their Governours and holding ourselfe obliged in duty and conscience to use all good meanes to preserve the people from being corrupted in Religion, Piety and Obedience to keep them from being infected with superstitious and Idolatrus opinions in matters of Religion which cannot be so surely performed as by keeping them from the Ministers and Instruments of that infection, which are the Priests of all sorts, Ordained in forigne parts by authority prohibited by the Laws of this Land."

Search was ordered to be made, and all ministers and officers were to apprehend Jesuits and Popish Priests and commit them to the common gaol until tried, &c.

The proclamation then proceeds to recite that "of late tyme there hath been a greate neglect in putting the Laws in execution for converting of Popish Recusants," and it is commanded that the oath commonly called the Oath of Abjuration shall be administered to any person over the age of 21 years.

The Oath was as follows:

          I, A. B. do abjure and renounce the Popes supremacy and authority over ye Catholiqe Church in generall and over myself in particular and I doe believe that there is not any transubstantiacon in the Sacrament of ye Lords Supper, or in the Elements of Bread and Wyne after consecration thereof by any person whatsoever, and I doe also believe that there is not any Purgatory and that the Consecrated Hoast Crucifixes or Images ought not to be worshiped neither that any worshipp is due unto any of them, and I also believe that salvation cannot be merited by works, and all doctrines in affermation of the said points I do abjure and renounce without any Equivocations, Mentall Reservation or secret Evasion whatsoever takeing the words made by me spoken according to the comon and usuall meaning of them, So help me God.

Instructions were also sent to the Justices that they should certifye to the Right Honorable the Lord Chief Baron and the rest of the Barons of his Highnes Court of Exchequer schedules of names, addresses and titles of persons being suspected to be popishly affected who took the Oath of Abjuration or refused to take the same.

The following persons refused to take the "Oath of Abjuracon" when tendered to them in Court:

George Ward of North Collingham, in 1656;
George Michell of Gedling, yeoman, in 1656;
John Goodridge of Sturton, in 1657; and
Richard Parnell of East Rettford, in 1657.

George Michell, who had been convicted in 1658 of popish recusancy, was "disabled and discharged by the Court from being a schoolmaster or the publique teaching of children," and was bound over to keep the peace and to "leave off from keeping any school."

John Goodridge, in 1657, was fined 5/- "for his absence from his parish church for five Sabboth daies last past by his own confession neither can make it appeare that he was exercised in the worshipp of God in any other place."

In 1658, the Sheriff of the County received the following communication, which is entered on the Records:

          Wee have received Information that divers Popish Recusants being either actually somoned or doubting they shalbe somoned to take ye Oath of Abjuracon procured from some Officers certificates whereby it appeared yt they have been formerly otherwise convicted which they make use of to avoyd takeing the Oath. The proceedings against Recusants directed by ye late Act of Parliament are different from what the proceedings formerly were in cases of this nature, and are grounded soely upon the refuseing or neglecting to take ye Oath soe yt if yt be evaded Wee conceive there will not be soe effectuall an execution as ye Law intends Wee desire therefore yt you will be pleased at your next generall Sessions of ye Peace to communicate to ye Justices to ye end such Certificates may not be admitted nor any proceedings where ye Law directs, neglected upon ye producing of them, Wee
      are Sir
           Your very loveing friends
               B. Whitlock
               Th. Widdington.

Westminster, Aprill 1st, 1658.
To our very worthy freind ye high
Sheriff e of ye County of Nottingham

The Records show that immediately after the Restoration of Charles II. in the year 1660 there were presentments of twenty-eight Popish Recusants. The names of these will be found in Appendix B (page 156).

Prior to the Restoration presentments were of two kinds: for "Recusan ab ecclie" and for "Absence from church," and it may be assumed that the former were in respect of Roman Catholics, and the latter in respect of Protestants.

After the year 1676, the distinction can no longer be made, for all the presentments whether of Popish Recusants or of Protestants were for "absence from church."

Between 1676 and 1686 there are long lists of persons presented for "Absence from church for one month." Many of these persons undoubtedly were Popish Recusants. See Appendix C (pages 156 to 162).

The number of presentments for "Absence from church" in the reigns of Charles II. and James II. were:

In Reign of Charles II.
1659 . . . 115 1680 . . . 249
1676 . . . 261 1681 . . . 411
1677 . . . 790 1682 . . . 338
1678 . . . 704 1683 . . . 803
1679 . . . 538 1684 . . . 792
In Reign of James II.
1685 . . . 725 1686 . . . 171

After this date the lists of persons presented for this offence (if any) are not recorded.

After the Titus Oates Plot in 1678, there was evidently increased activity in regard to Popish Recusants as appears from the following documents found in a Sessions Roll of the year 1680 that has been preserved:

1.     Certificate by Justices as follows:
"By virtue of a Commission under the great seale of England for tendering the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to the Recusants in the County of Nottingham And in obedience to a letter from his Majestys most honourable Privy Councill to us his Majestys Commissioners directed Wee doe at our Generall Quarter Sessions of the Peace held at Newarke by adjornament the one and twentieth day of Aprill in the two and thirtieth yeare of his Majestys Raigne Humbly Certifye to the Honerable Board
     That Martha Sanders, widow, was summoned to appeare before us but was sick
           as appeared unto us by ye oath of Dr. Jo. Yarborough her Phisician.
     That Thomas Holdernesse has not beene Resident at Southwell these thirty years.
     That Robt Smith of Newark, Gent, was gone from home
     That John Pattison had taken the sayd Oathes as wee were informed and gone to London
     And that John More of Kirklington Esqre has been absent from his habitacon these eighteen mounthes and as wee           are credibly informed is in ffrance.
Wch said Parties are all the Persons named in ye Commission within our Division in this County and that wee doe not know any other Papists therein eminent either for theire Quality, Estate or Activenesse And in all humble obedience wee Subscribe ourselves
           Your Lordshipps most dutifull Servants.

2.     A letter to the Clerk of the Peace addressed "To Mr. John Conde, Clerke of ye Peace for ye County of Nott, at his house in Newarke ---------- Del ----------for his Majestys service.
               Nott Apr ye 3rd 1680
Mr. Conde
We desire you by the Mundays Post to send us his Majestys late Comission together with ye Letter from ye Councell that upon our Perusall and consideracon of ye same wee may send forth our warrants for ye appearances of all Recusants within ye Hundreds of Bingham Rushcliffe and Broxtowe at ye next Sessions of ye Peace yt ye Oath of Allegiance and Supremacye may be Legally tendred unto them soe yt wee may then further proceed according to our Instrucions in yt behalf: herein wee expect you shall not be remiss, as you tender his Majestys service. We are
               Your loving ffriends
                         Tho. Charlton
                         Tho. Parkyns
Mr. Arthur Stanhope hath promised to accompany us at ye Sessions.

3.     Warrant dated 10 Apr. 1680 addressed to Jonathan Burrowes Bailiffe of ye Hundred of Broxtowe to summon the several persons whose names are therein written to appear at the Quarter Sessions at the Kings Hall Nottingham on Monday, 19 April, 1680, to take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy.

4.     Similar warrant dated 10 Apr. 1680, to Richard Baldocke Bailiffe of ye Hundred of Rushcliffe.

5.     Certificate as follows:
To ye Right Honerable His Majestys Privy Councell Wee humbly certifye wee mett at ye General Sessions of the Peace held at East Rettford in ye County of Nottingham by adjournement upon the three and twentyeth of Aprill last past and there was issued out a Warrant signed under our hands and Seals to William Clarke the Bayliffe of the hundered of Bassettlaw to sumon the Lady Elizabeth Pierrepont, Nicholas Tyrwhitt Esqr., Thomas Markham Esqre., William Brailesford, Esqr., Robt. Sherborne and Alice Vawdery to appeare before us at East Rettford aforesaid upon ye third day of May next ensueing upon wch day the said William Clarke did come before us at East Rettford aforesaid and upon oath did Certifie
That hee was at Howbecke [Holbeck] where ye said Lady Peirpont did reside when shee was in ye County of Nottingham and that hee was informed that she had not bine there of above a year and an halfe, and that shee went from thence beyond sea [the words "to Harlem in Holland" struck out.]
Hee likewise summoned Nicholas Tyrwitt Esqr who was not at home, but has now appeared before us and taken ye said Oaths of Allegeance and Supremacye.
Hee saith alsoe that hee was at ye house of Thomas Markham in ye Comission named and hee was then informed hee was about 12 monthes since gone beyond ye sea by licence from his Majesty.
Hee alsoe saith that he made enquiry at Wellow concerning ye said William Braylesford but was informed that hee had not inhabitted there for above ye space of seaven years last past but his last habitacon was about London.
Hee alsoe saith yt he was at ye house of Mrs. Vawdry and was informed that shee was in flanders and had bine there for some tyme.
Hee alsoe saith that hee was at Thrumpton in ye parish of Ordsall to sumon ye said Robt Sherborne but could heare nothing of him only that hee was a person that was seldome at home but travelled much abroade into several Countyes.

6. Letters addressed to the Clerk of the Peace:
(1) Sir,
My worthy friend Mr. Fillingham discoursing wth mee about ye forme of the returnes used by ye Clerks of ye Peace of ye conviccons of Recusants at Quarter Sessions and desiring me to write to you thereof I therefore take leave to acquaint you that the forme of such Certificate is thus vizt
[Here follows the Latin form of the Certificate.']
Sir, In this, to you, I doe but light a candl to the sun; but to satisfy the request of my friend I doe this work of superorogation, whereof pardon to him that is
Your humble servant
J. A. Nutley.
Mid Temple, 20 Aug. 80.

(2) Sir,
I receaved your letter of the ist instant on Saturday night last soe late that I could not then well answer, but promised ye gentleman your brother, who brought it, that I would endeavour to answer it by this post. And now, having advised with my worthy good friend the Clerk of ye Peace for ye County of Midi, what he doeth in ye same case, you may please to bee informed that ye returnes of Recusants convict are to bee in a Roll by themselves (not intermixt wth other matters) and to bee sent into the Court of Excheqs ye begining of ye next Terme after the conviccons, under a paine in severall statutes in ye reigns of queene Elizabeth and king James. And give mee leave to advise you to hasten your returnes for, as that they may bee fild in ye Excheqs ye first or second day of ye next Terme at furthest because of the Parliament sitting who will certainely (as ye case of Recusants now is) have an inspecion (more than ordinary) into that businesses And thus I hope I have fully answered your letter, and shall bee ready to doe you any further service, who am
Your affectionate friend and servant
J. A. Nutley. Mid Temple,
Sept. 14, 1680.
Pray when you see my worthy friend Mr. Fillingham give him my service and tell him I long to hear if he is well, because he was not well when he went home.
My service also to Mr. Butler his fellow traveller.

(3). A further letter on the same subject dated 28 Oct., 1680 addressed "For Mr. John Boldack Postmaster of Newarke for Mr. John Condy of Newarke in Nottinghamshire."

On 11th July, 1677, John Smith and Rachel] his wife, of Barnby, were "committed to ye gaole for being absent from church and refusing to submit to ye Court or traverse his several presentments."

On the 3rd October, 1683, two men were "committed for recusancy."