RepositoryLambeth Palace Library
Alt Ref NoArches A
Extent41 volumes
TitleCourt of Arches Act Books
DescriptionThe Act Books survive for the years 1635-1636, 1660-1714, 1727-1773.

They contain a brief chronological record of the proceedings of the Court of Arches in sessions before the judge, the Official Principal, also known as the Dean of the Arches. The Court sat during four law terms in the year, during each of which several sessions were held. Although each session occupied a single day, dozens of cases might be summarily considered. Major cases progressed through session after session of the Court, often over a period of years. In addition the Act Books record proceedings in chambers, usually on days between the sessions.

The Act Books were written up after court sessions from notes taken at the time (see Arches series Aa for acts of court, drafts for the act books, 1672-1818). Each court session is introduced by a heading which includes the date. Acts of court within each session are not dated individually but usually introduced by the phrase 'eodem die'. Proceedings in chambers were also added from notes taken at the time and are usually dated individually. These were often added or inserted, sometimes haphazardly with regard to chronology, on leaves left blank following the record of each session. As a result entries in the Act Books are broadly, but not absolutely, chronological. Occasionally proceedings in chambers were added in blank spaces within the record of the main court session; where this occurs some confusion may result with regard to the date of the documents which follow it.

The entries in the Act Books record the commencement of the case (with proctors presenting their authority to act for their clients), complaints by appellants concerning their treatment or sentences in the lower courts, inhibitions (suspending further action in the lower courts), monitions (eg. monitions to lower courts to send process documents), and the absolution of parties excommunicated by the lower court as a preliminary to proceedings in the Court of Arches. Subsequent documents may include the presentation of libels and other documents, the introduction of witnesses, the appointment of commissions to take evidence outside London, the excommunications of parties for contumacy, submissions by proctors and debates between them, rulings by the judge, settlements of costs, alimony etc. The entries record the progress of the case and the steps ordered by the judge to be taken at each stage. The evidence in each case is sparsely represented in the Act Books, but the acts of court may record the proposal (porrecting) of sentences by the proctors and the pronouncement of a definitive sentence by the judge.

The Act Books also record appointments of guardians (curatores ad lites) to represent minors in court, and the payment of legacies. From Arches A 5 onwards (from 1666 until 1735) payments of legacies are often entered at the end of each volume. Thereafter they are entered in separate unbound quires.

See the note below on law terms and festivals observed by the Court. For fuller examples of the calendar observed by the Court, see also the lists of the sessions of the Court in the years 1660-1669 which are given in eachhe file level description of Arches A 2-A 8.

The Court of Arches sat during four law terms in the year, each consisting of several sessions. Each term was broken up by holidays (saints' days and festivals) observed by the court.
See CR Cheney 'Handbook of dates' (London, 1978) for a list of saints' days and festivals (pp. 40-64) and an account of legal chronology (pp. 65-74). The latter includes a note on the terms of the Court of Arches (pp. 73-74).
Fuller information is contained in Thomas Oughton, 'Ordo judiciorum...' (London, 1728), pp. 3-7.
In the muniment books of the Court of Arches the dates on which documents were exhibited are given, until the late 17th century, by reference to the preceding saint's day or festival observed by the Court, in the form, eg. 'prox. Botolphi 1583' [ie. proximo die juridico post festum Sancti Botolphi]. In a rare example where the usual calendar date is also given [Arches F 5 f. 191], we find 'prox Scholastice 12 Feb. 1587', ie. 12 Feb. 1588 new style, the feast of Scholasticae Virginis being on 10 Feb.
Thomas Oughton (p. 4) gives the following list of saints' days and festivals observed by the Court:
Hilarii 12 Jan
Wolftani 19 Jan
Conversionis Pauli 25 Jan
Purificationis [BVM] 2 Feb
Blasii 3 Feb
Scholasticae Virginis 10 Feb
Valentini 14 Feb
Cinerum Feb
Matthiae 24 Feb
Cedde 2 March
Perpet. et Felicit. 7 March
Gregorii 12 March
Annunciationis 25 March
Quinden. Paschae 15 April [but date varies with the date of Easter]
Alphegi 19 April
Marci Evangelistae 24 April
Inventionis crucis 3 May
Dunstani 8 May
Ascensionis May
Trinitatis June
Corp. Christi June
Bonifacii 5 June
Barnabae 11 June
Botolphi 17 June
Johannis 24 June
Petri et Pauli [often found as 'comemorationis pauli', 30 June] 29 June
Thomae 7 July
Swithin 15 July
Margaretae 20 July
Annae 26 July
Fidis 6 Oct
Edwardi 13 Oct
Lucae Evangelistae 18 Oct
Simonis et Jude 28 Oct
Animarum 2 Nov
Martini 11 Nov
Edmundi regis 20 Nov
Catharinae 25 Nov
Andreae Apostoli 30 Nov
Conceptionis Mariae 8 Dec

In addition, Gordiani [10 May] is sometimes found in the Arches muniment books (eg. F3A ff. 75, 197; F4 f.162).
AccessConditionsConsult in microformat
LanguageLatin, with occasional passages in English
FindingAidsOnly the records from 1660 onwards were entered in the published Houston index (i.e. not including Arches A 1).

Many Act Books (volumes A 5-7, 11-12, 14-34) retain their original alphabetical indexes of cases, often as a separate booklet inserted in the front of the volume. In such instances (except in the case of A 5-7 which have been recatalogued in greater detail) the online catalogue provides only the volume number in item level catalogue records. Readers should consult the original indexes to find folio references to any particular case. If no original index survives (volumes A 2-4A, 8-10, 13, 35-41), the online catalogue provides folio references as well as the volume number.

Similarly, entries from the card index to proctors and advocates referring to this series give the folio reference where the name does not appear in a volume's original index, but otherwise only the volume reference. There is some variation between volumes as to whether the compilers of the original indexes included proctors, advocates, or both, by surname, or in the index under A for 'Admissio'. A single volume may have proctors/advocates listed in each of these ways.
CustodialHistoryThe act book formerly known as Arches A 37 has been incorporated into Arches A 28 (ff. 492-9). The number 37 is therefore not allocated.
During 2020-21 act books A 2-A 8 (years 1660-1671) were recatalogued in greater detail.
CopiesA 1 - A 41
Microfilm: MS Film 66-92
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