Tuesday 30 August 2022

The Bawdy Court at Chester

We are fortunate in the range and volume of records of the Diocese of Chester church court which we hold, dating back to the early sixteenth century. Meanwhile Chester Cathedral has the only complete surviving consistory court room in England so we can picture how and where cases were heard. One of our researchers, Pat Cox, has begun to publish images and transcriptions on a new website so with new easy access to the court documents, the stories really come to life. Thanks to Pat for this introduction to the records that fascinate her and her remarkable project.

This type of court was formally known as the consistory court but was popularly known as the ‘bawdy court’ because of the scandalous goings-on revealed by some of the men and women who appeared there. The influence of the church touched almost every aspect of sixteenth-century life and a wide range of matters came within the jurisdiction of its courts, including supervision of personal morals along with more formal matters.

I first started to look at these records some years ago, while researching for a degree, and I found them very difficult to understand because, apart from the difficulties of deciphering the handwriting, much is written in Latin, and heavily abbreviated formulaic Latin at that. I once asked an eminent scholar whether there was any quick way to get to grips with interpreting the documents, and he assured me that there wasn’t – he was quite right! A lot of transcriptions and translations of similar documents have been published, but very few of these are accompanied by a copy of the original document, so this is what this new website is all about. I would like to record my thanks to the staff of the Cheshire Record Office for the kindness and patience which they have extended to me over the past few years.

It will take quite some time to upload all the cause papers and related information and so it is an ongoing project, but I do hope that you will find the website interesting and useful as the information in these records tells us so much about the attitudes and daily life of 500 years ago, so head over to and take a look at what our ancestors got up to!

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