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THE MS. Book which has afforded the bulk of the matter contained in the present volume is not an Act-book' in its original state, but consists of portions of such books bound together. These range in date from 1452 to 1506; and contain much curious matter, similar to what is found in the contemporary records of other ecclesiastical courts. In the Registry of the Consistory Court, held in the Galilee of Durham Cathedral, are preserved fragments of similar books, extracts from which may be seen in the Twenty-first Volume of this series.
The Ripon fragments have been collected and bound in rough calf, together with ten leaves of a book of evidences. relating to Obits kept in Ripon Minster. The volume so formed, together with two others which like it have been recovered and are now in the Minster Library, was at one time in the possession of Dr. Hugh Todd, Canon of Carlisle. In the Catalogi Librorum MSS. Angliæ et Hiberniæ,' Oxon. 1697, p. 219, the Act-book is thus described :
'7106-3. Liber Actorum Capitularium Ecclesiæ Collegiatæ S. Wilfridi de Ripon, ab A.D. 1452 ad an. 1506. Quo continentur Processus Judiciales, Testamenta, Libelli contra Violatores Libertatum et Franchisiarum Ecclesiæ de Ripon; Visitatio Ecclesiæ Præbendalis de Stainwykes; Collationes, Inductiones, Dimissiones Terrarum; Obitus Benefactorum; Donationes, Correctiones, Archiepisc. Eborac. Mandata, etc.; Statuta et Ordinationes Convocationis Generalis, 6 Febr. A.D. 1502 Capituli Ecclesiæ Coll. de Ripon de ejusdem Ecclesiæ Reformatione, Vitiorum extirpatione, et præcipue Fabricæ, tunc quidem maxime ruinosa, Supportatione et Reædificatione, etc. Fol.'
There are 137 perfect leaves of Act-books (size of leaves
about 4 inches by 8), some at the end mutilated; folios 79-130 are vellum, the rest are paper; water-marks various, e.g. an ox, an ox's head with a straight line over it, on the top of which a star of six points; an open left hand; a star of six points surmounted by a crown; a unicorn or rhinoceros with very long horn; a letter h with a small fleur-de-lis under it. The handwriting of course varies, the entries being those originally made by different persons at different times, and in some parts it has been exceedingly difficult to read.
It may appear to some that the proceedings of a Chapter' and Court of law in a small provincial town cannot possess enough interest to justify the labour and expense incident to publication. But it is from these apparently trivial records of the every-day proceedings of ordinary people, that we obtain the truest notions of what manner of folk our fore-elders were ;' how they thought, and spoke, and lived, and died.
No one can go through the following pages without being often struck by some true touch of human nature, some vivid flash of light thrown upon the home-life of the men of Ripon four hundred years ago. As to their moral and religious condition, it would obviously be as unfair to judge of it solely from the records of a criminal court, as it would be to estimate our own by the police reports. The clergy attached to the Minster seem to have found themselves in trouble as often as their lay neighbours, and in the matter of clerical respectability we are undoubtedly better than our fathers were. If, by referring to the manners of the times, we may partly excuse a chaplain for not only carrying weapons, but upon occasion using them with effect, what shall we say of one who not only engaged himself in trade as a layman, but sanded his wool in order to make it weigh heavier? If we feel ready to pardon the sacrist for occasional want of punctuality in ringing for matins, what shall we think of a priest who walked away from a poor dying carpenter who had met with a fatal accident, and wished to make confession? The evils incident to the system of enforced celibacy were no less rife in Ripon than elsewhere,
and it was by no means an uncommon thing for a priest to have a penance assigned to him for some disgraceful offence, though in most cases it was commuted for a fine.
There are some curious cases of ' Invasion of the Liberty of St. Wilfrid,' by acts of violence committed within its boundaries; also cases of breach of promise of marriage, i.e. of that previous contract which was held to be scarcely less sacred than the sacrament of marriage itself.
A considerable number of Wills is contained in the Actbooks, and more will be found in the Appendix, together with the few remaining Inventories. Some of the later Wills, and the Inventories, possess additional interest from being wholly or partly in English, and containing Yorkshire words.
The following rough analysis of the contents of the Actbooks may be acceptable to some readers :
A few words must be said as to the mode of editing adopted in these pages. The Surtees Society has always adhered to the plan of extending' contractions, and this has accordingly been followed. But no attempt has been made to improve' the text by correcting even manifest solecisms. These are considered by the Editor to have a certain interest of their own, and not unfrequently they have a philological value, as illustrating modes of pronunciation now obsolete, at least in some parts of the country, as for example the substitution of 'w' for 'v,' which appears to have prevailed in the 15th century at least as far as from Bow bells to Ripon. No omissions have been made except where indicated, and these only of technical forms printed previously.
The side-notes are a new feature in the Society's publications, and cannot fail to be found a great convenience in a book of this kind.
The Editor desires to acknowledge the courteous and liberal way in which the Dean and Chapter of Ripon have afforded him every possible facility for the examination of the manuscript material of which they are the custodians; and to express the hope that he may be able to compile another volume consisting of Charters, extracts from Fabric-rolls, and miscellaneous matter bearing on the History of the ancient Minster of St. Peter and St. Wilfrid.
Suggestions or additional information bearing on the subjects contained herein, will always be welcome.
He would also express his thanks for the help he has received from other kind friends in work which is new to him, and among them he would especially mention Canons Raine and Greenwell.
BP. HATFIELD'S HALL, DURHAM :