THE registers produced by Archbishops of York between 1225 and 1650, which detail some of the most significant moments in British history, have been uploaded to a free-access website.
The documents record such events such as the Black Death, the Wars of the Roses, the Reformation, and the English Civil War. They have been described as “a gold mine” for historians.
Conservators at the University of York spent 15 months copying more than 10,000 individual parchment folios before uploading them this week to the website http://archbishopsregisters.york.ac.uk. They are also creating a searchable index of names, subjects, places, and organisations.
The handwritten registers, which start 50 years before similar ones for the Archbishops of Canterbury, provide a window into ecclesiastical, political, and cultural history from the medieval period to early modern times.
One folio in the register of Edward Lee, Archbishop from 1531 to 1544, contains copies of evidence presented for the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, in 1540. In his statement, the King showed his displeasure at the match, saying, after his first meeting with Anne: “I see no such thing in her, as haith benn shewed me of her and am ashamed that men haith so praesed her as they have dooun, and I like her nott.”
There is also a contemporary copy of the final letter from Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, having organised the disastrous marriage with Anne, now fell from grace. Cromwell sets out all of Henry’s objections to the union in graphic detail: “I have felt her belly and her brestes, and therby as I can Judge, she shulde be no mayde, which strake me so to the harte whan I felte them that I hadd nother will nor courrage to procede any further in other matters.”
Cromwell signs with a plea: “With the hevy hert and trembling hande of your hieghnes most hevye and most miserable Prysoner and pore slave Thomas Crumwell most gracious Prince I crye for mercy mercy mercy.”
A document from 1280 records the excommunication of Thomas de Whalley, Abbot of Selby, after a visit by Archbishop William de Wickwane. The prelate recorded that de Whalley “does not preach. . . does not teach . . . does not correct faults [in others] . . . never sleeps in the dormitory . . . does not visit the sick . . . is rarely out of bed to hear matins . . . eats meat with laymen in his manor . . . ignores the orders of the Holy Father and his archbishop . . . has negligent and bad habits and is, overall, incorrigible”.
De Whalley was also “noted for incontinence” with two women — one of whom apparently bore him a child — and had also procured, at great expense, the services of a “sorcerer and fortune-teller” in the search for the body of his brother, who had drowned in the River Ouse.
The register for William Zouche, Archbishop from 1340 to 1352, who had also been Edward III’s Lord High Treasurer, includes a warning in July 1348 of “great mortalities, pestilences, and infections of the air” from the Black Death ravaging southern England. The “Great Mortality”, as it was known, entered Yorkshire the following year, taking a heavy toll among the clergy, who were comforting its victims.
Zouche’s register shows a huge rise in new clergy over the period: in 1349, 299 priests and 683 acolytes are named, and, in 1350, 166 priests were appointed in one session alone. Some estimates suggest that the clerical death-rate in some parts of the archdiocese was as high as 48 per cent.