Our latest online exhibition features the records of the Southwell Chapter, which have been newly catalogued at Nottinghamshire Archives.
For many people living in and around Southwell in Nottinghamshire, the Southwell Chapter would have been an important part of their lives.
- Some people wanted to get married and needed a licence from the chapter
- Others were called to the chapter court to account for their spiritual and moral behaviour
- Some individuals needed the wills of their deceased loved ones to be proved by the chapter
- Many men became members of the chapter, either as canons, vicars in local churches or singers in the choir
- Children attended the Southwell grammar and song schools, run by the chapter.
The Collegiate Church of the Blessed Mary the Virgin, the mother church of Nottinghamshire, was established some time during the Saxon era. It may have been built on the site where the first Christians were baptised in Nottinghamshire.
The first time it comes into written record is in a grant of lands made by Edwy, king of England (c940 – 959), in 956, although there had probably been a church on the site for many years previously. It was the Normans who built a larger church in stone in the first half of the 12th century.
The Minster was governed by a body called the Southwell Chapter. The Chapter was established in Saxon times. Although under the authority of the Archbishops of York, it enjoyed considerable independence.
The Chapter was made up of sixteen canons. They would meet regularly in the chapter house to hold discussions, make decisions, appoint new clergymen and supervise the running of the Minster.
White Book of Southwell
The Chapter owned and managed a large number of estates. Much of the rents and revenues from its extensive properties were used by the Chapter to provide much of the finance for the repair and maintenance of the Minster and the provision of stipends to the clergy.
Many of the endowments and property which the Chapter owned was granted by the king, and copies of these grants, along with rights, privileges and statutes issued by the crown, the pope and the archbishop, are recorded in the White Book of Southwell. The Book started in c1335 but records documents from c1106 to 1609.
Southwell Chapter Court
The Chapter also had its own court, which had jurisdiction over 28 parishes in Nottinghamshire. The court would issue marriage licences, prove wills and watch over the moral and spiritual wellbeing of the people who lived in these parishes.
Apart from a brief period during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, the Chapter held sway for many centuries. However, in 1840 the Chapter lost its powers as part of wide-spread Victorian reforms of the church.
In 1884 the Diocese of Southwell was established in 1884, and Southwell Minster became the diocese’s cathedral church. The Chapter was then re-formed, but in a different form and with a much diminished range of powers.