Catalogue description Chancery: Significations of Excommunication

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Details of C 85
Reference: C 85
Title: Chancery: Significations of Excommunication

Warrants sent into Chancery to secure the issue of a writ de excommunicato capiendo under the great seal.

The significations informed the king that a certain person or persons had remained obdurately excommunicate for over forty days, and requested the aid of the secular arm. They were mostly issued by bishops, but also by archdeacons, deans and abbots, and the writs were drawn up by the cursitors.

Significations sometimes identify the excommunicate by reference to his father, his occupation or status, or the parish, place or county of his residence. The nature of the contumacy committed might be specified; the names of the judge or lawyers involved in the case might be mentioned.

Among the offences signified to Chancery, the non-payment of tenths is perhaps the most common, followed by matrimonial and testamentary cases, fornication, adultery, perjury and defamation. Cases of assault on clerks, sacrilege, necromancy, and suspicion of heresy are also included.

As well as significations of excommunication, the series also contains some certifications of absolution sent to Chancery by the bishop, requesting the supercession of an excommunicate's arrest.

Date: 1220-1611

Arranged chronologically by diocese.

Related material:

Significations of excommunication for the county palatine of Chester are in


Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English and Latin
Physical description: 217 file(s)
Publication note:

Transcripts of some of the significations of excommunication and certifications of absolution in this series are printed in F D Logan, Excommunication and the Secular Arm in Medieval England (Toronto, 1968).

Unpublished finding aids:

There is a card index of signified excommunicates' names, arranged alphabetically within each diocese.

Administrative / biographical background:

People became liable to signification once they had remained contumacious for forty days following excommunication. The Church had used its ultimate penalty without effect; further sanction - the writ for the arrest and imprisonment of the excommunicate by the sheriff - depended upon secular authority.

Accordingly, the judge presiding in the ecclesiastical court responsible would notify the diocesan bishop, and a signification would be sent out of the episcopal chancery. This took the form of a letter patent under the bishop's seal and was addressed to the king.

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