chapter  III
3 Pages

III.9 Church and parish records


Church and parish records have long been recognized as sources that provide vital insights into the history of crime and justice in the early modern period. Their importance to the study of family history and demography is also widely lauded as they allow access to records of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths. But more than providing insights into the ecclesiastical justice system or supplying demographic data, I would argue that these records also allow insight into the emotional worlds of early modern men and women. More so than the criminal courts, church courts heard cases of intimate conflicts, often between family members or neighbours in close village communities. Their focus on sin and morality rather than criminality means that depositions from church courts tell us how early modern people felt about issues of morality, sexuality and sin, and how they reacted emotionally to people in their community who were believed to have transgressed these boundaries. Church courts were a crucial means of justice across Western Europe and, in most judicial areas whose records have been studied, marital and sexual issues accounted for the main business of the lower church courts.1 This entry focuses on cases of marital and sexual relationships and offers some suggestions as to how we can access both individual and communal emotions within these records.