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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


King James II

Catholic King James II did come to the throne in 1685 bringing renewed hope to the Catholic minority. A national organization was formed and Catholic chapels started to appear all over the country. He planned to extend toleration to all Dissenters and indeed welcomed about 60,000 French Protestants called Huguenots who were fleeing from France at this time.
Unfortunately his tolerant moves were not understood or supported and he made the bad choice of unlocking the doors of office to Catholics too swiftly. This naturally caused panic and violence against Catholics and also against Dissenters in general. Anglicans and Protestants joined forces and James had to abandon the throne in 1688.

Act of Toleration 1689

Parliament made a deal with James II’s Protestant daughter Mary who was married to her first cousin, William III of Orange. They were to reign as joint monarchs and guarantee Parliamentary sovereignty, Protestantism and toleration for most Nonconformists, a deal which was later termed the Glorious Revolution. William and Mary speedily enacting the Act of Toleration in 1689. This allowed complete freedom of worship for Protestants believing in the Trinity (but not full citizenship as the Test and Corporation Acts were still in force), but Papists and Unitarians continued to be persecuted. Over a thousand meeting houses were built in about 20 years starting in 1691, the year they were first allowed. Regulations required that the doors remain unlocked during meetings and services. Jimmy Doddrell (John Wesley Made Me a Genealogist. The Greenwood Tree (Somerset & Dorset Family History Society) Vol 27 #1, page 15) has written about his ancestor’s house in Chew Stoke, Somerset being licensed in 1790 and used by John Wesley that year. He quotes the petition for granting the licence, the plaque on the house wall, and extracts from Wesley’s diary recording his visit.

Nonconformists could appoint their own teachers and preachers provided that these accepted certain oaths of loyalty and most of the 39 Articles of Faith. The spirit of toleration was so strong that similar privileges were extended to Catholics and Quakers. However, Catholics were still excluded from the armed forces and Non-Anglicans still barred from the universities. A statute of 1700 prevented Roman Catholics from buying or inheriting land.

From 1695 until 1706 one of the provisions of the Marriage Duty Act required that Anglican clergy were to register the births of any children in their parish who did not come for baptism, which naturally included all Non-Anglicans. Some parish clergy were more diligent about this than others. The ulterior motive was connected to the collection of duty on all births, marriages, burials, bachelors and childless widowers to finance the war with France.

After the Act of Toleration in 1689 Nonconformist, Roman Catholic and Jewish cemeteries and burial grounds were opened, so that from this time on fewer burials will be found in the parish churchyards and registers. Note that the term burial ground denotes a Non-Anglican resting place, whereas a cemetery can be Non-Anglican or non-sectarian.

Oath of Association 1695-6

After an assassination attempt on King William III it was compulsory for all military and civil office holders under the crown to attend at a court of law and take this oath for the defence of the king and in support of the succession. Other groups such as MPs, clergy, local gentry and city freemen were encouraged to subscribe, and in some places most adult males having some status did so. Sometimes defaulters were noted, and Quakers stand out because they affirmed rather than swore. They are of interest here as groups of Non-Anglicans such as Colchester Quakers and Cumberland Nonconformist ministers were recorded and can thus be identified.

Gibson (The Hearth Tax, Other Later Stuart Tax Lists and the Association Oath Rolls. Federation of Family History Societies) has published a list by county of what is known to survive and filmed lists can be found in the FHLC at county and parish levels. Amongst the better known publications of the lists are those for Lancashire by Wallace Gandy, and Devon by Stoate.

Act of Settlement 1701

This barred Catholics from the English throne, specifically meaning the only surviving possibly legitimate son of James II, James (the Old Pretender) and his son Charles (the Young Pretender a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Charlie). Thus Anne, James II’s daughter, came to the throne in 1702. There was a further problem with the succession as although Anne had had 14 children all had died.

Through the Security of Succession Act of 1702 the heir was declared to be Sophia, Electress of Hanover, a granddaughter of James I, and her heirs (and it was Sophia’s son who actually succeeded Anne as George I). From this act stemmed the Oath of Abjuration denying the Old and Young Pretenders the right to the throne. All officials had to take the oath in a central or local court and sacrament certificates had to be presented at the same time.

The Security of the Sovereign Act 1714 required a further Oath of Allegiance in 1715, which included renunciation of the Catholic church, by all over age 18. There are some certificates relating to Catholics refusing to take it. From 1723 Quakers were allowed to take a special Affirmation of Loyalty as they were opposed to any oath-taking.

Estate Records in 1715

The Forfeited Estates Commission was set up after the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion to list, value and sell the confiscated estates of those attainted during this time. Although largely a Scottish affair, many English Catholics were also involved, and the family estate papers surrendered date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The PRO Information leaflet D21 (Jacobite Risings 1715 and 1745) is a good method of finding relevant sources for this period.

Registration of Papists’ & Non-Jurors’ Estates were people who refused to take an oath were called non-jurors. Their property, as well as that of Catholics had to be registered with the local Clerk of the Peace from 1715-1791, and many records survive with the county Quarter Sessions records and are filmed. These records deal with all immovable property, not just huge estates of land. The returns give names of occupiers and tenants as well as details of the actual estate and rents paid in the case of land. The countrywide register for 1715 has been abstracted by Estcourt & Payne (English Catholic Non-Jurors of 1715: Being a Summary of the Register of Their Estates, with Genealogical and Other Notes, and an Appendix of Unpublished Documents in the Public Record Office. Catholic Publication Society. Film 0,845,185) and is on film 0,845,185. Full returns have been published for Lancashire and Durham. An example from Leicester is shown in below.

Chart: Registration of Estate of Catherina Smith of Leicestershire 1721 — Film 1,469,785

To the Clerk of the Peace of and for the County of Leicester or his Lawfull Deputy.

I Catherina Smith widdow and Relict of Francis Smith late of Queeneborrough alias Queeneyborough in the county of Leicester Esq. deceased In Pursuance of an Act of Parliament intitled an Oath to Oblige Papists to register their names and real Estates Do by this writing under my hand desire and require you or one of you at the next Generall Quarter Sessions of the peace to be held for the said County of Leicester to register and enter my name and estate in a Book or Books, Roll or Rolls by you in this Behalf provided in the messuages, lands, tenements and hereditaments of me the said Catherina Smith lying and being in the said County of Leicester in the manner and words following (viz').

A True Particular of the Estate, Messuages, Cottages, Lands, Tenements and hereditaments of me Catherina Smith widdow and Relict of Francis Smith late of Queeneborough in the county of Leicester Esq. deceased lying and being in the parish of Queeneborough als Queeneyborough in the County of Leicester, that is to say:

A Messuage or Tenement and three yard Land lying and being in the said Parish of Queeneborr’ alias Queeneyborough in the possession of John Searson as Tenant from year to year of the yearly rent of twenty four pounds.                                                     £24.0.0
Ditto + 3 yard Land ... Anthony Kilby                             26.0.0
Ditto + 4 yard Land ... John Burbage                             31.0.0
Ditto + 5 yard Land ... Thomas Everitt                           39.0.0
One half yard Land ... Thomas Kilby                               4.0.0
Cottage ... Ralph White, Alice Bennett & -- Jarvis            0.15.0
Cottage ... John Searson                                               1.0.0
Cottage + half yard Land ... Michael Clark                       4.0.0
Ditto + half yard Land + 4 odd lands Andrew Staton         5.10.0
Cottage + 1 yard Land ... Richard Cooke                         9.0.0
Cottage + meadow ... Elizabeth Brown widdow                2.0.0
Cottage ... Thomas Boyley                                            1.0.0
Cottage ... John Browne                                                1.0.0
Cottage ... William Whittle                                             0.10.0
Cottage ... William Blarkas                                            1.10.0

In all which the above mentioned messuages, Cottages, Lands & Tenements I have (as I am advised) an Estate for my own Life Subject to Taxes. In Witness whereof I the said Catherina Smith have hereunto subscribed my name the third day of June 1721.
                                                                [signed] Catherina Smith
Memorand: That at the generall Quarter Sessions of the yeare held at ye Castle of Leicester & for ye said County on Tuesday night after ye feast of the transfiguration of St. Thomas ye Martyr in ye seventh years of ye Reigne of his Ma:tie King George over England the above written Register was signed by Thomas Hoblejaid [?] Esq. by virtue of a letter [?] of Attorney .... Made by ye above ........ Catherina Smith.
                                                               [signed] Law Carter
                                                                           Thos Abney

Overall the Restoration period was a comparatively quiet period with much growth of different Protestant groups and less religious discordance. The High Anglicans were still firmly in power in each parish and nationally, but there was tolerance for other viewpoints. The early 18th century saw a drop in religious commitment and numbers of Nonconformists dwindled.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Non-Anglican Church Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.