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Researching an Anglican clergyman


The medieval church had several orders of clergy, the most important of which were priest, deacon, sub-deacon, acolyte and sub-acolyte.

After the Reformation, only the positions of priest and deacon were retained.

Only a bishop or his suffragan could ordain, but before proceeding, the bishop had to satisfy himself of a candidate's literacy, good character and possession of a title (ie, that he had a post in which he could fulfil the duties of his new order). A deacon had to wait a year before he could be ordained priest.

A candidate for holy orders could be ordained by any bishop regardless of his 'home' diocese. Any records relating to his ordination should be found with the archives of the ordaining bishop.

Sources for finding the name of the ordaining bishop are given in the biographical works and institutions sections above. Ordinations by the Bishop of Norwich, or his suffragan, are recorded in various registers, books and rolls in the Norwich diocesan archives and survive from 1413 onwards, though there are gaps: see list DN/ORR.

All entries record the date and place of ordination and the name of the ordaining bishop. The examination of literacy, testimonials and title are included haphazardly.

Ordination notices, which state the candidate's age, place of birth, college and title, are entered in the subscription books, 1662-1728: see list DN/SUB.

From 1738 onwards, the ordination registers systematically record a candidate's age, testimonials and title and, from 1762, his place and date of birth: see list DN/ORR.

Ordination papers survive from 1713: see list DN/ORD. Until about 1748, they consist largely of letters of testimonial. Thereafter, the papers usually consist of five documents:

  • A signification, giving the candidate's name and place of abode
  • A si quis, or notice of application for ordination, which usually includes a reference to his parish of residence
  • Proof of age, usually a baptism certificate
  • Letters of testimonial from a college and persons in, or near, his parish of residence
  • Proof of title

Such documents can be useful when trying to trace the whereabouts of a deacon during the year prior to his ordination as a priest.