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Returns of Papists' Estates (Catholics)

Nature of Source

Registers of Roman Catholics who refused to take oaths of loyalty after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. They were required to register their names and estates at Quarter Session or face the seizure of their property. Returns are arranged alphabetically by county and some towns.

The Forfeited Estates Commission (FEC) was responsible for overseeing the seizure of the estates and details can be found in the Close Rolls held at The National Archives (TNA). Catholic wills and land transfer documents can also be found amongst Close Rolls from 1716. From the 16th century consult Pipe Rolls, Memoranda Rolls and Quarter Session records for details of seized land. The returns can also be useful for the names of non-Catholic tenants and occupiers. Seized lands were often put up for sale and these transactions were sometimes recorded by the FEC.

Also consider the records of the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents which established Sequestration Committees, where land and goods were confiscated from royalists and Catholics during the English civil war (1642-1651). The records are held at The National Archives and covered in the TNA Research Guide: State papers domestic 1642-1660. The Society of Genealogists has produced an index volume covering 1640-1660.

The period of Roman Catholic persecution is often referred to as the 'Penal Times' and lasted from 1534 to 1778. Throughout these years Catholics and other nonconformists suffered varying degrees of persecution which generated useful genealogical records. Although the measures were often harsh, many anti-Catholic laws were not always strictly enforced.

Also see
Association Oath Rolls
Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy
Protestation Oath Returns
Recusant Rolls
Returns of Papists
Roman Catholic Registers and Records
Sacrament Certificates (Oath of Allegiance)

Timeline of Roman Catholic Persecution and Tolerations


Act of Supremacy. Henry VIII assumed authority over religious matters in England.


Second Act of Uniformity. Attendance at Church of England services made compulsory.


Third Act of Uniformity. The Act imposed a fine of 12d on people who refused to attend Anglican worship at their parish church and banned the celebration of Catholic mass. The fines imposed in the 1559 Act of Uniformity for failure to attend church were collected by churchwardens and so do not appear in the central government records and details of those fined will be found amongst quarter session records


The death penalty was imposed on priests who said mass. It was also forbidden to defend papal supremacy and those that did, were liable to have their property seized by the authorities.


Elizabeth I was excommunicated by a papal bull issued by Pope Pius V. Instead of advancing the Catholic cause, the bull heightened the distrust felt by many of Catholics and called into question their allegiance to crown and country. In 1571, Parliament made it high treason to call the monarch a heretic or schismatic, or bring into England any papal bulls.


Recusancy. After 1581, recusancy became an indictable offence, so recusants often appear in quarter sessions records and the fines levied were recorded in the pipe rolls. After 1592 a separate series of rolls, the recusant rolls was created for this purpose which continues until 1691. The pipe rolls also contain the accounts of fines and forfeitures of lands collected under the recusancy acts. Pipe and recusancy rolls are available for viewing at TNA. In 1581, the fine for missing an Anglican service was raised to twenty pounds per month. Also, in that year, a treasonable offence resulting in death was committed by anyone converting to Catholicism or attempting to convert others to the religion. In addition, a fine of 100 marks and a year in prison was imposed on those hearing mass. The details of criminal proceeding and fines levied should be contained within quarter session records. An Act of 1581 also forbade the Catholic education of children.


Priests who had trained abroad were barred from returning to England and those that did were considered guilty of high treason. All English born Catholics priests trained abroad were ordered to leave the country within 40 days. As a result, priests were hunted down and a total of 126 priests were executed during the reign of Elizabeth I.


The Babington Plot. Anthony Babington and his co- conspirators planned to assassinate Elizabeth I and place Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. The plot was discovered and the plotters were executed.


Mistrust of Catholics worsened after the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada eventually repulsed by forces under the command of Sir Francis Drake. Recusants were barred from buying and selling land. The £20 per month fine for non-attendance at an Anglican service was stiffened and now accumulated until the recusant conformed. If the recusant still refused, his goods and two-thirds of his land could be seized. Local quarter session papers and pipe rolls should provide details of the fines.


The first separate recusant rolls were compiled consisting mainly of Catholics and lasted up to 1691 (previously recusancy was recorded in the pipe rolls). The rolls recorded the punishments and fines of those who refused to conform to the Anglican doctrine. Memoranda Rolls 1217-1835: includes records of seizure of recusants' lands.


Catholics were obliged to obtain permission to travel beyond five miles from their homes and those absent from home for more than three months were to leave the country. Another Act of the same year ordered that people of the age of 16 who refused to attend an Anglican service were to be imprisoned.


James I ascended to the throne and made a limited attempt to exercise some tolerance towards Catholics. This proved a false dawn and within a year, the king called for the rigorous enforcement of anti-Catholic legislation.


The Gunpowder Plot. The conspiracy of Guy Fawkes and his Catholic associates to blow up Parliament and King James I, his queen, and his oldest son. The failed plot unleashed a new wave of attacks on the Catholic faith and its adherents.


The Oath of Allegiance was introduced, denying the authority of the Pope and those that refused to swear the oath were liable to be imprisoned. Convicted recusants were ordered to receive Anglican communion once a year or face a fine or seizure of their property. Recusants were also barred from office and professions including the military. Informers were paid £50 for revealing a priest saying mass or persons attending mass. All the restrictions applied to a Protestant who married a Catholic wife.


Catholics forced to pay a double rate of taxation. Tax records can be found in Lay Subsidy Rolls and Catholics and other nonconformists should be recognisable as they paid a double rate.


Clarendon Code 1661-1665. Four Acts passed designed to emasculate the power of nonconformists. Corporation Act. (1661). Catholics and other nonconformists were excluded from official posts unless they took the sacrament of holy communion at an Anglican service.


Act of Conformity. The Act excluded Catholics from holding church office.


Conventicle Act. Made meetings for Catholic and nonconformist worship illegal, even in private houses, where more than four outsiders were present


The Five-Mile Act. Nonconformist and Catholic ministers were forbidden to live or visit within five miles of a town or any other place where they had preached.


Declaration of Indulgence. The Penal Laws against Catholics were relaxed.


Test Act. The strength of anti-Catholic feeling led parliament to order the enforcement of the recusancy laws and pass the Test Act in retaliation against the Declaration of Indulgence. The Act required all those taking up an official post, civil or military, to take the oath and to submit a sacrament certificate that they had taken Anglican communion. Between 1689 and 1702, the requirement to take the oaths and test was extended to beneficed clergy, members of the universities, lawyers, schoolteachers and preachers. The declarations can be found in TNA.


A proclamation ordered a survey of every recusant aged 16 and over. The names were handed to the local Justice of the Peace who called on those named to take the oath or be jailed.


The Popish Plot. A fictitious plot made up by Titus Oates which alleged that Catholics were planning to assassinate King Charles II and bring the Catholic Duke of York to the throne. Estreats Rolls held at TNA hold information on fines imposed on Catholics following the alleged plot. The Estreats Rolls contain valuable genealogical information on those accused of recusancy in the local courts. They will include the recusant's name, parish, rank or occupation and the fine levied.


Declaration of Indulgence. The Catholic king, James II issued his own Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the Test Act and other acts that restricted religious freedom.


A new Catholic Vicar-Apostolic was appointed to preside over four English districts (Northern, Western, London and Midland) created by the Pope.


The Bill of Rights excluded Catholics from the royal succession. New oaths of supremacy and allegiance were passed and measures were introduced to restrict the freedom of movement of Catholics. The Toleration Act of 1689 eased some restrictions, but the specific acts under the Clarendon Code were not repealed until the 19th century.


Following the double rate of taxation Catholics were forced to pay in 1625, Catholics were obliged to pay double land tax. Catholics and other nonconformist entries should be recognisable amongst the land tax records as they paid double the rate of others.


Recusants were barred from purchasing or inheriting land and any Catholics found practicing their religion could be jailed for life.


The Security of Succession Act. The Act introduced an oath whereby all officials had to deny the right of the son of the exiled James II to succeed to the throne. Some returns of Catholics taking oaths are held by TNA as well as certificates of those who refused to take the oath.


Security of the Sovereign Act. TNA holds certificates of those who refused to take the oath.


Catholics were blamed collectively for the Jacobite rebellion. As a result, everyone over the age of 18 was compelled to swear an Oath of Allegiance. Lists of those who refused to take the oath are normally available at county record offices.


Catholics were required to enrol documents such as wills and conveyances that involved the transfer of property and details can be found in close rolls held by TNA.


Following the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, Catholics refusing to take the oaths of loyalty were required to register their names and estates at quarter sessions or face the seizure of their property. The returns describe the estates in detail, giving precise locations and dimensions of lands. The Forfeited Estates Commission was responsible for overseeing the seizure of the estates and details can be found in the close rolls held at TNA.


Catholic Relief Act. The Act permitted Catholics to own land and removed many restrictions placed on Catholics including the Act of 1699, which threatened life imprisonment for priests practicing their religion.


Catholic Relief Act. The Act permitted Catholic clergy to freely say mass.


The Catholic Emancipation Act. The Act allowed Catholics to sit in parliament and hold office and effectively repealed the many repressive measures aimed at destroying the perceived disloyal Catholics.

Where Found

The National Archives (E 174, Returns of Papists' and Nonjurors' Estates, 01 January 1723-31 December 1725)
County Record Offices

Period Covered

1723 - 1725

Genealogical Value

Names and address with detailed description of the land held and the precise location and dimension of the land. Names of tenants and occupiers also listed.

Further References

Barlow, Derek. Records of the Forfeited Estates Commission: HMSO, 1968


Bevan, John. Index to Gillow's "Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics": John Bevan, 1985


Gandy, Michael. Tracing Catholic Ancestors: Public Record Office, 2001


Gandy, Michael. Basic Facts About Tracing Your Catholic Ancestry in England: Federation of Family History Societies, 2002


Gandy, Michael. Family History Cultures and Faiths: The National Archives, 2007


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: a Bibliography of General Sources: the author, 1996


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: a Bibliography of Local Sources: the author, 1996


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: a Bibliography for Wales: the author, 1996


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: a Bibliography for Scotland: the author, 1996


Gillow, Joseph. A Literary and Biographical History or Bibliographical Dictionary of English Catholics from the Breach with Rome in 1534 to the Present Time, 5 vols: Burns & Oats, 1885-1902 (Volumes available online from the Internet Archive)


Mullins, E.L.C. Texts and Calendars: An Analytical Guide to Serial Publications, 1957-1983. London: Royal Historical Society (Guide to publications of the Record Commissions, the P.R.O. and other national bodies and societies and those of local record societies in England and Wales)


Munby, Lionel M. & Thompson, Kathryn (eds) Short Guides to Records: First Series-Guides 1-24: The Historical Association, 1994


Steel, D & Samuel, Edgar. Sources for Roman Catholic and Jewish Genealogy and Family History: Society of Genealogists, 1986


TNA Research Guides:
Oaths of loyalty to the Crown and Church of England

Websites (Links to Catholic family history sites) (Timeline of anti-Catholic legislation) (Catholic National Library, formerly the Catholic Central Library until 12 June 2007) (Catholic Record Society: The society deals with the history and culture of British Catholics and not genealogical records)
(Catholic Archives Society: The Society promotes the care and preservation of Catholic records by identifying and listing Catholic records. The Society does not hold any archive collections itself) (Scottish Catholic Archives) (Catholic Family History Society) (Guide to Latin words)

Online Databases (Genhound: Hertfordshire calendar to the sessions minute books 1689-1831 including dissenters and papists rolls; Lancashire Catholic Estates Register, 1715 [A Parliamentary Act of 1715 required all Catholics in England and Wales to register their land]) (Warwickshire, Miscellaneous Parish Records including papist estates in association with Warwickshire County Record Office)
(The Great Parchment Book of the Honourable The Irish Society. Online access to people, places or livery companies mentioned in the Great Parchment Book held at the London Metropolitan Archives. The Book records details of forfeited estates owned by the City of London in the County Londonderry, Northern Ireland in 1639) (Trinity College Dublin: The Down Survey of Ireland. Digital images of all the surviving Down Survey maps at parish, barony and county level with written descriptions of each barony and parish that accompanied the original map. The Survey, taken in the years 1656-1658, sought to measure all the land to be forfeited by the Catholic Irish and transferred to the Protestants)

Some indexing at a local level.