The betrothal of William Catterall and Barbara Hawkesworth in January 1595 (modern calendar)

Mary Slater and Michael Slater
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Cause (or case, derived from the Latin ‘causa’) papers are records of disputes and misdemeanours dealt with by the church authorities. Those from the Diocese of York are held in the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York. A few relate to Giggleswick (including the Bindloss affair [Gordon, 2011]) and one in particular [cause paper CP.G.2873] concerns a betrothal which illustrates the practice in late Tudor times, but for some reason a question arose about its validity. ‘Sin is everywhere and needs judicial public punishment’ – the view of church authorities.

The Borthwick Institute catalogues the case as having been heard in the Consistory Court; it is a matrimonial (validity of marriage) case. The case extended from 20 February 1594 (modern calendar 1595) - 14 October 1596. (All dates hereafter are modern calendar dates.) But what brought it all about?

The betrothal

A betrothal at that time was a contract of agreement to marry; a midway point between courtship and a church marriage [Cressy, 1997]. Often the words used were the same as in the marriage ceremony. Though considered man and wife from the time of betrothal, cohabitation ought not to take place until after the church marriage which was the one that mattered in the eyes of the church. The betrothal contract could only be broken in certain circumstances such as the parties were found not to be of age or there was consanguinity. If made by a man and a woman before witnesses, and made in the present tense, the bond was indissoluble [Youings, 1991]. Young women knew they could contract a marriage without the presence of a priest and therefore male wills often specified that daughters should receive marriage portions only if governed, ruled and married by advice of the mother or executors [Mate, 1998]. Promises made in the future tense, conditional on parental consent or settlement of goods, were not so binding. Gifts such as gold rings, coins, trinkets or gloves were commonly given [Bryson, 2015]. The betrothal was often termed a ‘handfast’ ceremony, from the binding together of the hands of the couple.

From the cause papers we can see that this case concerns a handfast betrothal between William Catterall of Giggleswick, the plaintiff, and Barbara Hawkesworth of Otley, the defendant, which took place on the ‘twelfth day of Christmas last past’ i.e. 5 January 1595. In what is known as Paver’s Marriage Licences we find that a licence for the marriage of William Catterall gent. and Barbara Hawksworth of Giggleswick was applied for in 1595 (no exact date) for marriage in Giggleswick. This cost more than banns but was more private and avoided the expense of hospitality to guests.

One would expect to find a record of the marriage in the Giggleswick parish register if it took place, although perhaps it might have taken place in another parish; it does not appear in the Otley register. However, the marriage (and burial) pages in the Giggleswick register between early 1594 and mid-1595 are missing! For marriage in church the banns (a formal announcement in the parish of each partner that a marriage was planned) were published and read out. The banns were read three times, usually weekly, during which time it was expected that any bar to marriage, such as consanguinity or a previous betrothal, would be identified. The open publication of banns could be dispensed with by purchasing an ecclesiastical licence. One only had to apply to the church authorities, presenting a statement that there were no impediments to marriage and pay the fee of 5s or 7s. The applicant had to sign allegations and bonds. However, a good many licences were never used so some question remains. Marriage bonds and allegations only exist for couples who applied to marry by licence. They do not exist for those who married by banns.

So though we do not have the categoric parish register evidence that William and Barbara did or did not marry in church, it seems unlikely that this happened, as discussed below.

The protagonists

William Catterall and Barbara Hawkesworth are the principals in the case, but also involved during the hearings are John Catterall, Geoffrey Atkinson and Henry Yonge supporting William, and Anthony Watson in whose house the betrothal took place. Who are they all? Besides information in the cause papers, we can use other documentation such as parish registers and wills to find out more about them.

William the plaintiff is said during the case to be the brother of John Catterall. John is stated to be aged 40 in 1595, so was born c.1555 before baptism records start (1558) in the Giggleswick parish register. William’s birth is also not in the parish register, so therefore he could be presumed to be aged at least 37 at that time (or possibly born elsewhere). The marriage which is the subject of this case might therefore not be his first but no evidence has been found for that. The father of the brothers John and William was the William Catterall of Newhall listed as a free tenant in the Giggleswick Court records between 1579 and 1591; he died in 1592. In his will, William his son is left a rent charge of £7-6-8 per year income, but John inherited the estate. John is shown in the Giggleswick Manor Court records to be a free tenant after 1592. John becomes no stranger to litigation; for example, after the date of this case, post 1603, he is a co-plaintiff with Anthony Watson and six others as governors of Giggleswick School. In 1607 he brings a case jointly with brother William against Thomas Watson, son of Anthony – is this a sign of some later antagonism between the families?

Geoffrey Atkinson is a yeoman of Lythe Banke (Littlebank), about 50 years old, said to be a domestic servant and tenant of John Catterall. He is a witness.

Another witness is Henry Yonge, gent., from Appletreewick. Noted in the case as aged 22 in 1595, he married Anna Watson in 1593 - she was the daughter, bp 1575, of Anthony Watson. Henry Yonge is therefore Anthony Watson’s son-in-law. His wife is cousin (or at least related) to Barbara Hawkesworth which explains why Barbara was living at Knight Stainforth.

Anthony Watson, gent., of Knight Stainforth Hall was one of the governors of Giggleswick School at the same time as John Catterall in 1599. It is at Anthony’s house in Knight Stainforth that the betrothal central to this case took place.

These details are important because witnesses could be challenged if too closely associated with the plaintiff or otherwise of little status.

On the other side we have Barbara Hawkesworth, defendant, of the parish of Otley. It seems probable that she was the daughter of wealthy William Hawkesworth esquire of Hawkesworth Hall near Baildon, which was in the parish of Otley. The will of William Hawkesworth dated 1588 names five daughters, including Barbara, and four sons. The daughters were left £100 each, the money to be charged on the manors of Hawksworth and Mensington (Menston), which meant that the money was not a capital sum to hand but dependent on the manor incomes. It was payable by their brother when the daughters married or reached 21 years, whichever came first, provided that this was with the approval of a list of the testator’s ‘especiall frends’. At the time of the incident Barbara was living at Knight Stainforth Hall with the Watsons. She is said to be a ‘cousin german’ of Henry Yonge’s wife Anna, née Watson, meaning a cousin in the wider sense of kin generally. The families of Catterall and Watson are clearly well-known to each other and William presumably first met Barbara at the Hall in Stainforth and proposed marriage to her there.

Why was the case brought?

This is not clearly stated, but the options seem to be that one of the parties or their families wished the handfast betrothal not to be considered as binding but an agreement which could be escaped from. Were financial considerations the reason? Did one of the families swing into action when they realised what had happened? Although the case is labelled ‘validity of marriage’, the final verdict concerns alleged defamation of William by Barbara with no reference to the betrothal.

William claims that the betrothal was valid, according to what his witnesses said they heard and repeated on oath. Perhaps he hoped to lay hands on Barbara’s money. He had indeed applied for a licence to marry. Barbara says that the betrothal was conditional. Her brother may have refused permission on grounds of relative wealth, so perhaps she was talking in public about William’s perceived lower financial status which led to William bringing a case of defamation on these grounds. Judges were concerned whether the defendant spoke with malicious or spiteful intent. The burden was on William to prove his case.

Whatever happened, we know that Barbara won the case and went on to marry well, and in her home area, some three years later.

The court proceedings

The case has six ‘pieces’ spread over one year eight months and follows a general format of libel, depositions and sentence as described on the Borthwick Cause Paper website. Much is in Latin in poor quality handwriting, in a mixture of contracted Latin forms with few case endings added, with English used for the witness statements made on oath.

The first piece is the libel, a list of charges. A marginal name ‘Swinburn’ shows that Henry Swinburne, an important ecclesiastical lawyer, was involved, presumably the judge. His signature appears on many cause papers [Derrett, 1973]. He wrote ‘A treatise of spousals, or matrimonial contracts’ published posthumously. Appearing for the plaintiff William Catterall is Master John Gibson (Official of the Consistory Court of York), and for the defendant Barbara Hawkesworth is Sir John Benet, Public Notary (knight and Vicar General of the Province of York) []. The names John Broket and Henry Proctor also appear as notaries public.

The case is brought before the court of the Archbishop of York with six charges (articles, claims or positions) made by John Gibson on behalf of the plaintiff claiming that William and Barbara had contracted marriage freely and that the betrothal words spoken were (in part) ‘I William take the(e) Barbara to my handfest wyffe and thereto I plyght thee my trowth’ (importantly in the present tense) and that Barbara said likewise, and ‘so drue handes and kissed … ’.

Gifts were exchanged. Other items quote the diocese of York and the parishes, Otley and Giggleswick, in which the two participants lived.

At this point a defendant could admit the charge, or more usually contest it, which appears to be the situation here. Only points not agreed on both sides had to be proved by witnesses.

In the second piece (very hard to decipher) the defence case for Barbara is put by John Benet, responding to the six charges raised by the prosecutor. The item about words spoken constituting bethrothal had an important caveat about requiring William to obtain permission. ‘… the said William at that tyme asking … if she were contracted to have him to her husband And she then answered Yea If he cold get the consent of her friends and ... of her eldest brother saying … for ... his consent I will ... mary you nor any other ... … ... when came the said William & did give her a gold ring to kepe, and answered that he wold do when he cold to obteyne her brothers good will ... … sayd I am ... also to take you to my wif so then your brother and the rest of your friends... give there consent to the same and unles they give there consentes I will ... any contract of you for which ... wordes speaking this ... and the said William said there ryght handes wynd together … … then the said William Catterall did give this... a silke girdle and ... she this … did also give ... a crowne of gold to the said William Catterall.’

The possibility is therefore raised that though they went through the betrothal ceremony, the marriage was conditional upon consent of Barbara’s brother and father’s friends – her father having died and made a will so saying.

The next stage would be for the plaintiff to get either an admission from the defendant, or sworn statements from at least two witnesses who were not successfully objected to. Witnesses could not be cross-examined but the defendant could ask additional questions, e.g. about bribes or extra facts. The credibility of at least two witnesses, their standing in the community and their financial status had to be considered to test for possible bribery. Unsuitable witnesses were paupers, vagabonds, excommunicates, servants or relatives of the other party. It certainly appears that John Catterall (William’s brother) and Geoffrey Atkinson (servant) could be considered unsuitable witnesses. However, no other witnesses were available to call upon. The notaries record the following, to be submitted to the judge [Helmholz, 2003]. The name Fr(ancis) Browne, notary public, is also noted at this point. A lease made in 1600 between John Catterall and Francis Browne of the city of York, notary public is for a farm in Rathmell, which might raise eyebrows.

Item 1 There is great disparity between the accounts of witnesses brought by William.

Item 2 William is said to be a pauper compared to Barbara, not worth £20 in cash, whereas Barbara is worth £20 and more in cash. The concern about money is also suggested by the response of John Catterall. ‘… for this respondent knoweth him selfe to be of as good or better parentage than the sayd Barbara was or is and he knoweth him selfe to be worthe in lands and goodes … … £200 at the least, wheras the said Barbara hathe but £200 (actually £100) as it is sayd due unto her for her portion and Rights, which is very lyckly to be very doubtful in getting and … to be payd unto her or such as shall have interest or right therunto.’ Getting money out of executors of wills was not guaranteed if the testator had debts or no cash in hand.

Item 3 charges that John Catterall is brother of William and John seems unwilling to explain his part relevant to expenses of the case. Item 4 says that Geoffrey Atkinson is a servant and tenant of John or William and is a pauper ‘not worth £3, 40s, 30s, 20s nor 10s’.

The evidence of Geoffrey Atkinson is ‘…That upon the Twelfe daye in Christenmas last, about sonne settinge the same daye, William Catterall Mr John Catterall and the said Jefferey Atkinson mett with Barbara Hawkesworth in a great entrie within the hall door of Mr Watson whear and when after some speach or communicacon passed betwene the sayd William and Barbara of matrymony to be had and solemnized betwixt them’. If all this is true, said before any witness, the couple were legally married according to canon law. The full statement is suspiciously precise to be remembered as given.

But this was disputed by claiming ‘…That the said Giles (sic) Atkinson was not presente in the entrie with the said Wylliam Catterall and the said Barbara the said Twelfe daye in Christenmas last past In Mr Watson his house about sonne settinge But was walkinge his master horses without the doors all that tyme neither within sight or hearing of the said William and Barbara during the said tyme.’ Geoffrey Atkinson has therefore given false information under oath concerning what were the betrothal circumstances and what was said.

John Catterall ‘de hollynghall in the county of York esquire aged about 40 years’ testified. It was claimed ‘…That the said Mr John Catterall the said Twelfe daye in Christenmas last past, a litle before sonne settinge as he had deposed, was not presente with the said William Catterall and the said Barbara Haukesworth in the great entrie goinge from the hall door to the kitchyn of the said Mr Watson his house But was all that tyme in the hall parlour or chamber of the said house with the said Mr Watson and others and neither did see the said Wylliam and Barbara neither could here what they did saye att that tyme And therupon hath deposed untrulie in that behalfe’.

The evidence of Henry Yonge was ‘…That he did mete, the said Barbara Hawkesworth and ij men with her Ridinge upon mawe more about a mile from Threshefeld about one or two wekes after Christenmas last At which tyme and place he asked the said Barbara emongst other thinges if she wear handfast And that the said Barbara should saye that we are. But it is propounded before the court That the said Henrie Yonge the tyme and place aforesaid did not speak any such wordes neither did aske the said Barbara any such question, neither did she make him any such answer neyther could he have asked her the one ridinge before her upon the same horse that she rode on And the other ridinge hard besides then must nedes have hard the same which they did not.’ It is charged then that Henry Yonge also is a false witness.

A later fuller version of his statement differed slightly in asking about marriage: ‘Barbara Hawkesworth ar yow maryed no quoth the sayd Barbara then quoth this ext to her ar yow handfest ye quoth the sayd Barbara that we ar, meaning as this ext then was fully persuaded that the actor William Catterall and she were betrauthed th(e)one to the other’.

It is said that the three witnesses are not impartial or suitable, or sufficiently trustworthy. Are the witnesses telling the truth, or at least being ‘economical with the truth’? In summary the two notaries appear to be suggesting to the judge that the case brought against Barbara could not be sustained.

The verdict

Piece 6 of the cause papers is the judgement, dated 14 October 1596.

The verdict is that Barbara has not been defamatory. ‘For that reason we John Benet doctor of laws finally and definitively dismiss and absolve Barbara the defending party of infamy, vexation of elders and disturbance of the said William Catterall.’ Some harsh words against William were used. The verdict means that Barbara the defendant won the case but the validity of the marriage is not discussed. Was it the case that Barbara’s brother and friends were alarmed that William was not as wealthy as Barbara expected to be and that they were saying in Otley that William was not a suitable husband-to-be? It is guessed that the intended marriage was not agreed to by Barbara’s brother. The witnesses for William, anxious to conclude a marriage profitable for him, but thwarted, proved to be legally unsuitable and may have in fact been untruthful. William may have realized that the betrothal was conditional but then was upset by talk in Otley and Giggleswick about his poorer financial status. Anyway, William had to pay costs.

What happened then?

The betrothal between Barbara and William must be assumed to have been deemed invalid as Paver’s Marriage Licences lists W. Rawson of Bradford and Barbara Hawkesworth of Bayldon, to marry at Bayldon (a chapelry in Otley parish) in 1598, though there is no parish register record of the marriage there. The Rawson family were influential in Shipley and Bradford and owners of a fulling mill. William Rawson, gent., of Shipley died childless in 1631, mentioning wife Barbara in his will, for which one Ezekiel Taylor was a witness. Paver’s then lists in 1635 – Ezekiel Taylor gent. of Bradford and Barbara Rawson, widow, of Kildwick, to marry in either place. Ezekiel’s former wife had died in 1633, so he was a widower. Barbara and Ezekiel in fact married at Keighley on 11 Aug 1635, and he had died by 1642. Barbara died in 1643 and was buried on 21 September at Bradford St Peter’s.

No further certain information has been found about William Catterall. John Catterall had a son, William bp 1588, who is probably the one mentioned in various leases in the early 1600s, but too young to have been the William in this case. Knight Stainforth Hall has been rebuilt since the time of this case; the layout of rooms is different, not allowing consideration of where people in the case might have been standing.


We are much indebted to John Harrop for translating the critical part of the page in Latin which gives the verdict of the Public Notary John Benet, defending the case. To Mr C. Maudsley for looking inside Knight Stainforth Hall.


  • Bryson, S., 2015.
  • Cause papers, CP G 2873 and Note ‘What are cause papers?’ Borthwick Institute for Archives,
  • Cressy, D., 1997. Birth, marriage and death: Ritual, religion, and the life-cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. UOP.
  • Derrett, J.D.M., 1973. Henry Swinburne:Civil lawyer of York. Borthwick Publications. Also available at
  • Gordon, S., 2011. ‘Marriage, divorce and bigamy – the Bindloss affair’. North Craven Heritage Trust Journal, p.17.
  • Helmholz, R.H., 2003. Judicial tribunals in the English ecclesiastical courts. Manchester University Press.
  • Mate, M. E., 1998. Daughters, wives and widows after the Black Death. Boydell, New York.
  • Youings, J., 1991. Sixteenth-century England. Penguin Books, London.
  • Details of other Sources and Wills are available in the on-line version

Knight Stainforth

Knight Stainforth