An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.
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This town was always in the archdeaconry of Norwich; but before the Dissolution acknowledged no archidiaconal jurisdiction, for the deanery of Thetford contained all the city, the two Snareshills, and Santon by Downham, and the sole peculiar jurisdiction over all the churches, monasteries, and inhabitants, except the abbey and nunnery, which were exempted from it; and yet the abbey, though it did not acknowledge itself subject to the deans power, claimed exemption for some places where they were concerned, from all other spiritual courts, otherwise than that of this dean, as for Hockham, &c. it is to be thought, that this was made a peculiar, with such large jurisdiction, by the Bishop, when he removed the see, to satisfy the people as well as he could, by permitting them to have a court of the same jurisdiction, as well after his removal, as before, by which means they would not be forced to follow him to Norwich, to transact their business; and from this time the Bishop's, or Archdeacon's Court, had nothing to do in this deanery, except thus far, that all persons that would prove any will in their courts, might do so, otherwise they must prove it before the dean, if a spiritual person, or before the dean and mayor, if he was a temporal person, and chose to have it recorded in both their courts, as some did, though I find very many proved in the Bishop's Office; the succeeding bishops did not like this exempt, but bare with it, till Richard Nick, Nix, or Nikke's time, who could not brook it, and so brought himself into a præmunire; the affair is thus related by Collier, (fn. 1) Richard Nix Bishop of Norwich is said to have offended the King signally, by some correspondence with Rome, and was kept long in the Marshalsea, and convicted and found in a præmunire. (fn. 2) But this relation goes only upon conjecture, and looks improbable even from Nix's age and behaviour: for he was a very old man, and had been blind many years; and as he could have no prospect of advantage from such a correspondence, so neither did he manage it like one that would risk his fortune for any religion. For as to regularity he was a person of a very slender character; (fn. 3) the true cause of his conviction and imprisonment was this: the town of Thetford in Norfolk made a presentment upon oath, before the King's judges, in proof of their liberties. The matter alleged was, that none of that town ought to be cited into any spiritual consistory, but only into the court of the Dean of Thetford, and that whosoever cited any inhabitant of that town into another spiritual court, should forfeit 6s. 8d. toties quoties. The Bishop taking this as a check upon his jurisdiction, cited Richard Cockarel, Mayor of Thetford, and some others, into his court, (fn. 4) and enjoined them, under the penalty of excommunication, to summon a jury of their town, and cancel the former presentment; for this the Bishop was prosecuted in the King's Bench, cast in a præmunire, and had judgment executed upon his person and estate, pursuant to the statute; (fn. 5) this was done in the beginning of the year 1534, the King, afterwards, upon his submission, dicharged him out of prison; (fn. 6) however he was not pardoned without a fine, with part of which, it is said, the glass windows in King's College chapel in Cambridge were purchased: the Atlas says, (fn. 7) he was forced to purchase his peace of the King, by exchanging the large estates (viz. thirty good manors and more) belonging to his bishoprick, for the abbey and revenues of St. Bennet of the Holme, which seems indeed to be the chief motive of the whole proceeding, for that this agreement might remain firm for ever, the King got it settled by Act of Parliament; and it was after confirmed by William Rugg, or Reppes, his successour, under a pretence indeed of increasing the bishoprick, though it decreased it very much; yet thus far we must say for this bishop, that his confirmation was a means of increasing it, for he got Hickling priory with its revenues, and a prebend in St. Stephen's, Westminster, added to the revenues of Holme abbey, by means thereof. But the town enjoyed the privilege but little while, for in or before 1540 the rural deaneries came all into the bishop's hands, and their jurisdictions into the archdeacon's, from which time there hath been no dean of Thetford, and consequently, the spiritual jurisdiction thereof hath ever since belonged to the bishop and archdeacon of Norwich, as it now does.