OU on the BBC: Breaking the Seal - Programme four - Church records

Updated Sunday 1st April 2007

Introducing an episode in the series 'Breaking the Seal' which deals with church records.

Tintern Abbey Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC

For many centuries the power of the Church literally put the fear of God into the hearts of the people. Church Courts could decide whether you lived or died, married or divorced, and whether you were richer or poorer. Intimate details of the cases they heard were meticulously recorded and are preserved in archives up and down the country.

Bettany Hughes discovers how the church ordered seven stout women to try and seduce an unfortunate impotent, how a proud heretic was condemned to be burnt and how an impudent prostitute tried to claim a wealthy aristocratic inheritance.

The power of the Church may have declined but its fearful past is easily conjured from crypts and crannies throughout the country.

Read more in the programme transcript.

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