THE BISHOP OF ROCHESTER'S CONSISTORY COURT AT DARTFORD
DARTFORD AND THE PRESERVATION OF PUBLIC MORALS
The consistory court of the bishop of Rochester met at Holy Trinity church at least six times a year. The court met on a Monday, but court sessions could last several days according to the number of cases to be heard. The consistory court had a number of different functions. All wills made within the deanery of Dartford were proved at the court. The judge was usually a cleric appointed by the bishop. On 19 July 1389 Master John Scharynton, rector of Bromley, held the consistory court here.
Clergymen, laymen and women were brought before the court to answer a range of charges including adultery and the fathering of illegitimate children. The court also oversaw the proving of wills, and matrimonial, divorce and tithe cases. On 16 September 1335 Elizabeth de Kirkby of Horton was accused of fornication with Matthew Palmer, a priest. On 22 September 1444, Richard Lempster, vicar of Burham, submitted himself to penance for failing in his vow of chastity.
Punishments handed out by this church court could include fines and public floggings. In July 1445, Walter Ramsey was condemned at the court for fornication. He was sentenced to be whipped three times round Dartford church and twice around the market places of Dartford and Rochester. This harsh sentence was never carried out. The court cancelled the punishment when Ramsey agreed to pay a large fine and to maintain the woman and her child.