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A public Penance Text  Until the 19th century, the courts of the established church exercised a wide-ranging jurisdiction which included moral offences such as defamation, fornication and adultery. This is an order from the Lichfield consistory court to the ministers of the parish churches of Walsall and Rushall and the chapel of Bloxwich to call before them Ann Bickley to do penance for fornication. Ann was required to visit each of the churches on successive Sundays and

“during all the Time of Divine-Service shall stand upon a low Stool placed before the Reading-Desk, in the Face of the Congregation then assembled, being cloathed in a white Sheet, in her Stocking Feet, with her Hair about her ears, and having a white Wand in her hand, and immediately after the End of the second Lesson the said Ann Bickley shall (with an audible Voice) make her humble Confession, as follows: WHEREAS I Ann Bickley not having the Fear of God before mine eyes, but being led by the Instigation of the Devil, and my own carnal Concupiscence, have committed the Crime of Fornication with William Seney To the Dishonour of Almighty God, the Breach of his most sacred Laws, The Scandal and evil Example of others, and the Danger of my own Soul without unfeigned Repentance; I do humbly acknowledge, and am heartily sorry for this my heinous Offence, I ask God Pardon and Forgiveness for the same, in Jesus Christ, and pray him to give me his Grace, not only to enable me to avoid all such like Sin and Wickedness, but also to live Soberly, Righteously and Godly, all the Days of my Life. And to that End I desire all you that are here present to join me in saying the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father, & c.”

Instead of being humiliated in front of their neighbours, offenders might have to leave them altogether. To find out more, click on A Free Voyage.

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