Berkshire Probate Records 1653-1710 Original Introduction

Introduction to Original Volume

The Berkshire archdeaconry probate records were transferred to the Bodleian Library from the Principal Probate Registry at Somerset House in 1957. An index of wills and administrations for the period 1508 to 1652 edited by W.P.W. Phillimore was published jointly by the British Record Society and the Oxford Historical Society in 1893. The present volume, most carefully compiled by Miss Jasmine Howse, continues the index from 1653 to 1710. Unlike Phillimore's volume it is a complete record of all the archidiaconal probate documents which have survived for the years it covers. The earlier index was based mainly on the registers of wills and the act books in which grants of administration are entered. Phillimore noted all administration bonds but he only indexed filed wills where they survive for persons for whom there are no entries in registers, and he did not list any other type of loose document at all.

Miss Howse by contrast has compiled this index mainly from the original loose documents, which have survived in almost complete runs from the early sixteenth century onward. Apart from the years c. 1648 to 1660 there are no obvious gaps in either of the two main series, that is filed wills (most of which are signed or attested originals) and administration bonds. Probate inventories have survived in exceptionally large numbers from about 1540 onward, and all of these are still filed with the wills and bonds to which they relate. From about 1590 onward the files of administration bonds and inventories also include many administrators' accounts, an interesting class of probate record as yet little used by social and economic historians. There are separate files of renunciations of the office of executor or administrator and of commissions to administer oaths to executors or administrators from 1710 onward, and some of these documents for earlier years are still with related wills or bonds. Finally there are two other types of loose documents indexed here which are more unusual in this context. A large number of seventeenth-century archdeaconry court papers concerning testamentary causes have been kept with the will, administration or inventory which was in dispute; and there are more than two hundred contemporary copies of Berkshire wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury or before the Commonwealth Judges for probate, most of them for the years 1653 to 1673.

It is particularly fortunate that the loose records are good for this period because the registers and act books are defective. There is a long gap in the series of registers of archdeaconry wills from 1620 to 1698, and apparently there never was any series of probate act books. Administrations are registered in a volume covering the years 1634 to 1648 and 1660 to 1739 (MS. Wills Berks. 169), but this is not a contemporary act book. The grants are all entered in one hand and ink to about 1730, and the volume was evidently written up at this time by John Greenway, archdeaconry registrar, presumably from the administration bonds. The only volumes indexed here therefore are the part of this register of administrations which covers the years 1660 to 1710, the next surviving register of wills which runs from 1699 to May 1710 (MS. Wills Berks. 17), and the first few entries in the following register running from May 1710 to 1718 (MS. Wills Berks. 18).

Although it is a complete index of the archdeaconry probate records the present volume does not of course list all Berkshire persons of this period for whom it may be possible to find a will or administration. There are many other Berkshire wills and administrations among the records of the Prerogative Court now in the Public Record Office besides those of which there are copies indexed here. Since Berkshire was an archdeaconry in the diocese of Salisbury until 1836, there are also Berkshire wills among the Salisbury diocesan probate records now in the Wiltshire Record Office at Trowbridge. The probate records of a few parishes are elsewhere because these places were 'peculiars' exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop and archdeacon. Details of these are shown on a map kindly provided by Mr. J.S.W. Gibson and reproduced on p. viii. Persons from Faringdon (including the chapelry of Little Coxwell) proved their wills in the court of the prebendary who held the Faring-don stall in Salisbury cathedral; those from Wantage, Hungerford and Shalbourne in the courts of the Dean and Canons of Windsor; and those from Arborfield, Blewbury (including Aston Upthorpe and Upton), Hurst, Ruscombe, Sandhurst, Sonning and Wokingham in the court of the Dean of Salisbury. All the Faringdon probate records, and those for Wantage just for the period 1583 to 1668, are now in the Bodleian Library and indexed with the records of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire peculiars. All the rest, including later Wantage records, are now in the Wiltshire Record Office. There was also the tiny peculiar of the Dean of the royal collegiate foundation of St. George's, Windsor, whose jurisdiction extended over the freehold of the college within the lower ward of Windsor Castle. A register or act book for this peculiar including copies of wills proved before the Dean between 1663 and 1736 has survived amongst the records of St. George's kept at the Aerary, St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. Mr. Maurice Bond, the Honorary Custodian of the Muniments of St. George's, kindly informs me that the wills are nearly all those of members of the college.

In the index surnames are grouped under the most usual modern spelling of the name. Cross-references from the variant spellings to the modern form are only given if they do not seem obvious; thus for example Smythe is not cross-referenced to Smith. Christian names are modernised. In this period it is quite common for a person to be described as of one occupation or status in his will or in an administration bond and of a different one in a probate inventory. This has been recorded as, for example, 'yeoman and miller'. All details of places of residence found in the documents are included, and the spelling of place names has been standardised using the forms given in the Victoria History of the County of Berkshire. Where there is only one document from a court case the type of document (for example a citation to appear in court or a deposition of a witness) is specified, but where there is more than one only the number of documents is indicated, in the form 'Court papers (5)'. P.C.C. has been used as the abbreviation to indicate a will proved in the central court at any time, although this is not strictly accurate for the years 1653 to 1660 when the Archbishop of Canterbury's Prerogative Court was abolished and all probate jurisdiction exercised by Civil Judges. Dates of wills are the dates of probate unless otherwise specified, but in accordance with the endorsements on the documents and the practice of the older indexes now superseded by this volume these are given in 'old style'. Thus the documents listed as 1660 are those which run from 25 March 1660 to 24 March 1660/1. The full Bodleian shelf mark of all the documents is MS. Wills Berks, followed by the numbers given in the index. Loose documents are all numbered in the form '20/10'; items in volumes are listed in the form '169.10' which indicates that the entry indexed occurs on folio 10 of the volume MS. Wills Berks. 169.

Bodleian Library, Oxford D.M. Barratt