Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills Vols. I & II 1383-1558

British Record Society volumes 10 & 11

Published 1893, 1895

Introduction to Original Volume

The Will-registers were used as the basis of this index, and the filed wills as well as the act-books were afterwards examined for the purpose of obtaining supplemental information. The court-act books would undoubtedly have yielded some additional matter, but at the cost of so much labour as to have involved an indefinite postponement of the publication of the work.

Omissions from calendars — A large number of names that are omitted, through inadvertence or other causes, from the old calendars will be found here. Amongst these omissions there arc about 59 names of persons whose wills were proved before the prior and chapter of Canterbury during two vacancies of the archbishopric and a few names of testators whose wills were found on the file under the circumstances related in the foot-note on the first page of the text.

Testatrix married more than once — Whenever it was observed, in the process of making this index, that a testatrix in her will alluded to more husbands than one, such will was indexed under the several surnames of the husbands.

Varied forms of surnames — If the testator's surname, in any particular will, was variously spelt, that which appeared to be the prevailing form was adopted; but if the variation seemed to be at all essential, the will was indexed under both forms.

Although the system in this lexicographical arrangement has been to place under a key-name all wills relating to a particular cognomen, there can be no doubt that many inadvertent deviations from that method will be detected. A few examples will show how much care is required in compiling and also in consulting such an index as this. Members of one family make their wills indifferently as "Voyce" and "Foys"; a Hawtayne writes his name I-Ialtheyn; Robert Heryong, will 1500, was father of Richard Marry yonge, will 1545; there is an inventory of the goods of Gilbert Cayse, 1489, whose will occurs herein as Keyes; Joan Mcbson, will 1503, was widow of John Ebson, will 1502; Hugh Symper, will 1505, appears in the Salop Visitation as "dc sco petro." An initial F. and Ph. were used interchangeably even in what would appear to be improbable cases.

Place of abode — The plan here adopted has been that if a person's will indicated his connection with two or more distinct localities, the fact should be shown in the index. It is not, however, to be supposed that the wills were so closely examined as to allow of an invariable conformity to that system.

It should be borne in mind that the place at which a person made his will was not necessarily his domicile.

Distinction between will and testament — There occur in the registers, and in this index, instances of the distinction formerly made between the will (which dealt with real estate), and the testament (which concerned the personalty). Commonly the will would be written in English or Norman-French and the testament in Latin. The term "codicil" was usually applied to a will as distinguished from a testament, and what is nowadays a "codicil" was frequently known as a "schedule."

Breaks in the series — The most reasonable way of accounting for the gaps in the series of Prerogative Court wills is to suppose that some books, or parts of books, arc lost.

Style — The dates in this volume are according to old style. Wills, unless otherwise specified. It is to be understood that every entry in this index relates to a will, save when such words as "administration," " cquittance," etc., are added.

No act of probate— In the earlier registers are to be found a large number of wills to which there is no Act of probate. In such cases it was necessary to draw an inference as to the year in which the probate may have issued, but the date thus supplied is, of course, of no authority.

Errors herein — It is hoped that whenever errors are detected in this index, a notification of them, addressed to the Superintendent of the literary department, will be forwarded to the principal registry in order that the copies of the volume which are in daily use may be rectified.

Jurisdiction of the Court

It would appear that the archbishops of Canterbury began to claim their prerogative testamentary jurisdiction as early as the reign of Henry III but a long period elapsed before such claim was fully recognized by their Suffragans.

In the same manner that a bishop claimed the exclusive right to issue a grant in cases where the deceased person had goods ("bona") in divers archdeaconries or jurisdictions within his diocese, the archbishop asserted a claim whenever the goods were in more than one diocese within his province.

In process of time there grew up a custom of limiting the archbishop's powers to cases in which the deceased had possessed "bona notabilia" or personal estate of "considerable value" outside the diocese in which the person's death took place, and a minimum value of five pounds was held to constitute this particular archiepiscopal jurisdiction.

As was inevitable, the bishop was apt to encroach upon the testamentary authority of his archdeacons, and he himself was in like manner supplanted by his archbishop, who began to issue grants quite irrespective of the existence of "bona notabilia." This usurpation gradually increased until in process of time the officials of the Prerogative Court acquired a prescriptive right to make a grant in the estate of any person dying within the province, and thus many of the smaller Courts were virtually superseded many years before the passing of the Probate Act, 1857.

In regard, however, to the period dealt with in this index, viz. 1383-4. to 1558, it is probable that the testators in the very large majority of instances possessed "bona notabilia."

The entry of Administration of the goods of John Conwardby, 1384 (2 Rous) contains an allusion to another constituent part of the archbishop's prerogative. Amongst the instruments with which register "Blamyr" opens (see page xvii) will be found an appointment of a commissary to the archbishop for the town and confines of Calais.

The provincial had likewise authority, by virtue of his prerogative, to hear and decide causes arising from disputes in connection with the wills or the administrations of persons dying possessed of bona notabilia or with the accounts relating to such persons' estates, or with legacies contained in their wills.

Lastly he had the sole right to issue a grant of probate or administration in the estates of his Suffragans, irrespectively of their having held bona notabilia.

In the notes relating to register "Marche" (page xii) there will be found a quotation from a probate-act which exemplifies the fact that the archbishop's prerogative failed to supersede the exempt jurisdiction which certain of the religious houses had derived from the apostolic see.

Court of Delegates

An Appeal from the Prerogative Court lay only to the King in Chancery, who appointed Delegates to "hear and decide" suits. In some instances the Court of Delegates, on the determination of a Cause, issued a Grant of Probate or of Administration, and inasmuch as there must have been in the majority of cases that came before that Court, an estate sufficiently large to justify costly proceedings, it is obvious that the Wills and Admons. recorded in the Delegates' Court, and now preserved at Somerset House, are of more than average interest and importance. Such records are, however, but few in number, and date back no further than 1651, the earlier documents being lost. The cause-papers connected with these testamentary suits as well as those relating to ecclesiastical and other matters that came before the Court, are at the Public Record Office. By the Act of 2 and 3, Will. IV., c. 9z, the powers of the Court of Delegates were transferred to the King in Council, but no change was made in the method of registering proceedings in Appeal cases, and the Delegates records therefore remain in one series.

Extant Prerogative Records

For the period covered by this index the extant Prerogative Court Records are as follows:

1. Will Registers, which likewise contain a few entries of Administration grants, as well as some Sentences, Commissions, Acquittances, etc., and a small number of non-testamentary ecclesiastical instruments.

2. Filed Wills, with which arc a few Sentences, etc.

3. Calendars.

4. Probate-act books.

5. Administration-act book, (a fragment only).

6. Administration bonds.

7. Court-act books.

8. Inventories.