All England & Wales

Index to the Probate Accounts of England and Wales, Vols I & II

British Record Society Volumes 112 & 113

Published 1999

Locating the original documents

Where are the originals held?

Most surviving accounts are now held at the appropriate record office or archives. The archive or record office is found within the entry.

Most of the names of record offices will be easily recognisable. RO has been used as a general abbreviation for either Record Office or Archives. So Herts RO means Hertfordshire Record Office, Oxon RO means Oxfordshire Archives and Lincs RO means Lincolnshire Archives Office.

There are some which may be less obvious to some users:

  • Bodleian for the Oxford University Archives in the Bodleian Library
  • Borthwick for the Borthwick Institute, York
  • CKS for the Centre for Kentish Studies at Maidstone now The Kent History & Library Centre
  • CUL for the Cambridge University Archives in the Cambridge University Library
  • Greater London RO for the Greater London Record Office, now London Metropolitan Archive
  • Lambeth for Lambeth Palace Library
  • LJRO for the Lichfield Joint Record Office
  • NLW for the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth
  • PRO for the Public Record Office now The National Archives (Kew)

What information from the document do I need to locate the original?

  • Testator's name
  • Residence of Testator
  • Date of account
  • Archives where probate account is held
  • References as given in the British Record Society index

About Index to the Probate Accounts of England and Wales, Vols I & II

These volumes are an index to probate accounts for wills proved and administrations granted in England and Wales.

A Probate account was prepared by the executor or administrator of an estate and supplements the information found in inventories (where they survive). It should account for all the goods and debts received and all the debts and legacies paid and expenses incurred during the winding up of the deceased’s estate, recording a final balance.

Survival is spread unevenly throughout the country, and a list of the number of accounts abstracted, arranged by county or equivalent heading can be found below.

Also included below is a table of all surviving accounts by county. No known accounts survive for Ireland and Scotland.

The entries give, in order, surname, christian name, status or occupation where known, place or residence, county, date of the account (not date of death which can be several years earlier), the record office in which the account is now kept, and its reference.

The entries are grouped under the most common spelling for the surname. Under each surname the entries are arranged alphabetically. This means some name variants may not appear clustered together. Names in the index are generally according to the spelling used in the documents.

Abbreviations used in the index

AArchdeaconry Court
CommCommissary Court
CCConsistory Court
DDeanery Court
DCCourt of Dean and Chapter
PCPrerogative Court
PCCPrerogative Court of Canterbury
PecPeculiar Court

Introduction to Original Volume

Introduction to Probate Accounts

by Jacqueline Bower

The Survival of Probate Accounts

Nicholas Bowden, a miller of Milton next Sittingbourne in Kent, was owed money by a number of London bakers. He was murdered while on a voyage from London to Milton in 1624 and his body thrown overboard.

Thomas Hammon, a young boy of Maidstone who lost his family in an outbreak of plague in 1603, was provided with a new outfit when the infection had ceased. He was bought two and a half yards of fustian for breeches at 3s 4d, half an ell of canvas to line his doublet, two and three quarter ells of cloth at Is 8d for a shirt, a pair of shoes for one shilling, three quarters of a yard of broadcloth at 6s 6d and two dozen buttons and a skein of silk at lOd to make a jerkin. Spinning the wool and knitting two pairs of stockings cost 2s 4d; the total cost of his outfit was 15s 8d.

Catherine Symons of St Peter in Sandwich died in 1670 of stomach cancer, diagnosed as such by several physicians. She spent the last months of her life boarding at the house of John Browne in Sandwich, during which time 'she [had] such great extremity of paine by reason of her ... distemper that none would endure the roome but upon great necessity.'

When Richard Estman of Canterbury died in the 1590s, he was leaseholder of a row of houses and shops evidently in need of extensive repairs. Among the materials purchased by his administrator John Illesley to do his part towards the Great Rebuilding were 3000 tiles costing 33s, 1200 bricks at 14s and several loads of sand, lime and stones. Illesley also paid wages to a pavior, carpenter and plasterer.

All the episodes quoted above are taken from probate accounts surviving in the diocese of Canterbury and held at the Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone. Until recently, few historians have been aware of the existence of probate or administrators' accounts, although probate inventories have been extensively used by social and economic historians for the last fifty years. One reason probate accounts have been less well known is that they do not survive in such large numbers as probate inventories and their survival is unevenly spread throughout the country. In some regions, such as the diocese of Canterbury and Lincolnshire, accounts survive in large numbers; in others, especially in the north of England, few if any accounts survive. In addition, in some places, even where accounts do survive, there have been no adequate lists or calendars to guide potential users. Most surviving accounts are now in County Record Offices, but until recently few offices have even had indexes to their own holdings. An estimate of the number of surviving probate accounts is to be found in the Appendix. 5 It is arranged by record office, and within each record office, by the ecclesiastical court to which the account was rendered. Since the jurisdiction of some courts, such as the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Lichfield, extended into several counties, this list does not reveal the frequency of survival of accounts in the different counties of England and Wales. Table 1 shows the distribution of the surviving accounts rearranged according to the counties in which the deceased had property. For comparison the number of 'houses' in each county has been added from the estimates published by John Houghton in 1693. It has been suggested that these may have been derived from the Hearth Tax Returns of 1685.6 These estimates of 'houses' give some indication of the relative frequency of the survival of probate accounts in proportion to the late seventeenth century population of the different counties.

Number of accounts abstracted, arranged by county or equivalent heading

Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely22517,347
Durham, Northumberland and Berwick 7738,725
London, Middlesex and Westminster584100,136
Overseas 813 

It has not been possible to include all surviving accounts in the index. In some collections, probate accounts survive among thousands of other probate documents which have not been individually listed or indexed. It has not been possible to search through these collections to identify the probate accounts surviving among them. This has been the case with the Prerogative Court of Canterbury accounts held at The National Archives and with the accounts at Durham, Norwich and the City of London Guildhall Record Office. It is hoped that these record offices will at some time be able to index their probate collections as a whole, so that the probate accounts among them may be identified. In addition, among some of the collections which have been indexed, some accounts have had to be omitted because they are too fragile to be handled, including some at Lincoln, Taunton and Bristol. In some collections, accounts seem only to have been preserved when there was some dispute surrounding the administration of the estate. This is the case with many of the accounts so far identified in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. In classes PROB 5 and PROB 32 at The National Archives, accounts are preserved with inventories and cause papers. The accounts at Cambridge, Dorchester, Hertford. Huntingdon, Northampton, Oxford, Taunton and Worcester survive as loose papers. At Worcester, the accounts are mixed with other documents, chiefly administrations. At Hertford, the accounts are mixed with inventories. At Dorchester, nearly all the surviving accounts are from the Peculiar of Wimborne. This pattern of survival gives the impression that, except in cases of dispute, the survival of these accounts was random, a matter of chance rather than a conscious decision on someone's part. The result of this uneven survival is that in most counties existing accounts form only a small proportion of the possible total. These smaller collections of accounts are invaluable for anyone wishing to study the history of a particular family or locality, when that family or locality is represented among the accounts. However, they are not sufficient for a study of wealth and society over a wide area or a long period of time.

The accounts surviving in the diocese of Canterbury are different. 13,565 accounts have been preserved in the Archdeaconry and Consistory Courts of Canterbury. The sequence begins in 1569 and ends in 1740, with just over half the accounts falling in the period 1592-1641. Keeping these accounts was evidently a conscious policy of the Canterbury authorities, for they were not preserved among inventories or other material, but bound up nearly contemporaneously in volumes, each volume normally covering two years in roughly alphabetical order of the names of the deceased, and nearly all containing only accounts. Nevertheless we suspect that, even in the diocese of Canterbury, far from all the accounts were preserved. Because of the scale of the surviving collection of probate accounts in east Kent, much of this introduction will be based on Kent examples. However, we are aware that there were strong regional differences in early modern England and that what was true of Kent was not necessarily true of Yorkshire or Somerset.

In England, in the later middle ages, the courts, when they made grants of probate or letters of administration, required that the executor (or administrator) should return to report how he, or, more commonly, she, had carried out the responsibility of handling the goods of the deceased. Michael Sheehan suggested that this obligation evolved in the third quarter of the thirteenth century. He pointed out that Archbishop Boniface's Lambeth Statutes of 1261 only said that accounts were to be rendered if demanded, but that later statutes all took the presentation of accounts as the regular final stage of the execution of wills. 9 After the Probate Act of 1530, the courts exacted a bond, with a substantial financial penalty, which would be forfeit if the administration was not carried out properly. 10 This demanded keeping a scrupulous record of all payments and 'casting an account' to bring back into the court.

Accounts therefore once existed as commonly as inventories, with duplicate copies in the hands of the courts and of the accountants who had rendered them. At least in the second half of the sixteenth century, and the first half of the seventeenth, one of these copies had been formally, and expensively, inscribed on parchment. It is not surprising that the accountants' copies have disappeared, like private copies of wills, inventories and letters of administration.11 What is much more surprising is that so few of the court copies have survived, unlike wills and inventories. Like inventories, and unlike wills, they never seem to have been copied into formal registers, but kept as loose documents. The Canterbury 'registers' are loose paper copies bound up together. The only truly 'registered' accounts are a handful of copies of very early probate accounts entered, like copies of wills and other probate documents, into undifferentiated episcopal registers in the period before separate registers were kept for particular purposes.12

The earliest surviving loose accounts we have discovered are two accounts from the Archdeaconry Court of Sudbury from 1521 and 1522, and one from the Consistory Court of Lincoln from 1524. 13 No other loose accounts, to our knowledge, survive from before the Probate act of 1530. The hundreds of thousands of fifteenth century accounts, like the hundreds of thousands of fifteenth century wills, have vanished virtually without trace. 14 The next earliest is an Oxfordaccount of 1547. Only isolated documents have been found to survive from before the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. We have only seen nineteen survivors from the period 1555-60, and only 57 from 1561-70.

In the diocese of Canterbury the probate accounts which were drawn up before the late 1560s, were not preserved by the courts once the estate had been wound up. Had the administration not lasted so long, we would not have the account for the moveables of Edward Crayforde of Great Mongeham who died in 1558, leaving three young daughters. His administrator began to keep an account from the time of Crayforde's death, but this account was not presented to the court until 1569, when all the daughters had come of age. It is now the fourth account in the first surviving volume of the Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury accounts. 15

The numbers of survivors only begin to increase from the late 1570s. We have seen over a hundred survivors from each year after 1585, and two hundred survivors from each year after 1592. The increase in the number of surviving accounts from the late 1570s to the early seventeenth century parallels the increase in the number of other probate documents, but following a generation later than wills, and on a very much smaller scale. 16

The abolition of ecclesiastical jurisdictions meant that during the Commonwealth there were neither wills proved nor accounts rendered outside the central probate court. Similarly the success of the revival in ecclesiastical probate jurisdictions after the Restoration is reflected in the numbers of surviving wills and accounts from the 1660s and 1670s.

Acts of 1671 and 1685

The requirements evolved in the third quarter of the thirteenth century were considerably eroded in the third quarter of the seventeenth. The primary requirement of the courts was that they should examine and allow the accounts. Until 1671 the courts then made ad hoc arrangements for a distribution of the residual assets if any. After 1671, distribution had to follow a formula laid down by the 'Act for the Better Settling of Intestates' Estates'. 17 This act nevertheless maintained the established principle that an administrator 'shall and may' be called to account, and therefore had little effect on the pattern of survival of accounts. In 1685 a general Act, misleadingly called 'for the Reviveing and Continuance of several 1 Acts of Parlyament',18 far from merely extending their validity quite considerably modified a number of acts, including the Intestates' Estates Act of 1671. 19 There is a possibility that the legislation of 1685 may have been in response to judicial interpretation of the Act of 1671. 20 From 24 July 1685 onwards administrators no longer needed to render account to the courts of the moveable goods they were administering, unless there was a request on behalf of a minor, from the next of kin, or from a creditor of the deceased. 21 They were still required, however, to produce an inventory of moveables before being allowed to administer them. The dotted line on Figure 1 is to indicate the passing of this Act.

The number of surviving accounts falls sharply from 1685. From the early 1680s, the years immediately before the legislation, an annual average of over 450 accounts have survived in all parts of the country. Of these around 150 were from the diocese of Canterbury. We have seen 514 surviving accounts which were exhibited in 1684, but only 373 accounts survive from 1685 itself, which suggests that in the latter part of the year many administrators were already aware that they no longer needed to render accounts. From 1685 onwards the numbers surviving drop continuously. We have seen only 107 from 1686, and never over a hundred from any year after 1687. From the late 1680s an average of only 75 accounts a year have survived from the whole country, and of these about a half come from Canterbury. By the first decade of the eighteenth century the annual rate of survival in the whole country was below forty. Although fourteen jurisdictions preserved accounts into the nineteenth century, fewer than a thousand accounts survive from the period after 1720, less than three per cent of the total. The last surviving account dates from 1855. From only two years in that period, 1735 and 1779, did more than twenty accounts survive. As a consequence there is not a large corpus of account material for use in work on eighteenth century problems in England and Wales.

Accounts even from before 1685 are now extraordinarily rare compared with wills, administrations and even inventories. Forty five to fifty thousand accounts amongst four or five million probate records is a very tiny proportion. That so many fewer accounts have survived than inventories is at first sight surprising, since, up to 1685, they were of equal, if not greater, legal importance and equally numerous. At the end of the sixteenth century Henry Swinburne had emphasised the subordination of inventories to accounts: if executors were not accountable the use of inventoris were to little purpose'. 22 It would therefore have been more logical to throw away the inventories, once the accounts had been passed, and to retain the accounts in perpetuity, but the reverse is what has generally happened. The necessity of continuing to present inventories after 1685, but not accounts, presumably meant that eighteenth century guardians of ecclesiastical court records continued to be familiar with inventories as current legal documents, but no longer routinely encountered accounts, and so disregarded and eventually destroyed them. For no apparent reason, a disproportionate number of accounts for administrators rather than executors have been retained. 23 However the survival of any particular account can sometimes seem a result of chance. 24 It is fairly clear that many of those post-1685 accounts that have survived were related to estates about which there was some dispute. Many of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury accounts which we have seen fall into this category. Some late accounts are filed with cause papers, for example many of those of the York courts in the Borthwick Institute.

Probate Accounts in the American Colonies

The legislation of 1685 had no effect in the American Colonies, where by contrast, probate accounts continued to be drawn up as a matter of course until the end of the traditional probate jurisdictions at the end of the eighteenth century. 25 In Maryland probate jurisdiction was transferred from the colony's prerogative court to county orphans' courts in 1777. The large numbers of detailed accounts preserved there have already been widely and fruitfully exploited by historians of seventeenth and eighteenth century British North America. One of the key differences between the colonies and England was that land could be left in the colonies by will as well as movables. Land was therefore included in probate inventories and in probate accounts, so that probate records give a much more rounded picture of wealth in the American colonies than in the mother country.

The best example of the way American scholars have exploited probate accounts is in their treatment of the account of Robert and Rebecca Cole, tobacco planters of St Clements Bay in Maryland, who, when they died in 1662, left six minor children aged from thirteen down to three. In 1673 Luke Gardiner, the sole surviving executor of Robert Cole's will, presented an exceptionally detailed thirty page account to the Maryland Prerogative Court. It is the basis of the most extended study of any probate account that we know.26

From a century later, Alice Hanson Jones, in her three volume compilation for 1774, printed 919 probate inventories in full from twenty one counties ranging from Massachusetts to South Carolina 'chosen to represent an unbiased sample of all probate inventories in all thirteen colonies.' 27 Alongside these she printed in full twenty-five related probate accounts presented by executors or administrators (she calls them estate accounts), and printed abstracts of a very large number of others. Because of the time it took to wind up estates with young children, many of the accounts which began in 1774 ran on into the 1780s. When she discussed the historical implications of these documents in a separate volume, she devoted a chapter to 'Net Worth, Financial Assets and Liabilities', which relied on her probate accounts. After subtracting slaves, land formed on average 68% of the assets listed in her 1774 inventories. In other words, movables and financial assets, which are all that appear in English inventories, formed on average only 32% of wealth. She was able to show that although financial liabilities commonly exceeded financial assets, they did not often exceed the total of movables and financial assets, which were normally themselves under a third of individuals' gross wealth. Consequently the problem of how executors and administrators coped with negative balances at the end of their accounts does not normally plague American colonial historians. 28

Although probate accounts survive in England, Wales and the American colonies, they do not do so in Ireland or Scotland and it is not clear to us if there was ever a requirement to render an account in those countries.

The Procedure for Administrators and Executors

In the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, probate inventories were compiled within days of a person's death,, and were supposed to list all his or her moveable assets, such as clothing, household goods and furnishings, crops, livestock and leasehold property. They also listed debts owed to the deceased. The purpose of the inventory was to provide a record of the deceased's assets to prevent dishonesty by the executor or administrator and to assist him or her in discharging the deceased's outstanding financial obligations and distributing the balance of the estate to the next of kin. After a probate inventory had been compiled, it was submitted to the appropriate ecclesiastical court, which retained a copy for its own records. These inventories, of which possibly one million survive in England and Wales, chiefly from the mid-sixteenth to the mid- eighteenth century, are mostly now in county record offices. They have been extensively used by social and economic historians for over fifty years to study wealth and standards of living in different regions during the early modern period. 29

For the diocese of Canterbury nearly all the probate inventories that were made, some 31,000, survive from the period 1577 to 1639. We think that they are almost a complete set, because they are approximately as numerous as the entries in the probate act books of the Archdeaconry and Consistory Courts of Canterbury. We believe that this is very roughly a half of the adult men who died. This is considerably more than the 30% of adult male decedents for whom inventories of goods survive from the period 1660-1700 in the Vale of Berkeley in Gloucestershire. On the other hand it falls far short of the 70% of adult male decedents who had inventories made in some parts of the Chesapeake at the same period. 30

After the probate inventory had been submitted, the court granted probate, if the deceased had left a will, or letters of administration if he had not. Published indexes suggest that, in the seventeenth century, probates of wills were approximately twice as numerous as grants of administration in both in the prerogative courts and in provincial courts. 31

The administrator, or, more commonly, the executor, then gathered in any remaining movable assets of the deceased and then paid as many as possible of his outstanding debts. There was a fixed order of priority for paying these, to cope with the not uncommon circumstance that there were not enough assets to meet all the liabilities. Henry Swinburne, in his Briefe treatise of Testaments and last Willes, explained that executors should pay the debts of the deceased according to a strict order: firstly 'debts to the Prince'; secondly recognizance 'upon statute merchant'; thirdly debts arising from court 'judgement'; fourthly obligations (on bond); fifthly debts 'due upon simple billes, or merchant bookes, or other like specialties'; and finally, if at all, those for which 'the creditor have no specialtie or writing'. 32

The administrator also settled any expenses incurred since the deceased's death, such as the cost of the funeral, or of harvesting crops which had been sown in the deceased's lifetime. Until the estate was wound up, the administrator was also responsible for maintaining any dependents of the deceased, such as young children, or apprentices who had not yet found new masters.

A year was traditionally allowed for winding up an estate, but the process often took longer. Michael Sheehan in his work on medieval wills reported that the statues for the diocese of Exeter of 1287 were the earliest that he found which required accounts to be rendered within a year. It was soon realised that this was not always a reasonable time span. He noticed many examples in the registers of Archbishop Pecham (Canterbury 1279-92) in which administration lasted over several years.33 Swinburne reminds us that by the 1590s, as in so many other things, custom had come to vary across the country according to the 'several stiles of several Courts'. 34 However he also said that the accountant 'ought not to be called ... before he have had sufficient time for the performance of the will which is a twelve month' and that he 'therefore may be called to a general account within the year'. In the diocese of Canterbury, administrators normally took between nine months and two years to render final accounts. If an account had not been produced within two years of an inventory being exhibited, a court official known as an apparitor was sent by the court to pursue the administrator. The expenses of the apparitor would be reclaimed by the court from the estate, so it was in the administrator's interests not to delay the final settlement of the estate. During this period, the executor or administrator was supposed to keep a careful and detailed account of the money laid out from the estate. When all obligations had been discharged, and legacies paid, this account was exhibited in the court and the deceased's remaining assets, if any, distributed to his heirs.

Within the last fifteen years, historians have become increasingly aware of the limitations of probate inventories. A particular concern is that, while inventories give details of money owed to the deceased, they do not list debts owed by him, and thus often give an exaggerated idea of his wealth. Margaret Spufford has discussed the limitations of probate inventories with particular reference to her research into the financial affairs of petty chapmen and London stationers and Lincolnshire yeomen, husbandmen and labourers.' She cites the example of Charles Yarwood of Macclesfield, whose probate inventory listed goods worth a total of £9226 4s 8d, but whose will showed him to be deeply in debt to Francis Dashwood of the City of London. 35 Another example is that of Henry Hougham of Graveney in Kent, who from his probate inventory appeared to be a well to do yeoman worth £875. At his death the rent he owed was £566 19s in arrears; and when this and his other debts had been paid, his estate was left with a negative balance of £188 14s l1d. 36

The deficiencies of the probate inventory can partly be compensated for by the use of probate accounts. Among other expenses, they list debts owed by the deceased, and inventory and account taken together can therefore provide a more detailed picture of an individual's wealth than the inventory alone. Accounts also contain detailed information on the day-to-day lives and business dealings of people at all levels of society from the nobility and gentry down to small craftsmen, shopkeepers and even labourers. This information is in addition to that found in wills and inventories. Yet, even putting will, inventory and account together and taking account of irrecoverable bad debts, of payments for medical care, for funeral and court expenses, the documents still do not give a snapshot of the true wealth of the individual at the time he entered his last illness, because, in England and Wales, unlike the American colonies, as we have seen, neither inventory nor account gives information on real estate.

The Format and Content of Probate Accounts

Probate accounts, being legal documents, follow a set format. The format required by courts varied slightly from one jurisdiction to another. The preamble always names the administrator(s) or executor(s), that is the person or persons responsible for compiling the account.37 Normally there was only one accountant, but occasionally there were two or even three or four.

The relationship of the accountant to the deceased was normally stated in the preamble, or can be deduced from the body of the document. For men's estates the normal accountant was the widow. Of the accounts for men's estates that we have seen, the widow was the accountant in just under 70% of cases.38 After the widow, estates were most commonly accounted for by a son or brother of the deceased man. About 12% of accounts were exhibited by a son and about 10% by a brother, and only 8% by anyone else. These exceptional cases included a wider variety of people. In the diocese of Canterbury, the principal creditors of the deceased presented the accounts on 325 occasions, 2.4% of the total. One of the deceased's parents acted on 225 occasions, 1.6% of the total. Where a dead man left minor children, their guardian, who was usually a relative, could also be the accountant.

Whereas the estates of men were normally accounted for by their widows, a much broader spectrum of relations accounted for the estates of women. There were no obvious accountants for their estates, since a very large proportion of them were already widows at the time of their deaths. 39 A son or a daughter acted in just under half the accounts we have seen.

It was evidently accepted that a woman was fully capable of carrying out the sometimes quite complex business of settling an estate. However, a widow sometimes renounced the right to administer her husband's estate. If the estate was heavily in debt the widow might extricate herself by renouncing the administration in favour of the principal creditor. A renunciation was also commonly made if the widow was unable to act due to age or infirmity. Susanne Oldfield renounced the administration of the account of her husband William, a yeoman of Wingham, in 1666, because she was 'very antient and helplesse.' Youth as well as age could also, occasionally, be a disadvantage. Susanna, the widow of John Kerby of Birchington, renounced her administration in 1632 because she was still under 21, and therefore counted as a minor, not legally able to act. 40

The executor or administrator, whether woman or man, might seek assistance with the business. The estate of Richard Mills of St John's Thanet was officially administered by Mary Wastell alias Smith in 1636, but her husband 'lost two voyages to sea' while dealing with the business.41 Marie, the widow of John Prescott, a yeoman of Guston near Dover in Kent, was named as the administrator of his estate in 1646, but she acknowledged that her father-in-law Edward had been of great help to her in the process of settling her husband's affairs.42 Widows who were acting as executors or administrators, sometimes re-married before the account was presented, and it is occasionally apparent that the new husband had helped. Similarly when daughters and sisters acted as accountants, it is sometimes clear that the actual business was carried out by the son-in-law or brother-in-law of the deceased. In these circumstances, even if the husband went so far as to bring the accounts into court, everything was still done in the wife's name.43

Accusations that accountants had not dealt fairly with estates, or had feathered their own nests in the process, were rare. After the death of Elizabeth Barham of Sittingbourne in Kent in 1667, Robert Barham claimed that Elizabeth's executrix Mary Jefferie had failed to pay a legacy that was due to him. John Dodson of Smarden in Kent died in 1650. His estate was not accounted for until 1675, when it was claimed that all his assets had been embezzled by his widow. Richard Lewknor of Tenterden in Kent 'spent and wasted' the estate of his mother Joan, of Tenterden, leaving the administration incomplete when he died in 1597. 44 The overall impression, however, is that the majority of administrators carried out their often onerous duties faithfully and honestly, and sometimes at considerable cost to themselves.

Requests by administrators for compensation from the deceased's estate for time and money spent on the administration are common. In 1610 the administrator of Walter Newman's estate claimed £2 to cover the cost of travelling from his home in Berkshire to Milton next Sittingbourne in Kent. The son and administrator of Henry Stephenson spent £4 travelling from Durham to Kent in 1639. Anthony Le Keux had to cross the channel to Armentidres in 1614 in connection with the estate of Adam Huchon of Canterbury, perhaps a fellow Huguenot. Robert Pemble, guardian of the son of John Pemble of Ebony in Kent, claimed £80 to compensate him for five or six years spent managing the deceased's affairs in the 1640s. John Parrett, administrator of Anthony Stringer, claimed that he had lost 81 days' pay, at 2s Id a day, from his work as a shipwright at Chatham Dockyard, while settling Stringer's estate in 1690. When the ship's captain, Benjamin Dennis, died, the owners of his ship paid for his funeral, then claimed the cost back, plus 50% interest, from his sister, who was administering the estate. The administrator of Samuel Johnston, vintner of St Martin in the Fields, London, paid bribes to butlers in various households to persuade them to buy Johnston's wines.

Sometimes there were truly tragic cases. Mary Lewis, widow and administrator of John Lewis of Poplar in Middlesex, claimed that she had had to leave her baby with a wet nurse while dealing with her husband's affairs, and that this had contributed to the death of the child. 45

Any executor or administrator forced to have dealings with any government department, but especially the Admiralty, was particularly unfortunate. Anne and Morris Rawson, sister and brother-in-law of Francis Mansell, gentleman, of St Margaret's, Westminster, had to travel from the Midlands to attend to his estate. They spent a great deal of time and money trying to recover arrears of an annuity owed to Mansell by the Treasury, to the detriment of Morris Rawson's own business, which was running a dancing school. When Henry Geary of Ospringe died he was owed £20 10s by the government for lodging sick and wounded soldiers or sailors. By the time the account of his estate was concluded in 1681, only £3 10s had been paid. In 1667 the executors of both Edward Eason and Stephen Goulding had to travel to London from Thanet to recover arrears of pay owed to the deceased men by His Majesty. The administrator of John Fitton, late of HMS Saphire, paid a shilling to the doorkeeper at the Admiralty 'to get despatch' - that is, to be attended to quickly. 46 One of Samuel Pepys' biographers believes that bribes or 'commissions' of this nature were commonplace at all levels of government at this time. 47 The fact that they were openly recorded in probate accounts, and allowed by the church courts, suggests that their payment was taken for granted.

One of the most unfortunate administrators was Jonathan Smith, executor and administrator of Isaac Murton of Sandwich in 1638. 48 At first sight Murton, a jurat and woollendraper, appears to have been a man in substantial circumstances. His estate was valued at £1523 0s 9d in his inventory. His family gave him a funeral in keeping with his status, with cakes, wine and beer served, and gloves given to the mourners, at a total cost of £15 8s lOd. Following this, however, Murton's son renounced the executorship, which passed to Murton's partner. Smith. Smith undoubtedly would not have approved the comparatively modest expenditure on Murton's funeral, for he stated repeatedly in the account that it was entered into before he took on the administration.

Murton's affairs soon proved to be in a desperate state. He owed money far and wide, to London drapers, Wealden clothiers, yeomen in the countryside, tradesmen in Sandwich, even his own servant, Suzann Henneker, to whom he owed £60. He had actually procured a licence to marry Suzann shortly before his death, which would have cancelled the debt. Murton also owed £242 to Smith himself. On his deathbed, Murton asked Smith to pay three small debts, totaling £33. Smith had done this, because he had promised Murton that he would, before he knew of 'the multitude of the deceased testator his debts and the weakness of his estate.'

As Murton's administrator and former partner, Smith was imprisoned for eight weeks for the deceased's debts. When Smith and Murton became partners in the 'misterie or trade' of woollen drapery in 1635, Murton had entered into a bond, with a penalty of £1000, to pay all debts for woollen cloth incurred during the partnership. Despite this, the stock in Smith's own shop had had an execution served on it for payment of a debt of £210 for cloth due to a London draper. In order to free his stock. Smith had paid the debt, plus £10 costs, himself. Shortly after that, a group of ten drapers and clothiers forced Smith into bankruptcy over debts of Murton's totalling £371 9s and, Smith said, a few small debts of his own for which his credit had never before been questioned. For these debts, all his 'cloth and wares in his shoppe, debt books and goods to the value of one thousand pounds and upwards were seized upon and devided among the creditors aforesaid ... to his utter undoing both in the losse of his trade and disposing of his goods at farr lesser rates than they were worth.' Smith therefore claimed from Murton's estate, in compensation, the £1000 for which Murton had bound himself. Murton's estate ended in the negative by £913 10s 9d, and the unfortunate Jonathan Smith clearly felt that both his business and his creditworthiness had been ruined by his association with Isaac Murton.

Administrative costs could swallow a large proportion of a small estate. Such 'necessarie and ordinarie expenses' included drawing up the inventory, a fee to the court for the grant of probate or administration, payment for writing up the account, if the accountant was not competent to do it herself, and numerous further court fees at the final presentation of the account. These costs varied from one jurisdiction to another. In the courts of the diocese of Lincoln costs normally came to between £2 10s and £4, 49 but in the courts of the diocese of Canterbury fees normally only came to about £1 15s. If the estate was a very small one, the court might abate all or part of its fees: whether fees were abated, and by how much, varied according to the circumstances of each case, and seems to have been left to the discretion of the court.

Sometimes, the greater part of what should have been a fairly good sized estate could be taken up by legal costs. The accountant for Stephen Benson of Linton in Kent claimed £20 spent out of his estate of £39 15s 8d in 1607 for defending a lawsuit. £220 of William Burr's estate of £1067 18s 4d was spent by his administrator in 1633 in a dispute with William's brother over the administration. Alexander Hopper's administrator spent £22 of his estate of £56 16s lOd in 1640, attempting to recover debts owed to the deceased man. All of Thomas Cole's £7 18s lOd was spent by his administrator in 1625 in connection with various lawsuits over the estate. 50

The cumulative evidence of the experience of administrators and executors of estates is that men and women at all levels of society in the early modern period were not unsophisticated, illiterate and parochially minded. The poorest widows and labourers were accustomed to act as administrators of estates of deceased relatives. This might involve quite complex financial dealings and travel. Although legal advice and assistance was available, many people would have been unable to afford it. Most people faced with settling a deceased relative's estate would have had to rely on the voluntary help of a better informed neighbour or, from the second half of the seventeenth century, on one of the published books of legal advice available for a few pence, for example The Countryman's Counsellor, or Everyman his own Lawyer, or a little more expensively, at ls.6d., George Meriton's, Touchstone of Wills, Testaments, and Administrations, which was aimed specifically at the 'honest countrey-man' who could not afford Swinburne's Treatise 51

Item for engrossinge of the same iijs iiij d.

Item for Registeringe of the same iij s. iiijd.

Item for the Judges fee for the assignac(i)on of the Porc(i)ons to the Children of the said deceased vj s. viij d.

Item to the Register for his fee for the same assignac(i)ons iij s. iiij d.

Item to the Judge and Register for the l(ette)res testimonial x

Item for the seale and the oathe xvj d.

Item for this Accountants owne Charges both at the time when she came to take her le(tte)res of Adrninistrac(i)on and also when she came to passe this Accompte xx s.

Item for expedic(i)on xij d.'

Altogether administrative charges came to more than the costs of the funeral.

Lincolnshire Record Office Ad/Ac/17/7.

Although the parish of the deceased is normally given in the preamble to the account, a considerable drawback is that the status or occupation of deceased men is rarely given. Gentlemen and clergymen are usually identified as such, and so are holders of specific offices, such as mayors, aldermen and jurats. Some yeomen are also identified, and other occupations can sometimes be inferred from information in the body of the account, but since so many people in this period followed more than one occupation, caution should be used. We have been able to suggest an occupation or status for 6,461 of the men from information given directly or indirecly in their accounts. We have also been able to supply an occupation or status for a further 2,108 men from their inventories, and for 142 men from their wills. However we have not been able to discover any occupation or status for nearly 70% of the men.

On the other hand nearly two-thirds of women's accounts provide some statement of status for the dead woman. Of these, over 84% were definitely for widows. A further 14% related to single women, and most of the remainder were probably widows since they were known by such titles as 'mrs\ 'mistress', 'dame'. Only one per cent of them were called 'wife'. Since married women normMly had no legal control of any property, they only had any estate for the probate courts to deal with in exceptional circumstances, for example in the rare cases when their marriage settlement had been so framed that they had control of property separate from their husband's estate. 52

Following the deceased's name and parish in the preamble is normally the date on which the account was presented to the court. It is clear that the courts worked on a seasonal basis. 44% of all known accounts were passed in the late spring/early summer months from April to July. Possibly this was the time when travel was easiest, when people were not occupied with the harvest, and when they were least likely to be discouraged from travelling by plague or some other infection. August and September were the months when court business was lightest. Ecclesiastical courts tended to observe law terms, but not rigidly. Business dropped off, but did not entirely cease, after the last day of July and only picked up again in the last week of September after Michaelmas. October was another peak month.

Much has been written about whether the preambles to wills can be taken as indications of testators' religious beliefs. 53 As probate accounts follow a set formula, they cannot be used in this way. One probate account preamble, however, does make a definite political statement. The account of the estate of William Norton Esq., of Fordwich, was compiled 'the thirteeth (sic) day of October in the three and twentieth yeere of the reigne of our most gracious soveraigne Lord Charles by grace of God of England Scotland France and Ireland Defender of the fayth &c Anno Domini 1647. 54

The second paragraph of a probate account is a statement of the 'charge'. The charge is normally a common form statement of the inventory value. A copy of the inventory itself had to be produced again with the account and is sometimes attached. 55 Occasionally there is some information as to what was in the inventory; sometimes there may be an explanation of why the administrator is now 'charging' himself or herself with more or less than the inventory value. After the statement of the charge comes the body of the account, in which the administrator 'prays' allowance of the various sums expended by him or her from the estate since the deceased's death. The great value of probate accounts to historians lies in the fact that the expenditure is normally itemised in the minutest detail.

The first item entered in the account is normally the cost of the deceased's funeral. The earliest death for which an account survives in the diocese of Canterbury is that of Edward Crayforde, who died in 1558. 56 His funeral expenses reveal a distinctly Catholic ceremony:

'to viii pore people for carienge tapers at his Buryall xvid

'to three preists and ii Clarks for Celebratinge masses and seyinge of Dyrrigs iiis viiid

'geven in Almes to the povertie of Mongham and other parisshes there nighe to praye for his Soule and all christen Soules xis viiid

'to mr preste for celebratinge masses and Dirge at hys month minde iiis

Plague and other illness

Costs incurred in the deceased's last sickness normally follow. Sometimes details of specific medicines or cures are given, such as the five shillings paid for letting the blood of Henry Hall of Whitstable in 1621, or the two shillings paid to the barber in 1627 for administering two glisters to Richard Lynwood of Sittingbourne before his death, or the various apothecaries' wares, including 'unicorn's horn sucket' provided for Charles Marichurch of Dover in 1616, or the 'pidgeons and herrings' laid to the feet of John Tryon Esq. of St Martin in the Fields. 57

Our knowledge of seventeenth century plague epidemics has chiefly been based on statistics derived from parish registers, municipal records, material arising from official responses to epidemics, and number of diarists of whom Evelyn and Pepys are the best known. Probate accounts, by listing the expenses of keeping households shut up for weeks or months at a time, plus payments for medical attention and nursing, give an additional insight into the experience of ordinary people during an epidemic. 58 While the shutting up of infected households was enforced by parish and borough authorities, the families thus confined were not completely abandoned. The Stranger communities seem to have led the way in looking after infected families. The French church at Canterbury laid out money for the support of John Dubuha and his family in 1583 (nine people may have died altogether in this household). The church also paid for 'keepers' to look after the household during the sickness and 'a poor man' who bought provisions and ran errands for the household. Towns were also introducing plague precautions by this date. Christopher Fynche, Mayor of Faversham, arranged for bread, drink and meat worth seven shillings and a further nine pounds of beef at Is 9d to be supplied to the household of Robert Chapman in 1583. 59

Accounts starkly illustrate the high mortality within individual families. In the 1603 epidemic, William Hammon of Maidstone died, followed by his children Thomasine, Mercie, Joseph and Ann. The . only survivors were another son, Thomas, and William's apprentice. In Deal in 1665-66, Richard Rantum and seven of his children died; payments for their coffins were the first items in the account of their father's estate. Eight weeks was the normal time for which an infected household might be shut up, but it could be longer. The household of Edward Harrys of Faversham, in which Harrys, his wife, two children and a maidservant died, was shut up for four months in 1580: The household of Heriry Carey of Birchington was also shut up for four months in 1638. 60

Plague was not regarded as inevitably fatal in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Mortality rates are difficult to calculate, but Paul Slack has suggested that between 50% and 80% of those infected died in the early modem period. 61 Nurses could often be found to go into infected households. Thomas Brayne of Canterbury, his wife, two children and a manservant died in 1588. However, a surgeon was paid £3 for 'healing the plague sores upon the servants'. A surgeon also went into the house of Abell Garret in Sandwich in 1582 to confirm that it was plague the family was suffering from and to treat Garrett's daughter Margaret. Surgeons and nurses were professionals, but friends and neighbours were also willing to help. When Azarias Turke's family in Cranbrook was infected in 1583, seven in the household died. William Osman was 'continually in the house with the said Azarias and his household and helped them in all the time of their sickness.' Henrie Gilbert of Northbourne was cared for by his betrothed when he was ill in 1638. 62

When the authorities judged a household to be free from infection, women would go in to clean the house. Rosin and pitch were burnt to clear the air and rosewater was also used. All linen was washed; Andrew Orgill, administrator of Mary Blacklock of St Leonard's Bromley (by Bow) in Middlesex sent her rugs and blankets to a fulling mill to be cleaned. 63 New clothing was supplied for surviving children before they were placed out as servants or apprentices. 64

Probate accounts demonstrate the economic as well as the human costs of a plague epidemic. Money disbursed by the parish for the support of an infected family had to be repaid when the sickness was over, out of the estate if the breadwinner had died. Michael Jancocke of Minster in Thanet was out of work for three months in 1583; no-one would employ him for fear of infection because he had been shut up with his brother John when John was dying of plague. The family of John Page, a yeoman of Sevington in Kent, was unable to sell his cattle in 1626 due to the widespread infection. After Thomas Gruer of Westwell in Kent died of plague in 1582, his next of kin delayed going in to clear his house for fear of any lingering infection. While the house stood empty, thieves broke in and stole money, clothing and goods to the value of £5 14s 4d. 65

Housekeeping and Prices

Probate accounts can reveal details of the food available in towns and rural districts, and much can be learned about the diet and housekeeping expenses of families of different social status. Normally, this information is only available for families of gentry status and above, who kept their own household accounts.

After the death of Davyd Croft, a yeoman or gentleman of Murston in Kent, in 1574, his household had to be maintained until the harvest had been gathered in. The account of his estate thus includes a month by month statement of the food and other necessities bought for the family, servants and harvest workers. 66 The executor's expenditure for September 1574 includes the following:

Hops and seasoning 6
1 A loin of mutton for the house 1 2
A pound of butter and 31b of cheese 10
For salt 4
In beef 601b for the house 8 9
A quarter of mutton 1 3
A loin of wether's mutton 9
A quarter of barren's mutton 1 0
A pound of candles 3
Salt 4
For mutton in the house 1 0
Salt 1
Beef in the house 1 8
A quarter of mutton for the house 1 10
Another quarter of mutton 1 10
A quarter of mutton more 1 0
A pound of candles 4

Whereas the values placed oil goods in probate inventories represent what the appraisors thought the goods might fetch in a sale, prices for goods in probate accounts are a statement of what was actually paid, and therefore more likely to be accurate. Detailed study of wages and prices paid for goods in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as recorded in probate accounts may shed light on the local progress and effects of the 'Price Revolution' of the period. In 1596, the administrator of Thomas Maxted of Ospringe in Kent bought on one occasion 2161b of beef for his harvest workers, and on another occasion 1071b of beef. In the late 1620s, the sons of Thomas Spaine, a substantial yeoman of Knowlton in Kent, bought several quantities of beef including 1701b at one time. Through these accounts, and that of Davyd Croft already quoted, it is possible to trace a rise in the price of beef from 1 3/4d a pound in the mid 1570s to 2 l/4d a pound in the late 1620s. This is an increase of barely more than a quarter over a period of more than fifty years; hardly dramatic, considering that these fifty years cover the latter part of the price rises of the sixteenth century. 67

In Henry Phelps-Brown and Sheila Hopkins' price indexes meat, in their case urban mutton, rose from 222 in 1572 to 555 in 1627, falling back to 544 in 1628 (there is a gap in the series in the years 1573-1580) These figures, therefore, indicate a price rise of over 50%. It is clear that detailed work on wage and price information in probate accounts will augment and amplify Phelps-Brown and Hopkins' tables, which are largely drawn from the accounts of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. 68


If the deceased left minor children, a major responsibility of the administrator was to see to their upbringing. The children's board and lodging, education, clothing and apprenticeship all had to be paid for from their deceased father's (or mother's) estate, and all expenditure was recorded in the account. The estate could not be wound up until all the children had come of age, and so some accounts ran for years. Out of more than 13,500 accounts which survive for the diocese of Canterbury, over 1500 contain details of children's maintenance, food, clothing, education or apprenticeship. 69 In this respect probate accounts resemble the Orphans' Accounts kept by the Orphans' Courts in some boroughs and cities, including Sandwich in Kent and the City of London. 70

The necessity for detailed accounts to be kept during a child's minority is demonstrated by the experiences of the Kent historian William Lambarde and his stepson Maximilian Dalison, both of whom had to resort to legal action to recover their inheritances from their guardians. As Lambarde's biographer has written, 'in the sixteenth century at least, an heir's minority often gave opportunity to even the most trusted friends and relatives to appropriate his inheritance.' 71

As a woman's property automatically became her husband's as soon as she married, the relatives of the children of a First marriage had to take steps to ensure that those children received their rightful share of their father's goods in the event of their mother's remarriage. When the widow of Robert Saint of Whitstable remarried in the 1660s, her new husband entered into a bond to pay his stepdaughters their portions of their father's estate, £10 each, when they reached the age of 21.

In 1606 the administrators of the estate of Margaret Chese of Whitstable had to sue her former guardian in order to recover her goods. Similarly, in 1616 the administrator of Thomas Jefery of St Nicholas at Wade had trouble recovering his share of his recently deceased father's goods from his father's administrators. 72

The Distribution of the Estate

If the deceased had left a will, legacies and bequests were normally, but not always, deducted from the charge in the body of the account. Sometimes they were not included in the charge, 73 and sometimes they were only dealt with when the account was rendered. At the end of the account, the amount spent by the administrator was totalled and the result, the discharge, deducted from the charge to give the balance. It is in the comparison of charge and balance that historians can discover to what extent probate inventories exaggerate or overestimate moveable wealth. This point will be discussed in detail later. 74

When the discharge was totalled, it quite often exceeded the amount of the charge. The account then ended with a negative balance, or 'in surplussage'. In east Kent two out of every five surviving accounts ended in the negative. 75

One cause of this was that the wife's marriage settlement had been so used that when the husband died there was a severe liquidity problem. Payment of her marriage settlement to a widow was always a considerable drain on an estate. Not every case was as bad as that of John Medley of Loose in Kent who left goods worth £37 12s 8d when he died in 1631. However, when his widow claimed her marriage settlement of £500, this caused the account to end with a negative balance of £484 7s 4d. The imbalance was on an even more substantial scale in the case of the estate of Richard Dawkes Esq. of Dover, who died in 1644. His moveables were worth £780, but when his widow's settlement of £4000 had been deducted, the estate was in the negative by £3701 14s 4d. 76

It is not usually clear what happened when an account was 'in surplussage'. If the deceased had left a will, but had insufficient assets to pay the legacies, the court might abate or reduce the legacies proportionately. Richard Arneden's estate was left with insufficient to pay the legacies specified in his will. Legatees were paid at 10s 7d in the pound. Jane Asherste's legatees received just under half their bequests in 1596. 77

It is just at this point that the lack of evidence for real estate is most tantalising. In the eighteenth century American colonies land was on average worth more than double the value of moveables and financial assets, 78 but we cannot know whether this was also the case in England and Wales. If the deceased did have land in addition to the moveable goods specified in the inventory, some or all could be sold or mortgaged to pay outstanding debts and legacies. However, if the deceased had nothing beyond what was specified in the inventory, either the creditors must have accepted reduced payments, or the administrator must have been left personally out of pocket. We have seen how Jonathan Smith was totally ruined and thrown into a debtor's prison because he acted as administrator of the goods of Isaac Murton. 79

If there was a positive balance, and the deceased had not left a will, it was the court's duty to distribute the balance among the deceased's next of kin. Details of the manner of the distribution were added at the foot of the account. Until 1671 this was at the discretion of the court. Everyone to whom the court apportioned a share was named and his or her relationship to the deceased was stated. Where married daughters were involved, the names of sons-in-law were also normally given, and the ages of all minor children stated. The relict (the widow of the deceased man), naturally received the greater share. She was legally entitled to one third of the residual goods, but courts normally allocated her two thirds, and sometimes even the whole of what remained after all debts had been paid. 80 The remainder was normally shared equally among surviving children. In 1671 the balance of the estate of John Adams, a yeoman of Folkestone, was distributed to his seven children John, already an adult, Elizabeth, aged eighteen, Richard, aged fifteen, Susan, aged twelve, Isaac, eight, Ann, five and Mary, two. Each received ten pounds, while the relict, Elizabeth, was allotted the remaining £74 5s 4d. 81

Courts used their discretion to make unequal distributions under a variety of circumstances. Sons who were also to inherit land, which was not included among the assets in probate inventories or accounts, sometimes received a smaller share of moveable goods. Married daughters who had received their portions might also receive a smaller share. 82 In 1677 the distribution of the estate of John Court, a cordwainer of Stone in Oxney in Kent, was governed by the amounts already spent on the maintenance and apprenticeship of his children. The daughter of Giles Clarke received a greater share of her father's estate in 1634 because she lived with her parents 'to doe them service.' 83

Disability or illness could influence the distribution of an estate. The youngest son of John Hull of Deal was awarded a larger share of his father's estate because he was sickly. One of the sons of Nicholas Barham of Leeds in Kent received more than his siblings in 1619 because he was blind. Special provision was made for the baseborn daughter of Christopher Ratcliffe of Goodnestone next Wingham in Kent in 1698 because she was 'small and purblind' and unlikely to be able to work to support herself. In 1600, the court awarded ten shillings to the brother of Ralf Baker of Egerton in Kent, out of RalPs net estate of £460 4s. The brother was a poor man and the parishioners of Headcorn, where he lived, had petitioned the court on his behalf. 84

The custom of the particular community to which the deceased belonged might influence the distribution of his estate. Gavelkind, by which land was equally divided amongst sons, and when there were no sons, amongst daughters, or more distant relatives, obviously played a part in Kent. The Walloon custom, which operated among the 'Stranger' communities in Sandwich and Canterbury, was that a relict should receive the balance of her husband's estate for her lifetime, as did the widow of Phillipp Destrie of St Alphege in Canterbury in 1634. 85 In the City of London, the rule was that a citizen's widow should have her 'widow's chamber', a room or chamber properly furnished for her use, in addition to her legal entitlement. In Yorkshire, the custom was for the balance to be divided into three parts. The first, known as the 'widow's right,' went to the relict. The second was divided equally between surviving children. The third part was known as the 'death's part' and could be distributed at the relict's discretion. Thus in 1639 in the account of the estate of Hugh Sharpies of Ayton in the North Riding, 'the last parte commonly called the Deaths parte this accomptant [the relict, Ellen] is content the same shalbe allotted unto the said two children for augmentation of their porcons.' In 1626, in Anne Aspinall's account of the estate of her late husband Anthony Nesse of Kingston upon Hull, she requested that 'in regard the children are younge and to bring up which wilbe to her a great charge', half the death's part should go to the children and the remainder to her towards their upbringing. 86

If the deceased had neither widow nor children, the court would look more widely for his next of kin. Grandchildren, brothers, sisters, parents, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts and cousins might all receive shares if there were no closer kin. 87 Henry Russell Kingston in Kent, was evidently not yet married when he died. He was still a servant. His estate was distributed between his brother's children Henry Russell, aged thirteen, Elizabeth Russell, aged fifteen, and Susan Russell, his sister's children Windebank, John and Jane May, and another brother's son, a third Henry Russell, aged fourteen. The balance of the estate of Edward Mantle of Stodmarsh in Kent, a bachelor, was shared between his sisters Nisella, wife of Francis Larkin, and Martha, wife of Henry Churchman, and his nephews and nieces Margaret, Thomas, Nisella and John Penny, children of his late sister Mary Penny. The family of Solomon May of Ulcombe in Kent was a complicated one. His estate was shared between his brothers Henry, Abraham and Thomas and his three half brothers on his mother's side, Anthony, Thomas and William Watkins, aged fifteen, twelve and nine. 88

The woman to whom a deceased man had been betrothed might also have a claim on his estate. Simon Rayner of Tonge died only weeks before he was due to be married; the banns had already been called twice. The court awarded ten pounds from his estate to his intended bride. Richard Harris of Bethersden was espoused it is thought' to Faythe Hall when he died in 1613. The court awarded Fay the £20 from his estate. 89

Probate accounts thus follow on from wills, inventories and letters of administration and run through a year or more from the sickness of the dying man, his death and funeral, the upkeep of his household after his death, the payment of his debts and the maintenance of his children, up to the point at which there are no more expenditures to be laid out and the balance, if any, can be distributed. In doing so, probate accounts give far more detail of the expenditure of 'ordinary' households than historians have previously had available from any other source.

The Accuracy of Probate Inventories

Historians have debated the accuracy of the valuations placed on goods in probate inventories. Inventory values are the appraisors' estimates of what the deceased's goods would fetch if they were sold. 90 For shop stock and livestock, appraisors would be guided by current market prices. Household furnishings, clothing and tools were more difficult to value since they were second hand goods and prices obtainable would be governed by their age and condition. The most difficult assets to appraise were crops in the field. If a man died in spring, his appraisors would have to put a value on crops which had only recently been sown and which would not be ready for harvesting for several months. However experienced the farmer undertaking the appraisal, so much depended on the weather that estimating the value of the eventual yield must have involved as much guesswork as skilled judgement. It is surprising how rarely they seem to have got it wrong. 91

Even if goods in an inventory were valued correctly, errors might be made in adding up the total which might result in over or undervaluing. Roman numerals, which implied reckoning counters, were still being used by many appraisors and administrators well into the seventeenth century, which made the task of arriving at an accurate total all the more difficult. Historians who have studied collections of inventories have concluded that appraisors' addition might often be erratic. 92

Both Margaret Spufford and Barrie Trinder and Jeff Cox have noted that goods, particularly those bequeathed by will, might be removed from the deceased's house before an inventory was completed, especially since these bequeathed objects might well be the most highly thought of and valued. 93 Comparison of probate inventories with wills can pinpoint missing possessions and raise questions as to the completeness of inventories.

A vivid example of this is provided by the moveables of John Prescott, a yeoman of Guston in Kent, who died in the early summer of 1628. His inventory was taken on 18 July of that year. The appraisors did not add up the inventory, but the total value is £37 5s 4d. The Consistory Court Act Book which records the granting of probate gives the inventory value as £38 5s 4d. Of this sum, £3 was in ready money and wearing apparel, £4 in the value of a bed and its furnishings. There was £6 worth of household linen and two kine and a hog worth £6 10s. The remainder of the goods were chiefly household furnishings and kitchen equipment. 94

John Prescott left a particularly detailed will, and from this one can deduce that the inventory was less than complete. He bequeathed his bed, some household linen, a cupboard, three chests, a table, a form or bench, three joined stools and some pewter and brass. When these had been deducted, the estate was probably worth only about £30, yet in addition John Prescott left £35 in cash legacies. If an account had survived for this estate, it seems likely that it would have ended in the negative. The will also includes some bequests which cannot be identified in the inventory; a second brass kettle - only one is listed; two brass candlesticks - there are none in the inventory; a brass mortar - again, there is none in the inventory. 95

The will also refers to lands in Guston, the adjoining parish of Whitfield and elsewhere in the county. The extent and tenure of these lands is not stated, but they are to bear a £10 annuity to the deceased's relict for the term of her life. Although the inventory was taken in July, it contains no mention of crops in the field or in the bam, other than one load of hay, which together with other items is valued at £1 10s. Neither does the inventory mention any livestock other than the two kine and one hog. Nor does the inventory include any carts, wagons, ploughs, harness or other farming equipment. The lands might have been let out to tenants, but the will does not use the usual formula 'now in the occupation of ...', the widow is given the right of entry into and distraint upon the lands if her annuity is not paid, and there is nothing in the will or inventory to suggest any income from rents.

Yet it can be demonstrated that John Prescott was not a poor man. Between 1614 and his death, he had recovered a total of £98 10s from the estates of six different people in repayment of loans. 96 His will describes a house with at least eight rooms and also mentions a garden, an orchard, a 'little close' and a yard used to pasture animals.

The Appraisal of Probate Inventories

The making of an inventory was the responsibility of the executor(s) or administrator(s) and had to be carried out openly in the presence of witnesses, preferably people with an interest in the proper administration of the estate. However it was 'not sufficient to make an inventory unless the same be particularly valued and praised by some honest and skilful persons', who shall 'competently understand the value of the deceased's goods'. 97 In practice the appraisal of goods for inventories was normally carried out by neighbours. However, a widow might prefer to call in outsiders, rather than her immediate neighbours to appraise her husband's goods. Members of the Dover General Baptist Church in the late seventeenth century sometimes turned to members of their own community to carry out appraisals, even when the chosen appraisor had to travel some distance. 98

In a farming community, neighbours would naturally also be engaged in farming and automatically have the relevant expertise. However when a man or woman left an extensive stock in trade or complex financial dealings, the task required time and expertise that might not be available among his or her immediate neighbours. John Tavenor was a grocer in Deal in the 1690s. In addition to normal grocery wares, he stocked a wide range of vinegar and spirits, tobacco, haberdashery, stationery and marine stores. His stock was stored not only in his shop and cellar but also in his spare bedrooms. His inventory, appraised by William Bowles and John Fox, took up seven closely written pages. Even if Tavenor kept detailed books, compiling his inventory must have taken several days. 99

The deceased's family normally supplied food and drink for the appraisors while they were carrying out their task. Sometimes cash payments were also made, particularly when a man with specialist knowledge had been called in to carry out all or part of the appraisal. In 1607 the next of kin of Valentine Maye, Vicar of Hackington, paid someone one shilling for writing a catalogue of his books. In 1569, the property of Johan Mychell, a widow of Hythe, included a boat and gear which was appraised by fishermen. The household goods of William Dollman, a cutler of Canterbury, were appraised by an upholsterer and a joiner, but his shop goods by another cutler. The leather in Mathew Downe's shop in Hythe was appraised by a glover in 1591. 100

In some towns, professional services were available; for example, those of the 'two town prisors of Dover ... appointed and sworne for that purpose.' Many Dover inventories in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were appraised by Richard Atkins. In the 1590s. Atkins was partnered by Thomas Middleton, and in the early seventeenth century by Thomas Chalys. In the early modern period, men were not required to act as appraisors only when someone died. In Sandwich it was 'the custom of the town' for pawnbrokers who had had 'gages' or pledges in their hands for more than a year and a day to bring them before the Council to ask for a valuation to be made so that they could dispose of them. Two appraisors would then be appointed from among the jurats and common councilmen. On 30 April 1618, 'Peter Morard of Sandwich ... Bookebinder ... brought a bible and a childe beareing blanket of red laced about with black velvet gaged or pawned to him by one Anne Backer ... for xiis, which for that they had layen in his hands above a twelvemonth and a day he desired Mr Maior they might be appraised, which accordingly was done by Richard Pinder and Gilbert Hallywell, who appraised the same at xiiis iiiid.' 101

Sales of deceased persons' goods were carried on with varying degrees of professionalism. In the countryside, sales of the effects of deceased people were advertised by notices given out in parish churches, or, in the provincial towns, by the town crier. In London, sales could be advertised in the Gazette and by notices in coffee houses. Elizabeth Symball had 400 tickets printed for the auction of part of her late husband Isaak's estate after publicising it in this manner. In parts of Kent, auctions were known as 'liefcope' sales, reflecting the Dutch influence in the county. In Canterbury and Sandwich, sales were run by professional auctioneers, 'liefcope men', who were paid a percentage of the money raised by the sale. In Canterbury in 1615, this was Is 6d for every pound made. 102

In Sandwich, the liefcope man was appointed by the town. The first reference to the appointment of a liefcope man in Sandwich Borough Records is for 1612. The Mayor was elected in early December each year, and at the Council meeting the following week, all borough officials for the following year were appointed. Thus on 10 December 1612, among other business, 'at this Assembly ... the cryinge of all levecopes in this Towne and benefitt to be had thereby is graunted to Robert Furner for this yere enseweinge for the rent of five pounds to be paid quarterly to the treasurers of this Town. Suerties for him truly to aunswer unto the owners for all such goods as shalbe committed to his chardge, and monyes thereof made ... he not exacting any greater Duties for the same than formerly, have bene allowed. And no other either Dutch or Englishe to intermeddle therewith.' 103

Evidently a liefcope man had been operating in the town before 1612, but this was the first time the appointment had been made officially. The rent of £5 soon proved to be over-optimistic; in 1614 Robert Furner told the Council he had not made that much and it was agreed that he should pay the town only forty shillings for the previous year and the same for the following year. Robert Furner gave up the office in 1615, and it was re-let to Robert Ungley at forty shillings a year. The profits evidently continued to decline; in 1621 Robert Furner took on the office again at thirty shillings a year for four years. In 1626 the annual farm was reduced further, to twenty shillings a year. It was let again at twenty shillings a year in 1638. 104

So how accurate were the valuations placed on goods in probate inventories? Valuations were only tested when goods were sold. In the case of household goods and furnishings, which might pass to the heir or be divided among surviving children, there might be no sale and so no test of the accuracy of the valuations. Shop stock or crops, on the other hand, would eventually be sold, and here the appraisors' valuations would be tested. If inventories were deliberately falsified, it would only be to the accountant's advantage for the property to be undervalued, so that a larger balance would be left in his or her hands at the distribution. However, if and when a sale took place any undervaluation would become apparent and other interested parties could apply to the court for a revision of the inventory or distribution. It is also when the accounts record that the goods of the dead man or woman were sold that the modern reader has an opportunity of seeing how accurate the inventory appraisors had been.

When a sale failed to raise the amount estimated in the inventory, the administrator was entitled to claim the difference in the account. In all the 13,565 accounts in the diocese of Canterbury, only 577 contain requests by accountants for an allowance for overvaluation, less that 5% of the total. In Lincolnshire and Wiltshire, appraisers seem to have been even more accurate, for only 2% of accounts included requests for allowances for overvaluation. 105 These are extraordinarily small proportions, and in many cases there were sound reasons for the allowance being requested.

Reasons for Occasional Inaccuracy of Probate Inventories

A common cause of inventory overvaluation was goods having been included in the inventory which were later found not to have belonged to the deceased person. This most often occurred when the deceased man or woman had been in the process of administering someone else's estate and had in consequence been in possession of that person's assets also. Another commonly arising situation was that of a man dying in possession of goods brought to the marriage by his wife, which she had acquired through the death of a previous husband, and which were to be distributed among the children of that previous marriage when they reached their majorities.

Inventories of people involved in farming were especially likely to be found to have been overvalued. Reasons put forward by administrators were usually either that crops, when harvested, had been found to be much less than had been estimated in the inventory, or that the price or one or more types of crop had fallen between appraisal and sale. In 1621 Willyam Pelham, administrator of Richard Whyte of Bishopsbourne, asked allowance of £5 16s for wheat overvalued in the inventory. It had been appraised at £25, but the price of wheat had since 'soe decayed' that it could only be sold for £19 4s. Whyte's estate still finished with a balance of £363 8s 5d, having originally been valued at £463 3s 3d. The family of Thomas Sandwell of St Peter in Thanet was less fortunate. His goods, included agricultural crops, fishing gear and household goods had initially been valued at £12 5s 2d. An acre of barley was appraised at 12s, but 'this accomptant could never make one penny profit thereof for that the same barley by reason of extraordinary dry and hot weather was utterly lost, wherefore hee craves an allowance of the same ... Also whereas vi hearing netts, one crowd (?) nett and one Lode nett are apprized at xxxs ... the same netts are still in this accompts hands and hee cannot as yett put them away as they were apprized but is like to loose by the same xiis at least.' Sandwell's bed and bedding had been appraised at £1 6s 8d, but the accountant had been offered only 18s for them; his wearing apparel had been appraised at 13s 4d but had never come to the hands of the administrator; 'lumber' had been appraised at 3s 4d, but the administrator had never made a penny from it. The miserable account ended in the negative by £1 10s 6d. 106

John Briggs, administrator of Jane Oliver of Tong in 1628, requested allowance for 'the losse of the wheat on the ground prized in the inventory at 2811 (being then at 40s a seame) but he could not make soe much of the same by at least vli for presently after the said apprizement wheat fell and soe this Accomptant was constrained to sell the same as the market went.' Edward Darknoll acted as administrator to the estate of Thomas Bennett of Newchurch, gentleman, in 1629. Darknoll 'craveth to bee allowed the summe of 301i which he lost in the sale of the said deceased's corn and malt ... he selling the same for full so much money lesse than yt was ... apprised at by reason of a great fall in the price of corne soone after the apprizing of the same.' 107 It is no coincidence that all these examples of overvalued inventories occurred in the 1620s. When all overvaluations are taken together, a pattern emerges:

Inventory Overvaluations in the diocese of Canterbury 1581-1700

There was a considerably higher percentage of overvaluations in the 1620s than in any other decade before the civil war. The ending of the price rise of the long sixteenth century and the fall of grain prices between 1618 and 1622 seem to have caught appraisors out more often than in earlier decades. However the 1620s and 1630s also saw some uncommonly bad harvests, followed by astonishingly high grain prices, as in 1622, 1630 and 1637. Each year seemed to have a different price regime, which made the work of appraisors the more difficult.' 110

In the generation after 1618 'the entire countryside must have felt the squeeze of poverty created by the change from inflation to uncertainty, from uncertainty to deflation and confusion. 111 Peter Clark has noted the wide variations in the price of wheat in Kent over comparatively few years; 'at Dover the Assize of Wheat fell from a median 34s per quarter (1608-17) to 24s (1619) and 21s 6d (1620). In the winter of 1622-23 it rose as high as 50s. At Sandwich the median assize 1608-17 was 36s a quarter falling to 20s in 1619 and 18s in 1620, then rising to 51s in 1623.' He concludes 'the ten years after 1617 saw the county slide into a period of slump and depression ... a critical factor was the consecutive combination of harvest glut (1618-20) and dearth (1622,1624,1630). In these circumstances it is not surprising that appraisals were less accurate than usual. Clark identifies a number of Kent gentlemen who experienced financial difficulties, and quotes Sir Dudley Digges, who in January 1629 'was complaining that grain prices had fallen so low that unless cereal exports were permitted again farmers would not be able to pay their rents.' 112

Because accounts might not be settled until a year or more after death, it is not possible to be certain precisely when a particular fall in prices occurred. Nevertheless it is possible to demonstrate surprisingly close correlations between requests for allowances for inventory overvaluations resulting from falls in corn prices and price falls identified by Phelps-Brown and Hopkins in their index of consumables. Phelps-Brown and Hopkins' price tables show a fall in the price of grain between 1618 and 1622; the index price fell from 750 in 1617 to 418 in 1621 before rising again in 1623. They also identify another fall in the late 1620s, from an index point of 760 in 1626 to 428 in 1628. The correlation in the 1630s is not so clear. Phelps-Brown and Hopkins' figures do show a drop in cereal prices from 1631 to 1635, but whether this is the fall complained of in Kent in 1638 is not certain.

In the post-Restoration period, accounts asking allowance for inventory overvaluations were over represented in every decade until the end of the century, most notably in 1681-90. Fewer accounts survive from this period than from before the Civil War, so it may be that the ones which were preserved were those relating to estates about which there had been some difficulty, rather than that conditions generally were especially bad at this period. In the 1660s, administrators in the diocese of Canterbury were complaining of a drop in corn and cattle prices in 1666 or before. Phelps-Brown and Hopkins identify a fall in cereal prices from a high in 1662 to a low point in 1667. The situation in the 1680s is not clear, but the complaint in east Kent of a sharp fall in com prices about 1696 is reflected in Phelps-Brown and Hopkins' tables, in which cereal prices fell from an index point of 951 in 1694 to 752 in 1695.-Closer study of this aspect of probate accounts may therefore shed important light on local reactions to times of economic difficulty.

In summary, the evidence of probate accounts seems to be that probate inventories were as accurate as their appraisors could make them at the time. In her assessment of eighteenth century probate inventories in the Brtitsh north American colonies, Alison Hanson Jones concluded, as we have done, that the accounts of executors or administrators indicated how accurately the valuations in inventories were a 'close approximation to the market values of the decedents' wealth. 113 However, a cautious approach should be adopted towards inventories as a source for agricultural yields and prices, especially in periods when prices are known to have been volatile; inventories taken shortly, after harvest are most likely to be accurate.


John Patten has written 'it is ...extremely difficult to illuminate the economic behaviour of individuals within cities and towns ... There are relatively few detailed sets of personal business papers. It is thus difficult to clothe the bare facts of occupation, wealth and standing with information on how individuals actually carried out their activities. (John Patten, English Towns 1500-1700, Folkestone, 1978, p.192.) The foregoing discussion demonstrates that the discovery of probate accounts means that this is no longer true. Study of probate accounts can shed light on a wide range of subjects of interest to early modern economic and social historians, such as differences in wealth from time to time and from region to region or pays to pays, wages and prices, farming practices and local industries.

There are many directions in which research using probate accounts might go. A single probate account may mention many individuals by name and often give their occupations and parishes of residence. Elizabeth Partridge's account of the estate of her husband Thomas, compiled in 1626, mentions 24 different people from the Lord Warden down to her servant Matthew Browning. The account of the estate of Davyd Croft, compiled in 1573-74, names over 60 people, including 'Capell the Smythe', 'Father Clercke the horse lyche', harvest workers, both local and from Wales, male and female farm servants, and local craftsmen and tradesmen. (Partridge CKS PRC20/7/164; Croft CKS PRC2/4/468.) A project to compile an index of all individuals mentioned in all accounts from a small town or group of rural parishes over a specified period could initially produce a valuable directory of local tradesmen. Combined with information from parish registers and other sources, such an index could be developed into a listing of all inhabitants of a chosen district in the seventeenth century. (In Kent itself there is a prospect (in 1999) of probate accounts being used in this way by a group led by Duncan Harrington for the area focussed on Faversham and by Antony Poole for the area focused on Cranbrook).

As we have seen probate accounts followed on from wills, inventories and letters of administration and run through a year or more from the sickness of the dying man, his death and funeral, the upkeep of his household after his death, the payment of his debts and the maintenance of his children, up to the point at which there are no more expenditures to be laid out and the balance, if any, can be distributed. In doing so, probate accounts give far more detail of the expenditure of 'ordinary' households than historians have previously had available from any other source. The purpose of this introduction has been to raise historians' awareness of probate accounts by discussing their nature and uses and by beginning the task of analysis, and by attempting to indicate some of the directions future work with probate accounts might take.


1. Maidstone. Centre for Kentish Studies, henceforward CKS, PRC20/6/102

2. CKS PRC21/16/21; PRC21/16/370; PRC21/17/21; PRC21/17/120; PRC21/17/I30

3. CKS PRC2/36/123

4. CKS PRC2/11/43

5. Pp.xcv-c.

6. John Houghton. An Account of the Acres and Houses. with the Proportional Tax, &c. of each county in England and Wales (broadsheet, London, 1693); also in John Houghton, A Collection for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade. xxvi, 3 (February 1693). Republished and discussed in 'Note on the number of houses in England and Wales, 1690' as an appendix to D.V.Glass, 'Two papers on Gregory King", in D.V.Glass and E.C.Eversley (eds.). Population in History (London, 1965), pp.216-20.

7. This is Houghton's heading - of the probate accounts abstracted 2 came from County Durham. 4 from Northumberland and 1 from Berwick upon Tweed.

8. The British colonies in North America had their own probate jurisdictions and their probate accounts are preserved there. See below pp.xxiv-xxv.

9. Michael M. Sheehan. The Will in Medieval England (Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto. 1963), p.218

10. 21 Henry VIII c.5. Statutes of the Realm, iii (1817), 285-8. The later interpretation of Richard Burn in his Ecclesiastical Law (London. 1760). suggests that in the province of York both executors and administrators had to subscribe to a written bond, but that in the province of Canterbury executors merely had to take an oath, orally, that they would present an account.

11. We have, however, yet to see a probate account from a collection of family papers to illustrate our supposition about the retention of sealed, parchment, copies by accountants.

12. The account-cum-inventory of 1293 printed by Sheehan. The Will, in his documentary appendix, pp.321-2. comes from such an indifferentiated episcopal register.

13. Margaret Baxster of Hundon. Suffolk and Richard Pytches of Kittling. Cambs., Bury St.Edmunds. Suffolk Record Office IC500/2/14/35 and 135; and William Irchenen of Lincoln. Lincolnshire Record Office Ad/Ac/1.

14. The erratically surviving fifteenth century court books of the bishops of Hereford provide a tantalising glimpse of what once existed. M.A.Faraday and E.J.L.Cole in their Calendar of Probate and Administration Acts 1407-1541 (British Record Society, 1989), gave information about nearly twelve thousand probate and administration acts from a relatively sparsely inhabited diocese. Furthermore court books only survive for thirty years of the fifteenth century, and not even all these books are complete. With each of these grants of probate and administration the making of an account was required, except for those 'dimissus in forma pauperis' or 'dimissus quia habuit nichil de bonis".

15. CKS PRC2/1/4

16. Motoyasu Takahashi, 'The Number of Wilts proved in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries', in G.H. Martin and Peter Spufford (eds.), The Records of the Nation (London, 1990), pp. 187-213, demonstrates that it is from the 1540s that we begin to have an adequate proportion available to us, either as originals, or as registered copies, of the wills that were made. He has a revised version of this paper in preparation.

17. 22 & 23 Car.II c.10

18. l Jac.II c.17

19. See Erickson, "An Introduction', pp.280-1 for a discussion of what lay behind these acts.

20. Several Gloucestershire accounts of 1685 say that the distribution was to follow Act of Parliament as interpreted by judges. Three of these were dated 22 April, 20 May, 18 July before the 1685 Act came into force, one on 24 July itself, and one a month later on 29 August. Gloucestershire Record Office GDR/B4/2/P112. B186, B185, Pi 13, and R73.

21. Anne Tarver tells us that the Lichfield evidence (the accounts she has seen there are with cause papers) suggests that whenever there was insufficient money to pay legacies to children when they came of age, a detailed account of the costs of their upbringing had to be produced as an explanation.

22. Henry Swinburne. Briefe Treatise of Testaments and last Willes (first edition. London. 1590). Pan VI. chapter xvii.

23. Of the thirty three thousand accounts we have examined, only 16% were definitely related to the estates of those who left wills, whilst 49% were definitely related to the estates of intestates. These are only minimal figures since we could not tell which was the case for 35% of them. The disproportionate survival of administrators' accounts nevertheless becomes apparent, since probates of wills were generally twice as numerous as letters of administration.

24. Erickson. 'An Introduction' cites examples. At York, for instance, over half of the 58 accounts extant from before the Civil War are for the estates of individuals whose surnames began with the letter 'S\

25. We are much indebted to Dr Trevor Bumard of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch. New
Zealand, for drawing our attention to the literature on probate accounts in the American colonies.

26. Lois Green Carr. Russell R. Menard and Lorena S.Waish, Robert Cole's World. Agriculture and Sociery in Early Maryland (University of Carolina Press. Chapel Hill. 1991). The account itself is printed as an appendix, pp. 174-207.

27. Alice Hanson Jones (ed.), American Colonial Wealth. Documents and Methods (New York, 1977). In her introduction she specifically discusses the accounts, which naturally only start in 1774 and consequently run on into the 1780s. pp. 19-22, 31-5.

28. Alice Hanson Jones. Wealth of a Nation to be. The American Colonies on the Eve of the Revolution (Columbia University Press. New York, 1980). She does not, unfortunately, give any statistics for how many wills, inventories and accounts survived, or what proportion of the population was covered by them.

29. For example, W.G.Hoskins, 'The Leicestershire fanner in the sixteenth century'. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, xii (1945), 33-95: F. W. Steer, Farm and cottage inventories of mid-Essex 1635-49 (Essex Record Office Publications, viii, Chelmsford, 1950); M.A.Havinden, "Agricultural progress in open-field Oxfordshire", Agricultural History Review, ix (1961), 73-83; C.W.Chalklin, Seventeenth Century Kent: A Social and Economic History (London. 1965); Joan Thirsk (ed.). The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iv. 1500-1640 and v, 1640-1750 (Cambridge, 1967 and 1985); Margaret Spufford, Contrasting Communities: English Villagers in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1974); Keith Wrightson and David Levine, Poverty and Piety in an English Village, Terling 1525-1700 {New York, 1979); Loma Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660-1760, (London, 1988); David Hey,

30. The fiery blades of Hallamshire: Sheffield and its neighbourhood 1660-1740 (Leicester, 1991); David Levineand Keith Wrightson, The Making of an Industrial Society: Whickham 1560-1765 (Oxford, 1991); Mark Overton Agricultural revolution in England: the transformation of the agrarian economy 1500-1850 (Cambridge, 1996).

31. James,Horn. 'Adapting to a New World: A Comparative Study of Local Society in England and Maryland 1650-1700' in Lois Green Carr et al. (eds,). Colonial Chesapeake Society (Chapel Hill. North Carolina. 1988), pp. 133-75, and James Horn. Adapting to a new world: English society in the seventeenth century Chesapeake (Chapel Hill. North Carolina. 1994). pp.224-6.

32. Peter Spufford. "A Printed Catalogue of the Names of Testators", in G.H.Martin and Peter Spufford (eds.). The Records of the Nation (Woodbridge. 1990), pp. 167-86. Documents in the process of being indexed under the aegis of English Record Collections reveal that the courts of the Archdeaconry and Consistory of Canterbury proved some 19.000 wills, and granted letters of administration for the estates of some 12.000 intestates between 1577 and 1639,

33. First edition. London. 1590. Part VI. chapter xvi. In the fourth edition, in 1677, his editor amplified all these categories, and pointed out that it was dangerous to pay debts without specialty or writing, except for servants' wages, until all other creditors had been satisfied.

34. Sheehan, The Will, p.218

35. In 'Of the time of the account", he tells us that it was 'left to the discretion of the Ordinarie", and therefore varied from paice to place. Swinburne, Briefe treatise, pt.VI cap xix.

36. Margaret Spufford, 'The limitations of the probate inventory', English Rural Society 1500-1800, eds. John Chartres and David Hey (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 139-74.
CKS PRC2/36/201

37. CKS PRC2/36/201

38. In the seventeenth century the use of the terms 'executor' and 'administrator' was very fluid. Accountants did not seem to know what to call themselves. In probate accounts described themselves as 'administrators' when they were the named executors of a will, or as 'executors' of the goods of intestates.

39. This proportion is almost identical with the 70% of widows who were named as executrices in seventeenth century Suffolk. Nesta Evans (ed).

40. Wills of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury 1636-1638, Suffolk Records Society, xxxv (1993), p.viii.

41. See below p.xxxv.

42. Oldfield CKS PRC 19/3/102; Kerby CKS PRC20/8/301

43. Account CKS PRC2/33/93; and will CKS PRC 17/69/47

44. CKS PRC 19/2/108. Her fatber-in-law had perhaps already had experience of administration for an Edward Prescott had been the probate accountant for another estate in the neighbouring parish of Ewell in 1621.

45. Erickson, Women, p. 177.

46. Barham CKS PRCl/13/7a; Dodson CKS PRC2/36/39 (possibly this was due to the breakdown of ecclesiastical administration in the 1650s, not any ill intent of the widow's); Lewknor CKS PRC2/9/150

47. Newman CKS PRC 2/15/259; Stephenson CKS PRC 2/34/278; Huchon CKS PRC 20/3/174; Pemble CKS PRC 1/7/94: Stringer CKS PRC 2/38/64; Dennis, Public Record Office, henceforward PRO. PROB5/300: Johnston PRO PRQB32/50/25; Lewis PRO PROB32/25/125.

48. Mansell PRO PR0B32/53/121: Geary CKS PRC2/39/175; estate of Edward Eason accounted for by his widow Dorothy CKS PRC 1/12/33; estate of Stephen Goulding accounted for by his widow Ann PRC1/12/42. Since Stephen Goulding had died away from home, at Faversham, Ann also had the complication of arranging his funeral there: Fitton PRO PROB5/570.

49. Richard Ollard, Pepys; A Biography {Oxford 1984)

50. PRC20/11/135

51. A detailed breakdown of typical 'Necessarie Charges' in the archdeaconry of Lincoln is provided by the account for the estate of Nicholas Vessie of Stallingborough in 1622: 'for the l{ette)res of Administrac(i)on scale oathe and bond xvj s. ij d. Item for the wriringe and engrossinge of the Inventaries ij s. Item for the drawinge of this Accompte iij s. iiij d.

52. Benson CKS PRC2/I3/65; Burr CKS PRC20/10/48; Hopper CKS PRCl/4/60; Cole PRC2/23/92

53. Margaret Spufford, Small Books and Pleasant Histories (London, 1981), pp.60-61; David Vaisey (ed.). The Diary of Thomas Turner 1754-1765 (Oxford, 1984); Erickson, Women, pp.27-8.

54. Dr Erickson came across five cases of yeomen or gentry wives making wills in the seventeenth century whose marriage settlements had given them control of property. Erickson, Women, pp. 130-1, 136-7.

55. The most recent summary of the argument is to be found in Eric Josef Carlson, 'The Historical Value of the Ely Consistory Court Probate Records', in Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Rosemary Rodd (eds.). Index of the Probate Records of the Consistory Court of Ely 1449-1858, i, British Record Society (1994), pp.xxxvi-xlvii.

56. CKS PRC 1/8/24

57. We have seen 5,479 inventories filed with accounts, and also 872 of the bonds entered into by executors and administrators, which were of course cancelled when the account was accepted, besides 455 wills, 160 grants of administration and a huge range of other documents, like tuition or guardianship bonds, also cancelled when the account was accepted, cancelled bonds for debts paid, and accounts for goods sold to support .claims for inventory overvaluation.

58. CKS PRC 2/1/4

59. Hall CKS PRC 2/26/132; Lynwood CKS PRC 2/27/1; Marichurch CKS PRC 20/3/360; Tryon PRO PROB32/23/182. Pickled herrings mashed with spirits of wine made a poultice for a 'straine or bruse in the bone.' Alison Revell, A Kentish Herbal (Maidstone, 1984), p.51.

60. Paul Slack, The impact of Plague in Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1985), was the first to use probate accounts for this purpose. We have now seen many more relevant accounts than he was able to use.

61. Dubuha CKS PRC21/6/367 and 368: Chapman CKS PRC2/3/I

62. Hammon CKS PRC21/16/21; PRC21/16/370; PRC21/17/21: PRC21/17/120; PRC21/17/130; Rantum CKS PRC19/4/93; Harrys CKS PRC2/1/269; Carey CKS PRC20/10/156.

63. Slack. The Impact of Plague, pp. 7, 175.

64. Brayne CKS PRC2/4/400; Garret CKS PRC2/2/39; Turke CKS PRC2/3/119; Gilbert CKS PRC 1/8/16

65. PRO PROB32/6/69

66. CKS PRC2/34/269

67. Jancocke CKS PRC2/3/131; Page CKS PRC2/27/121; Gruer CKS PRC21/5/253.

68. CKS PRC2/4/468

69. Maxted CKS PRC2/8/91: Spaine CKS PRC2/30/119.

70. Henry Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins. 'Seven Centuries of the Prices of Consumables, compared with Builders' Wage-rates', Economica, xxiii (1956), reprinted in Henry Phelps Brown and Sheila V.Hopkins, A Perspective of Wages and Prices (London, 1981). pp. 13-59.

71. Margaret Spufford, 'The cost of apparel in seventeenth-century England*, being considered for publication by theEconomic History Review when this volume went to press, relies on probate accounts for much of her evidence for the costs of childrens' clothing.

72. CKS Sa/FOa; Thomas Dorman, 'The Sandwich Book of Orphans', Archaeologia Caniiana, xvi (1886); Peter Earle, The Making of the English Middle Class ... London 1660-1730 (London, 1989).

73. Retha M. Wamicke, William Lambarde (Chichester, 1973), p.122.

74. Saint CKS PRC 1/11/152; Chese CKS PRC 1/1/3 ; Jefery CKS PRC 20/3/414.

75. Sec below pp.xlvi-xlvii for a striking example of this.

76. Below pp.xlv-liv.

77. See below pp.lix-lx.

78. Medley CKS PRC20/9/284; Dawkes CKS PRC 19/2/89.

79. Ameden CKS PRC 2/11/173; Asherste CKS PRC 21/14/71.

80. See above p.xxv.

81. See above pp.xxxii-xxxiii

82. Erickson, Women, pp. 178-9.

83. CKS PRC2/35/2

84. This applied at many social levels, from the daughter of Richard Barham, gentleman, in 1608 (account CKS PRC20/1/326) to the daughter of Samuel Collard, cordwainer, in 1684 (account CKS PRC2/40/186).

85. Court CKS PRC 2/37/127; Clarke CKS PRC 20/10/226

86. Hull CKS PRC21/15/149: Barham CKS PRC2/20/346; Ratcliffe CKS PRC19/5/60: Baker CKS PRC 21/16/182.

87. CKS PRC 20/10/284

88. Sharpies Borthwick Prob.Ex. 1639/1; Nesse Borthwick Prob.Ex. 1626/1

89. This is in line with the wider kin-universe revealed by those who had no obvious heirs who made wills. David Cressy, 'Kinship and kin interaction in early modem England', Past and Present, cxiii (1986), pp.41-65 and Margaret Spufford and Motoyasu Takahashi, 'Families, Will Witnesses and Economic Structure', Albion, xxviii (1996), pp.386-7.

90. Russell CKS PRC2/35/82; Mantle CKS PRC2/36/100; May CKS PRC2/36/96

91. Rayner CKS PRC2/25/119; Harris CKS PRC 2/18/8.

92. 'The just value thereof in their judgments and consciences, that is to say at such price as the same may be sold for at that time", Swinburne, Treatise, Part VI. chapter ix, repeated nearly rwo centuries later by Burn. Ecclesiastical Law, p.652.

93. See below p.lii.

94. B.Trinder and J.Cox. Yeomen and Colliers in Telford ... 1660-1750 (Chichester. 1980).

95. Spufford. 'Limitations', and Trinder and Cox. Yeomen

96. Inventory CKS PRC28/14/506: Act Book CKS PRC22/16/172

97. CKS PRC32/48/227

98. CKS PRC2/25/127; PRC2/24/148; PRC2/20/241; PRC20/7/164

99. Swinburne, Treatise, Vl.ix.l repeated by Burn, Ecclesiastical Law, p.645, who attributes it to statute 21 Hen.VIII.c.5; and Swinburne, VI,ix,5 repeated and extended by Burn, p.652.

100. J. M. Bower, The Congregation of the Dover General Baptist Church. 1660-1700, Leicester University, M.A. Dissertation 1983. Samuel Tavenor came out from Dover to Guston on the North Downs to appraise the inventory of Thomas Harrison in 1673; CKS PRC27/25/15.

101. CKS PRC27/32/282

102. Maye CKS PRC2/14/324; Mychell CKS PRC21/1/39; Dollman CKS PRC2/39/28; Downe CKS PRC 21/11/135

103. CKS PRC20/2/136; CKS PRC27/1; Sandwich Borough Records CKS Sa/Ac7 f.63.

104. Symball PRO PROB 32/42/171; CKS PRC 20/3/178.

105. CKS Sa/Ac7 f.23b

106. CKS Sa/Ac7 ff. 38b, 46. 93b, 132b. 336b.

107. However among the much smaller number of Somerset accounts preserved at Taunton, 11% of accounts included such requests

108. Whyte CKS PRC2/26/91; Sandwell CKS PRC 2/28/115

109. Oliver CKS PRC 2/29/72; Bennett CKS PRC 20/8/19

110. The year in all cases is that of the account. The conditions described may have occurred a year or more before.

111. Plus five overvaluations, for which there is no date, and forty, which fall outside these decades, to make the 577 cited above. Over the whole period fewer than 5% of accountants made requests for allowances for overvaluation.

112. The prices of agricultural commodities year by year throughout the seventeenth century can most conveniently be found in Peter Bowden's statistical appendices to Joan Thirsk (ed.). The Agrarian History of England and Wales, IV. 1500-1640 and V. 1640-1750

113. Charles Wilson, England's Apprenticeship 1603-1763 (London, 1965), p.l 19. v Peter Clark, English provincial society from the Reformation to the Revolution: religion, politics and society in Kent, 1500-1640 (Brighton, 1977), pp.466, 317, 354, and 318.