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- Leicester Wills & Administrations 1495-1649, Introduction to Original Volume
Leicester Wills & Administrations 1495-1649
British Record Society volume 27
Introduction to Original Volume
This volume, the twenty-seventh issued in the Index Library, gives references to upwards of 20,000 Leicestershire Wills and Administrations registered in the Court of the Archdeacon of Leicester between 1495 and 1649, and some 2,500 testamentary dispositions registered in the several 'Peculiar' Courts within the same county prior to 1801; the whole of the records referred to being now preserved in the Probate Registry at Leicester.
The calendars here printed for the first time have been compiled from two sources, namely, from the official Indexes as far as they exist, and where it was found that the latter were intricate or- wanting, from the records themselves, in order to make the volume as complete as possible for the period it covers.
The jurisdiction of the Court of the Archdeacon of Leicester was confined to the whole county of Leicester, which until 1837 was included within the great see of Lincoln. The exact date when the Archdeacons of Leicester began to claim their testamentary jurisdiction is not clearly known, but it is evident, from records extant, that as far back as the reign of Edward III, if not earlier, they exercised their right to issue grants.
We learn from the Woodford Cartulary in the British Museum that the Will of Alice Woodford of Brentingby, co. Leicester, was proved before the official of the Archdeacon of Leicester in the church of Melton Mowbray, 13 kal. January, 1333, and that probate of the Will of Sir John de Wodeford of Brentingby was granted by the same authority in St. Martin's Church, Leicester, 27th August, 1401. No records, however, of this early date now exist.
The Court was formerly governed by a Commissary and Official, who was appointed by the Bishop of Lincoln, and who exercised the authority of Official Principal and Vicar General under the Archdeacon. Occasionally these offices were vested in two persons who held separate Courts and exercised concurrent jurisdiction. During inhibition the Court was held by the Bishop of the diocese or his Chancellor. The Registrar of the Court was appointed by the Bishop.
It will be convenient to give here some particulars of the records extant in the Registry and of the Calendars or Indexes and Register Books of Wills, etc., now in use.
|1||Transcripts of Wills only, 1500-1579, with some undated records of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.|
|2||Original Wills, 1580-1642, inclusive.|
|3||Administrations, 1594-1641, inclusive.|
|4||Wills, 1643-1649. Administrations, 1642-1649. Inventories, 1643-1649, inclusive. (N.B.—There are no records between 1649 and 1660.)|
|5||Wills and Administrations, 1660-1679. Inventories, 1665-1679, inclusive.|
|6||Wills, Administrations, and Inventories, 1680-1693.|
|7||Wills and Administrations, 1694-1749, and thence in regular order to the present time.|
An original sixteenth-century Index to Wills proved between about 1500 and 1558 is still preserved, which contains the names of several hundred, testators, whose records no longer exist; also there is a defective Index to the earliest Administrations prior to 1594, many of the Bonds for which are now missing. There is also preserved an Index to a number of Wills and Administrations which for various reasons were not proved or completed.
These for convenience may be grouped into three classes, namely : (i) loose transcripts, (2) originals, and (3) registered copies in books. The earliest separate testamentary records extant in the Registry consist of transcripts of Wills, there being very few, if any, originals earlier than 1580. These transcripts, which number upwards of three thousand, may be said to commence in the year 1500, although one at least exists of an earlier date. A small packet is preserved containing twenty-five transcripts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the dates of which are wanting or imperfect. One of these, viz., the Will of Alys Multon, widow, of Wymondham, is dated 15th May (year obliterated), Edward IV, circa 1480. The transcripts are now placed in bundles for different periods, each year being tied up separately:
|1||Previous to 1535.|
From 1580 to 1711 inclusive, the original Wills and Transcripts are filed in rolls, and after 1712 they are much better arranged with the Administrations in bundles alphabetically for each year. The series is tolerably complete from 1580, with the exception of the roll for 1608, which is lost, and the usual gap between 1649 and 1660, when the episcopal jurisdiction over Wills was suspended and all Wills were proved in London. For further details respecting the Transcripts and original Wills the reader is referred to pp. 17, 40, and 63.
III. Register Books
In addition to the Transcripts and original Wills, there exist a number of Register Books containing copies of Wills for the following years:
Separate Books for each of these years with old indexes. Some important details concerning these Register Books will be found prefixed on pp. 1, 13, and 46.
There are also Register Books containing copies of Wills, without indexes, for these years :
The Wills for part of the year 1626, and from 1627 to 1631 inclusive, are also copied into three Register Books for which indexes exist. A few original Wills are bound up in these volumes. From 1749 to the present time a regular series of Register Books of Wills are preserved. The earliest Will in the first Register Book (1515-1526) is that of John Penny of Leicester, which bears date 24th March, 1495.
The earliest Administration Bonds commence in 1556, but are by no means so complete as the Wills, and not regularly indexed until 1594. For the first time the earlier Bonds, hitherto deposited away in mixed bundles, have recently been arranged, and an Index of both the existing and missing records prepared.
This is fully printed in this volume (see p. 152, where further details are given). It is a matter of regret that so many of these Bonds are altogether missing, but fortunately the Act Books which commence in 1604 help to make up somewhat for the deficiency. It will be observed that between 1620 and 1649 a number of Sequestration Bonds, relating to ecclesiastical preferments and other matters, are mentioned. Many of these are also missing, but the Act Books give some particulars concerning them.
These records, which give us some insight into the domestic habits and position of our forefathers, commence about 1520. The earlier Inventories will be found generally attached to the Wills or Bonds, and there are good indexes to them from 1585 to 1711.
VI. Act Books
The earliest is a fragment or part of the Probate and Administration Act Book for the year 1526. About 120 names are given, the records for many of which are now missing.
Probate Act Books are preserved for the following years:
- 1585 and 1586, very imperfect
- 3 Books
- 1604-1644, inclusive
- 1645-1649, inclusive
- 1678-1688, inclusive
Administration Act Books exist for the years
- 1604-1635, inclusive
- 1635-1645, inclusive
- 1678-1689, inclusive
VII. Peculiar Courts
It will be necessary to give a list here of the several minor Courts, the records of which are now deposited separately in the Registry at Leicester, the calendars being printed for the first time in this volume, with the date of earliest records:
1. The Prebendal Court of St. Margaret, Leicester, 1543.
2. The Manorial Court of Rothley, 1575.
3. The Manorial Court of Groby, 1580.
4. The Manorial Court of Evington, 1581.
Further details respecting these Courts will be found on pp. 205, 217, 227, and 235.
Although the present volume deals with the bulk of Leicestershire Wills and Administrations between 1495 and 1649, it should be remembered that there are other depositories where Leicestershire records for the same period, and even earlier, may be found.
As many Leicestershire Wills were proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, search also should be made in the Calendars at Somerset House, London. These Calendars, which commence in 1383, are now printed down to 1604 in Vols. X, XI, XVIII, and XXV of the Index Library. The earliest Leicestershire Wills extant are those recorded in the Episcopal Registers at Lincoln, dating from 1320. These will be found embodied in Mr. A. Gibbon's volume on "Early Lincoln Wills". Some few Leicestershire Wills were, it appears, proved in the Court of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln, where they are still preserved.