Lichfield & Coventry

Wills & Administrations at Lichfield & Coventry 1516-1652

British Record Society volume 7

Published December 1892

Locating the original documents

Where are the originals held?

The original wills are held at Lichfield Record Office. To obtain a copy of the original will or administration, download a copyright / order form from the website. Complete this and post with the remittance for the cost of the will etc to Lichfield Record Office. A copy of Lichfield Record Office’s Fees and Charges is also available on line. Currently there is a standard charge irrespective of the number of pages.

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

  • Testator's name
  • Place
  • Year/ date
  • Folio

About the index

Between 1541 and 1836 the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry was extensive, covering the entire counties of Staffordshire and Derbyshire, north Shropshire and north Warwickshire. The bishop of Lichfield and Coventry had general jurisdiction over probate within this area, which was exercised through the Lichfield Consistory Court. This volume is an index to all wills and other testamentary documents recorded at Lichfield and Coventry 1516-1652.

In detail the material covered by the present volume covers wills and administrations 1516-1652 registered in the consistory court of Lichfield plus extant testamentary documents in the various 'peculiar' courts whose records were deposited at Lichfield.

Please note that there are few documents found in the peculiars prior to 1652 so those up to 1790 for the following have also been included.

All in the county of Warwick:

  • Manorial Court of Baddesley Clinton
  • Manorial Court of Barston
  • Prebendal Court of Bishops Itchington
  • Prebendal Court of Bishops Tachbrook
  • Manorial Court of Knowle
  • Manorial and Peculiar Court of Packwood
  • Manorial Court of Temple Balsall
  • Peculiar Court of Dale Abbey, Derbyshire

The records of the Lichfield Consistory Court, previous to 1652, are divided into five series by date. Within these series the entries are grouped under the most common spelling for the surname alphabetically by year.

Dates of pre 1752 wills and admons etc are given in 'Old Style' or Julian Calendar.

Introduction to the Original Volume

The present volume, the seventh issued in the Index Library, contains references to some 50,000 testamentary records at Lichfield and Birmingham. The diocese of Lichfield and Coventry was, until the year 1541, one of the largest in England, including the whole of the counties of Stafford, Chester, and Derby, parts of Shropshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire, Westmorland and Yorkshire, and extending into Wales held testamentary jurisdiction over some small portions of Flintshire and Denbighshire. Some few Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire wills may also be found in the present volume.

In 1541 King Henry VIII created the diocese of Chester, and took away from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry the whole of Cheshire and the portions of Lancashire, Westmorland and Yorkshire. No further change was made in the boundaries of the diocese during the period which is covered by the present calendar. But it may be worth while to note that, by an order in council dated 22nd December, 1836, the name of Coventry was omitted from the title of this See, and it is now known as the Bishopric of Lichfield.

Until the abolition of the episcopal jurisdiction in 1857 it was customary for the Consistory Court to itinerate throughout the diocese, and the place of probate of wills may always be found noted in the Act Books until those books cease in 1638. After that date the place of probate will generally be found noted on the endorsement of the Will.

For the Wills of testators resident before 1541, in what forms the modern See of Chester, searches must be made either in the present volume or in the new calendar of the Prerogative Courts of Canterbury, in which province the diocese of Lichfield is included. As Wills were always provable in the Prerogative Court, search for testators belonging to this See at any period should also be made in the P.C.C. calendars at Somerset House. It may also be mentioned that there are some Derbyshire Wills of a very early date proved at Lincoln.

With the exception of a few documents in the court of the Dean and Chapter no Wills of any early date appear to be extant in any of the minor courts, the various 'peculiars' which had the privilege of probate of wills. The records of the Consistory court are now deposited in the Probate Registry at Lichfield.

The present volume contains calendars to all the Wills and other testamentary documents recorded at Lichfield before the year 1652.

Series I - V

The records of the Lichfield Consistory Court, previous to 1652, are divided into five series.

Series I. and II. include only 177 Wills.

Series III. commences in 1526 and ends in 1561. Previous to the year 1533 the Wills were arranged alphabetically under the christian names of the testators, an inconvenient arrangement which obtained in other registries, notably at Gloucester. For the years 1532-37 the surnames or cognomina only are given in many of the letters, though it will be seen that in some cases the christian names have been added at some subsequent period. Act Books exist for this series from 1532. In the original calendar for Series III. there is a gap for the letters H to K, but the omission has been supplied with a new calendar for those letters by Mr. Marston, who has added the residences of the testators.

Series IV. includes the period 1562-1624.

Series V. begins in 1624 and extends to 1652. No Act Books exist after 1638. Further details respecting each series will be found prefixed on pages 1, 2, 3, 123, and 398, to which the reader is referred.

All the documents indexed are not wills or administrations. Not a few relate to cognate business such as renunciations, guardianships, and inventories, and even include a licence to practice the science of medicine.

It is a matter for regret that so many of the entries are without any indication of the residences. The ancient calendars are singularly deficient in this respect. Apart from the fact that many of the records themselves are now missing, the large number of Wills in this registry precluded all thought of adding the testators residences. Had the attempt been made the publication of these Wills must have been indefinitely postponed.

For the period covered by the present volume there are no registered copies of Wills in the Registry, with the exception of two small volumes embracing the Wills in Series I. and II. of this Calendar, and a few that are registered in the Ecclesiastical Books of the Consistory Court, and are now preserved in the Diocesan Registry. The original documents are for some periods prior to 1600 very irregular, and in a few instances, notably 1596, 1548, and in some of the letters for 1558 and 1559, are almost all missing.

Many of the documents are also missing for the years 1628 and 1629, and from the note "vacat" which is added to many names in those years, in evidently contemporary handwriting, they would seem to have been missing at no great length of time after proof. This gap in the Records proves singularly unfortunate as there are no Act Books for those years, and the Index does not even give the residences.

The Act Book references given are mostly as in the original calendar, but in many instances they cannot be relied upon as strictly correct, though generally the entry will be found somewhere near the folio given. In some years it was discovered that the scribe had entered the greater part of the names under one folio, though they extended over at least ten folios, as was the practice in the registers in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Such errors where possible have been rectified, but doubtless other such errors remain undiscovered; in other instances the same folio has been repeated many times in the Act Book, and gives rise to much confusion in the references.

Many errors have also been discovered in the names, chiefly arising from wrong endorsements which were perpetuated in the old calendars, in many instances the name of the executor being given for the testator. These where found have been corrected.

Some pages of the early Calendars were so faded and worn away at the top and bottom, that in certain cases as many as six and eight names, and in a few instances almost half a page, was missing; these, however, have all been carefully supplied from the Act Books and Records.

A calendar of the extant testamentary documents in the various " peculiar" courts, whose records were deposited at Lichfield, has been prepared by Mr. Marston, and down to 1652 is included at the end of this volume. At the Birmingham District Registry are preserved the records of some seven insignificant "peculiars." They are very few in number, and as will be seen down to 1790 do not occupy half a dozen pages. As there are no other ancient records at Birmingham it seems best to include them in this volume, together with the "peculiar" of Dale Abbey which is now at Derby.

It will be convenient here to give lists of the various minor Courts whose testamentary records are deposited in the four registries of Birmingham, Lichfield, Derby and Shrewsbury. In the Birmingham Registry, all in the county of Warwick:

  • Manorial Court of Baddesley Clinton
  • Manorial Court of Barston
  • Prebendal Court of Bishops Itchington
  • Prebendal Court of Bishops Tachbrook
  • Manorial Court of Knowle
  • Manorial and Peculiar Court of Packwood
  • Manorial Court of Temple Balsall

In the Lichfield Registry, all in the counties of Stafford, Warwick, and Derby:

  • Prebendal Court of Alrewas and Weeford, Staffordshire
  • Peculiar Court of Alveston and Wasperton, Warwickshire
  • Manorial Court of Burton on Trent, Staffordshire
  • Prebendal Court of Colwich, Staffordshire
  • Prebendal Court of Eccleshall, Staffordshire
  • Peculiar and Manorial Court of Gnosall, Staffordshire
  • Peculiar Court of Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire. See also Worcester Registry
  • Prebendal Court of Hansacre and Armitage, Staffordshire
  • Deanery Court of Hartington, Derbyshire
  • Prebendal Court of High Offley and Flixton, Staffordshire
  • Peculiar Court of the Dean of Lichfield, Staffordshire
  • Court of the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, and Warwickshire
  • Prebendal Court of Longdon, Staffordshire
  • Peculiar and Manorial Court of Merevale, Warwickshire
  • Peculiar Court of Peak Forest, Derbyshire
  • Court of the Royal Peculiar of Penkridge, Staffordshire
  • Prebendal Court of Prees otherwise Pipe Minor
  • Staffordshire Records only; the rest at Shrewsbury
  • Prebendal Court of Sawley, Derbyshire
  • * Court of the Royal Peculiar of Tettenhall, Staffordshire
  • Prebendal Court of Whittingtom and Baswich, Staffordshire
  • Court of the Royal Peculiar of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire

In the Derby Registry:

  • Peculiar Court of Dale Abbey, Derbyshire

In the Shrewsbury Registry, all in the county of Salop:

  • Peculiar Court of Bridgenorth
  • Peculiar Court of Buildwas
  • Manorial Court of Ellesmere
  • Court for the Town and Liberties of Ellesmere
  • Peculiar Court of Longdon-upon-Terne
  • Prebendal Court of Prees. Salop Records only ; the rest at Lichfield
  • Manorial Court of Tyrley
  • Peculiar Court of Wombridge
  • Manorial Court of Hampton and Colemere
  • Manorial Court of Lineal

* The royal peculiar of Tettenhall dates from pre-Norman times, having been founded, it is generally supposed, by King Edgar. It was a college consisting of a dean and five canons or prebends who possessed an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and consequently the wills of the tenants within the five prebends were proved in the Deans Court. The five prebends were Bovenhill, Codsall, Pendeford, Perton, and Wrottesley. The College of Tettenhall with the five prebends and their appurtenances "with all other rights, jurisdictions, and privileges both spiritual and temporal" were purchased from the Crown, temp. Edward VI. by Walter Wrottesley, of Wrottesley, and the records of the court except such as have been transferred to the District Registry are now amongst Lord Wrottesley's muniments. It should be added that the "original" calendars of this peculiar have evidently been compiled at a comparatively late date.

There are very few documents amongst the "Peculiars" prior to 1652, and the whole of the earliest Wolverhampton Wills are missing. Some few years since a large box containing some hundreds of original Wills, proved in the Deanery Court of Hartington, which were found in the Hartington Church chest, as well as various other testamentary papers found with them, was forwarded by the then Vicar to the Lichfield Registry, and such as come within the dates of this volume are included in this list. It would be very interesting to know if other Church Chests contain similar documents.

It would appear that there are certain manorial and other courts having anciently testamentary jurisdiction which in later times fell into disuse and consequently were overlooked when, in 1857 and 1858, measures were taken to collect the records of these minor courts in the various probate registries. Amongst these appear to have been the manorial court of Sedgley, in the County of Stafford. At a court baron held 17 September, 1661, amongst the articles to be inquired into by the homage was:

No. 7. You shall inquire and present what (more than ordinary) jurisdiction belongs to the Lord's Court Baron for his manor of Sedgeley aforesaid.....Declare the Truth.

The presentment to this was:

To the 7th article we present that (besides the ordinary jurisdiction of a Court Baron) the Lord of the Manor of Sedgeley by his Steward there time out of mind hath Probate of Wills and granting of Letters of administration to all persons whose personal estates are within the same manor, the Lord taking only twelvepence for every such grant and his Steward reasonable fees as the Statute in that case appointeth. *

Only one Sedgley will and six administrations before 1600, it may be noted, are now to be found at Lichfield, and if any others are still extant they are probably amongst the records of that manor. *

* From note by Thomas Cooper, Stourbridge, in "Local Notes and Queries," Birmingham Daily Post 7 Feb., 1891.

The onerous task of indexing these references in one alphabet was undertaken as a labour of love by Mr. E. A. Fry, of Birmingham. For this great boon every student will be grateful to Mr. Fry, for it is now possible to ascertain what entries of any given surname exist at Lichfield or Birmingham in fewer seconds than the days or weeks which hitherto such searches have required.

The whole of the proof sheets have been very carefully read and collated by Mr. A. T. Marston, record clerk in the Lichfield Probate Registry, and I most gladly acknowledge the valuable assistance he has thus rendered. Mr. Marston's knowledge of these records is very great, and he has in numberless instances made important corrections in these calendars without which they would undoubtedly have been far less perfect than they are.

Editor W.P.W. Phillimore

December, 1892