Find your ancestors in Northamptonshire & Rutland Wills 1510-1652, Introduction to Original Volume

Northamptonshire & Rutland Wills 1510-1652

British Record Society volume 1

Published 1888

Introduction to Original Volume

Until the year 1541 the two counties of Northampton and Rutland formed part of the great see of Lincoln. The size of that diocese, which in medieval times extended from the Humber to the Thames, required the existence of local courts for probate of wills and the grant of letters of administration. Those courts which had such jurisdiction in these two counties during the period 1510-1652 were:

  • The Courts of the Archdeacons of Northampton and Peterborough, having authority over both counties.
  • The Consistorial Court of the Bishop of Peterborough, having jurisdiction over both counties.
  • Prebendal Court of Nassington, having jurisdiction over the parishes of Apethorpe, Nassington, Wood Newton, and Yarwell, Northamptonshire.
  • The Prebendal Courts of Ketton and Liddington, Rutland.
  • The Peculiar Court of Empingham, Rutland.

The two last-mentioned courts were of small importance, and their extant records begin at too late a date for inclusion in the present volume.

On the foundation in 1541 of the see of Peterborough the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Peterborough came into existence and exercised jurisdiction in testamentary matters over the whole of the diocese, with the exception of the small "peculiars" mentioned above. The creation of this new court did not involve the abolition of the testamentary jurisdiction of the Archdeacon of Northampton, and both continued to exercise a concurrent jurisdiction until the year 1858, when the modern civil Court of Probate was formed, and all testamentary powers were taken from the ancient ecclesiastical and peculiar courts.

The bulk of the wills in both counties appear to have been proved before the Archdeacon of Northampton, in which town he held his court and the seal was kept, though the Bishop's Court at Peterborough transacted a good deal of business, chiefly, however, from the neighbourhood of that city. The Probate Act of 1857 created District Registries of Her Majesty's Court of Probate, at both Northampton and Peterborough, which respectively exercise jurisdiction over the southern and northern halves of the county. In the former Registry, according to the official return made in 1862, are preserved the papers of the following courts:

  • The Archidiaconal Court of Bedford, which includes the Court of the Commissary of the Bishop of Lincoln, and the Court of the official of the Archdeacon, within the archdeaconry.
  • The Prebendal Court of Biggleswade.
  • The Peculiar Court of Leighton-Buzzard (otherwise Beaudesert). N.B. A few Wills belonging to this Court are at the District Registry at Oxford.
  • Archidiaconal Court of Northampton (part of papers).
  • Consistorial Court of Peterborough (part of papers).

The county of Rutland is now within the jurisdiction of the district registry at Leicester, where are also deposited the records of the following obsolete peculiars:

  • Prebendal Court of Ketton.
  • Prebendal Court of Liddington.

Neither of these include wills of an earlier date than 1652, except in the solitary instance of that of the peculiar of Ketton with Tixover, which contains one such will.

The calendars of the most important of these courts, viz., the Court of the Archdeacon of Northampton, are now for the first time printed. They extend from 1510, the date of the earliest will now extant in this registry, up to 1652, when the episcopal jurisdiction over wills was abolished, not to be revived until the restoration of Charles II. The earliest calendar, it may be noted, is entitled "The Archdeaconry Court of Northampton and the Consistory Court of Peterborough." This title was supplied, however, at a comparatively recent date.

In the Peterborough District Probate Registry, in addition to the wills relating to Northamptonshire and Rutland, including those of the Prebendal Court of Nassington and Empingham, are preserved others belonging to the counties of Cambridge, Huntingdon, and some of Hertford.

The Cambridgeshire wills belong to the following ancient courts, viz.:

  • Consistory Court of the Bishop of Ely, 1449.
  • Court of the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, 1501.
  • Court of the Archdeacon of Ely, 1532.
  • The Peculiar Jurisdiction of Thorney (Isle of Ely).
  • The Peculiar of Isleham.
  • The Peculiar Court of Freckenham.

The Huntingdonshire wills:

  • Archdeaconry Court of Huntingdon, 1479. Includes the Court of the Commissary of the Bishop of Lincoln, and the Court of the Official of the Archdeacon within the Archdeaconry, and also several Hertfordshire wills.
  • The Prebendal Court of Longstow for the parishes of Spaldwick, Stow-with-Catworth, Barham, and Easton.
  • The Peculiar Court of Leighton Bromswold, or Leighton Ecclesia.
  • The Prebendal Court of Buckden.
  • The Peculiar Court of Brampton.

In searching for wills of persons resident in the counties of Northampton and Rutland care must be taken to remember that the present volume is not a complete list of all the wills of the two counties, but merely contains the names of testators whose wills were proved at Northampton previous to the year 1652. Other Northamptonshire wills from 1541 are to be found, as already mentioned, at Peterborough, and also in the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, which are now preserved in the principal registry at Somerset House. From 1652 to 1660 all Northamptonshire wills were, consequent on the abolition of the provincial courts, proved at London, and are to be found at Somerset House.

Rutland wills were proved at both Peterborough and Northampton; at the former place they commence in 1541, and with the exception of the break during the Commonwealth, when they were deposited at London, continued to be proved there until 1858, when this county was attached to the Leicester District Registry. The Rutland wills at Northampton commence in 1510, but strangely enough none can now be found of a later date than 1590, and no information respecting them is now forthcoming. Since 1858 the principal registry has taken the place of the old Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and the county of Northampton itself is allotted between the two district registries of Northampton and Peterborough. It may be useful to remember that since 1858 copies of all provincial wills are now deposited at Somerset House, and that there is an admirable modern printed calendar of the wills and administrations of the whole of England and Wales since that date, which is accessible to the public on application at the Principal or any of the District Registries.

For any testamentary records relating to either county before the year 1510 search must be made in the calendars of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, which commence in 1383. It is said that amongst the wills from 1280 to 1547, preserved in the Bishop's Registers at Lincoln, there are, as might be expected, some few relating to Northamptonshire and Rutland. Some, both before and after 1510, may also be found amongst what are known as the Lambeth wills, a calendar of which has been printed by Dr. Marshall in the Genealogist, and includes also "vacancy" wills, a term which is applied to such as were proved during any vacancy of the archiepiscopal see.

It may be noted here that no Administration Bonds for Northamptonshire are extant before 1660.

The registers at Northampton into which the wills were transcribed are of paper, and some of the earlier volumes in past years have suffered considerably. Book A is much frayed in places, and occasionally large portions of pages are gone. The index is a modern one, as also is that to Book B, consequently no means exist of supplying the gaps, though the surnames of three or four testators might be recovered by one with local knowledge, as a reference to page 7 will show. Of Book C the first seventy folios are missing, and a large number of wills consequently cannot now be produced, though the names of the majority of them appear in the calendar. In the same way forty-nine folios of Book D are lost. About eighty-seven folios of Book P have disappeared, and we are now unable to recover even the names of the testators, for the index is a modern one, and only gives references to the existing wills. Some pages of Book T have also been lost. The references are to the folios of the registers.

For the index to Book K Northampton antiquaries are indebted to the patient industry of the late Thomas William Cattell. When, many years ago, he commenced to search the wills in the Northampton Registry, he found that those contained in Book K were without an index, and he thereupon set to work to compile one, in that careful, painstaking manner which was so characteristic of all he undertook. One copy he presented to the Registry for the office use, and another he retained for his own library. It is from the latter, now in the Editor's possession, that the index here given to the subscribers has been printed.

Until 1610 it appears to have been usual to have transcribed the wills into the registers, and then to have returned the originals to the executors, but that at a later date it became customary to file the will itself. The Second and Third Series consist principally of originals, but in a few cases transcripts are also preserved. The originals of nearly all the wills registered in Books EV and AE part II, in the First Series, will be found in the Second Series. With this exception, there is no apparent connection between the First and Second Series. Book OE, 1626-30, First Series, consists wholly of originals. In the Second Series the reader has the advantage that the precise year of probate is given, and in the Third Series the date of the will. The Second Series is contained in volumes which are known by the letters of the alphabet, in the same way as the First, and, indeed, the Third Series, so that in giving a reference to any will in this Registry it is needful to mention the Series. It may be worth while to add that the Office Calendar to the Second Series is in two parts, each of which is arranged in lexicographical order. The reader will see that they have been combined in the present work. The only other variation from the official calendar is that the letters I and J have been separated.

It should be mentioned that there are extant two bundles of original wills corresponding with the registered copies; they consist of wills of testators who come under the initials C and D, and extend from 1542 to 1626, and 1348 to 1632 respectively.

As several of the calendars overlap cach other the following table has been prepared so that the reader may be able at a glance to learn in what book or books the wills of any given period may be found. It will be observed that for the years 1595 and 1596 no wills appear to be extant at Northampton.

1510-1519A1556-1557I, K, L, M, N, O1605-1608Z
1520A and B1558L and Q1609X and Z
1521-1523B1559L, Q, R1610-1611X, Y, Z and XYZ
1524-1526B and C1560-1561L, P, R1612Y and Z
1527C and D1562P and R1613-1615Y
1531-1532D and E1567-1569S1617-1620AB, part I
1537E, F, H1578-1589V1626-1628AV and OB
1538E and F1590W1629-1630OB
1539F and H1591-1594Y1631-16332nd or 3rd Series
1540F, G and H1595-1596No wills1634-1636BV
1541-1542G, H and K1597-1600W1637-1639AE, part II
1543H and K1601W and Y  
1544H, I and K1602W, X, AE, part I  
1545-1546I and K1603X, AE, part I  
1547I, K and M1604Y and Z  
1548I, K, L, M    
1549-1555K, L and M 

* The Third Series, which is lettered A, B, C, includes wills from 1603 to 1652, and the Second Series, A to V, extends from 1610 to 1652.

To obviate the loss of time in ascertaining whether the Northampton Registry contains wills relating to any required surname, a lexicographical index has been added to the present work.

A few words on the arrangement of this index may be advisable. The names might have been arranged strictly in accordance with the very irregular spelling found in the Calendars, but it seemed that no practical good could ensue from separately indexing such varieties as King, Kinge, Kynge, and Kyng, or Kirby, Kyrbie, Kyrbye, and Kyrby, and they have, therefore, been collected together under King and Kirby, the usual modern spellings.

So with Linckon, Lyncolne, etc., which are given as Lincoln, and it may be observed that, generally speaking, the mediaeval use of y for i has been disregarded, and names in which that vowel is found are treated as if spelt with the latter sign, the exceptions being those few names in which the use of y has survived to our day.

Names whose spelling is evidently corrupt are translated into the modern form: thus Suhynghylhaurst is entered as Singlehurst Lukas, of course, will be found under Lucas, and so, with other minor variations, it may be laid down as a rule that they are to be sought for under their modern forms. It has not been found possible to do this in every case, and where a surname is liable to much variance of form, it will be well to look up two or three references. But where there happens to be but a single instance of a name, the old spelling is usually retained, though y is treated mostly as i.

Where the initial is liable to variation it is left under the letter with which it was found spelt in the calendar; thus Cabel and Gabel, Faro and Pharaoh have not been collected together. A good example of the advantage of thus editing the index is found in the list of the Garfield wills, which have been entered under the modern form. If any justification beyond obvious convenience were required, it would be enough to say that the spelling of the Calendars not infrequently varies from that contained in the wills themselves.

Great economy in space has been effected by using in the index contractions for the christian names, about two-thirds of which can be indicated by a single letter. A table of contractions is prefixed to the index. In the Calendars themselves the christian names have been almost always modernised in spelling, and the same rule has been followed with the place names, except in those instances where the identity was doubtful.

This list of wills must prove of value, not merely to the local genealogist but also to many in distant parts of the country, who, in the stray entry of a name in which they are interested, may be able to discover some missing link. Names which are well known elsewhere are here represented by single entries, evidently pointing to temporary settlements from other parts.

Almost every part of the country is represented, even districts as far separated as Scotland and Cornwall. The tendency of the Scotch to seek their fortunes away from their native land even before the migration initiated by the accession of James VI to the English throne, is exemplified by the occurrence of the names of Thomas and Agnes Douglas as early as the reign of Henry VIII (see p. 18). A few instances of Welsh and Cornish names will also be found.

To mention a few instances of names belonging to other counties. The Nottinghamshire names of Cromwell, Meller, and Markham appear in this list; so does Corbett, so well known in Shropshire; as again Pilkington and Eyre, families in Derbyshire, and the Gloucestershire names of Workman and Eyles. Plenty of other similar instances will be noticed by the reader.

A few wills of testators from other counties may be found; eg., William Mackernes of Over Shuckburgh, Warwickshire, p. 21; and William Symonds of Great Odell, Bedfordshire, p. 149.

To Americans this list of wills must prove of special interest, though they will search in vain for any reference to the Washington family, one branch of which was so intimately associated with the county. But the presidential names of Garfield, Hayes, Jefferson, and Lincoln are amply represented. To Franklin there are also numerous references; and it may be well to add that not far short of one-half of the names mentioned in the recently published America Heraldica will be found exemplified in the present volume. The completion of this the first volume of the Index Library is a matter for congratulation, and it may be hoped that it will form but the first of a long series of similar issues. It is the first time that such a work has been attempted as a private enterprise.

Owing to the economy of space effected it has been found possible to calendar in a similar number of pages about twice as many as other books of the same class have done, and thus it is that the Index Library has been able to supply its information at about half the usual cost.

In a volume of this character, dealing with a calendar of some 18,000 wills, it is scarcely possible, with all the care exercised, that no errors have crept in. Some are possibly due to the original compilers of the calendars, and the searcher will of course remember that error is often caused by the similarity of c and t, n and u, mi and nn, etc.


124, Chancery Lane, London.

November, 1888.