Pages ix-xxii

London Consistory Court Wills, 1492-1547. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1967.

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This book is concerned with a register of wills, register Palmer (fn. 1) containing wills made between 1492 and 1520, and a number of separate wills for the period 1507 to 1547, (fn. 2) all of which are now in the London section of the Greater London Record Office. These were transferred from Somerset House to County Hall with the probate records of the Consistory Court of London in 1956. They form a convenient group for publication, but, as will be shown, they do not include all known surviving wills of the consistory court prior to 1547 (fn. 3) and they undoubtedly include some which were not proved in that court. The surviving separate wills of the four main ecclesiastical courts of London have suffered so much confusion and rearrangement in the past that it would now in many cases be impossible to say with certainty to which court they belonged, and external evidence is lacking because of the gap in the series of registers of wills and of vicargenerals' books during the later part of the reign of Henry VIII. Irrespective of their provenance, these wills are of interest for the light they throw on the ways of thought, environment and possessions of ordinary middleclass men and women of the early Tudor period.

The archival history of the wills

All the evidence suggests that when the probate records of the diocese of London were transferred to Somerset House, under the Court of Probate Acts, 1857 and 1858, they were in a state of considerable disarray and had suffered heavy losses. Most of these losses appear to have occurred before the removal of the records to St. Paul's Cathedral in the eighteenth century. (fn. 4)

The only mention of testamentary records in the First General Report from the Commissioners on the Public Records, 1800–12 (1812) is in Appendix (E4), where the bald statement is made that 'wills . . . should everywhere be placed in perfect safety'. In the Appendix (L5) to the Report of the Commissioners on the Public Records (1837) there is a report by John Shephard, who had been deputy registrar to the Bishop of London since 1823, on the condition of the records in his care. They were then lodged in a room on the north side of St. Paul's Cathedral, (fn. 5) which he had improved by the erection of additional shelving. He had moved the original wills, which had previously been tied up in paper, into wooden boxes and had had most of the bishop's books rebound. He had also 'caused to be transcribed and consolidated alphabetically in one volume the calendars or indexes of wills and recorded copies of wills . . . from the earliest period, 1381, to the year 1670'. (fn. 6)

The list supplied by John Shephard of the probate records in his custody is as follows:

Original wills in good preservation, and made up in bundles and preserved in deal boxes . . . forming a series (interrupted occasionally by chasms) commencing with the year 1507 and continued to the present time.

Recorded copies of wills and acts on the grant of letters of administration (contained in books, and in good preservation, having a regular index, which also has reference to the original wills); forming a series (interrupted occasionally by chasms) commencing with the year 1361 and continued to the present time.

Inventories (in eight bags) from 1634 to 1669 . . .

Administration bonds. These are in good preservation and are kept with the original wills and have the same index.

This list is obviously a composite one covering all the four main London courts of probate. Since it corresponds in most respects with the records which are still extant, it shows that most of the losses occurred before 1834.

The removal to Somerset House took place between January 1861 and August 1863. Officers attached to the Principal Probate Registry visited the cathedral and 'roughly arranged' the records before bringing them away, 'but found it impossible to do more in a place so dark and dirty'. All the records of a purely ecclesiastical nature, 'such as Visitation, Ordination and Subscription books, were left upon the shelves, all of a mixed character, except the "Bishop's books", [were] brought away'. (fn. 7) The disorder among the records was at this time attributed, at least in part, to the fact that although the same registry had served all four courts the records were in 1858 in the custody of three different persons.

In January 1882, George Hook Rodman, who had for four years been assistant to the Record Keeper of the Probate Registry, was appointed to be 'Assistant to the Record Keeper more particularly for superintending the indexing and arranging of the ancient Records'. (fn. 8) He seems to have spent more than twenty years on this task and to have brought to it a fund of industry and patience. He did his best to sort the records into groups according to the courts which had produced them, to repair, bundle or box them so far as his resources allowed and to separate out the old indexes and make new ones where necessary, so that these could be easily available to searchers, and could serve as finding aids to the wills. He took particular pains to note down everything he did either in investigating the provenance of the wills or in repairs or other alteration to their format.

It seems that when the wills were first being transferred to the Probate Registry it was planned to print a series of calendars or indexes to them. As a pilot scheme an index was made of the wills proved in the court of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster and this was printed but not published. (fn. 9) The enterprise proved too laborious and no more calendars were printed. A paragraph at the end of the introduction to the Westminster calendar summarises the difficulties:

Experience proves that every paper amongst a set of Records should be first examined and arranged before a Calendar can safely be commenced. Indeed we have recently proved that before other calendars can be completed it will be necessary to have the records of several of the Courts, the papers of which we are to receive here, sorted and arranged. We have frequently found that where different Courts have had a Registry in common, the Records have been more or less mixed or misfiled. (fn. 10)

The calendars or indexes which were ultimately produced of the wills proved in the various probate courts were handwritten on parchment, probably under the supervision of George Rodman. Most of them survived nearly a century of constant handling in the Literary Search Room and have been distributed with the corresponding records to various local repositories.

A summary list of the testamentary records of the London courts at the Principal Probate Registry in Somerset House was submitted to the Royal Commission on Public Records in 1914, but it was admitted to be incomplete. Some criticisms were made in this report of the accommodation provided for these records and of the facilities afforded to persons wishing to use them for research, and suggestions were made for eliminating risks of fire from neighbouring premises or from electric wiring.

Some of the testamentary records suffered loss or damage during the war of 1939–45. In particular the majority of the inventories which had never been sorted or methodised were at the end of the war piled in large heaps on the floor of one of the sub-basement storerooms at Somerset House, many of them looking like half-smoked cigars. In 1955, because of the congestion at Somerset House, it was decided that the probate records of all the smaller courts should be sent back to the localities whence they had come nearly a century before. This decision was not, however, easily implemented, since ecclesiastical areas had changed considerably in the interim and many bishops had appointed one or more local record offices as diocesan repositories for their records. In London, after some discussion among the archivists concerned, it was decided to send the probate records of the Commissary Court of London and of the Archdeaconry of London to the Guildhall Library and of the Consistory Court of London to the London County Record Office (now the Greater London Record Office). (fn. 11)

The first distribution of these records took place in 1956, but it was somewhat hastily carried out and it was soon obvious that some of the documents listed in 1914 had not been found. Subsequently Dr. Conway Davies undertook the task of transferring the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury to the Public Record Office and of searching out and distributing the remaining probate records of local courts. At the time of writing this work is still proceeding, but it seems unlikely that any more records of the Consistory Court of London of a date earlier than 1547 will be found. (fn. 11)

The records of the consistory court were listed within a few months of their receipt in the London County Record Office, but many of the volumes had to be marked 'unfit for production', and because of the size of the repair programme that is unfortunately still the case. Most of the separate wills in the first two bundles were flattened and repaired before they were transcribed for this volume, since they were in a fragile state. They have now been guarded and filed. The rest of the separate wills remain in the bundles and boxes in which they were placed by George Rodman.

Several consistory court volumes which had been sent in error to the Guildhall Library with records of the commissary court have since, by the good offices of Dr. Albert Hollaender, been sent to County Hall. These included two Act Books, temp. Henry VIII.

With the coming into being of the Greater London Record Office in April 1965 as one result of the London Government Act, 1963, the probate records of two of the probate courts of the diocese of London, those of the Middlesex Archdeaconry and of the Consistory Court of London, are again in one holding.

Register Palmer

Register Palmer consists of forty-six paper leaves, the last three of which are blank. The paper throughout has a dolphin as watermark. Each leaf measures approximately 12¼ × 8¼ inches. On the dorse of the last leaf is a pencil note by George Rodman that the 'leaves of this book were repaired, Feb. 1877'. On the first page in a contemporary hand is the name and date 'John Buckland 1528', and under it, in a later hand, 'vide Calendarium in fine Libri'. There is, however, no calendar at the end of the book. It has been abstracted and bound up in a separate volume with indexes to other London Consistory Court registers of wills. The calendar consists of two leaves of which only the first is used. The names of testators are listed in alphabetical order of the Christian names, unlike the later indexes, where the surnames have been placed first and alphabetised.

Register Palmer is bound in vellum with the title on the front: 'Regestrum Testamentorum Presbiterorum et quorundam Laicorum deceden', ab anno Domini 1514 ad annum 1520 probat', per Vicarium Genralem [sic] Domini Episcopi London.' There is no doubt that the will of Thomas Palmer dated 1492 which since 1877 has given its name to the volume was written into the register after the compilation of the rest of the book, perhaps because some query had arisen concerning it.

Although the register is obviously the work of several hands, the writing throughout is small and neat. In most cases the initial 'I' of the will and 'P' of the probatum clause are decorated. The volume as a whole is in fairly good condition, though there are water stains on the leaves.

Under the heading of register Palmer is a note (see p. 1 below) that previous testaments of the period of Bishop FitzJames had been registered in a parchment book. This parchment book was not among the consistory court records transferred in 1956 and it was never sent to Somerset House. It consists of thirteen parchment leaves sewn into the back of the register of Bishop FitzJames and now deposited in the Guildhall Library. (fn. 13) It contains copies of wills proved between 1508 and 1514, (fn. 14) which are followed by a reference to a paper book of wills, i.e. to register Palmer. On folio 13 of the parchment register is a copy of the 'wyll of the londes' of James Breton and William Browne (fn. 15) referred to in their separate wills in register Palmer (58 and 75). This 'wyll of the londes' is dated 1517 and it seems likely that its entry there is largely fortuitous in that there happened to be a blank membrane of parchment which was convenient for that purpose. Because this will is so closely connected with the two wills in register Palmer, and because of its intrinsic interest in its meticulous setting out of instructions for the founding of a chantry at this late date, a shortened version of it has been given in Appendix 6. One is tempted to think that the testators had some foresight of what lay ahead when one reads their detailed provisions for the disposal of their bequests should 'the lawe of this londe in tyme to come . . . not permitt that the said londes and tenementes continew aftir the maner of this our last will'.

No Consistory Court of London register of wills later than register Palmer has survived for the reign of Henry VIII. The next in sequence, register Wymesley, (fn. 16) begins in 1548. Perhaps with some idea of filling the gap, George Rodman filed the one register of wills of the Bishop of Westminster covering the period 1540–7 and known as Thirlby (fn. 17) after register Palmer and had its index bound with those of registers Palmer and later registers (fn. 18) as though it were part of the Consistory Court of London records.

The separate wills

The separate wills when received in the London County Record Office from Somerset House were still in the bundles made up by George Rodman. All the wills in the first two bundles, and three from bundle 7, which were dated before or in the early months of 1547 have been included in the present text. A note on the outside of bundle 1 written by George Rodman describes his method of sorting and classifying the wills. It is headed 'Consistory of London Wills 1507–46 therein left in the order in which they are entered in the Consistory Calendar', and it continues:

They comprise none actually indentified with the Consistory Court, but—

(a) Wills of Jur. Commissary 1507–45 not found registered in the Commissary Court.

(b) Wills of Jur. Archdeaconry, 1538–45. There is no Archdeaconry Register for this period, nor any Consistory Vicar General's Book from c. Feb. 1538/9 to prove to which of the Courts they belong.

(c) Wills of London, —, etc, 1526–46, not found in any of the Courts searched.

Memorandum. A considerable number of other wills out of this bundle have been transferred to the Commissary and Archdeaconry Courts. See the names in the Consistory Calendar now struck through in red ink.

These notes are initialled 'G.R.' and dated 1 August 1883. A further note dated 1885 is added below:

Several wills out of a miscellaneous bundle of Consistory and Commissary London Wills, inventories, etc. have been placed herein. Each one of these is in a white cover and marked 'Ex. Cons. Miscell'.

Some of the inventories mentioned have also been placed herein. See, for example, Messenger and Pendreth, 1542. (158 and 160.)

Rodman obviously took infinite pains to try to restore some order in the chaos of early London wills. Each will is carefully annotated in pencil to show that he had searched the books, where these existed, of the various courts to see if he could trace it therein. His usual 'not found' is occasionally varied by the more colourful 'not spotted in . . .' or 'chasm at this date'. Not surprisingly even his industrious researches sometimes failed to go far enough, e.g. four wills filed in the Consistory Court of London bundles, those of Robert Redman (137), John Sannys (217), John Shelle (216) and Wm. Smyth (111) were, in fact, registered and proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. There is even a note in a contemporary hand to this effect on that of Redman, but Rodman's pencil note merely says 'Probably in P.C.C.' and he obviously did not check to make sure. The majority of the wills are original and bear the testator's seal, signature or mark, but a few appear to be office copies (e.g. 207 and 234), while in two cases the original will and a copy have been filed together (131 and 227). At an early date, probably at some time during the seventeenth century, all these wills were endorsed with the name of the testator and the date of probate. These particulars, in so far as they can be checked, were not always correct. They were, however, used as the basis of the old index.

With one or two exceptions the wills are on paper, often on small pieces torn from larger sheets. Where more than one sheet of paper has been used the sheets have usually been sewn together either end to end or bookwise. The majority of the watermarks are versions of the pot or of the hand-and-star mark. The handwriting varies greatly from almost indecipherable forms of the free hands typical of the early sixteenth century to formal legal hands with decorated capitals. Many such as 165 were written by the parish priest, but several of the later wills appear to have been written by a notary public (e.g. 191), or by a scrivener, who may be one of the witnesses (e.g. 126). Some (e.g. 200) are nuncupative wills. Many of the wills have filing holes, some neatly cut in a diamond shape, some round and jagged, showing that the documents have been pushed on to a nail or spike. Their incidence is, however, too spasmodic to give much clue as to the original arrangement of the wills.

Probate procedure

Brief though they are, the notes concerning probate in register Palmer enable us to glean a few facts concerning the procedure in probate cases. In the majority of cases probate was granted only a few weeks after the making of the will. The court was generally held in St. Paul's Cathedral in what was known as the consistory. Other parts of the cathedral were, however, occasionally used for the purpose, e.g. the long chapel (22) and the crypt (42). The vicar-general normally presided; in his absence, as, for example, when William Horsey found it politic to absent himself during the period after the death of Richard Hunne, a special commissary was appointed. (fn. 19) The executors or their proctors were not always obliged to journey to London; on occasion the business could be conducted in a convenient parish church; for example, the will of Thomas Ower or Howr, vicar of Wethersfield (24), was proved in the church of Wethersfield on 18 October 1515 by the 'commissary in the parts of Essex'. The will of Agnes Reede of Colchester (93) was proved in July 1518 in the presence of the official of the Archdeacon of Colchester, but there is a note that it was exhibited in the consistory. In August and September 1517 the vicargeneral, Thomas Hedde, was with the bishop at his manor of Wickham. He proved a will there on 7 September (45), and in his absence Richard Wulman, the commissary, presided in the consistory at St. Paul's (43 and 44).

Thomas Gotson, a registrar to Bishop FitzJames, usually officiated in person in probate cases, but if unable to do so he annotated the register entry to this effect and collated the entry with the filed will. He seems to have been a careful and conscientious official and he should not be blamed for the fact that none of these filed wills have survived. We know from some of his annotations that wills were sometimes registered even if they were not proved. Only a few of the separate wills bear an indication that they were proved and/or registered. George Rodman assumed that some at least of those he assigned to the consistory court were not proved. No separate register or file of administrations granted before 1547 in this court has survived. (fn. 20)

The question of inventories of the goods of testators is a little puzzling. The only references to inventories in register Palmer are in the probate notes to the wills of William Atkynnys (18), Richard Drabulles (21) and of Thomas Lowe, priest (34). In the case of Drabulles the will was proved on 30 October and an inventory was ordered to be exhibited before the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary (8 December). In the case of Lowe the will was proved on 9 January 1517; the executors were ordered to produce an inventory on the third day after the feast of St. Matthias the Apostle (27 February). Among the separate wills sixteen inventories are filed (excluding the occasional list of goods or debts forming part of the will). George Rodman noted that he had sorted certain inventories into the bundles of wills (see p. x above), and it would seem that they were originally filed separately, since the file holes of connected wills and inventories do not correspond. If in the early sixteenth century inventories were required in every case in which wills were proved or administration was granted, as was usual later, many must have perished at an early date. (fn. 21)

For convenience the term 'will' is used throughout this introduction and in the notes, but, in fact, almost all the wills are wills and testaments, and bequests and legacies, of goods and of real property are intermingled. Occasionally, as in 27, the two parts are separately expressed, though within the same document.

The testators and their possessions

The medieval diocese of London comprised the City of London, the counties of Middlesex and Essex and the greater part of Hertfordshire and, apart from the short period (1540–50) when the diocese of Westminster was taken out of it, it remained unchanged in extent until the nineteenth century. The testators of wills proved in the Consistory Court of London came therefore from a wide area and were not necessarily Londoners in the ordinary sense of the term. The great majority of the testators of the wills in register Palmer were priests, (fn. 22) and from their bequests it is clear that many of them had been born and brought up in places far away from London, and that some who held livings or chaplaincies in the City also held benefices in the provinces. Richard Stokley, (fn. 23) chantry priest in the church of St. Swithin in Candlewick Street (7), bequeathed 10 marks and an antiphoner to the parish church of Yoxsall in Staffordshire where he was christened. Robert Steyll, chaplain of St. Mary Woolchurch (12), left £8 for a chaplain to pray in the church of All Saints, Northallerton, Yorks., for his soul and those of his parents. Thomas Alen described himself as chantry priest of St. Dunstan and a parson of Gunthorpe in Norfolk (95). It was understandable that priests should be more concerned than layfolk in trying to ensure the safety of their souls in the next world and to preserve their memory in the churches which benefited from their bequests, but John Barnaby (77), who took such great pains to secure that prayers should be said for him somewhere within the University of Oxford as well as elsewhere and who provided that his name should appear both on the foot of the chalice and on the back of the vestment which he bequeathed to the church of Sherburn in Elmet, Yorks., seems to have been overanxious in these respects. On the other hand, he seems to have had more money at his disposal than any of the other priests. The total of his bequests amounted to about £150; few of the others had more than £20 to dispose of. In several cases (e.g. 33 and 54) the executors refused to act, probably because there was not enough money to cover the bequests.

Some of the priests held houses or free or copyhold land apart from the glebe, for example Thomas Ower (24) in Shalford, Essex, and Henry Deculon (27) in Crowland, Lincs., Winkfield, Berks., and Chickney in Essex. Thomas Everade (83) is the only one to specify the exact amount (21 acres 3 roods in 'the towne and fildys of Lyveryngton', near Wisbech). Probably many of the priests farmed their own land, since they left farm stocks as legacies. Thomas Chapman, curate of Pattiswick (14) with ten cows, six bullocks and more than forty-six sheep, as well as barley, meslin and malt, was the wealthiest in this respect. In six cases cows were left to establish obits or to keep a lamp burning. Few of the priests had much in the way of household goods to dispose of. Thomas Nelson, who bequeathed the painted hangings in his hall, his cupboards, pots, etc., to his successor in the living, seems to have been one of the most comfortable. The lattice window which Roger Hattcliff left to a fellow priest in 1519 (88) was not presumably considered to be a fixture. Several priests left bows and arrows and one or two left musical instruments. Twenty-one of the eighty-six priests of register Palmer left books. Most of these were breviaries or books of sermons. Few of the priests seem to have been actively concerned with education, but Christofer Marshall (32) left a small chest of books to be used 'for the instruction of those willing to learn at the discretion of the vicar and of other discreet parishioners'. Robert Pacok (47) bequeathed seven books to the library of the church of St. Nicholas in Newcastle and 40s. for an exhibition for a poor scholar to go to Cambridge. John Barnaby (77) left his books for the use of poor scholars from the diocese of York who were students at the University of Oxford. Henry Lucas (53) who left £20 in trust for the schooling of Leonard Swetyng, and Thomas Cartar (62), who wished Robert Clerke, 'his child' to be found 'to scole', are the only priests to mention school as such. It may be noted that Leonard Swetyng was to attend school for seven years and afterwards to have another year at writing school so that he should learn to write well.

Thomas Nelson (40) bequeathed a head of St. John in alabaster, but no priest of register Palmer mentioned pictures. Thomas Abbott, priest of All Hallows the Less in Thames Street (118), in 1539 left two pictures, one of Our Lady to 'goode wyffe Eton' and the other of Christ 'hagyng att my bedes sede' to 'goodewyffe Greyne'.

While many priests asked for the distribution of a dole in money or in kind at their funerals, a few left grain or cloth to all the poor householders of their parishes, or money for the repair of highways or other practical works of charity. The poorest of the priests was Geffray Warburton, curate of St. Mary Abchurch (64), who through sickness and 'untrue peple' had got himself 'gretly in dett and daunger', but in none of the wills of these priests is there any sign of excessive wealth or luxury.

The wills of the lay testators show greater variety in form and content than those of the priests. Eight of the nine laymen and women whose wills are contained in register Palmer came from the outer areas of the diocese. The wealthiest of them, John Yardley, of St. Laurence, Essex (41), whose will was made and proved in 1504, left several tenements in St. Laurence and Laindon to his wife and children, together with 310 sheep and twenty cows and about £25 in money.

The testators of the separate wills lived for the most part in or near the City of London. Presumably none of them had the bona notabilia (fn. 24) which would have required resort to the Court of Husting, since no mention of them has been traced in the records of that court. (fn. 25)

It seems that few of these citizens owned their houses or indeed any real property. The lease of the house is mentioned in a number of cases. The wills and inventories give little information as to the size of their houses. The rooms most frequently mentioned are the hall (nine times) and the chamber (thirteen times). Usually both contained beds. The hall often had cooking utensils among its furnishings. It was sometimes hung with painted cloths and it usually contained a table, forms, stools or chairs, and cupboards or chests. The largest house of which details are given is that of Katheryn Bracye (178). Her husband, Thomas Brase, or Bracye, citizen and haberdasher of London (153), who died in 1542, a year before his wife, left all he possessed to her. His house, which was leasehold, comprised an entry, a hall, a buttery, a drinking house, the wife's own chamber and a chamber over it, a back garret, a kitchen and kitchen chamber, the chamber over the well house, a brushing chamber and a cony chamber. It was very well furnished. In particular the wife's chamber with its hangings, a joined bedstead with selar and tester, curtains, settles embroidered in satin, cushions, carpets and coverlets, a wainscot chest and a 'close chayer with a spruse coffer' (i.e. a commode) seems excep tionally comfortable for a citizen's house in the early sixteenth century The valuation set on the goods by the appraisers in this, as in other inventories, seems to be very low, even though the words 'old' or 'broken are attached to many items. In the Bracyes' kitchen, for example, the pewter platters, dishes and saucers weighing 135 lb. in all are priced at 49s

While stools, forms and benches were obviously the commonest types of seats, chairs of various kinds are frequently mentioned. A table usually meant a table top, with the trestles, on which it stood when in use, mentioned separately, but standing tables also occur. Clothes, table linen, etc. were usually stored in chests, though a press for clothes is listed in 190 'Cupboard' had still its literal signification, but an aumbry, or small cupboard in the modern sense, occurs in 190. No mirrors or looking-glasses are mentioned, but there are two clocks 'with plomettes' (178 and 224). Where any description is given of any item of furniture this is indicated in the index. (fn. 26)

Beds and bedsteads are always listed as separate items. A form or footpace often coupled with a bedstead was presumably a means of mounting into bed. A trundle or truckle bed is often mentioned in conjunction with a 'joined' bedstead under which it could be stowed when not in use. The bedstead was often provided with a tester and curtains and sometimes a valance. The bed was stuffed with flock or feathers and it is the most common bequest occurring in the wills. In some cases mattresses are mentioned. Coverings consisted of blankets, sheets of canvas, hemp or linen, and coverlets which might be of white diaper or of coloured tapestry work, though more often of plain coarse materials. Bolsters and pillows are frequently mentioned, usually of flock or feathers, but sometimes of down. Pillow beres or cases were in common use. The 'bedde panne' bequeathed by Elizabeth Wescott (223) in 1544 was almost certainly a warming pan. Table linen or napery occurs both as bequests and in inventories. Katheren Bracye had a diaper tablecloth, 5 yards long and two yards broad, and two more each 7 yards long, as well as eight plain tablecloths. She also had fourteen fine diaper napkins and twelve coarse. Towels are frequently mentioned, but the only specific references to washing facilities are the hand basin bequeathed by Ame Rian (194) and the washing bowl, said to be in the yard of Katheren Bracye's house, unless the 'wessinges stokes' in the inventory of Bartholomew Merry (190) can be interpreted as 'washing troughs'. Pressing irons are mentioned twice.

Cooking was for the most part done over an open fire. Andirons, cobirons, fire rakes, shovels and tongs, hanging irons for the chimney, pot hooks, spits, gridirons, and trivets are frequently mentioned. Though wood was the main fuel, coal was in use for domestic purposes in London and is mentioned five times. (fn. 27) Cooking utensils included kettles, frying pans, chaffers in brass or laten, brass pans and dripping pans, skillets and many varieties of pots. Also for kitchen use were bowls and basins of wood or pewter, bottles of tin, brass or stone, ewers, water tankards and tubs. A toasting fork, a bread tin, a chopping board, a skimmer, a ladle, a mortar and pestle and a spice mortar are each mentioned once. Silver spoons and silver salts or sallets were often left as legacies, but for ordinary use spoons could be of wood or laten and salts of laten or pewter. A knife served most purposes at table. Platters and dishes are sometimes said to be of treen (wood) or pewter. A 'garnish of pewter' and a 'nest of goblets' occur among bequests.

The only mention of spinning wheels is in the inventory of Robert Fosster in 1542 (156). The pair of scales also listed there may have been for trade and not for domestic use. Though candlesticks are frequently mentioned, there is no reference to any kind of lamp except for use in churches.

Clothes figure largely among the bequests and in the inventories. They had a long-term value which is appreciated only with difficulty by those accustomed to the quickly changing fashions and less durable materials of the present day. The gown, a garment common to both sexes, though sometimes specified as for a man or woman, was made in all sorts of materials from satin to pewke and was often furred; it could be long or short, single or double, lined or unlined, with or without a hood. It is variously valued from 1s. to 20s. Though most often black, it could be blue, 'brown blue', green, violet, 'medley' or tawny. A man's doublet, jacket, or jerkin was often of leather, buckskin or chamlet, but the doublet could be of satin or fine worsted, the jacket of cloth and the jerkin of fustian. References to cloaks occur less frequently; these, too, could be lined or unlined and were sometimes provided with a hood. Coats could be of motley or in plain colours; they are sometimes specified to be for riding. There is only one reference to a man's waistcoat (12).

Hose, stockings and shirts are less often mentioned, probably because they wore out faster than the heavier outer garments. There is only one mention each of garters (and these were of silk), of a pair of boots, and of shoes. Caps and nightcaps are often mentioned, but there are only four references to hats, one trimmed with black silk and another said to be of taffeta (187). Women's clothes comprised smocks, rails, petticoats, kirtles, gowns, kerchiefs, aprons and caps. Sometimes pairs of foresleeves, frocks (fn. 28) and partlets are also mentioned. Katheren Bracye had five gowns, Joan Wharnebe (198), who lived in the house of her uncle, a clothworker, and Elizabeth Barton, widow (176), servant to Lady Seymour, each had three. The petticoats were often red and the kirtles black. Though the inventories of women usually mention jewels, they were not of great value—silver gilt or gold rings, sometimes with a stone, silver pins, jet or coral beads, silver hooks or gold buttons, silk ribbons wrought with gold or girdles with silver buckles, purses or taches of silver and a silver whistle.

When Katheren Bracye died she left seven children, of whom two were quite young, and her inventory includes a broken cradle and old rails and kerchiefs 'gevyn to the chylder'. There are also items among the expenses charged on her executors for a coat, a pair of sleeves and a petticoat 'for lytyll Nanne Bracye' and for two waistcoats and nightcaps.

A few of the wills and inventories list the tools and stock in trade of the testators. Nicholas Grove, barber (183), left his grinding stones, case of razors and basins. Robert Fosster, tailor (156), left his shop board, shears and pressing irons. Bertilmewe Merry (190), who combined the running of a farm at Standlake, Oxon., with being a woolpacker in London, had in his inventory a number of utensils and tools, some of which must have been in Standlake. Antony Copage, surgeon (108), had wider interests and probably a higher standard of living than most of the laymen represented here. He left his instruments of steel to his servant provided he followed the same craft, and his books of surgery to be sold to the Company of Surgeons. He is one of the very few laymen to mention books. His other bequests show that he went riding and shooting, and was interested in music, since he had a lute and a harp. His house contained the latest conveniences, including a round table and a window with glass. In contrast, Robard Goghe, soldier (185), had little to leave except his half of the bed which went to his bedfellow.

Robert Jennynges (157) is the only one of the testators to be concerned in foreign trade. He had over £78 worth of woollen, cotton and linen cloth at risk in one ship and an unspecified amount in another; of these £30 had been obtained on credit and he provided that this debt should be the first charge on the profits if God should 'sende my goodes in savitie'.

Several of the testators cite the custom of the City of London that a man's estate should be divided into three, one-third for his wife, one-third for the children and the rest to be disposed at the will of the testator. Most of them show complete trust in the ability and willingness of their wives to administer their estate for the welfare of the children. Two exceptions are Wylliam Walle (168), who seems to have suspected his wife of intending to appropriate more than her share and instructed his overseers to keep a careful eye on her, and Robert Herryson (130), who accused his wife of having 'enbaseled' his goods. The will of Diego Sanchez (110) with its provision for both his legal and his slave wives stands out in complete contrast to the rest.

The diminution in the number of bequests to churches in the later wills is partly due to the greatly increased proportion of laymen to priests among the testators, but it also reflects a general change in religious opinion and observance. A citizen of the 1540s who wished his memory to be kept green was more likely to leave a bequest to his City company than to his parish church, as his father would have done; compare, for example, the will of John Hudson, citizen and ironmonger (85), made in 1513, with that of George Symonde, citizen and vintner (219), made just over thirty years later. One form of charitable bequest which recurs throughout the wills is a gift to poor prisoners in London's gaols, Newgate, Kings Bench, Marshalsea, etc.

A study of costs and prices given in these wills and inventories serves to underline the difficulties of making any valid comparison of the value of money in the first half of the sixteenth century and at the present day. Up to 1519 the values given are those placed on their goods by the testators. Cows are variously stated to be worth 6s. 8d., 8s. or 9s. a piece; a vestment 20s., or 40s. for a vestment of white damask; a marble tombstone 20s.; a primer 1s. 4d.; a chain on which to hang a book 1s. Nowadays an average-quality cow could reasonably be expected to sell for £60 to £80, i.e. 200 times the price given above, but no one now would expect a vestment of white damask to cost £400 or a small chain £10. The values given in the inventories are even more difficult to compare with those of the present day, especially as there is little clue to the condition of the items listed or to the accuracy of the appraisers' valuations. Their arithmetic was highly inaccurate and one wonders how reliable were the lists of debts appended to some of the wills. One point of interest emerges from the will of John Saron, parson of St. Nicholas Olave (92), who provided for the payment to a chaplain of £7 a year or £5 6s. 8d. a year if he served outside London; it suggests that in 1519 as at the present day a 'London weighting' was necessary to cover the higher cost of living in the capital.

Language, phraseology and spelling

Of the ninety-five wills in register Palmer, sixteen are entirely in Latin and seventy-five in English, four being partly in English and partly in Latin. All the separate wills are in English, apart from 121 and 242, which are in Dutch, though 242 has a contemporary English translation filed with it. No. 110 is a contemporary translation of the Spanish original. The basic phraseology of the wills is much the same whether in Latin or in English. The wills of Thomas Palmer and Henry Walton, given in extenso in Appendices 1 and 3, are typical examples. The triple dedication of the soul to Almighty God, to the Virgin Mary and to the holy company of heaven is common to all the wills in register Palmer and to the earlier separate wills, though in varying degrees of elaboration. (fn. 29) After 1536 the dedicatory phrases begin to show traces of new religious ideas. The first to be recognisably Lutheran is in the will of Henry Walton dated 1539 (120).

The original spelling of all personal and place names and of all the texts in English has been reproduced in the hope that it may be of some use to philologists. There is no doubt that variations in spelling to a certain extent represent phonetically variations in pronunciation. An obvious example is the use of 'v' for 'w' in some wills (e.g. 175). In the will of Henry Lucas (53) the phonetic principle seems even to have affected the spelling of Latin words, e.g. 'cereos' is spelt 'serios'.

On occasion the spelling of some words and phrases is so erratic as to make their interpretation doubtful. In 230 it is the fact that the testator, William Chambarlayn, was a skinner which makes it certain that '2 dosen bogy or boby' meant two dozen skins of budge fur. 'Cape' or 'cappy' may stand for either 'cap' or 'cape', though probably 'cap' is indicated in most if not all cases. William Chambarlayn was one of the very few testators who could boast that he had written the will with his own hand, but the writing is execrable. There are about twenty cases in which the names of testators or witnesses at the end of wills are stated to be or appear to be signatures.

Except for the occasional use of arabic numerals in dates, roman numerals occur throughout these wills and inventories.


  • 1. G.L.R.O. DLC/354.
  • 2. G.L.R.O. DLC/418.
  • 3. They do not, for example, include the wills registered in the first surviving vicargeneral's book 'Foxford' (G.L.R.O. DLC/330). These will be included in the general calendar of that volume which is being prepared by Mr. Colin McLaren.
  • 4. It would seem that the records were not kept in St. Paul's Cathedral prior to the eighteenth century, otherwise they would probably all have perished in the Great Fire. Losses were almost certainly due to inadequate storage and to moves from place to place during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  • 5. 'The walls of the room are of stone, and the floor is of wood. The light is admitted by two narrow windows . . . and is very imperfect. The access to the room . . . is up a dark narrow winding flight of forty or fifty stone steps.'
  • 6. This index covers all the wills for this period of the consistory and commissary courts, including those in the vicar-general's and the bishop's books. It is still extant and in use in the Search Room of the Greater London Record Office. It must have been compiled after 1831, since the watermark of the paper is of that date.
  • 7. Statement from report dated 1865 which is printed in the Second Report of the Royal Commission on Public Records, Cd. 7545 (1914), Appendix II, vol. II, pt. II.
  • 8. Information kindly supplied by the Secretary to the Principal Probate Registry.
  • 9. Most of the copies appear to have been lost, but the copy which was for many years on the shelves of the Literary Search Room at Somerset House has recently been found.
  • 10. The introduction is dated May 1864 and signed by John Smith and Joseph Frederick Coleman, Record Keepers.
  • 11. Of the other courts of the diocese of London, the probate records of the Archdeaconry of Middlesex were sent to the Middlesex Record Office, of the Archdeaconry of St. Albans to Hertfordshire County Record Office, of the Archdeaconries of Essex and of Colchester and of the Essex and Hertfordshire Jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of London and of the Archdeaconry of Middlesex to the Essex Record Office, of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's to St. Paul's Cathedral Library, of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to Westminster Public Library, Buckingham Palace Road, and of the Peculiar of St. Katherine by the Tower to the Guildhall Library.
  • 12. Information supplied by Dr. Conway Davies.
  • 13. Guildhall MS. 9531/9. Similar registers of wills are bound with the registers of Bishops Braybrooke and Kemp (Guildhall MS. 9531/3 and 7).
  • 14. Its contents are summarised in Appendix 5.
  • 15. John Breton, yeoman, and Johanne, his wife, are associated with the two priests in this will.
  • 16. Ref. G.L.R.O. DLC/356.
  • 17. Ref. G.L.R.O. DLC/355.
  • 18. Ref. G.L.R.O. DLC/346.
  • 19. The will of Richard Stokley (7) was proved by Horsey in his own house on 20 October 1514. He seems to have acted in this capacity for the last time in January 1515.
  • 20. A record of a number of administrations granted and of wills proved during the period 1520–39 is given in the first vicar-general's book, 'Foxford', but in no case do these refer to any of the surviving registered or separate wills of the consistory court.
  • 21. The bill of expenses filed with the will of Katheren Bracye (178) gives the cost of 'the letter of administracion and the obligacion uppon the same' as 3s. 2d. plus 20d. for 'new writyng of the testament in parchmente'. The 'preasynge of the goodes' for the inventory was said to be charged at 2d. in the pound. The value of three items at the end, for jewels, ready money and a lease, was not included, but the appraisers were given a dinner costing 6s. in addition to their fee. The 'ingrossynge of the inventoryes in parchment' cost 6s. 8d. The total cost was therefore 22s. 8d. or about 2 per cent of the value of the estate. In the same year the accounts in respect of the will of Thomas Walden (199) give 13s. 4d. as the cost of 'probate of the wyll and the fyne and other ordynary charges'.
  • 22. Eighty-six out of a total of ninety-five.
  • 23. In the wills printed in this volume priests are invariably referred to either as 'Dominus' or 'Sir' or 'Magister' or 'Master'. As the prefix 'Sir' usually signifies a knight to the modern reader, it has been omitted in this introduction, but the fact of priesthood has been noted in each case.
  • 24. Variously valued at £10 to £30.
  • 25. 3s. was paid to the mayor's clerk for the recognisance and to the common serjeant for his fee on behalf of Katheren Bracye (178), perhaps because the total of her goods came to more than £40. By the time her debts were paid, however, the value of her estate was below the level which necessitated registration in the Husting Rolls (Cal. of wills proved and enrolled in the Court of Husting, ed. R. R. Sharpe, 2 vols., 1889–90).
  • 26. The introduction to Farm and cottage inventories of mid-Essex 1635–1749, ed. F. W. Steer (1950), contains a useful account of articles in early domestic use, with illustrations.
  • 27. This could have been either charcoal or sea-coal.
  • 28. Raffaye Bowdon (228) left 8 yards of friese to make his sister Anne a frock.
  • 29. The longest is that of Christofer Marshall (32).