In medieval London, wills were proved in church courts, but the court was determined by where a testator resided and the location and value of his/her property, although the general rules noted below under each court were not always followed. Wills survive for only a small fraction of medieval Londoners, mostly wealthy and middling property owners, and usually only a copy of the will survives, not the original. Probate inventories of a testator’s goods are rare before 1500. Other testamentary materials include bonds in which executors and administrators swore to fulfill their responsibilities, as well as letters of administration granted to next-of-kin or creditors of people who died intestate (without making a will), which were often recorded in act books or registers.
The Court of Husting, the oldest civic court in London, handled a wide variety of pleas, as well as deeds and wills of London citizens (those who belonged to the freedom of the city). The wills are copies that primarily record rents and tenements in the city of London, so they often do not include a testator’s properties outside of London, nor bequests of chattels or personal goods. The wills, which date from 1258, are calendared in Calendar of the Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London, ed. R. R. Sharpe Part I: 1258-1358 and Part II: 1358-1688 (London, 1889-90) on BHO, Haithi Trust, and on archive.org as Part I and Part 2. The Introduction to Part I discusses the business and procedure of the Court; the Introduction to Part II focuses mainly on the bequests. The main text includes English abstracts of the wills enrolled in the Court. There is also a microfilm edition of transcripts of more than 22,600 deeds and testaments in the Hustings Rolls, published by Chadwyck-Healey; see G. H. Martin, The Hustings Rolls of Deeds and Wills, 1252-1485: Guide to the Microfilm Edition (Cambridge, 1990); the set of 30 reels of microfilm also includes the LMA indices of names and places, as well as calendars of deeds and wills.
The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) enjoyed sole jurisdiction over London testators with property in more than one diocese, so the wills of the wealthiest testators are usually found here. London PCC wills from 1384 onwards can be searched and downloaded (for a fee) from TNA, PROB 11; copies are also available on Ancestry for subscribers. TNA PROB 2 includes inventories for some medieval Londoners. TNA PROB 12 and PROB 13 contain indexes or calendars of the names of testators and intestates for whom grants of probate and administration were made in a particular year. These wills survive in greater numbers from the late fifteenth century onwards; there are less than twenty PCC wills of Londoners in the fourteenth century, but 1372 wills for the fifteenth century and 763 for the period 1500-1520. Some PCC wills for London are in print; see below under the Logge register. When the archbishopric of Canterbury was vacant, London wills normally proved in the PCC were proved in the court of the prior and chapter of Christ Church, Canterbury; they are indexed in Sede vacante Wills: A Calendar of Wills Proved before the Commissary of the Prior and Chapter of Christ Church, Canterbury, ed. C. E. Woodruff, Kent Archaeological Society Records Branch 3 (Canterbury, 1914) on Haithi Trust; the wills date primarily to the period 1500-1503.
Bishop of London’s Commissary Court: Commissaries were deputies of the bishop who at times enjoyed jurisdiction over the archdeacons’ court. Registers of wills for this court survive from 1374 (with gaps), and act books from 1496 (with gaps) and include around 50 London parishes as well as many parishes in Middlesex and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire. For a full listing of the medieval wills, see Index to Testamentary Records in the Commissary Court of London, vol. I: 1374-1488 and vol. II: 1489-1570, ed. Marc Fitch, Joint Publication of the British Record Society (vols. 82 and 86) and the Historical Manuscripts Commission, vols. 12-13 (London, 1969-74); also searchable on FindMyPast. See also the transcripts in Fifty Earliest English Wills, below.
The jurisdiction of the Bishop of London’s Consistory Court encompassed the entire diocese, excluding exempt areas or liberties called peculiars, but including Middlesex and part of Essex and Hertfordshire. The consistory court proved wills of Londoners who had goods worth £5 or more within the diocese but located in more than one of its archdeaconries. Original wills and administrations survive (with gaps) from 1507; these are available on Ancestry if you pay for a subscription. Registers of wills and administrations are extant for 1492 and (with gaps) from 1514. There are alphabetical lists of wills proved in the court and letters of administration 1514-1858 on the LMA website in the form of pdfs. For some published transcripts, see London Consistory Court Wills 1492 – 1547, ed. Ida Darlington, London Record Society 34 (1967), on BHO. Wills dated 1362-1559 were also entered in the Archbishop’s registers; see the alphabetical list of testators in Index to Wills Recorded in the Archiepiscopal Registers at Lambeth Palace, ed. J. C. C. Smith (London, 1919); reprinted from The Genealogist, new series, vol. 34 [A-Br on pp. 55-64; Br-Fa on pp. 149-60; Fa-Ly on pp 219-34] and vol. 35 [Ma-Ot on pp. 45-51; Ot-Z on pp. 102-26] (London, 1919).
The jurisdiction of the Court of the Archdeaconry of London was sometimes suspended for part of the year and during episcopal visitations, during which times the bishop or his commissary dealt with business that would otherwise have come before the archdeacons’ courts. For the names of testators whose wills were proved in this court, see Index to Testamentary Records in the Archdeaconry Court of London, vol, I, 1363-1649, ed. Marc Fitch, Index Library/British Record Society, vol. 89 (1979); also searchable on FindMyPast.
Courts of the peculiar jurisdictions. Parishes, liberties or other areas exempt from the jurisdiction of the local archdeacon’s or bishop’s court were called ‘peculiars.’ Only a few peculiar jurisdictions have surviving medieval wills, including the court of the royal peculiar of the dean and chapter of Westminster, which covers the precinct of St Martin le Grand and parts of the parishes of St Anne and St Agnes and St Leonard Foster Lane in London. Will registers survive from 1504; see Westminster Indexes to the Ancient Testamentary Records of Westminster, ed. A. M. Burke (London, 1913).
Wills for residents of Southwark can be found in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, the Consistory Court of Winchester (at the Hampshire Record Office), and the Archdeaconry Court of Surrey, which covered the ancient county of Surrey except for the peculiars. For abstracts of these wills, see Surrey wills (Archdeaconry Court, Spage Register), 1484-1489, trans. A. V. Pealing, Surrey Record Society 17 (London, 1921). The wills can be searched on Ancestry with a subscription. See also the Union Index of Surrey Probate Records Which Survive from Before the Year 1650, ed. Cliff Webb, British Record Society 99 (London, 1990), searchable at FindMyPast by subscription.
Wills for residents of Westminster can be found in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, the Consistory Court of London, and Westminster Abbey Muniments. See Westminster Indexes to the Ancient Testamentary Records of Westminster, ed. A. M. Burke (London, 1913), which lists the extant wills and administrations in the Consistory Court of London, 1540-1556 and miscellaneous testamentary records preserved in the Westminster Abbey Muniment, 1228-1700.
For an overview and more details on the original wills, registers, letters of administration, and act books, see the LMA’s Research Guide 6: Wills for London, Middlesex and Surrey before 1858.
See also the following transcriptions and translations of wills and inventories of medieval Londoners:
The Logge Register of Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills 1479-1486, ed. L. Boatwright, M. Habberjam, P. Hammond, Richard III Society, 2 vols. (Knaphill, 2008). Full transcripts of 379 wills, many of them for Londoners.
J.M. Bennett & C. Whittick, “Philippa Russell and the Wills of London’s Late Medieval Singlewomen,” The London Journal, 32:3 (2007): 251-269. Lists 15 wills by London singlewomen 1450-1500 and gives a translation of the will of Philippa Russell, the daughter of London brewers.
Anne F. Sutton, “William Shore, Merchant of London and Derby,” Derbyshire Archaaeological Journal 106 (1986) 127-139. Will dated 1494.
A.R. Myers, “The Wealth of Richard Lyons,” in Essays in Medieval History Presented to Bertie Wilkinson, eds. T.A. Sandquist and M.R. Powicke (Toronto, 1969), pp. 301-329. A London vintner, alderman and sheriff who was impeached by the Good Parliamet of 1376, pardoned, and then murdered during the 1381 Revolt. The French inventory details his possessions, room by room, when his property was seized in 1376 from TNA, E199/25/70. The book can be ‘borrowed’ from the Internet Archive.
“Nicholas Stathum’s Will.” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 3 (1925/6): 47-50. English will of a London lawyer, 1472.
The Medieval Records of a London City Church (St. Mary at Hill) A.D. 1420-1559, ed. H. Littlehales, Early English Text Society 125/8 (London, 1904, reprint 1987), pp. 1-21 include English copies of eight wills dating from 1323 to 1514. Also includes two probate inventories of 1485 and 1531.
The Fifty Earliest English Wills in the Court of Probate, London. AD 1387 – 1439 : with a priest’s of 1454, ed. F. J. Furnivall, Early English Text Society original series 78 (Oxford, 1882, reprinted 1964). Includes abstracts of wills from the Commissary Court of London and PCC, with full transcriptions of the portions in English.
“Will and Inventory of Robert Morton, 1486-1488,” by E. M. Thompson, British Archaeological Journal 33 (1877): 308-330. English will and probate inventory of a gentleman’s residence in London in the parish of St Nicholas Olave and his house in Standen, Hertfordshire.
“William Gregory’s Will,” In Historical Collections of a Citizen of London in the Fifteenth Century, ed. J. Gairdner, Camden Society (London, 1876) pp. xlii-xlix. English will of a London skinner, 1456.
“Account of the Executors of Richard, Bishop of London,” In Account of the Executors of Richard Bishop of London 1303, and of the Executors of Thomas Bishop of Exeter 1310, ed. H. T. Ellacombe and W. H. Hale, Camden Society, series 2, vol. 10 (London, 1874). Pp. 47-110, with the will on pp 111-16. The inventory is for the possessions and stock on the bishop’s manors. In Latin.
“Will of Richard de Elham, Canon of the Church of St. Martin Le Grand, London; dated June 28 1228,” communicated by J. Buritt, Archaeological Journal 24 (1867) 340-344. Latin will.