Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Other Probate Jurisdictions: Inventories compiled before 1661

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Details of PROB 2
Reference: PROB 2
Title: Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Other Probate Jurisdictions: Inventories compiled before 1661

Inventories mostly from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury drawn up before the end of December 1660, irrespective of their date of exhibition in court. A few of the inventories are accompanied by executors' or administrators' accounts. Many of the 16th century inventories are damaged and incomplete, and few survive between 1583 and 1640.

Inventories vary greatly in the amount of detail they furnish, but some inventory both all the pecuniary credits owed to the deceased, and also the contents of a deceased person's home room by room, listing and valuing all of his or her goods and chattels in detail. Equally inventories of tradesmen and women may inventory the deceased's stock in trade in detail, and thus provide invaluable evidence for various forms of social and economic history. Inventories of farmers may enumerate crops, livestock, and agricultural equipment.

The vast majority of the records derive either from the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), or from the records of courts that exercised probate jurisdiction in lieu of the PCC (including the joint jurisdiction of the vice-regential court of Thomas Cromwell and the Commonwealth Court for Probate of Wills and Granting Administrations), and whose records came into the custody of the Prerogative Court as a result of deliberate policy. It is however possible that some of the documents derive from the records of episcopal, peculiar, or other inferior jurisdictions to that of the archbishop of Canterbury.

The earliest records in predate the emergence of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury as a separate body at the end of the fifteenth century. While some of these particular documents may derive from the records of inferior probate jurisdictions, it is likely that the majority of them are records of the exercise of the archbishop of Canterbury's prerogative to grant probate of wills and letters of administration, through some such means as a court of audience or perhaps through his Court of Arches.

At various times during the lifetime of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury attempts were made to consolidate the records of the Prerogative Court with records of earlier archiepiscopal exercises of probate jurisdiction. Simultaneously Lambeth Palace was used as a repository both for the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and for the records of other courts and administrative functions of the archbishop. Accordingly at some time between the emergence of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and the transfer of these particular documents, to the Public Record Office from the Principal Probate Registry of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court, whether by design or accident, they may have been placed or otherwise associated with the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

There were three courts which exercised probate jurisdiction in lieu of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ( Certain records of these three jurisdictions are to be found in PROB 2):

In 1522 Warham, as archbishop of Canterbury, was compelled to agree to an arrangement with Cardinal Wolsey, as papal legate, whereby the personal estates of persons having goods in more than one diocese or ecclesiastical peculiar were to be under the joint jurisdiction of the archbishop's prerogative and a court specially established by Wolsey in London. The arrangement ceased with the fall of Wolsey in 1529.

In 1535 all the ecclesiastical courts were inhibited by a royal visitation established to assert Henry VIII's supremacy. Thomas Cromwell was appointed vice-regential of the Church of England, and William Petre was authorised, as Cromwell's commissary, to prove wills, grant letters of administration, and hear testamentary causes where the estates were valued at more than £200. The vice-regential court ceased to act in May 1540.

During the Commonwealth period a separate Court of Probate was established to transact the business formerly transacted by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and other ecclesiastical courts with probate jurisdiction. The extant records of the Court are in unbroken series with those of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Some of the inventories in PROB 2 were compiled during the Commonwealth period, but were not exhibited until after the restoration of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1660.

Very few inventories in this series survive from the period 1583 to 1640. Many of them were exhibited some time after compilation, and while in the case of the some of the Commonwealth inventories the delay may be attributable to juridical dislocations, in other case it may be that the inventories were exhibited in the course of litigation.

Date: 1417-1668

PROB 2/1-449 were made available in 1971

After these records were made available other documents were listed as PROB 2/450A-497.

The documents concerned were fragmentary, and the names of the testators and intestates to which they relate are wanting. These documents were available, but apparently never examined by any searcher.

In June 1974 the items were withdrawn. Some of the documents were given new numbers immediately and formed part of a new addition 2/450-638. The remainder were sent to conservation and kept back until the end of repair and then added as fragments in 1976 .

PROB 2/639-704 were added to the series in 1975, and

PROB 2/705-764 in 1976

PROB 2/765-824 and PROB 2/825 were added in 1977

The documents in the current list numbered PROB 2/450-497 relate to those inventories that were first made available in June 1974, and not the withdrawn documents.

The allocation of inventories compiled before 1661 into PROB 2 is an arbitrary one devised by the Public Record Office for convenience in sorting the transferred records of, or assumed to be of, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Within the series the arrangement of the records is a product of the way that they were sorted after transfer to the Public Record Office.

The vast majority of inventories compiled before 1661 and exhibited in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, have not survived. However many of the entries in the probate and administration act books are accompanied by valuations of the testator's or intestate's personal estate, derived from the inventories that were compiled at the time. These valuations appear in the right hand margins in the act books.

Many though not all of the inventories are indented.

A few inventories in this series have appended information on the executor's or administrator's expenses and disbursements that are ordinarily recorded in accounts.

If cross references to registered wills have not been supplied it should not be assumed that the inventory necessarily derives from the records of a probate jurisdiction other than the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. It may be possible to identify the inventory in question with a Prerogative Court of Canterbury probate grant or will.

Researchers should note that the spellings of surnames may differ substantially between different documents, and that inventories may have been compiled and dated several years after the date of the grant of probate.

The absence of a cross reference to a registered will may also indicate that the deceased person whose personal estate was being inventoried died intestate. It may therefore be possible to identify the deceased person in the printed indexes to the relevant administration act books in PROB 6

Throughout PROB 2 the date given in the date column is the date of compilation of the inventory, unless the words 'Date of Exhibition' are printed in brackets alongside the date. These words have been placed in this position in the list where the date of compilation of the inventory is not known. If a date in the date column is enclosed in square brackets neither the date of compilation nor the date of exhibition is known, and the date has been taken from the date of probate. In the case of some documents it has not been possible to supply a date at all.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 825 roll(s)
Access conditions: Normal Closure before FOI Act:
Unpublished finding aids:

Three separate indexes, to personal names, to place names, and to occupations, each index covering the entire series indexes may be found in the printed standard catalogue for PROB 2 which is available to researchers visiting the Public Record Office

Administrative / biographical background:

Executors and administrators were required by act of Parliament (21 Henry VIII, c5) to exhibit at the court granting probate or administration two indented copies of an inventory of the testator's or intestate's personal estate. One copy was returned to the executor or administrator. The other was preserved by the court.

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