Catalogue description Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Other Probate Jurisdictions: Miscellaneous Inventories, Accounts, and Associated Documents

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Details of PROB 5
Reference: PROB 5
Title: Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Other Probate Jurisdictions: Miscellaneous Inventories, Accounts, and Associated Documents

Inventories, executors' and administrators' accounts, and associated documents including commissions to appraisers to make or receive inventories and accounts. It is likely that most of the documents in this series were produced as a result of litigation in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

Some documents formerly in PROB 31, and duly recorded in the indexes to PROB 31 in PROB 33, are now in this series.

The vast majority of the documents fall within the period 1661 to 1732, although the earliest document is dated 1643 and latest 1836.

Of the records dating from 1661 to 1732 relatively few survive from between 1661 and 1667, and after 1722.

Most records in this series are loose inventories found scattered or in small groups among the residue of pre-1858 records transferred from the Principal Probate Registry.

Also contains executors' and administrators' accounts, and related commissions and other documents concerned with the compiling and exhibition in court of inventories and accounts.

Commissions issued as a consequence of litigation in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury supply the names of the parties to the litigation, and this can be invaluable information for searching other Prerogative Court of Canterbury series of records. Some commissions are also accompanied by affidavits of the commissioners describing the circumstances of the execution of the commission, including attempts to frustrate its execution.

Executors' and administrators' accounts are almost invariably divided into two parts: the charge and the discharge.

The charge records the assets of the deceased's personal estate, and usually takes the form of a citation of the valuation in the inventory.

The discharge records the disbursements of the executor or administrator.

The disbursements may include such details as:

  • the payment of medical and funeral expenses,
  • the payment of legal expenses for probate or administration or for the recovery of assets,
  • the payment of the deceased's debts, including trading debts,
  • the payment of legacies,
  • and of expenses incurred in the maintenance of dependents.
Where inventories enable the value of a testator's or intestate's personal estate to be assessed, accounts provide a valuation of the personal estate descending to the testator's or intestate's heirs. Separate schedules of debts are filed with some inventories and accounts.

In addition to the records that derive from the so-called loose inventories some of the records in this series were extracted from or became separated from series of undoubted Prerogative Court of Canterbury records, and were placed in this series because they were inventories, accounts, or commissions relating to inventories and accounts of the late seventeenth or early eighteenth centuries. Five such series have been identified:

Certain pieces in PROB 3/1/1-50 were transferred to PROB 5 after PROB 3 had been accessioned into the Public Record Office.

Many inventories taken by commission now in this series were originally filed with the other records that comprise PROB 28. The pieces in PROB 5 that have been removed from their original contexts with the records that comprise PROB 28 have not been recorded. Some inventories are still in PROB 28

Some of the documents in this series were at one stage filed in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury's main series of exhibits for the period 1722 to 1858, PROB 31. Most of the former PROB 31 documents now in this series are confined to those inventories and accounts that are listed in PROB 33/2, the PROB 31 finding aid that covers 1722 to 1733.

Some of the documents once held on the files of inventories, declarations, and accounts in PROB 32 can now be traced in PROB 5.

Some inventories and accounts exhibited in 1721 were formerly with the documents dated 1721 that now form PROB 36/12

Some of the documents in this series are declarations in lieu of inventories. In this type of document the exhibitor declares what part, if any of the deceased's personal estate is in his or her custody. Accordingly the most informative can be as useful as an inventory. Many however are statements that none of the deceased's personal estate is in the custody of the exhibitor sometimes accompanied by allegations as to who is in possession. Many declarations consist only of a statement that the exhibitor knows of a particular debt due to the deceased, frequently in the form of unpaid wages.

Examples of the two principal kinds of commissions to take inventories may be found in this series.

Commissions pro appreciatione bonorum, empowering commissioners to assess the numbers and value of the deceased's personal estate. Such commissions may be limited to particular types of goods. They may also be accompanied by monitions. Monitions order the citing of the executor and other interested parties, in order that they should make the deceased's goods available for the commissioners to inspect. The monitions are endorsed with a note stating where and when they were served.

There are commissions pro receptione inventarii and commissions pro receptione inventarii et computi, in which the commissioners are empowered to obtain from the executor or administrator an inventory of the deceased's personal estate, or a specific part of it, and also (if relevant) an account of the executor's or administrator's administration of the estate. In these commissions it is stated that a notary public should witness the proceedings. The resulting inventories and accounts are usually signed by the commissioners and by the executor or administrator.

Date: 1643-1836

It is likely that some of the records in this series are similar to the inventories 'in bags or boxes... in a condition of utter confusion' reported to the Royal Commission on Public Records in 1913 (Second report of the Royal Commission on Public Records, vol II, part 2 (Sessional Papers, House of Commons, cd 7545, 1914), 93).

The absence of cross references to other PCC series such as wills and sentences in PROB 11 should not be taken to mean that those particular documents do not come from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. It may mean that the PROB 5 list complier was certain for other reasons that the document belonged with the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and therefore did not need to check one of the indexes to PROB 11, PROB 8, or PROB 6

Some descriptions contain information about names, occupations, or places of residence or of death, enclosed in square brackets. This information has been taken from the registered will (PROB 11) or the probate act book entry (PROB 8) of the testator in question.

Some of the documents are damaged and it is not possible to read the names of the persons whose estates they relate to. In these instances such details as the names of executors or administrators mentioned in the document, or the names of causes in which the document was exhibited are given.

It may be assumed that all pieces in this series are inventories or declarations in lieu of inventories unless the catalogue describes the piece as consisting of an account or commission only. If the catalogue description uses the terms ' includes account' or 'includes commission' these mean that an inventory or declaration in lieu of an inventory is also to be found in the piece.

In the list to this series testators and intestates are identified where possible by occupation. The title of the occupation however may bear little relation to the deceased's actual trading activities, but may refer to membership of a livery company or other professional body.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 6182 file(s)
Physical condition: Paper and parchment
Custodial history: Most of the documents in this series derive from the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. However, a small number of the pieces may derive from the records of other courts; it is possible that they became confused with the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and at the time of sorting the court of origin could not readily be identified. Conversely records that originated in courts other than the Prerogative Court of Canterbury may have been transferred to the registry of the latter court as a part of legal process, and may therefore now be found in this series legitimately, and not as a consequence of bad record keeping practice at Doctors Commons, Somerset House, or elsewhere.
Unpublished finding aids:

An 'Index of Deceased' in PROB 5 can be found in the printed standard catalogue and this can be consulted by researchers visiting the Public Record Office.

Administrative / biographical background:

Executors and administrators of estates falling within the jurisdiction of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury were usually required to exhibit an inventory within six months of the date of the grant of probate or administration, and an account of their administration and distribution of the estate within one year of the grant. Inventories and executors' and administrators' accounts might also be called for in the course of litigation in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and might be taken by commission. Such litigation was usually initiated by legatees or parties with an interest in the estate who suspected fraud or maladministration on the part of the executor or administrator. It might lead to the production of several inventories and declarations in lieu of inventories.

Inventories relate only to a testator's or intestate's personal estate. They do not include real estate, and this consideration must be taken into account when using them as a means of estimating personal wealth. 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. Some inventories yield information of genealogical value. For instance in lists of the deceased's credits there may be references to family members.

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