Catalogue description Prerogative Court of Canterbury and related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers

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Details of PROB 11
Reference: PROB 11
Title: Prerogative Court of Canterbury and related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers

This series contains the vast majority of registered wills proved before the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and other jurisdictions that exercised probate jurisdiction in the place of the Court, the most important of which was the Court for Probate of Wills and Granting of Administrations which exercised sole probate jurisdiction in England and Wales from 1653 to 1659.

The earliest registers in the series were constituted at a latter date and contain the texts of wills proved before the archbishop of Canterbury or his officials before the Prerogative Court of Canterbury came into existence. These registers also contain extraneous membranes from the main archiepiscopal registers.

Sentences in causes heard by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and related jurisdictions, if registered, were also registered in this series until some time in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

English is the predominant language for the documents in this series. The usage of Latin (and to a lesser extent Norman French) quickly declined after the early wills. By the sixteenth century Latin was no longer being used. However the probate clauses at the end of each will remained in Latin up to 1733, apart from a short period in the seventeenth century. There are also wills in many other languages, especially Dutch, right up to the end of the series in 1858. However for these wills there should be an English translation next to the foreign original.

Digital copies of Wills 1384-1858 can be searched and downloaded.

Note: Referencing: In 2012, as part of transferring digitised records to The National Archives' new Discovery catalogue, the items throughout the series were temporarily numbered using the image numbers. In March 2013, in order to resolve the duplication of image numbers and other anomalies, these items were referenced starting chronologically at number one within each piece.
Date: 1384-1858

In the will registers the recto of each leaf (that is to say the right-hand page of each opening) has been foliated in the upper right-hand corner with a stamped typographical number and also often with the same number in manuscript. However, for the purpose of locating quires these numbers should be ignored. For this purpose the essential reference is the number which appears in the upper right-hand corner of the first leaf of the quire. (Quires in PROB 11 almost invariably consist of eight leaves.)

In the vast majority of volumes the quire number is written in a bold hand in arabic numerals and appears only on the first leaf of the quire. In registers of sixteenth century and earlier wills it is usually written in roman numerals, sometimes accompanied by an abbreviation, generally qr, for quarternus (quire), and often in a small hand. In the case of numbers consisting of only one or two characters, like ii and v, these numbers are easy to miss. In some registers the quires are numbered in a mixture of roman and arabic numerals, later hands supplying in arabic the omissions of earlier ones using roman.

The individual volumes that make up the registers constitute individual pieces, and have been numbered in chronological order. It is not possible to tell from the catalogue reference alone which particular register an individual volume belongs to. Thus PROB 11/393 is the final volume in register Exton, the register for 1688, and it contains quires 131 to 172 of that register. PROB 11/394 is the first volume in register Ent, the register for 1689, and it contains quires 1 to 46 of that register.

From 1821 onwards there are 50 folios to each volume except for the last one or two in each year.

Related material:

Original wills and unregistered wills (if extant) are in PROB 10

For supplementary wills (Series II) see PROB 21

For files of commissions which were issued by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury to authorise local officials to administer the oaths of executors who were unable to visit the Court in London see PROB 52

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English and Miscellaneous
Physical description: 2263 volume(s)
Access conditions: Available in digital format unless otherwise stated
Publication note:

There are various personal name indexes to testators whose wills were registered in PROB 11, and to testators and intestates to whose estates registered sentences related.

Administrative / biographical background:

There is no evidence of a separate court of the province of Canterbury with its own staff exercising probate jurisdiction before the archiepiscopacy of Morton (1486-1500).

Wills granted probate by the Archbishop of Canterbury before the end of the fifteenth century were proved before the Court of Arches, before courts of audience held by the Archbishop, or in exercise of a peculiar jurisdiction pertaining to the Archbishop.

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