Preface to Lichfield Wills Calendars, 1516-1652

This page provides a transcription of the introduction, and explanations found in the following publication:

Calendars of Wills & Administrations in the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, 1516-1652 Also those in the "Peculiars" now deposited in the Probate Registries at Lichfield (1529-1652), Birmingham (1675-1790) and Derby (1753-1790). Edited by W. P. W. Phillimore, M.A., B.C.L., Queen's College, Oxford, 1892.


THE present volume, the seventh issued in the INDEX LIBRARY, contains references to some 50,000 testamentary records at Lichfield and Birmingham. The diocese of Lichfield and Coventry was, until the year 1541, one of the largest in England, including the whole of the counties of Stafford, Chester, and Derby, parts of Shropshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire, Westmorland and Yorkshire, and extending into Wales held testamentary jurisdiction over some small portions of Flintshire and Denbighshire. Some few Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire wills may also be found in the present volume.

In 1541 King Henry VIII. created the diocese of Chester, and took away from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry the whole of Cheshire and the portions of Lancashire, Westmorland and Yorkshire. No further change was made in the boundaries of the diocese during the period which is covered by the present calendar. But it may be worth while to note that, by an order in council dated 22nd December, 1836, the name of Coventry was omitted from the title of this See, and it is now known as the Bishopric of Lichfield. Until the abolition of the episcopal jurisdiction in 1857 it was customary for the Consistory Court to itinerate throughout the diocese, and the place of probate of wills may always be found noted in the Act Books until those books cease in 1638. After that date the place of probate will generally be found noted on the endorsement of the Will. For the Wills of testators resident before 1541, in what forms the modern See of Chester, searches must be made either in the present volume or in the new calendar of the Prerogative Courts of Canterbury, in which province the diocese of Lichfield is included. As Wills were always provable in the Prerogative Court, search for testators belonging to this See at any period should also be made in the P.C.C. calendars at Somerset House. It may also be mentioned that there are some Derbyshire Wills of a very early date proved at Lincoln.

With the exception of a few documents in the court of the Dean and Chapter no Wills of any early date appear to be extant in any of the minor courts, the various "peculiars" which had the privilege of probate of wills. The records of the Consistory court are now deposited in the Probate Registry at Lichfield.

The present volume contains calendars to all the Wills and other testamentary documents recorded at Lichfield before the year 1652.

The records of the Lichfield Consistory Court, previous to 1652, are divided into five series. Series I. and II. include only 177 Wills. Series III. commences in 1526 and ends in 1561. Previous to the year 1533 the Wills were arranged alphabetically under the Christian names of the testators, an inconvenient arrangement which obtained in other registries, notably at Gloucester. For the years 1532-37 the surnames or cognomina only are given in many of the letters, though it will be seen that in some cases the christian names have been added at some subsequent period. Act Books exist for this series from 1532. In the original calendar for Series III. there is a gap for the letters H to K, but the omission has been supplied with a new calendar for those letters by Mr. Marston, who has added the residences of the testators.

Series IV. includes the period 1562-1624, and Series V. begins in 1624 and extends to 1652. No Act Books exist after 1638. Further details respecting each series will be found prefixed on pages 1, 2, 3, 123, and 398, to which the reader is referred.

All the documents indexed are not wills or administrations. Not a few relate to cognate business such as renunciations, guardianships, and inventories, and even include a licence to practice the science of medicine. It is a matter for regret that so many of the entries are without any indication of the residences. The ancient calendars are singularly deficient in this respect. Apart from the fact that many of the records themselves are now missing, the large number of Wills in this registry precluded all thought of adding the testators residences. Had the attempt been made the publication of these Wills must have been indefinitely postponed.

For the period covered by the present volume there are no registered copies of Wills in the Registry, with the exception of two small volumes embracing the Wills in Series I. and II. of this Calendar, and a few that are registered in the Ecclesiastical Books of the Consistory Court, and are now preserved in the Diocesan Registry. The original documents are for some periods prior to 1600 very irregular, and in a few instances, notably 1596, 1548, and in some of the letters for 1558 and 1559, are almost all missing.

Many of the documents are also missing for the years 1628 and 1629, and from the note "vacat" which is added to many names in those years, in evidently contemporary handwriting, they would seem to have been missing at no great length of time after proof. This gap in the Records proves singularly unfortunate as there are no Act Books for those years, and the Index does not even give the residences.

The Act Book references given are mostly as in the original calendar, but in many instances they cannot be relied upon as strictly correct, though generally the entry will be found somewhere near the folio given. In some years it was discovered that the scribe had entered the greater part of the names under one folio, though they extended over at least ten folios, as was the practice in the registers in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Such errors where possible have been rectified, but doubtless other such errors remain undiscovered; in other instances the same folio has been repeated many times in the Act Book, and gives rise to much confusion in the references.

Many errors have also been discovered in the names, chiefly arising from wrong endorsements which were perpetuated in the old calendars, in many instances the name of the executor being given for the testator. These where found have been corrected.

Some pages of the early Calendars were so faded and worn away at the top and bottom, that in certain cases as many as six and eight names, and in a few instances almost half a page, was missing; these, however, have all been carefully supplied from the Act Books and Records.

A calendar of the extant testamentary documents in the various "peculiar" courts, whose records were deposited at Lichfield, has been prepared by Mr. Marston, and down to 1652 is included at the end of this volume. At the Birmingham District Registry are preserved the records of some seven insignificant "peculiars". They are very few in number, and as will be seen down to 1790 do not occupy half a dozen pages. As there are no other ancient records at Birmingham it seems best to include them in this volume, together with the "peculiar" of Dale Abbey which is now at Derby.

It will be convenient here to give lists of the various minor Courts whose testamentary records are deposited in the four registries of Birmingham, Lichfield, Derby and Shrewsbury.

In the Birmingham Registry, all in the county of Warwick:-
Manorial Court of Baddesley Clinton.
Manorial Court of Barston.
Prebendal Court of Bishops Itchington.
Prebendal Court of Bishops Tachbrook.
Manorial Court of Knowle.
Manorial and Peculiar Court of Packwood.
Manorial Court of Temple Balsall.
In the Lichfield Registry, all in the counties of Stafford, Warwick, and Derby:-
Prebendal Court of Alrewas and Weeford, Staffordshire.
Peculiar Court of Alveston and Wasperton, Warwickshire.
Manorial Court of Burton on Trent, Staffordshire.
Prebendal Court of Colwich, Staffordshire.
Prebendal Court of Eccleshall, Staffordshire.
Peculiar and Manorial Court of Gnosall, Staffordshire.
Peculiar Court of Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire.
See also Worcester Registry.
Prebendal Court of Hansacre and Armitage, Staffordshire.
Deanery Court of Hartington, Derbyshire.
Prebendal Court of High Offley and Flixton, Staffordshire.
Peculiar Court of the Dean of Lichfield, Staffordshire.
Court of the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, and Warwickshire.
Prebendal Court of Longdon, Staffordshire.
Peculiar and Manorial Court of Merevale, Warwickshire.
Peculiar Court of Peak Forest, Derbyshire.
Court of the Royal Peculiar of Penkridge, Staffordshire.
Prebendal Court of Prees otherwise Pipe Minor.
Stafordshire Records only; the rest at Shrewsbury.
Prebendal Court of Sawley, Derbyshire.
Court of the Royal Peculiar of Tettenhall, Staffordshire.[1]
Prebendal Court of Whittingtorn and Baswich, Staffordshire.
Court of the Royal Peculiar of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire.

In the Derby Registry:-
Peculiar Court of Dale Abbey, Derbyshire.
In the Shrewsbury Registry, all in the county of Salop:-
Peculiar Court of Bridgenorth.
Peculiar Court of Buildwas.
Manorial Court of Ellesmere.
Court for the Town and Liberties of Ellesmere.
Peculiar Court of Longdon-upon-Terne.
Prebendal Court of Prees.
Salop Records only; the rest at Lichfield.
Manorial Court of Tyrley.
Peculiar Court of Wombridge.
Manorial Court of Hampton and Colemere.
Manorial Court of Lineal.

There are very few documents amongst the "Peculiars" prior to 1652, and the whole of the earliest Wolverhampton Wills are missing. Some few years since a large box containing some hundreds of original Wills, proved in the Deanery Court of Hartington, which were found in the Hartington Church chest, as well as various other testamentary papers found with them, was forwarded by the then Vicar to the Lichfield Registry, and such as come within the dates of this volume are included in this list. It would be very interesting to know if other Church Chests contain similar documents.

It would appear that there are certain manorial and other courts having anciently testamentary jurisdiction which in later times fell into disuse and consequently were overlooked when, in 1857 and 1858, measures were taken to collect the records of these minor courts in the various probate registries. Amongst these appear to have been the manorial court of Sedgley, in the County of Stafford. At a court baron held 17 September, 1661, amongst the articles to be inquired into by the homage was:-

No. 7. You shall inquire and present what (more than ordinary) jurisdiction belongs to the Lord's Court Baron for his manor of Sedgeley aforesaid ..... Declare the Truth.
The presentment to this was:-
To the 7th article we present that (besides the ordinary jurisdiction of a Court Baron) the Lord of the Manor of Sedgeley by his Steward there time out of mind hath Probate of Wills and granting of Letters of administration to all persons whose personal estates are within the same manor, the Lord taking only twelvepence for every such grant and his Steward reasonable fees as the Statute in that case appointeth.
Only one Sedgley will and six administrations before 1600, it may be noted, are now to be found at Lichfield, and if any others are still extant they are probably amongst the records of that manor. [2]

The onerous task of indexing these references in one alphabet was undertaken as a labour of love by Mr. E. A. Fry, of Birmingham. For this great boon every student will be grateful to Mr. Fry, for it is now possible to ascertain what entries of any given surname exist at Lichfield or Birmingham in fewer seconds than the days or weeks which hitherto such searches have required.

The whole of the proof sheets have been very carefully read and collated by Mr. A. T. Marston, record clerk in the Lichfield Probate Registry, and I most gladly acknowledge the valuable assistance he has thus rendered. Mr. Marston's knowledge of these records is very great, and he has in numberless instances made important corrections in these calendars without which they would undoubtedly have been far less perfect than they are.

Permission to print these calendars was given by the Right Hon. Lord Hannen, late president of the Probate Division. I have at the same time to thank Mr. J. T. Godfrey-Faussett, Registrar at Lichfield, for the courteous manner in which he facilitated the progress of the work.

December, 1892.

SERIES I.1516-1526 - - - - - - - -1
SERIES II.1528-1540 - - - - - - - -2
SERIES III.1526-1561 - - - - - - - -3
SERIES IV.1562-1624 - - - - - - - -123
SERIES V.1624-1652 - - - - - - - -398

Ed: the following explanations are provided as an introduction to the entries in each of the above sections:

SERIES I. - 1516-1526.

THIS, the earliest collection of testamentary records in the Consistory Court, consists of a folio paper volume which has been rebound, and the pages carefully repaired. In it are registered copies of some wills proof of which was made between these years, the precise date being noted at the end of each will. At the commencement of the register, in a somewhat later hand, this note, "Vide Repertorium Testamentorum ab Anno Dni. 1516 ad anno. 1526 in ultima pagina hujus libri". This repertory, or index, which was compiled m the seventeenth century, has been superseded by a modern calendar and an alphabetical index, the former being at the commencement and the latter at the end of the volume. The chronological calendar has been selected for printing, and here follows.

SERIES II. - 1528-1540.

THIS is a similar volume to Series I. It is labelled "Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry Wills proved between 1528-1540". Though 1527 appears attached to one will below, it must be observed that this is due to the old style. It contains a modern calendar and index, and an old "Repertolium", as in the first volume. The chronological calendar follows.

SERIES III. - 1526-1561.

THE first volume of the calendars properly so called is labelled "Repertory, 1526 to 1561 incl. def. H. I. K." It has been repaired and rebound. On the first page is "Repertorium Testamentorum et Administracionum in dioc. Covent. et Lich."

It is open to question whether 1526 be not somewhat too early a date to fix, though several of the letters include wills of the period 1526 to 1532. It will be seen that some of these early wills are also included in the first or second series; e.g., the last three wills entered under 1526 of letter seem to be identical with those of Alice Ennocke of Coventry 1530; Alice Burwey of Coventry 1531-2, and Alice Flamell of Willoughby 1531-2, all of which appear registered in Series II - see above. It will be observed that no wills for the year 1527 appear in either Series I or Series II. It may well be therefore that those recorded below of this year are correctly dated, but this cannot be placed beyond doubt, as the Act Books do not begin till 1532. In fine, for all practical purposes this series - with the exceptions already noted - begins with the year 1533.

This calendar is arranged under surnames in alphabetical order, though not in dictionary order. For the first five years, 1533 to 1537, only the surnames, "cognomina" [3], are entered; afterwards the Christian names also were given, but the residences appear only in the period 1543-50, and these were clearly added at a much later period. To certain of the entries is appended the word "vacat", which is supposed to signify that the document was missing at that time. In such cases the residence is not given, although it might have been gathered from the Act Book.

In several instances the residences as given in the Act Books have been added by the present Editor. Wills and administrations are not separated, but the latter are distinguished by the addition of "ad." No references appear until the year 1543; the figures which then follow each name relate to the Act Books of the various periods. A table of those which relate to this series is given below. Each Act Book, like the Calendars, and the two early Registers, has been rebound in morocco, and carefully repaired. All are lettered on the outside --

after which is impressed the period covered by each volume. Those relating to the present series are:-
  1. 1532-1534
  2. 1535-1540
  3. 1540-1543
  1. 1543-1549
  2. 1549-1560
  3. 1560-1572

The handwriting of the Act Books is indifferent; usually it is inferior to that of the Calendars. In great measure this is evidently due to the fact that the Probate Court at this period, and indeed until 1858, was an itinerant one, visiting in turn the principal towns in the diocese. It must be noted that in the earlier periods the records are by no means perfect, for many of the wills have long been lost, though the Act Books will supply the deficiency to the extent of giving the testator's residence and the names of the executors, and their relation to the deceased. There is a serious gap in the calendar which follows, for the whole of the entries under H, I, J, and K are missing. [4]

SERIES IV. - 1562-1624.

THE volume in which the wills and administrations of this series are calendared is labelled "Repertory 1562 to 1624". Like the other volumes this has been repaired and rebound. Owing, however, to the binder's mistake, it commences with fol. 2; but this has not involved the loss of any entries, as the earlier ones appear on the succeeding leaf. The Act Books which relate to the present series are:-
  1. 1562-1572
  2. 1572-1583
  3. 1584-1591
  4. 1591-1599
  1. 1599-1606
  2. 1607-1612
  3. 1612-1618
  4. 1619-1625

The handwriting in the Calendars up to the year 1570 is very indifferent, and in some cases has caused much difficulty in deciphering the testators' names. Some, indeed, have wholly disappeared, either from the ink fading, or from being too near the foot of the page; and, consequently, worn away through lapse of time. All these names have, however, been recovered from other sources and reinstated in the present list. This volume would appear to have been compiled with greater care than the calendar to Series III, inasmuch as few, if any, of the entries have been added by a later hand. It should be noted that the wills and administrations for the latter part of the year 1624 though found in manuscript calendar for Series V, have here, for greater convenience, been included in the present series.

SERIES V. - 1624.-1652.

THE volume containing the Calendar of the Wills from the termination of the last Series is labelled 1624-1706. With the year 1652 comes the break, during which, under the Commonwealth, all Wills throughout the country were proved in London. For that reason, the year 1652 has been selected as a convenient date at which to terminate the present volume of Lichfield Wills. The Act Books relating to Series V are:
  1. 1619-1625.
  2. 1625-1627.
  3. 1635-1638.

The Act Book entries for the year 1626 appear to be complete. There is a break in the Act Books from November 1627 to September 1635. The entries for the rest of the year 1635 appear to be complete. Those of 1636 commence 25 March, and go no farther than 24 May in that year. The entries for 1637 do not commence until 17 May, but otherwise the entries for that year are complete, and so are those for 1638. No Act Books exist subsequent to this date.

Series V, it will be observed, begins with the year 1624, being the same date as the termination of Series IV, but to obviate the necessity of searching both Series the whole of that year has been included in Series IV.


Calendar of Wills and Administrations registered in the various Peculiar Courts* now preserved at the Lichfield Registry.

* For a list of the Peculiars included in this Calendar see p. viii of the Preface.


Calendar of Original Wills and Administration Papers transmitted from the Registries of Barston, Bishops Itchington, Baddesley Clinton, Knowle, Packwood, Tachbrooke, and Temple Balsall, from 1675 to 1790 inclusive.*

* The testamentary jurisdiction of these Courts continued until abolished in 1858. The Wills and Administrations from 1791 to 1857 inclusive are also in the Birmingham Registry.


Calendar of Original Wills transmitted from the Peculiar Court of Dale Abbey, from 1753 to 1790 inclusive.*

*There are only Thirty-six Wills for this Court for the period 1791-1857. The date of the latest is 1856. For supplying this list I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. C. T. E. Wilde, the District Registrar at Derby.

Ed: the following are provided as footnotes and additional explanations at various points in the text:

[1] The royal peculiar of Tettenhall dates from pre-Norman times, having been founded, it is generally supposed, by King Edgar. It was a college consisting of a dean and five canons or prebends who possessed an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and consequently the wills of the tenants within the five prebends were proved in the Deans Court. The five prebends were Bovenhill, Codsall, Pendeford, Perton, and Wrottesley. The College of Tettenhall with the five prebends and their appurtenances "with all other rights, jurisdictions, and privileges both spiritual and temporal" were purchased from the Crown, temp. Edward VI. by Walter Wrottesley, of Wrottesley, and the records of the court except such as have been transferred to the District Registry are now amongst Lord Wrottesley's muniments. It should be added that the "original" calendars of this peculiar have evidently been compiled at a comparatively late date.
[2] From note by Thomas Cooper, Stourbridge, in "Local Notes and Queries", Birmingham Daily Post 7 Feb., 1891.
[3] Ed: page 4 of the Calendar has a footnote to entries beginning 1533:
"For the years 1533-37 it will be observed that surnames only are given - cognomina, as the compiler has thought fit to inform us."
[4] Ed: page 48 of the Calendar has the following note preceding entries beginning 1532:
NOTE.- Letters H, I, J and K being deficient in the old calendar of this series, the following list, dating from 1532, has been obtained from the draft Official Index thereof, now in course of compilation in the District Registry. It must not, however, be necessarily accepted as absolutely correct, for it has not yet undergone any system of checking or correction. The date given is the date of Proof of the Will or Grant of Administration, and the letter following the number or reference to the Act Book is to indicate on which side of the folio of that book the entry will be found. In some instances it appears as though a name was entered twice, but it may turn out, when checked with the records, to be a subsequent grant, or, in some cases, a renunciation, or an inventory exhibited at a later date in the same year.

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