Testamentary law in England, c. 1450-1540
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date15/08/2024
In the period between approximately 1450 and 1540, testamentary law and practices within England underwent significant change. This change manifested in several aspects, the most prominent of which was the shift from national to local customs being the dominant factor in variations arising in testamentary practices. The shift to local custom is particularly visible in cases of legitim, children's rights to a portion of the testator's goods and chattels, which saw the custom disappear within the majority of southern England (except for the City of London) but remained for several centuries in northern England. The shift to local customs is often seen along the division of the two provinces of England under canonical administration, the Southern Province of Canterbury and the Northern Province of York. Also, within this period, archival evidence shows that the mannerisms within the content of wills were shifting, especially regarding women's abilities to write wills and act as executrix. The main question this thesis seeks to engage with is to what extent the canonical sources written by continental and English jurists reflect the daily testamentary practices found throughout England. To answer this question, a significant portion of this thesis studies primary archival documents, both wills and court cases — seen through various locations, such as York Cause Papers, London Consistory Court testimony, and several other collections. This study aims to reconsider this relationship by providing an evidential foundation upon which to base hypotheses about the relationship between canonical sources and the influence of the common law in the context of English testamentary law. The legal development of testamentary law has previously lacked a coherent effort to bridge the two schools of historical enquiry, one that focuses on legal/jurisdictional disputes and the other that focuses on the content, authorship, and administration of wills. In this thesis, I demonstrate that it is possible to engage with both the legal issues underpinning testamentary law and provide a comparative treatment of the content of wills, particularly the authorship of wills.