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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Essex Wills at Canterbury: Transactions 'new series' Volume 21 Part 2

Essex Wills at Canterbury
By the Revd. G Montagu Benton, M.A., F.S.A.

THIS paper is the outcome of a holiday spent at Canterbury in the summer of 1933.  When visiting the Library of the Dean and Chapter I had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with the Hon. Librarian, the Rev. C. Eveleigh Woodruff, M.A., who, in the course of conversation, called my attention to certain Essex wills preserved there. These wills are included among the "Sede Vacante" wills, which are so-called because they were proved before the Commissary of the Prior and Chapter of Christ Church, Canterbury, while that body was acting as guardian of the spiritualities of the See of Canterbury during successive vacancies in the Primacy.  At first sight it appears strange that the wills of persons who died in Essex should be registered at Canterbury. "This is to be explained by the fact that the jurisdiction of the archbishop in regard to the testament (a jurisdiction which during a vacancy of the See passed to the prior and chapter extended into every See of the southern province, whenever a testator left estate in more than one diocese; and even if the whole were situate in one diocese, the vacancy of a suffragan See made it necessary for the executors to obtain probate in the archiepiscopal court, or (if there happened to be a contemporary vacancy in the primacy) in the court of the prior and chapter."  Thus, during the vacancies which followed the deaths of Archbishop Morton (1500), Archbishop Deane (1503), and Cardinal Pole (1558), the See of London - Essex was included in the diocese of London until 1846 - was also vacant, owing to the translations of Bishop Savage and Bishop Warham, and the deprivation of Bishop Bonner; and "as a matter of course in each case the Commissary appointed by the Prior and Convent of  Canterbury proceeded to carry on the spiritual jurisdiction of the vacant diocese; just as the Archbishop's official would have done, if the chair of Canterbury had been occupied."

The above information is derived from the introduction to the Calendar of the Sede Vacante wills, which Mr. Woodruff compiled and edited for the Kent Archaeological Society.[1]  It was with the help of this useful publication that I was able to draw up what I hope is a complete list of Essex wills at Canterbury, full abstracts of which were afterwards obtained.

Various complications have arisen in the course of the work, which I was encouraged to undertake in the belief that these wills were not to be found elsewhere; nor was I aware that an earlier list of the Sede Vacante wills had been printed in the Appendix to the Eighth Report of the Historical MSS. Commission (1881), p .332. That Report, however, states that these documents never came "within the cognizance of the officials of the Archbishop's Prerogative Court," and that "it would be in vain to make a search in the Will Office in London … for information concerning them"; and in fact, this register contains four hundred wills which, up to the present time, have been unknown to genealogists."But I subsequently learned that this was far from being correct, for Mr. J. Challenor C. Smith pointed out as far back as 1882[2] that, of the 481[3] wills at Canterbury 422 are entered in the Prerogative Court registers now at Somerset House, and that these have been constantly used by genealogists and others.

Having once discovered that the majority of the wills here given existed in duplicate - the reason for this remains obscure - it seemed desirable that they should be collated with the London series. This tedious work was generously undertaken for me with scholarly care by my friend, the Rev. J. F. Williams, F.S.A., and I am deeply indebted to him for sacrificing many hours of his holiday to the task. As one would expect, various and generally unimportant discrepancies were found, especially in the spelling of personal- and place-names; and occasionally a P.C.C. reading has been adopted as being most probably correct. To ensure the greatest possible accuracy, however, and before undertaking the final correction of the proofs, the queries that had a risen were submitted to Mr. Woodruff, who kindly helped to solve them by again referring to the Canterbury registers.

Of the 37 wills here given {but published separately on the blog}, 11 are not entered in the P.C.C. registers, but two of them (both dated 1559) are included among the wills in the Library at Lambeth Palace.  There are in addition three administrations (all dated 1559), which are also duplicated at Lambeth.

The following are the wills which are only to be found at Canterbury: John Brewood (1500), of Great Horkesley; Henry Coldie (1499), of Walden; William Philippe (1497), of Bosume, co. Essex (probably a scribe's error for Sussex); John de Sandwich (1293), rector of Dengey {Dengie};  Thomas Semar (1499), of Walden; Sir Richard de Southchurch (1293); John Tyall (1500), of Colchester; Matilda de Veer, Countess of Oxford (1366); and  Richard Wanor (1500), of Barking. The substance of the de Southchurch will has already been published.

Of the remaining wills, two (with omissions) have previously been printed in these Transactions; and brief items from four or five others have also appeared in our volumes. But, for the most part, the varied information here embodied will be new to the local historian.

The first reference appended to each will refers to the Canterbury registers; when a second occurs, it refers to the registers of the P.C.C.

It is unnecessary to discuss in detail the various items of interest contained in the wills, as it is hoped that the footnotes will supply what is required in the way of elucidation.  But special attention may perhaps be called to a few of the more important facts which these documents disclose.

We learn that John Brewood (1500) was the founder of the chapel of our Lady on H orkesley Causey; and that the north chapel of Great Horkesley church is dedicated to our Lady.  That the correct dedication of Boxted church is to St. Mary, and not to St. Peter, is proved by the will of William Lawrense (1500).  The will of John de Sandwich (1293) shows that there was a hospital for lepers at Chelmsford at the close of the thirteenth century, which is not included among the religious houses recorded in The Victoria History of Essex. The early will of Sir Richard de Southchurch (1293) is supplemented by the contract for the erection of a chapel in the churchyard at Southchurch, to which he alludes. The wills of Matilda de Veer, Countess of Oxford (1366), and Sir George de Veer (1500), also deserve mention; the latter gives unusually minute directions for the performance of his obsequies.

Bequests of cattle, agricultural produce, wearing apparel, domestic furniture, plate – that popular drinking vessel, the mazer, being much in evidence – and utensils often occur, and throw an intimate light on the social life of our forebears.  There are in addition many gifts of ornaments and fittings for the adornment of churches and of money for special work in connection with their fabrics.  In some cases the names of clergy, acting as witnesses, fill gaps in Newcourt's Repertorium. The numerous place-names are also of particular value.

Although the spelling has been modernized to a great extent, and wills in Latin have been translated, care has been taken to preserve the original spelling of interesting words and sentences. My friends, Mr. S. C. Ratcliff, M.A., and the Rev. Ll. C. Watson Bullock, B.A., have allowed me to consult them about certain obscure words and expressions, and I have thankfully to acknowledge their help and advice.

{Wills will be published separately on this blog and may be searched using ‘EssexWills at Canterbury’.  For enquiries use the contact form.}

[1] Kent Records, vol iii (1914).
[2] The Geneaologist, vol vi, p.48
[3] The number apparently refers to the wills in Register F only: but even so is greatly underestimated, if administrations are included, as the book contains over 600 items. The total number of Sede Vacante wills, administrations, etc., at Canterbury, as recorded by Mr Woodruff, is 928.

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