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Friday, 26 December 2014

Fingringhoe Wills (1): Transactions 'New Series' Volume 20 Part 1

Fingringhoe Wills
By the Revd. G Montagu Benton, M.A., F.S.A.

{Part 1}

Owing to their human interest, mediaeval wills are perhaps the most fascinating of all sources of information for reconstructing the history of the past, since they provide intimate details of domestic and religious life, and social organization, which can be obtained in no other way. Before probates and legacies were taxed, the quite humble householder considered it his bounden duty to make a testamentary disposition of his goods and chattels, so that particulars of persons of all classes, except the very poorest, are to be found in these documents; nor are the wills of people of small property among the least interesting.

A former secretary, Mr. H. W. King, contributed many valuable papers on Essex wills to the earlier volumes of these Transactions, and although the subject has not been entirely neglected since his day, it has not received the attention it deserves when we consider the vast amount of material which has never yet been investigated. Our late treasurer, Mr. W. C. Waller, did the Society excellent service by publishing, some twenty years ago[1], full abstracts of all the old wills relating to Chigwell that he could discover, thereby showing the important contribution such documents make to the history of a single parish when treated systematically.  In the present paper Mr. Waller's example has been followed so far as the parish of Fingringhoe is concerned.  Full abstracts are printed of 45 wills down to, and including, the year 1550. With the exception of the earliest, which was a lucky find among the Colchester Court Rolls, they are derived from (1) the Registers of the Archdeaconry Court of Colchester, these being official transcripts of original wills, bound in thick volumes; and from (2) original wills, there being no registers in this case, in the Commissary Court of London (Essex and Herts). {The latter are now preserved at the Essex Record Office and available online through Essex Ancestors.} These documents are preserved at Somerset House.

Until comparatively recent times the last will was essentially a religious instrument, for it was often made when death was approaching, and when the testator was conscious that he was finally settling his worldly affairs. That Fingringhoe people put off making their wills until death was near, as was commonly done in deference to an old superstition, is clearly shown in those few instances in which the probate act is recorded, e.g., the interval between the date of the will of Robert Graye (1542) and its probate is less than five weeks. We also find that frequently the first and principal witness was the parish priest, who doubtless had previously admonished the sick man to make his will, if there had been occasion to do so - as our  Book of Common Prayer still directs - and was present to hear his last confession.

The wills begin with a commendation of the soul, and directions as to the place of burial invariably follow; bequests-sometimes in kind, when they took the form of on e or two "mother" sheep - to the high altar for tithe s and offerings forgotten were the rule down to 1533, the custom having lapsed, apparently, shortly after that date, though we meet with an isolated instance as late as 1542.

The cathedral church of St. Paul’s, or the "Mother Church of St. Paul's," is often mentioned prior to 1532, sums ranging from 2d. to 12d. being left for its reparation, etc.; and there are also eight cases of small amounts being left to "Paul’s Pardon." We learn from Dugdale[2] that a chapel , with chantry attached, stood within a cloister, called Pardon Church Haugh, on the north side of the cathedral and possibly it was to this foundation that the latter bequests were made.[3]

[1] See EAT vol x, pp 237, 312,, and vol xi pp 10, 150, 335.
[2] Hist . of St. Paul's Cathedra , ed . Henry Ellis (1818), pp. 92-3
[3] Bequests to Paul's Pardon" occur in some of the Bri ghtlingsea wills (see Dickin, Hist. of Brightingsea, p. 59). The following references have also been k indly sent me by the Rev. J. F. Williams, F.S .A.: 1526, for Peters pens and Poll pardon a t the Vysytacon, 1s. 8d.'' (Churchwardens' Acc ounts, Gt. Hallingbury); 1480, " I bequethe t o Powlis p 'don, iiijd. " (Will of John Bastwyk, of Lt. Baddow - Ct. Archd. Essex. Wynterborne 122).

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