A study of wills and will-making in the period 1500-1533 with special reference to the copy wills in the probate registers of the Archdeacon of Bedford 1489-1533

Ford, Judith (1992). A study of wills and will-making in the period 1500-1533 with special reference to the copy wills in the probate registers of the Archdeacon of Bedford 1489-1533. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

Historians sometimes use information derived from sources the nature and function of which they do not fully understand. Wills and testaments from the medieval and early modem periods provide a notable example of this practice; they have been used by historians for the information which they provide on a variety of subjects but have rarely been studied as documents in their own right. As a result, an understanding of the character of wills and testaments and of their utility for the historian has remained limited, and information derived from wills has not always been interpreted satisfactorily.

This study involves the detailed examination of a group of Bedfordshire wills made over a thirty-three year period during the early sixteenth century with the intention of promoting a better understanding of this popular source of historical evidence.

The seven hundred and eighty wills which form the nucleus of the study are recorded in the first three surviving registers of the court of the Archdeacon of Bedford. The information provided by the wills themselves will be evaluated in the context of the work of historians who have used information derived from wills, both from Bedfordshire and elsewhere, and in the context of early sixteenth-century law and custom.

Particular attention is given to the interaction of the last will and testament with the medieval law of succession and to the problems which the complexity of the rules, principles and laws governing the succession to property provide for those who seek to interpret bequests of both personalty and realty.

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