Find your ancestors in Consistory Court of Ely Probate Records, 1449-1858, Introduction to Original Volume

Consistory Court of Ely Probate Records, 1449-1858, Introduction to Original Volume


These indexes to the probate records of the Consistory Court of Ely and of the Dean and Chapter of Ely have been nineteen years in gestation. A very large number of debts of gratitude have been incurred. When this index was made the probate records were deposited in the Cambridge University Archives. In the first place therefore, on behalf of the British Record Society, I would like to thank the successive archivists, from Miss Heather Peek, the original inspirer of this index, onwards, for unfailing help in the creation of this index. Secondly I should like to thank the Marc Fitch Fund and the University of Cambridge for the initial grants that made it possible to envisage indexing such a large corpus of material. I would like to join with them the Social Science Research Council (now the Economic and Social Research Council) which made the further grant (HR 5694/1) that made the completion of the main body of the index possible.

The Marc Fitch Fund also provided the means of indexing the additional probate material that was found when the Ely diocesan records were sorted and catalogued by Dr Dorothy Owen. Thirdly my thanks go to the indefatigable indexers, Clifford and Dorothea Thurley, whom the grants made it possible to employ. Fourthly I would like to thank the deputy archivist, Dr Elisabeth Leedham-Green, in the warmest possible way, for untold hours of editorial work converting the typescript index produced by Mr and Mrs Thurley into a form suitable for manipulation as a computerized data-base. I would fifthly like to thank the Literary and Linguistic Computing Centre of the University of Cambridge, and particularly Dr Rosemary Rodd and Dr John Dawson, for enabling the creation for the first time for the British Record Society of a thoroughly computerised index, with computer-created supplementary indexes and computer-generated histograms. This is patently the way that indexes to probate records are to be created in the future. The same material is also available as a database for consultation on line. This is the prototype, and it has been in putting these volumes together that all the teething problems of computerisation have been suffered. I would like to express our gratitude to them for enduring and coping with them. Sixthly, and finally, I would like to thank the writers of the two introductory essays: Professor Eric Josef Carlson of Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, who has worked extensively in these records as an historian of seventeenth-century England, who has contributed an essay on the historical value of the records, and Dr Dorothy Owen, who, when Archivist both to the University of Cambridge and the Diocese of Ely, was in charge of the whole project, who has written on the probate jurisdictions and the records involved. To all these I would like to express our gratitude as I present these volumes to subscribers to the British Record Society's Index Library, and to the general public. With volume 88, published eighteen years ago they provide a complete index to the probate records of the diocese of Ely.

Peter Spufford

Cambridge, 1994

The records of the probate jurisdiction of the Consistory of Ely

By Dorothy M. Owen, M.A, Litt.D., F.S.A., F.R.Hist.S.,

Sometime Archivist to the University of Cambridge and the Diocese of Ely

The consistory of Ely claimed jurisdiction throughout the diocese, which included, until 1837, the Isle of Ely and the 'old' county of Cambridgeshire with the following exceptions:

  • the probate jurisdiction of the archdeacon of Ely
  • after 1542, the former monastic enclosures of Thorney and of Ely college (effectively the Cathedral Close)
  • the members and privileged .servants of the University of Cambridge 1
  • the deanery of Fordham, which lay in the archdeaconry of Sudbury, in the diocese of Norwich
  • the peculiar of Isleham and Freckenham, which lay in the diocese of Rochester

After the award of Archbishop Arundel in 1401, 2 the probate jurisdiction of the archdeacon of Ely was restricted to 51 parishes in the three western deaneries of Cambridge, Bourn and Shingay, together with the archidiaconal peculiars of Haddenham and Wilburton, in the Isle of Ely. 3 The probate jurisdiction of the archdeaconry court was inhibited, in favour of the consistory court, for fourteen weeks every four years. This volume therefore indexes a relatively small amount of probate material from the archdeaconry probate jurisdiction, although the main bulk of the archdeaconry probate material has already appeared in this series. 4

The consistory court seems to have had regular sessions in Ely and Cambridge where at first the church of St Peter at Trumpington gate (Little St Mary's) and later that of Great St Mary were used for sessions of court. It seems likely that the records themselves were kept in their own houses or offices in Ely and Cambridge by the registrars or their deputies who evidently served a number of ecclesiastical courts in the vicinity. This pluralism was particularly noticeable in the first half of the seventeenth century when James Tabor and his son James were respectively Registrary and Deputy Registrary of the University while another son, John, was bishop's registrar. The elder James and his son John both died in 1645 and the younger James withdrew from the registry in the four years left before his death in 1649. Their deaths together with the troubles of the Interregnum seem to have led to considerable confusion in the records of their respective offices. After the Restoration responsibility for all the consistory records seems to have been taken by a deputy registrar living in Cambridge. One particularly incompetent holder of the office, Thomas Higgins, had caused confusion in the recording of dissenting meeting­houses and had failed to register some 1,032 wills and almost all administrations between 1743 and 1764. After his suicide a number of the books and files in his office were sold as butter-paper. Antiquarians living in the area, like Samuel Peck, Fellow of Trinity and Vicar of Tmmpington, alerted Bishop Keene to the danger, and in 1779 a record room was equipped on the first floor of the western tower of Great St Mary to house all the surviving records of the consistory court and a Registry. Here the registers, original wills, bonds and inventories of the probate jurisdiction were arranged on shelves and in presses along with visitation presentments, glebe terriers, parish register transcripts and faculty bundles. Some sorting, re-tying, labelling and listing took place after the move, and the records assumed the appearance they still had when Alfred Gibbons began to list them a century later 5 (Ely Diocesan Records A. 11).

Meanwhile the ecclesiastical probate jurisdiction was terminated in 1858 and the records of the Ely consistory were removed to a new probate registry established at Peterborough, where they remained until in 1956 they were deposited, along with the probate records of the Chancellor's and Archdeacon's jurisdictions, in the University Archives Office in Cambridge. The principle on which material was selected for removal to Peterborough from Ely is not clear, but it is certain that only the obvious probate records were transferred: that is to say, registers of wills and of administrations, and bundles of loose wills, administration bonds and inventories. Elaborate indexes to these materials, and to those of the Archdeaconry and the peculiar of Thorney, were compiled, and it may perhaps have been at this time that a single chronological series of bonds and inventories, covering consistory and archdeaconry and, for some years, the Thorney peculiar, was formed.

These materials [their present call-marks indicated in square brackets], consisted of:

  • 60 volumes of registered wills, 1449-1858 [VC 1-60] 6
  • 281 boxes of original wills, 1485 and 1503-1858 [CW + year and letter of alphabet, as some years take more than one box]
  • 5 volumes of registered administrations, 1694-1858, now bound as two volumes, the first also containing a list of caveats 1711-28, and the second a list of unregistered administration bonds 1752-63 [VAC 1-5]
  • 93 boxes of administration bonds and inventories, including some from the archdeaconry court, from 1587 onwards, although only a continuous series from 1668 to 1858. These boxes also contain guardianship bonds, caveats, renunciations, copies of letters of administration, etc. [B&I]
  • From the Peculiar of Thorney 1774-1858, 1 register for both wills and administrations [Th.R.], 1 box of loose wills [Th.W.J, and 1 box of bonds and inventories [Th.A.]

Some material was overlooked but found by Gibbons, while much has come to light only within the last ten years, when the loose consistory court files were sorted and listed. All the new material has been included in this index, as well as the main probate series. It consists of:

  • registers of administrations, caveats and grants of tuition included in the general licence
  • registers, 1563-1620, 1660-1694 [EDR G.2.18-22]
  • registers of tuitions, 1724-1750 [EDR A.7.4]
  • registers of caveats, 1578-1715, 1739-85 [EDR A.7.5-6]
  • miscellaneous loose wills and inventories, 1498-1808 [EDR A.7.1]
  • miscellaneous loose wills, chiefly early 19th century [EDR A.7.1, Gibbons pp. 16-17]
  • bundles of probate inventories, 1778-1832 [formerly EDR K.26, now incorporated with the main series]
  • miscellaneous administration accounts, 1602-1709: partial survivals of year bundles [EDR A. 12]

The surviving Thorney probate material had been transferred to Peterborough in 1858, but the Dean and Chapter retained its own register of probates and administrations, 1565-1800, until it was deposited along with a box of 67 original wills, 1580-1779, with their other muniments in the University Library. This too has been indexed, as a separate item, in part ni of the present index. It is EDC 2.8a, 1565 to 1800. All of the first group of records were transferred from the University Archives to the Cambridgeshire Record office in December 1989; the remainder, with the exception of K.26, now disbanded, remain in Cambridge University Library.

Consistory Court Will Registers

Ref. Old ref.Dates on spineDates
VC18parvulus liber1583-15841583-1584
VC25Norton: No. 11618-16291618-1620
VC26Morley: No. 21621-16281621-1628
VC27Dunham: No. 31629-16361628-1636
VC28Fairchild: No. 41637-16591637-1650
VC29Robynet: No. 51660-16671660-1667
VC30*Ground: No. 61660-16681660-1668
VC31Bury: No. 71667-16841667-1684
VC32*Hutson [No. 8]1668-16801668-1681
VC33*Rooke: No. 91681-16921681-1692
VC34Heardman: No. 101684-16901684-1692
VC35Walker: No. 111692-17021692-1703
VC36Watson [No. 12]1703-17071703-1708
VC37Newby [No. 13]1708-17181708-1718
VC38L'Isle [No. 14]1717-17271717-1727
VC39Woodward [No.15]1727-17341727-1734
VC40Green [No. 16]1735-17401735-1740
VC41[Smith] No. 171741-17481741-1748

*largely parishes in the Isle of Ely

The historical value of the Ely Consistory probate records

Eric Josef Carlson, B.A, M.A., Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor of History, Gustavus Adolphus College, St Peter, Minnesota, U.S.A.

In 1831, the productive and able antiquary, Revd Joseph Hunter - soon to be both a co-founder of the Camden Society and one of the first assistant keepers at the Public Record Office - wrote 'that there is no department of antiquarian research, topography, public or literary history ... which would not be essentially benefited' by the use of testamentary records. Historians were relatively slow to prove the truth of Hunter's words. It was in 1945 that Professor William Hoskins 'pioneered the use of probate inventories for the study of early modern agriculture' in his work on Leicestershire farmers, and the use of inventories has flourished since then. Thirty years later, however, Margaret Spufford pointed out that wills remained 'largely unused', in spite of the fact that wills are, in her words, 'the only personal record any individual villager ever left behind him [and] therefore the only source from which his private life can ever be reconstructed.' In the two decades since Professor Spufford published those words much has changed and wills, like inventories, have found many scholars eager to use them. 1 It is my intention, in what follows, to suggest some of the ways in which the Ely probate records which are indexed in these volumes might be used, both by discussing work that has already been done with such sources in Ely and other dioceses, and by reminding readers of still unanswered questions. Although much has been done with these documents in the past fifty years, far more is still to be done. For the adventurous student as well as the seasoned professional historian, opportunities abound to illumine previously dark corners of Cambridgeshire's (and England's) past by using the probate records of the Ely diocesan consistory.

These volumes have as one their principal aims making probate records more accessible to potential users, amateur and professional alike. These are valuable historical sources, which I myself have used fruitfully. 2 But if used uncritically they can lead their user badly astray. Indeed, if governments chose to apply modern packaging and labelling standards, each box of wills and inventories would arrive at the reader's desk emblazoned with a large red label bearing the words 'Caveat lector'.

The first limitations of which potential users must be aware are those of the sample itself. Figure 1 shows, in a graphic form, the annual of totals of wills proved from 1449 to 1858. 3 While the totals for some years are impressive, it is obvious that the gap between the number of people under the jurisdiction of the Ely consistory who died and those for whom wills now exist must be enormous.

While it might seem that the low numbers for the earlier years of the series are the result of legal and customary limits on devising land by will retarding the development of will-making, this is less important as an explanation than might be expected for two reasons. First, donations of land to the church had been for some time severely restricted by mortmain laws, but these did not affect gifts of money or chattels. Although the transmission of chattels was governed to a certain extent by custom, the dying had some latitude - and faced a certain amount of pressure - to make donations to the church for the good of their souls. Thus, one would expect instruments containing pious bequests of money and goods to be written; land was not the only thing testators left behind them nor all they had motives to devise. Moreover, by the 1440s, restrictions on devising land were neither as inescapable nor as absolute as they might appear at first glance. Through a legal tactic called 'uses', a freeholder could circumvent rules against devising land held by descent and a will would serve to give instructions to feoffees as to how such land was to be assigned after the testator's death. Before the early nineteenth century, copyhold was devisable or not according to manorial custom, and weak manorial regimes probably meant that copyhold was conveyed with some flexibility even when custom did not explicitly allow it. Wills could also be used to assign lands which had been purchased or leased. Thus, while it is true that documentary survival picks up markedly about the time when the Statute of Wills empowered people to dispose of freeholds by will, this is probably a coincidence. 4

Since there were already many ways in which to incorporate land into wills, the new privileges might have a modest boosting effect on the number of people choosing to make wills, but either better record-keeping or a higher rate of survival must be the principal reason for the change noted in Henry VIII's reign. As shown by Fr Sheehan, it was the centrality of pious motives and gifts to the church in early wills which gave the ecclesiastical courts a claim to probate jurisdiction, and it was at least in part to protect ecclesiastical interests that the courts began systematically registering wills. While Fr Sheehan notes special probate registers in some dioceses in the fourteenth century, Motoyasu Takahashi argues that in Ely regular will keeping did not begin until 1479, and full record keeping several decades later. 5 While it is unclear why Ely should have been so slow in this regard, by the end of the 1530s the independently attested will which does not survive either in the original or in a registered copy is the exception.

This continues to be the case with one obvious exception: the 1650s. The abolition of episcopal disciplinary authority in 1641 should have meant the end of consistory probate work, but in the absence of any other forum to carry out this necessary work, a significant number of wills continued to be so proved in the 1640s. 6 In 1652, as part of the Interregnum scheme to overhaul the entire legal system, the Hale Commission recommended creating a system of local probate courts, but parliament could not agree on the details. Rather than decentralizing probate, the Probate Act, which was passed in April 1653, established one central probate court for a six-month trial period. This unwieldy institution was retained with only a brief lapse for the remainder of the 1650s, 7 and it is during the years of the Probate Act that Ely wills virtually become documentary unicorns: fifteen survive from 1653, and a mere fourteen for the remainder of the decade. After that, consistory probate returned to its steady if uneven numbers.

Even in its busiest years, however, the consistory did not see wills from all of those under its jurisdiction who died. In part this was due to legal restrictions on who might make a will. Those under the age of twenty-one, those of unsound mind and excommunicated persons could not. A will made by a woman before her marriage became void when she married, and a married woman could not make a valid will without the express consent of her husband. 8 These restrictions mean that potential testators in any given year would always number significantly less than the number of those buried and that they would be disproportionately male. 9 Since women were more likely to die as wives than as widows or spinsters, their numbers in the pool of potential will-makers were never great. 10 From 1540 to 1770, women were normally between 14 and 18.5 per cent of all testators (see Figure 2). Their numbers dipped as low as 10.7 per cent between 1541 and 1550 and inched above 20 per cent only in the 1630s. After 1760 they were always more than 20 per cent, but never reached 30 per cent Of 7,713 female testators (1531- 1858), some 85,8 per cent (6,618) are identified as spinsters, wives or widows. Widows are by far the largest group: 5,379 (81.3 per cent) compared to 782 (11.8 per cent) spinsters and 457 (6.9 per cent) wives. Thus, not only is the sample biased against women, but it is further biased against women who are other than widows, and so can tell us very little about married or never- married women. Indeed, wills can tell us relatively little about widows either for, although they were more likely than other women to make wills, they did not do so in proportions even closely approaching those of eligible males. 11

Many times, women's wills can be seen only as derivative from their husbands'. For example, a woman who had been made executor of her husband's will (as most were) might have to make a will to appoint a new executor to carry out her husband's wishes. Women who had been married more than once and had children by more than one husband also appear as testators, ensuring that provisions made for their offspring by the first spouse are carried out. If custom and law restricted both the opportunity and need for women to make wills, Susan Amussen shrewdly observed that when widows did make wills, they did so in a quietly subversive way by giving land to daughters in a much higher proportion than did men. '[W]omen saw land', writes Dr Amussen, 'as important for their daughters, and expected their daughters to be able to profit from it. Women offered a subtle critique of the patriarchal assumptions of the period by giving more authority and power to their daughters than their husbands did.' Overall, women testators have received relatively little attention from historians, and many questions about them and their choice or need to execute a will remain to be investigated. 12

A number of wills were proved neither in the consistory nor in the archdeaconry, but in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). In some cases this was a legal requirement, because the PCC had jurisdiction 'to grant probate and administration in cases where the deceased had personal property, credit or debts, to the value of £5 or more within the jurisdiction of more than one bishop within the southern province, and in all cases where death occurred at sea or abroad.' Even those executors not required to use the PCC could choose to do so. As Dr Kitching notes, 'the skill and experience of the senior civil lawyers who served the court as advocates and judges doubtless led many persons to seek probate [there] even when it could equally well have been granted locally.' Without delving into executors' motives, Motoyasu Takahashi provides numbers which substantially confirm Dr Kitching's speculations. From 1563 onwards, there is a dramatic sixfold increase in the number of wills proved in the PCC. Some of this increase may be due to the expansion of trade and credit, which resulted in growing numbers of people falling under PCC jurisdiction as defined above, but this is unlikely to account for all of the growth observed. While the wills could have come from anywhere in the province, it is reasonable to speculate that wills from counties close to London would be the most numerous. Thus, a number of Cambridgeshire folk made wills - at least after 1563 - which do not appear here. 13

We are then left with the question of whether the men whose wills we have, representing roughly a quarter of adult male burials in most scholars' calculations, 14 are representative of their gender. This has been the subject of a good deal of controversy, and I believe it must be considered far from settled. Intuition certainly suggests that will-making would be an activity of those with substantial property, and the likelihood of making a will would increase with the amount of land and goods one had to distribute. A number of scholarly studies appear to confirm this. For example, Stephen Coppel reports that 44 per ccnt of Tudor Grantham's testators were 'middling rich'. Michael Zell notes that Staplehurst's poor men, while not absent from the ranks of testators, do not appear in proportion to their numbers in the general population. He adds, moreover, a cautionary note of some importance: those who appear to be poor may in fact be fairly well-to-do men who had distributed goods and land to their children over a period of years, retired in their old age, and had very little remaining to devise in their wills. 15

Margaret Spufford has, however, suggested an alternative view which is especially relevant to users of these volumes because her analysis was based on rural Cambridgeshire testators. She argued that it was not wealth but family responsibilities which dramatically increased the likelihood of will- making. In other words, those with unmarried daughters or unestablished sons were likely to make wills regardless of their wealth, while even the wealthy, if their daughters were married and their sons established on land or in occupations, would not be likely testators. Professor Spufford's view is essentially confirmed by Cicely Howell's work in Leicestershire. Motoyasu Takahashi has taken Professor Spufford's work on Willingham further. He has made a detailed comparison between the wills and the family reconstitution forms prepared for the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, and has shown that out of 470 Consistory Court wills in English surviving from the period 1515 to 1732, 174 (37 per cent) were made by testators with under-age (including unborn) children, 84 (18 per cent) by unmarried testators with no obvious heir, and only 212 (45 per cent) by testators without either of these reasons for making a will. He suggests that the really high proportion of wills providing for young children seems to be an immediate response to the influenza epidemic of the mid- sixteenth century. The effect on the will-making population did not die out with the influenza: it remained a change in habit for a generation. Out of 77 testators who made wills in the following quarter-century, nearly two-thirds either had under-age children or were unmarried, so that only just over a third were then made by testators without either of these reasons for making a will. 16

How is one to reconcile the conflicting views of Stephen Coppel and Michael Zell with those of Margaret Spufford, Cicely Howell and Motoyasu Takahashi? At present that is not possible. It may be, as Richard Vann has suggested, that towns and villages simply differ. After all, his and Dr CoppePs studies are based on towns and Professor Spufford's and Dr HowelPs on villages. The answer is undoubtedly more complex than that. Professor Spufford notes that nearly a quarter of her testators had no obvious reason for making a will, and those who see wealth as a more reliable indicator still have to account both for the numbers of poor testators and the prosperous who died intestate. Lloyd Bon field has suggested a third possibility, which as yet has not been fully explored. Based on Margaret Spuffordresearch, he noted that the percentage of Willingham's potential testators who actually made wills was comparatively quite high (over 50 per cent) and suggested that the likelihood of will-making might increase with the type of land which a potential testator held - in the case of Willingham, small-holdings with valuable common rights. 17

Researchers could do a great deal towards resolving this debate given the resources now at our disposal. Using parish registers, a list of burials during a fixed period of lime could be made. The register could then be used to eliminate from that list the names of children and married women. Using this index, those people remaining on the list who did make wills can be identified and those wills can then be studied. Since some parish registers make it possible to reconstruct families, the family situations of both those who did and did not make wills can be compared, and lay subsidies, hearth taxes, local rates and estate records studied for the relative wealth of those determined to be potential testators. Central to this method is my view that it is insufficient to hypothesize about will-makers on the basis of those who made wills; the intestate may be the key to any explanation. At the same time, it is important to realize that a will was only one of three ways in which property could be transmitted. Inter vivos transfers were quite common. Daughters, for example, received money or goods when they married. While testators did often make additional token grants to married children or to grandchildren, they might as easily not.

Professor Spufford also noted that a number of older men from Chippenham divested themselves of their farming goods and stock and lived off of investments in their later years. If all of one's children were established, or if one had 'retired' in the way Spufford describes, there might be nothing left to distribute which seemed worth a will. Finally, one could simply rely on common law or customary distribution rather than writing a will. A will would still be necessary if one wanted to make specific provisions for chattels or to alter the legal widow's share. Marjorie Mcintosh notes, for example, that in Havering a very high proportion (88 per cent) of male testators with wives living use wills to make specific provisions for their widows, often recording her agreement to accept less than her customary share of the land in order to pass the holding to the children straight away. Ely wills often show similar actions. Given the options available, it may be the case - although historians, who prefer patterns, may be uncomfortable with the untidiness - that personal choice explains more than we have previously allowed. 18

Whatever the factors determining whether wills were or were not made, there are types of adult men who are either not represented among these Cambridgeshire testators, or who appear in uselessly low numbers. While it was rare for wills to give information about occupation or status in earlier years, as Figure 3 shows, these details became commonplace by the 1630s. No testator is identified as a nobleman, knight or esquire. This is not surprising, since one would expect their wills to have been proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, but it means that these probate records are of no use to those who wish to study the highest levels of Cambridgeshire society. 19 The next levels are extremely well-represented, however. Over 1,100 wills describe their makers as gentlemen. Although the decadal totals are often quite low before 1660, after that date they are quite robust: never lower than thirty-two (1671-80) and regularly over sixty, and of course many more had their wills proved in the Prerogative Court.

The largest group among testators in an agricultural county was naturally of those involved in farming, 14,155 testators, 42 per cent of those whose occupation or status is known, carried one of the three principal designations used by those normally engaged in agriculture: 'yeoman', 'husbandman' and 'farmer'. 8,245 of these called themselves 'yeomen'. There are more than three hundred yeomen's wills per decade after 1660, but even in the early decades, when one might expect fewer, the numbers of impressive: there are over three hundred from the sixteenth century. Numerous yeomen were also among those who had their wills proved in the Prerogative Court. 20 Husbandmen account for 3,517 wills, which are very unevenly distributed. The number of husbandmen-testators peaks in the early 1600s and then begins a decline which is gradual at first but precipitate after 1720. From an average of more that two hundred husbandmen's wills from the decades of the 1600s, there are a mere thirty-one in the 1750s, sixteen in the 1760s, and single-digit numbers thereafter. The marked decline in turn in the number of wills made by men called 'husbandmen' and then by those called 'yeoman' reflects a change in terminology. In 1668 the first 'farmer' appeared among Ely Consistory Court testators, but, as it acquired its modern connotation in the eighteenth century, 'farmer' replaced 'husbandman' in the first half of the century, and 'yeoman' in the second half, to become much the most common term used in the nineteenth century (see Figure 4). In total there were 2,393 'farmers'. As well as the extensive arable, particularly barley growing, areas in the old county of Cambridgeshire, there was also extensive pastoral farming: sheep in the south of the county and dairy, cattle on the edge of the fens and in the Isle of Ely, whilst in the fens proper livestock was fattened for the London market. This is reflected in the occupations of some of the testators, who included 255 shepherds, 136 graziers and 108 dairymen. In the dairying areas 'cheese chambers' frequently appear in the probate inventories. Many more shepherds had wills proved in the archdeaconry court.

Artisans are the second largest group of testators, responsible for 6,920 wills well-distributed across all periods, including a remarkable sixty-seven (the largest group) in the 1650s. Since there was no large-scale industry in the county, these were mostly members of the ubiquitous crafts necessary for the maintenance of early modern society, like the 595 carpenters, 465 blacksmiths, 442 tailors and 385 cordwainers and shoemakers. 21 Two industries, cloth-making and leather-working, which were important in the neighbouring counties, were of relatively little significance in the diocese of Ely. Only 213 weavers appear among the Ely Consistory Court testators, whilst well over two thousand weavers are known from Norfolk probate records between 1370 and 1837. Only 60 tanners appear in a period in which 216 are known from Suffolk probate records. Even testators with occupations which specifically depended on the fens and their waterways were surprisingly few in number. There were only 167 watermen, 164 fishermen and 55 boatwrights, and a handful more had their wills proved in the archdeaconry court, along with fishmongers including some specialists calling themselves pikemongers.

These records demonstrate that the 'notion that very ordinary people did not make wills until the end of the seventeenth century now needs to be revised backwards by at least a hundred years', 22 since the third-largest group of testators is that of labourers. They have left over 2,000 wills, half of which are from 1581-1640, though virtually every decade (including the 1650s) has a sizable number. One can also find the wills of 500 clergymen, 175 other professionals, sixty-one servants, and eighteen soldiers. 23

As other historians have observed about their samples, at no point do the percentages of these groups in the pool of testators adequately reflect their numbers in their larger society. Until some better understanding is obtained of who did and did not make wills, moreover, we need to be very careful before drawing any conclusions about 'the gentry* or 'artisans' on the basis even of such large samples of people so designated. As Susan Amussen has shown, status/occupation statements notoriously lack precision. She notes the 1662 case of William Gamble, a self-described worsted weaver who could (from the internal evidence of his will) equally well have been described as a husbandman: 'To classify [him] as a "craftsman" - as one would on the basis of [his] self-description - clearly does not do justice to [his] experience. The social descriptions of wills are crude, and often fail to reveal the variety of economic and social roles occupied by one individual. Moreover, status labels can mask a person's occupational roles in strange ways. What is one to make, for example, of the Abingdon apothecary who styled himself 'gentleman* in his will or the Abingdon shopkeeper who called himself 'yeoman* in spite of having no discernible connection to agriculture? 24

Finally, when it is possible to compare a person's will and inventory, it is occasionally the case that the label which a testator chose (in the will) and that given by neighbours (in the inventory) were different, betraying crucial variances between self-image and reputation. Nonetheless, the sheer numbers argue that, with due caution, these records offer valuable information on many groups in Cambridgeshire, and might do much to illustrate ways in which they changed internally over three centuries. 25

Before discussing some of the specific uses to which historians have put probate records, and suggesting how their examples might be applied to these, a final observation intended especially for the parish historian needs to be made about the sample. While the overall number of wills in this collection is quite large, once one moves to the parish level, the numbers become so small and the wills so unevenly distributed that they may not be a credible evidentiary base. This can best be seen graphically. Figure 5 shows the quinquennial totals of all wills from 1540 to 1854, while Figures 6 to 8 show sample parishes for the same period. While the large parish of Willingham has a respectable number of wills for most quinquennia (figure 6), the medium-sized parish of Dry Drayton has many periods with only one or two wills (figure 7), while in Weston Colville, there are entire decades with no wills at all (figure 8) 26

The numbers become even more problematic when a subset of parish testators is sought. For example, only thirty-three widows and five spinsters from Dry Drayton made wills after 1540. From 1561 to 1570, there are actually more women than men who left wills from that parish, but for the next forty years there are no female testators at all. What I would suggest on the basis of such figures is that when studying one parish in isolation, wills might provide some useful details about individuals and their families, as well as their values, customs and society. They cannot, however, supply enough information on their own. Researchers who want to use wills exclusively might try a regional approach, combining villages known to have similar soil types or highly integrated land-holding and business patterns. 27

The probate courts were also involved with the goods of a considerable number of those who died intestate, and granted letters for the administration of their moveables in the same way that it granted probate to the executors of those who left wills. Elsewhere there was one administration for every two wills, but they do not survive as a discrete series for the Ely consistory court until the last decade of the seventeenth century. 28 Except when they are entered in the registers of wills, the records of earlier administrations have perished, like the pre-Civil War probate inventories. From the first half of the eighteenth century they do survive in approximately the expected proportion of one administration to two wills, and we must therefore suppose that the numbers of people who earlier used the consistory court were up to half as many again as we would be led to believe from the surviving wills, and covered a correspondingly larger section of society. We can never know whether this extra, invisible, fifty per cent of users of the court were characterised entirely by wealth or by the existence of under-age children. However, what does survive, very erratically, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are guardianship documents, which specifically relate to the appointment by the court of fit and proper persons to look after the goods of orphans whilst they were under age. Many of these guardianship records are not accompanied by any other surviving probate documents. They survive most often from the mid-sixteenth century to the end of the first quarter of the seventeenth, and again from the thirty years after the Restoration. For some years they are very numerous indeed, 146 from 1615 and 135 from 1687, not far short of the number of wills being proved at the time, and are evidence for the preoccupation of the court and of those who had recourse to it, if not necessarily of testators, with safeguarding under-age children (see Figure 9).

Religious values and practices

By far the most common use to which historians have put wills is as agents in the search for understanding of local religious values and religious practices, both through the statements of faith with which wills begin and through the bequests for pious purposes within the wills themselves. A great deal has been written on these topics - both on how the wills ought to be used and on what they show when used. This is a complex topic, and there is space here for only the briefest overview.

Until the eighteenth century, virtually every will begins with some sort of pious statement, a preamble in which the testator commends his or her soul to God. These typically range from the perfunctory to the modestly substantive. The former, which are very common, state that the soul is bequeathed, for example, 'to Almighty God, my maker and redeemer', 29 (Before the Reformation, and again during Mary's reign, the basic clause usually includes a reference to Mary and the saints,) The latter develop after the Reformation, and add a brief soteriological profession. For example, Henry Spicer of Leverington's will bequeaths his soul 'into the hands of Almighty God trusting faithfully to be saved by the only merits and passion of Jesus Christ' and that of Robert Tofts of Linton offers his 'into the hands of Almighty God my maker and to Jesus Christ my saviour and redeemer hoping steadfastly through his merits, death and passion that after this transitory life is ended I shall rest with the elect in his everlasting life.' 30 While there are literally hundreds of variants, these two are representative of the vocabulary, the sentiments, and the detail used.

On the surface, such statements seem to provide an extraordinary insight into private religious beliefs. However, since the publication in 1971 of a seminal article by Margaret Spufford, historians have been well aware that these clauses were routinely supplied by scribes, and are of dubious value as unambiguous indicators of the religious views of testators themselves. Much has been written since 1971 on the utility of will preambles, and it is worth summarizing some of the major points. 31

Will-making was, above all else, about the disposition of earthly goods, and when a scribe was summoned it was the recording of the testator's wishes in that regard that principally occupied him. This does not mean, however, that will-making was not deeply endued with religious meaning, because testators had been taught throughout their lives that whatever possessions they had were merely held in trust from God and that they would be judged on the way in which they had carried out that trust. A will was a final exercise of guardianship, and nothing should have been more important for a will-maker than to dispose of his or her goods in a godly way. 32

After recording the testator's wishes, the scribe typically returned home to draw up the will in its final form. It was at this point that the religious preamble would be inserted. 33 Scribes had a number of options. Some had devised a personal formula which they used whenever drawing up a will. For example, Robert Wigglesworth was the scribe of five Leverington wills which I have identified. In every case, the testator's soul was bequeathed into 'the hands of God the Father my maker, Jesus Christ his son my redeemer, and the Holy Ghost my sanctifier, by whose merits only I hope to be saved.' 34 Thus, wills have to be studied in the context of the local community before drawing any conclusions about the religious sentiments of individual testators, since reading a run of wills from one parish will usually expose the contributions of particular scribes. 35

Unfortunately, a preamble which is not the product of scribal habit is not necessarily the original sentiment of the testator. Some scribes clearly made use of will formularies, which were accessible in costly legal works but also in cheap almanacs. Professor Spufford initially believed the preamble used in the will of Mary Barton of Orwell to be a unique personal statement on Barton's part because it was hot used by any Orwell scribe: 'First, I bequeath my soul into the hands of Almighty God my maker, hoping through the meritorious death and passion of Jesus Christ my only saviour and redeemer to receive free pardon and forgiveness of all my sins'. However, Bernard Capp has noted that this preamble can be found in Fly. An Almanacke. 36

An even more remarkable case has recently been discussed by John Craig and Caroline Litzenberger. 37 William Tracy of Gloucestershire was a gentleman noted for his advanced religious beliefs. Because he vented those in the preamble to his will, the will was denied probate and condemned in Convocation, leading to Tracy's exhumation from consecrated soil. By 1535, the will was in print complete with commentary by Tyndale and Frith. Dr Craig and Dr Litzenberger have discovered more than a dozen highly distinctive will preambles which are clearly based on Tracy's. Their users range from a Mendlesham testator in 1537 to one from Hull in 1640. Although they could find no such examples among the Ely consistory wills, their research is a strong reminder of the need to exercise great caution before making the assumption that the words of a preamble, however unique in its parochial context, are the original words of the testator.

Does the use of a formula, either supplied by the scribe or some outside source, render preambles nugatory as sources of information about personal religious views? Using Tracy's preamble, published though it was, clearly tells us a great deal about the testator, for anyone who would use it was making a deliberate and powerful statement of religious conviction. Dr Marsh makes a similar case for the use which he uncovered of the preamble to Epaphroditus' will in Thomas Becon's popular devotional work, The sick mans salve. He also notes that William Assheton, clergyman-author of A theological discourse of last wills and testaments (1696), lamented the decline of religious preambles in his day and urged the use of more detailed (in order to be more expressive) phrases but then proceeded to supply a set formula of his own writing. For Assheton, and surely for those who used the words of Becon or Tracy, the value of a preamble was measured in its expressiveness and not in its originality. 38

Most preambles were provided locally by scribes, however. Some historians suggest that this too is not without some meaning because it is unlikely that dying people chose scribes who would use formulae antipathetic to their own beliefs. This assumes, of course, that testators had an adequate supply of scribes from whom to choose. My own research on Leverington wills confirms Professor Spufford's findings that scribes were in good supply. It is also noteworthy that before the Reformation, when there was little variation in preambles, the clergy monopolized will-writing. However, after the Reformation, the clerical monopoly was broken. While ministers continued to write wills, they were joined by a wide range of literate lay people - including women. Thus, at precisely the point at which a more distinctive statement became both possible and theologically comprehensible, a range of choices became available through an expanded pool of scribes. 39 (One use of these records which could yield results of great interest would be for a detailed study of the scribes over a long period of time, both as a study of a local 'employment' and of the supposed declining influence of the clergy.)

Dr Alsop argues, on the other hand, that when choosing a scribe entirely different criteria would be used than those which Spufford and others assumed. To the argument that testators would only trust the writing of their wills to someone in whom they had confidence, and who thus would be likely to approximate to their own religious views, he responds that this 'assumes that confidence would necessarily be based upon religious affiliation.' Dr Alsop argues that religious preambles were virtually irrelevant to testators, and thus scribes were chosen on the basis of the confidence testators had in their abilities to manage the temporal details in will-making. 40

A number of details support Dr Alsop's argument One is the near- universal absence of preambles in nuncupative wills. When, time or circumstances did not allow for all of the formalities of will-making, individuals could still dictate their wishes. These 'oral' wills were especially likely in times of epidemic disease, when quarantine or fear of contagion made making a traditional will difficult (Evidence survives of testators shouting their wishes out the window to be recorded by auditors.) Since the preamble was usually one of the features added by the scribe working on the formal copy at home, it is easy to see why nuncupative wills do not have them. At the same time, if people felt that they were important, would not people at death's door be the most likely people to shout out a bequest of their soul?

It is also true that a number of preambles seem to contradict the bequests made by testators, which suggests that testators did not pay much attention to them. For example, the will of Richard Porye of London begins with an obviously Protestant preamble, but the body of the will includes a bequest for prayers for his soul. Another related observation is of the numbers of deeply religious testators with only the most basic, inexpressive preambles. William Rushbrigg is one such man. His 1586 will begins with a bland dedicatory clause; although he owned a copy of Sick mans salve, he felt no need to follow its model of a long expressive preface. In addition to his ownership of Becon's book, which he valued enough to mention specifically in the will, he made extensive gifts to the poor, and provided money for erecting an almshouse, repairing the church way, and building both a gate at the church stile and a bridge. He also requested a total of five sermons. This case confirms the need to search a will for other bequests such as requests for chantry priests or legacies for a preacher as true indicators of personal beliefs, since these bequests 'were more likely to have been inserted at the specific request of the testator', than to rely upon the preamble. 41

While Dr Alsop acknowledges that 'a minority took the initial bequest of the soul very seriously and as an opportunity to express heartfelt convictions', his conclusion is highly pessimistic:
In terms of individual belief, the religious preamble is an untrustworthy guide to the religion of the. testator - or at least a guide for which the trustworthiness is suspect arid, in most instances, impossible to establish. In isolation, it reveals very little. If the sentiments expressed in the preamble are supported by other evidence, then it is this supporting information itself which should form the basis for an appraisal, rather than what may well be a ritualised or impersonal statement of questionable utility.
While Alsop might prefer that we ignore preambles and move on, in my view this would be a serious mistake, for to do so would mean missing those occasions in which people used wills as 'platforms for their religious opinions'. William Tracy (described above) may be the earliest, but he is not unique. For example, the Brownist Edmund Wyther, haberdasher from Bury St Edmunds, included a statement in his 1588 will that "God hath his church which are a company of faithful believers scattered over the face of the earth of which number I do believe that I am one and unto these company alone belongeth all the benefits of Christ and mercies of God..." 42

Had Dr Alsop's article been published when I was initially working on Ely wills, I might have ignored what for me remains the most extraordinary voice I have heard speaking from the sixteenth century. After commending his soul to 'the Almighty Godhead, when it shall please the same to take me from the miseries of this wretched world', the Leverington yeoman William Acres went on:
And because the breach of God's law is eternal death which, with all flesh, I acknowledge to have justly deserved by means of my disobedience thereof, even so with the elect I firmly believe that through the most precious death of Jesus Christ my only redeemer, mediator and saviour, the second person in Trinity, I shall with this self same body and soul conjoined be saved and numbered amongst his father's children and inherit his blessed kingdom which he hath ordained for us world without end. And therefore according to my bounden duty, I right humbly beseech his fatherly goodness to pardon me all my past faults and offences, to blot out all my imperfections, to cloth me with the garment of Christ his righteousness, and to grant me his grace and Holy Spirit to persevere in faith, hope and charity unto my life's end. 43
There, surely, we encounter the authentic voice of faith and of the past.

Moving from the preamble to the body of the will, what can we learn about local religious practices and values? Many historians have pursued an answer to this question, though overwhelmingly they tend to study only the later middle ages. Christine Carpenter notes a variety of conventional medieval religious practices appearing in gentry wills such as buying masses and perpetual lamps, supporting gilds and fraternities, providing vestments and chalices to their parishes, and building roads and bridges. Dr Carpenter sees in this activity signs of anxiety about salvation, since these gentry were willing to sacrifice valuable land in order to provide prayers for their souls. P. W. Fleming, whose Kentish gentry made similar bequests, has noted that what on the surface appear to be 'secular' bequests, such as provisions for the poor, or for building roads and bridges, are also religious. Since wealth was seen as God's gift, testators discharged their obligation of stewardship to God by its wise use; thus a road may be repaired 'to the pleasure of God and the profit and ease of the country'. 44 Similar studies for the Cambridgeshire gentry could be undertaken, particularly in ways which bridge the artificial gap between the medieval and early modern periods. It would be highly instructive to trace changes in this group, especially given the size of the sample described above. It would also be useful to compare other groups to the gentry; one wonders if Fleming's and Carpenter's gentry have a different testamentary piety than their less-wealthy neighbours, or if they differ only in scale.

The only non-gentle wills which have received extensive study to date have been those of city- and town-dwellers - an inevitable result of the relatively high volume of surviving wills for one place. As Clive Burgess describes them, Bristol testators acted in ways very similar to the rural gentry. For example, they provided commemorative rites for themselves and liturgical equipment for their parishes, and they doled out money and food to the poor or endowed almshouses (which aids both the poor residents and the soul of the testator who then has a long-term claim on their prayers). Burgess argues, however, that wills are inadequate for reconstructing urban piety. Wills were used primarily for funeral and related arrangements; testators carried out other arrangements such as establishing almshouses (not a single one is founded in a Bristol will) during their lifetimes. People whose wills make them appear not to have been generous donors are revealed in other sources, such as church accounts, to have been quite the opposite. P. H. Cullum and P. J. P. Goldberg note virtually the same behaviour in medieval York. For example, although some wills include gifts to almshouses, the houses themselves were already established and were not testamentary creations. They argue that 'deathbed charity was considered to be of little value', and that good works were too important to salvation to be left to the last minute; rather, charity was a life-long practice. One final example of how incomplete the evidence from wills can be comes from a study of medieval Hull: on the basis of wills alone, Peter Heath discovers, one would have virtually no hint of the importance of saints in medieval Christianity! 45

In fact, because they are concerned most directly with death, wills are exceptionally useful for studying one aspect of piety: pious provisions for burial and commemoration. The studies cited show that testators provided for paupers to carry torches in their funeral processions, arranged for the singing of traditional prayers, and so on. P. W. Fleming also notes that almost all gentry arranged to be buried inside their parish churches, but that a new element appeared from the 1480s: testamentary requests 'to be buried where it shall please God to dispose it\ Scholars note conflicting directions in wills: both reactions against pomp, and tendencies for provisions to grow more elaborate. 46

The religious provisions in medieval wills have led to a number of speculations about the vitality of the pre-Reformation church, a scholarly debate of some vigour these days. 47 Evidence for Yorkshire wills presented by Professor Cross, for example, shows general satisfaction with the local monasteries on many levels. As noted above, Dr Carpenter felt that anxiety might be seen lurking behind the sacrifices which the gentry made in order to secure prayers for their soul, but she detected no signs of dissatisfaction with the church and purports to be mystified at the rejection by late medieval landowning society of a religion that seemed a perfect fit to its mores. Most historians who have used wills in this way have not seen any storm clouds on the horizon. 48

Is the will, however, the sort of document which lends itself to statements of dissatisfaction with the church's teaching about the path to salvation? It is bard for me to imagine how those could have been incorporated. The mere fact that people continued to make substantial bequests does not show that they approved it; it is more likely to be a reflection of their lack of options. According to Clive Burgess, the Reformation succeeded because it liberated heirs from the cumulative financial burdens which had placed upon them in the pious provisions of generation after generation; it 'enabled the living to renege on their predecessors: they could thus enjoy the full fruits of their possession without incurring sin.' This argument provides a way out of Dr Carpenter's conundrum. 49 Thus, although the lines themselves do not provide an adequate picture of the medieval church in the local community, if read between the lines wills can be quite useful to the historian in understanding the attraction of the Reformation.

They can also provide information on the adoption of reform in a locality. The pioneer in this regard was Professor Dickens, who used will preambles to show a shift in public opinion away from traditional piety in the period 1538-46. Although he was unaware of the role of scribes, his evidence is nonetheless suggestive. Many other historians since him have used preambles in a similar way. Claire Cross has observed the different rates at which wills from Leeds and Hull abandoned 'Catholic' preambles, and used that as the starting point for valuable work on the factors that can effect the reception of the Reformation even in two superficially similar places. 50

Shifts in preambles may indicate little more than that people knew that the religious and political wind had shifted. If preambles were as insignificant, as J. D. Alsop has argued, testators could have felt little hesitation in bending with the prevailing wind. The true measure of their sentiment would be found in their bequests. In Hull, there was a drop in bequests to the poor, as might be expected with the salvific efficacy of'good works' removed. However, since charity was supposed to have a been a life-long activity even before the Reformation, the drop in bequests may be distorting. Professor Cross gives evidence that people carried out extensive charitable activity during this period, and Professor Jordan has shown that charitable giving was not so much abandoned as shifted to more private and 'secular' channels.

It is unsurprising that testators ceased bequests for Catholic commemorative rituals and prayers for their souls, but their desertion of these forms says nothing about private opinions. What is wanted is positive evidence of adopting new forms, and for this indication of popular acceptance of reform, wills are not likely to yield much. While they will show the abandonment of certain practices, that proves nothing. Unfortunately for our purposes, Protestantism put little in the place of Catholic expiatory piety and rituals that might appear in wills. Bequests to the parish church and the clergy did drop off quite steeply, but it is difficult to imply that this reflected any dissatisfaction with the church, since the medieval donations may, as I have argued, been given more from anxiety about salvation than from any genuine enthusiasm. Bequests for preaching are one of the few indications in wills of support for the new religious order. Havering yeoman Nicholas Cotton assigned 40s for eight quarterly sermons after his death 'for the godly instruction of those which shall remain after me'. Hull testators left money for sermons with wording that makes their doctrinal disposition equally unambiguous: William Jackson, for example, required a funeral sermon in 1567 'if there be any preacher of God's gospel in the town'. From 1580 to 1642, forty-six women from Hull commissioned funeral sermons in their wills. Occasional testators list Protestant theological and devotional books in their wills as well (which will be discussed below). Ultimately, although wills do help historians trace the progress of Protestantism in England, they can only give a partial picture of popular opinion of the ecclesia Anglicana. 51

Although wills have not served entirely satisfactorily in studies of the official church, a number of Margaret Spufford's research students have turned to wills to increase our knowledge of heresy and dissent. Derek Plumb's study of rural Lollards shows that they tended to use very conservative preambles; again, it is not in the preamble but in the body of the will that religious conviction is sought. Dr Plumb detects unusual generosity to the poor in keeping with the Lollard emphasis on the Epistle of James and its teaching about good works. Finally, he also notes that although Lollards were fully involved in their parish churches and made a number of thoroughly traditional bequests, they also exhibited a sense of community among themselves since Lollards often appear as legatees and witnesses in each other's wills. 52

Christopher Marsh used Cambridgeshire wills extensively in his study of the heretical sect, the Family of Love. Dr Marsh was able to identity a number of previously unidentified Familists by studying wills and witnesses. As a result, the sect appears much larger than scholars had believed, giving some credibility to official concerns about it. Furthermore, he was able quite successfully to undermine the stereotype of Familists as 'poor and simple' by showing the material prosperity evident in their wills. 53

Finally, William Stevenson demonstrates the thorough and somewhat surprising integration of sectaries into their communities through activities such as will witnessing (witnessing wills of non-sectaries and having non- sectaries witness sectaries' wills), acting as scribes, and supporting the local poor (not just the sectarian poor) through bequests. 54 Ironically, while wills seem on the surface to be so deeply a part of established, mainstream religion, the work of Drs Plumb, Marsh and Stevenson suggests that wills might be more useful and less problematic for historical studies of nonconformity than conformity.

Literacy and education

After a scribe completed the formal version of a will, it was read to the testator, who demonstrated his or her approval by signing or marking it. This was done in the presence of witnesses, who added their signatures or marks as well. As a result, original wills (as opposed to office copies and register entries) preserve a vast collection of signatures and marks.

The ability to read in medieval and early modern times cannot be quantified. That remains impossible for any period before testing begins in more modern times. It is generally agreed, however, that the ability to sign one's name is an indication of the ability to read since the schools taught reading before writing. Driven by the need for labour in the household, many students would have been removed from school after learning to read but before learning to write. Thus, signatures can be seen as indicating the minimum level of literacy in a community. 55

Using the signatures of testators is one way to begin to measure literacy. However, such a process is not without its problems. When Leonard Woolward of Balsham made his will in 1578, the will was written by a scribe and marked by Woolward. However, other evidence makes clear that Woolward could both read and write, but was too ill and weak at the time to do so. As Professor Spufford discovered, this is very much a pattern. She found a number of cases of men who signed their names at other occasions (such as witnessing others' wills) but marked their own will. John Bette of Havering marked his 1609 will although he could write because when he was about to sign his will 'he was so taken with the palsy and his hand did so shake that he could not then write his name thereunto'. Thus, while useful as indicators of literacy, testators' signatures yield an artificially low number of a source which is already bound to understate the ability to read. The reader should bear these limitations in mind when considering Figure 10, showing the percentage of testators signing their wills over this period. Keeping that in mind, however, it is possible estimate both aggregate literacy in an area and to use status and occupation labels in wills to compare levels of literacy among different groups. 56

Mrs Evans found few wills from late sixteenth-century Bungay (which had its own school) in which testators provided for the education of their children or made contribution to the school. The latter may be easier to explain than the former. Willingham residents raised substantial sums by public subscription to endow a school in 1593, an example which suggests that supporting schools might be one of the forms of charity (discussed above) that was to be carried out durante vita, rather than being considered appropriate for the deathbed. The infrequency of provisions to educate children are less easy to explain.

In her will, Deborah Frohock of Willingham gave three Bibles to her son Samuel and ordained that he 'be virtuously educated and brought up in learning, and shall be put to the university as soon as he shall be of competent years.' This level of education was an obvious luxury, and perhaps it is economic realities that cause the paucity of such provisions. A more realistic level is seen in the will of Clement Goodwin of Thriplow who provided for his son to be kept in school for four years at his wife's charge 'till he shall be able to write and read and cast accounts properly*. Given attitudes towards educating women, provisions for daughters' education are very rare. Thomas Parnby, M.A., Vicar of Cherry Hinton willed that his son William be sent to Cambridge until he was eighteen, and his daughter Mildred was to be taught sewing and 'other virtuous qualities meet and convenient for a woman' until she was twenty or married. William indeed in due course followed his father both to Peterhouse and to the Vicarage of Cherry Hinton. If the ages of children mentioned in wills could be studied, we could be more precise about the proportion of parents making such provisions; clearly one should not expect such instructions if all of a testator's children were in their teens or older. A worthwhile project based on these wills would also be to see if there is some change over time, or if testators simply considered wills an inappropriate place to make educational arrangements. 57

Frohock's gift of three Bibles to her son is a rarity as well. While one might expect to be able to tum to wills and inventories for evidence of book ownership, at least before 1700 the sources mask more than they reveal. Although people in rural Cambridgeshire could afford many types of books and had access to them, 58 these appear only rarely in wills and even less often in inventories. Bibles are by far the most commonly named, not only because of their significance, but also because their expense made them among the most valuable of a testator's books and thus deserving special provision.59 Among Cambridgeshire laymen, other books are rare. The Wisbech cheese- maker Erasmus Gyesley had what were described as two French books of surgery in 1558 and William Rushbrigg had a copy of Becon's Sick mans salve in 1586. In 1666, Edward Hammond of Willingham left 'my book of martyrs' to his scribe. It was clergymen, especially those educated at the nearby university, who could be expected to have the most books, but even their wills rarely mention books. William Turner, curate of Hildersham, who mentions a Bible, New Testament, More's Utopia, Piers Plowman, two chronicles and a work by Luther in his 1562 will, was exceptional. An example from Essex shows that even those who valued books highly might not name names: the puritan preacher and prolific writer George Gifford gave 'all my library and books' to be divided equally between his sons. Ely probate inventories, which survive in significant numbers only from 1660, are often even less useful. Books may be lumped together in one generic entry or listed as, for example, 'bible and other trash' at the end. Many (if not most) books were completely ignored; Hammond's 'book of martyrs' was not listed in his inventory. While probate records give a badly distorted picture of book ownership, they nevertheless confirm that ownership and reading was 'not confined to the prosperous'. It might be instructive to study later wills and inventories to see if there is a change in practice, but if the pattern established before 1700 holds true, these documents cannot be sought for other than occasional and very impressionistic references to printed matter. 60

Demography and kinship

The uneven distribution of will-making across society makes the quantity of wills meaningless for calculating population. Happily, the survival of parish registers has provided us with a reasonably reliable source with which to do that. However, since registration began officially only in 1535, and many registers are defective (if they exist at all) before the Elizabethan period, historians do turn to wills to answer some question about demography. Since wills are documents of mortality, it is that area in which they have provided some results. Wills cannot give reliable statistics but, as Paul Slack and Motoyasu Takahashi have shown, they can help locate crisis mortality periods and outbreaks of epidemics in the years before registration. 61

Plagues tend to strike the very young and the very poor - two groups which do not make wills - disproportionately. As a result wills tend to under- represent the scale of some mortality crises. Dr Slack was able to compare London burial records with wills for the crisis year of 1548, and noted that while burials rose dramatically the number of wills barely increased. This suggests that for years when the historian has to rely on wills alone, some epidemics may go unsuspected. At the same time, wills may help historians distinguish national from local crises. For example, 1497-1500 was a period of plague in London and literary evidence suggests it was widespread, but the number of Ely wills drops during this period, which argues for a more localized epidemic. Looking at individual parish totals suggests that it may be necessary to rethink the impact of even the largest catastrophes. For example, 1557 was one of the five worst years (based solely on wills totals) for mortality in Cambridgeshire. Yet if one looks at individual parishes, many show no signs of trouble. For Dry Drayton, there were no wills proved in 1557 or 1558 (another terrible year county-wide). In 1570-1, the relatively staggering total of five wills were proved, and a glance at the parish burial register confirms that this was a devastating year for Dry Drayton. The annual totals of all wills, however, are so slightly elevated that there is no hint of an epidemic. In other words, wills may not be fool-proof, but local irruptions may alert us to otherwise unrecorded problems as well as sensitize us to the reality of disease in a local community in a way that flat aggregate numbers cannot.

Since a primary function of wills is to provide for surviving family members, wills seem potentially a useful source for identifying members of individual families as well as family size and structure generally. However, because of the prevalence and importance of inter vivos provisions, testators regularly omit some of their children from their wills and, of course, they do not mention children who have died already. Expecting to find even all living children named in a will is the result of a false assumption about wills - an assumption that becomes even more fraught with danger when applied to kinship. Many scholars have used wills in an attempt to reconstruct kin networks and to evaluate the importance of extended kinship in certain places and times. However, as David Cressy has shown, that is methodologically unsound and produces results which can be discredited from other sources. In an important article published in 1986, he reported using computer simulations to calculate the number of kin testators might have at age of will- making and compare that to those actually mentioned in wills. The result was an overwhelming impression that extended kinship was unimportant, yet this contradicted the evidence of letters and many other sources. The problem was the source; wills, as Professor Cressy noted, are about inheritance, not recognizing kin. 62

Ignoring this fact about wills can lead one to false ideas about family size, child mortality, and kinship. At the same time, wills can provide additional names of children who do not appear in parish registers, as well as help to sort out tangled families. In my own research, I looked at some of the family reconstitution for Willingham which has been prepared by the Cambridge Group, and I was able to supply the names of children who appeared in wills but not in the baptismal register. Probate accounts, although few in number, may include the names of children not in the will. I have also used wills as an antidote to some of the confusion caused in the Dry Drayton parish register due to the high incidence of identical names in the parish. When recording baptisms, the register does not note the names of both father and mother, and because of the presence of several Giffords and Boydens in the parish with identical Christian names, it is impossible to tell to whom a child belongs without wills. Thus, although parish registers are in most ways more reliable sources for demographic questions, probate records are a useful supplement to registers in many respects. 63

Historical marriage patterns and customs can be clarified by using wills carefully. First, because of the numbers of married children mentioned in wills, it is clear that the late age of marriage in England cannot be explained, as might be thought, by children having to wait for the death of parents before marrying. This argues strongly for the frequent use of alternative ways of acquiring the resources needed to marry, and that delaying marriage was a function of the time necessary to do so. Young people worked in service to save money. Many also clearly received substantial gifts from their (living) parents. The common forms of will bequests are suggestive. In my study of sixteenth-century Cambridgeshire wills, I found that bequests to unmarried children were to be given either at a stated age (typically twenty-one), or alternatively at a stated age or at marriage, whichever came first. Since few rural people married that young, most people must have received what can only be called a pre-mortem inheritance before marrying. 64

Wills also suggest something of the attitude of fathers towards controlling their children's marriages. Only one of the Elizabethan testators whose wills are indexed in these volumes tried to use his will to restrict a child's marriage. In 1589, Thomas Wimple left £25 to his daughter Agnes at the age of twenty- one or at her marriage, adding: 'I will that my daughter shall not marry anyone without the consent of her mother, Robert Rimers, Robert Banks, or two of them at least.' It is noteworthy that, in spite of this, Agnes would receive her legacy if she waited until she turned twenty-one, and then, money safely in hand, she was free to marry whom she chose. An occasional father expressed a pious wish that his child would be governed by his wife in choosing a spouse, but parents generally showed very little interest in testamentary restriction of marriage, nor did they show much concern to do so in other ways. 65

The extent of pre-mortem inheritance noted above means that wills cannot give a complete picture of inheritance customs. At the same time, they are, above all else, statements of inheritance as testators intend it As such, they can provide valuable insights. Margaret Spufford has shown, for example, that wills can show a blurring in the distinction between primogeniture or unigeniture and partible inheritance. In the wills which she studied, children who would not inherit customarily were often provided for by charges on the main estate to be paid by the heir. Since the burden of these bequests often required selling parts of the holding, the effect was virtually the same as if the local custom were partible inheritance. 66

Wealth, production and consumption

In this final section, wills occupy a much smaller role. Instead, most references will be to two sources which have received little notice in other parts of this essay: the inventory and the account. Figure 11 shows the distribution of surviving inventories of the consistory court for the whole period. It is evident that those from before the civil war have almost entirely perished. Inventories have been used by historians for half a century, and the list of works using them is now quite long. More than a decade ago, Mark Overton published a bibliography of almost five hundred items; an update published now might be almost twice as long. Accounts have not received as much attention, in large part because there are so few of them. Fortunately, Amy Louise Erickson has not only written an important essay introducing the source, but also used it extensively in her own research. 67

Determining the wealth of individual people in past times is as difficult as it is necessary for many projects. We have at our disposal a number of tax assessments, such as those for the lay subsidies and the hearth taxes. Historians have long been justifiably sceptical about these sources and have used inventories to test their reliability. They exist for a large enough sample of people assessed to demonstrate that, while not perfect guides, Tudor lay subsidies and late seventeenth-century hearth taxes can be used as general guides to the social and economic status of individuals. 68

In an important recent essay, however, Margaret Spufford has called attention to the many deficiencies of probate inventories which in turn call into question some of the ways she herself had used them in the past. Inventories are intended to list the deceased's assets, and so they include not only things in his house and his barn (for example) but also debts owing to him, since those debts are assets against which the charges of such things as the funeral and execution of bequests can be drawn. Not listed are debts owed by the deceased. Such debts are, however, recorded in probate accounts. When she deducted debts listed in accounts from inventories, Professor Spufford discovered that relying on inventories alone produced a very distorted view of the wealth of many individuals. Unfortunately, so few probate accounts survive (only about 32,000 for all of England) that it is not possible to check more than a fraction of the inventories. Rather than abandoning them, Professor Spufford concludes that inventories can still 'act as good guides to a man's scale of operations, his social pretensions, and ... his borrowing power' but they must be taken 'with whole salt-cellars of disbelief'. 69

Insights into a variety of occupations can also be obtained from inventories. Professor Spufford's study of chapmen is noteworthy in this regard. From inventories she was able to study the wealth of petty chapmen, as well as their stock-in-trade, suppliers and customers. Smaller studies of other occupations have also been attempted. A study of Kendal shoemakers, for example, found that probate documents provided the expected information on stock and tools but also shed light on dealings with journeymen, about which little was known. (Journeymen, unlike apprentices, were not tracked in guild records.) What was striking, however, was that the inventories showed almost nothing that was not shoe-related except the occasional animal. This raised questions of what the shoemakers' family members did and how they contributed to their families' income: 'The probate records ... make the question stand out by failing to provide an answer.' David Vaisey has provided a brief glimpse into the probate records of provincial shopkeepers that is especially enlightening. According to him, inventories make quite clear the enormous variety of goods that would be sold by a provincial mercer. The Oxford mercer William Clarke had everything from cloth and nails to books and soaps, in addition to groceries and spices. Such a list shows, for example, that the absence of a book-seller in a provincial town might mean nothing about the local availability of books, and gives depth to flat and unrevealing occupational labels. 70 While questions can always be asked about how typical any individual is, making group studies like Professor Spufford's most attractive, inventories and accounts can help us gain a real understanding of occupations.

The largest occupation group in pre-industrial England was, of course, the farmers and it was they who were the first group to be studied through inventories. Since Professor Hoskins wrote about Leicestershire farmers in 1945, probate records have often been used by agricultural historians. Since inventories record crops on the ground and in barns, as well as livestock, a number of farming practices can be studied. Two dimensions of agrarian history have particularly benefited from the use of inventories.

Joan Thirsk's work with inventories has shown that they can greatly increase our understanding of regional agricultural systems. An individual inventory may only reveal individual eccentricities, but taking the average from a larger regional sample can show the regional precedence of different crops, regional livestock specializations, and so on. On that basis, the boundaries of a number of different farming regions have been drawn. 71

Change, and particularly the introduction of new crops, has also been pursued through inventories. Michael Havinden, noticing the enormous increase in the size of sheep-flocks between 1580 and 1730 as recorded in inventories, argued for the improvement of Oxfordshire open fields through the spread of improved grasslands which could support these extra animals. On the basis of a partial selection of inventories, Eric Kerridge posited an 'agricultural revolution' due to the establishment of turnips occurring in north­east Suffolk between 1646 and 1660. Using a more complete sample, Mark Overton pushed the date back to the 1620s and relocated the 'revolution* to central Norfolk. Moreover, inventories allowed him to chart the diffusion of the crop. Based on some 4,000 inventories, he noted under 10 per cent of Norfolk and Suffolk farmers with turnips from the 1580s to 1680s, but over 50 per cent by the 1720s. Dr Overton has been the most prolific user of inventories in this way, and in his most recent work (with Bruce M. S. Campbell) he has rewritten Norfolk agrarian historian, arguing that livestock, not cereal crops, was the dynamic sector in the early modern period. 72

Using inventories in this way is not without its difficulty. Users of these volumes must face the fact that few inventories survive before 1660, meaning that few data survive for key years of change. Moreover, common practices in making inventories can lead to even greater problems. Many types of crops were, because of contemporary legal opinions, excluded from inventories as not belonging to the executor but to the heir. Among these are grasses and root crops - both crucial to the so-called 'agricultural revolution'. Michael Havinden was not able to find an inventory reference to a turnip in Oxfordshire until 1727, by which time practice seems to have changed. It is, therefore, quite possible that Mark Overton's time-table is inaccurate and that widespread turnip planting was hidden from him. Nothing whatever can safely be inferred from the absence of turnips from seventeenth-century inventories, and the user is well advised to be informed of legal traditions before forming conclusions. 73

Finally, probate records can be used to reconstruct the material environment of the past, from houses and furniture to a wide variety of consumer goods. As Michael Havinden observes, 'In the study of vernacular architecture the great value of inventories lies in their capacity to say how many rooms a house contained at a given date and (in the best examples) the uses to which these rooms were put' Rooms are increasingly described by function (chamber, parlour, and so on) and thus it becomes easier to construct a profile of what houses of a particular size were typically like, and for what uses people who could add or afford additional rooms wanted them. 74

The furnishings within houses have been of equal interest to historians using these records. Lorna Weatherill, for example, has used inventories to trace the introduction of a number of new goods, such as utensils for hot drinks, into the consumer market. She also noted differences in regional distribution of such goods, variances between town and country (Londoners had window curtains, for example), and the impact of social status. She observes that the lower ranks were not consumers of household goods, and inventories also suggest that the time-honoured belief that consumption was driven by a desire to ape social superiors is not true. The types of consumer goods available to rural consumers can also be studied through the chapmen's inventories, as Professor Spufford has done. 75

Dr Weatherill's study is not without its problems. The example of the clock will serve to illustrate this. About clocks, she says: 'These seem fully appraised; they were harder to overlook than many things because of their high value.' Professor Spufford, however, cites examples of people who owned clocks and bequeathed their clocks, yet whose inventories show no clocks. It seems to have been the practice for people to remove goods that had been left to them before the inventory had been taken, perhaps either to guarantee that no one else would claim it or to prevent its being sold to pay debts. Those making inventories could be under a good deal of pressure to omit things on the excuse that they belonged to other people and ought not to be included. 76

Indeed, a number of things in any given house at the time of one person's death might not belong to that person. Wives had their own personal effects, especially those which they had brought with them. If they had been married before, they might also have property of their previous spouse. This by rights was excluded from the most recently deceased spouse's estate because when the widow died it passed to the heirs of the earlier husband. A scenario like this latter one could be responsible for some misreadings of domestic situations. A house that may seem somewhat sparsely furnished from the inventory may in fact have been quite comfortably appointed if the furniture brought by the wife from an earlier marriage was included. With such goods not inventoried, not even a probate account can. give a truly accurate picture of the circumstances of an individual: although some of the goods might not be his to dispose of, the second husband still gained from their presence in the house through his wife. Many items, such as books, were omitted for less legal reasons than this. Inventories alone would never give one a reason to believe that chapbooks and ballads existed, let alone that anyone owned them. David Vaisey notes that for all of the hundreds of sheep he has seen in inventories, he has yet to see a sheepdog. 77


The missing sheepdog is perhaps archetypal. Throughout this essay I have been pointing out what probate records leave out, what they cannot do. Readers would be excused from thinking that the title of this piece should more correctly have been "The historical uselessness of the Ely consistory probate records'. I have not meant to sound churlish. Indeed, as I noted at the outset, I have spent many hours reading Ely wills and have used them very profitably in my own work. Rather, I have meant to suggest that these sources - as is the case with any sources - have their limitations. If those are recognized, if we ask the sources questions that they can responsibly be expected to answer, then they can be extremely useful.

This author's centuries are the sixteenth and seventeenth and, as a result, this essay has been slanted towards topics relevant to those centuries with scarce a mention of anything post-1700. I do not, of course, believe that probate records are the same throughout the period and that what applies to the 1500s holds equally for the 1700s. Indeed, I know that the religious preambles, the value of which has been so hotly contested, disappear in the 1700s. However, I do feel that, mutatis mutandis, the issues which I have raised and the cautions which I have advanced can be pertinent, regardless of one's era of interest Most of all, I hope that readers will feel welcomed into these sources and use them with pleasure and success, adding even more to our understanding of the historical value of the probate records, in this diocese and elsewhere. 78

Access to the records

The records, with the exception of those items which have references indicating location in Ely Diocesan Records (Acc, AEP, CG, CR, EA, EDR, EI. EW, GG, GR, GV, PGR), are now deposited in the Cambridgeshire County Record Office, Shire Hall, Cambridge CB3 OAP.

The computer data-base is held at the Literary and Linguistic Computing Centre, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DA. The Centre can provide printouts of selected items, for which a charge will be made to cover overhead costs.

Form of entries

The individuals to whom the records relate are listed in alphabetical order of surname, standardised where necessary, and then in alphabetical order of forename, also standardised where necessary. Groups of individuals with Identical forenames are listed chronologically.

A typical entry shews the surname as spelled in the records, or an em- dash if the name occurs in the standard form; forename or forenames; parish, preceded where relevant by dwelling place and/or hamlet within the parish, and followed, for parishes outside Cambridgeshire, by county; status (widow, bachelor, senior, junior, etc.); and occupation. Note that occupations of relatives given under the heading of status are not preceded by a comma. This is to avoid ambiguity: 'John, son of Thomas farmer', is a farmer's son; 'John, son of Thomas, farmer', is himself a farmer. The following symbols indicate the source of the information given when it is additional to, or varies from, that given in the main entry in the probate register: (a) administration; (i) inventory; (p) record of grant of probate. With the exception of variant forms of surname, information from these other sources is normally given at the end of each entry. For other abbreviations, see below.

The forenames of testators signing their own wills are distinguished by italic type, as also are any variant spellings, preceded by '(ns)\ of their surnames derived from their signatures.
Dates shewn in square brackets are the dates at which the documents in question were drawn up, as opposed to the dates of their presentation in court.

Notes - The Records of the Probate Jurisdiction of the Consistory of Ely

1. The privileged persons over whom this jurisdiction extended, apart from the members of the university were university or college employees, private servants of scholars, and tradesmen, notably stationers, whose usefulness merited the protection of the university. The jurisdiction also extended to the families of these privileged persons at the time of their deaths, and to all widows of scholars or privileged persons at the time of their respective deaths, and to all their children. Claims of privilege were only exercisable by those resident within the jurisdiction of the University, which extended one mile on every side of the town and parishes of the town of Cambridge. Although the earliest surviving document of this jurisdiction (an inventory) dates from 1498 and the latest {an administration) from 1795, the bulk of the material falls between 1530 and 1730, as the practice of proving wills in the Vice-Chancellor's court fell into disuse during the second half of the eighteenth century. An index to this court. Wills proved in the Vice-Chancellor's Court at Cambridge 1501-1765, almost certainly edited by H. Roberts, was published in 1907. This index which is not very reliable, has been superseded by a much more detailed card index compiled during recent years. For one aspect of this court, of particular use to historians, see also Books in Cambridge Inventories. Book Lists from Vice Chancellor's Court Probate Inventories in the Tudor and Stuart Periods, ed, E. S. Leedham-Green, Cambridge, 1986. King's College was a peculiar within the University, and jurisdiction over probate there belonged to the ProvosL

2. Vetus Liber Archidiaconi Eliensis, ed. C, L. Feltoe and E. H. Minns, Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 1917, pp. 180-96.

3. See the map on p. * and the diagram of the hierarchy of courts on p. viii. For a more detailed discussion of the jurisdictions of the bishop and archdeacon see Dorothy M. Owen, Ely Records. A handlist of the Records of the Bishop and Archdeacon of Ely, n.d. [1971],

4. Index of the Probate Records of the Court of the Archdeacon of Ely 1513-1857, ed. Clifford and Dorothea Thurley, Index Library, 88, British Record Society, 1976.

5. A. Gibbons, Ely Episcopal Records: A Calendar and Concise View of the Episcopal Records presen>ed in the Muniment Room of the Palace at Ely, 1891.

6. See below pp.xvi-xvii

Notes - The Historical Value of the Ely Consistory Probate Records

1. Peter Spufford, "A printed catalogue of the names of testators", in G. H. Martin and Peter Spufford (eds.) The records of the nation, (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1990), 167, 175-7; Margaret Spufford, Contrasting communities: English villagers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Cambridge, 1974) 56. Since the printed literature on probate records is now quite extensive, in the notes which follow I have usually made no attempt to cite every relevant source, preferring to cite representative works only. Readers who desire further reading will find the notes and bibliographies of those works instructive;

2. Eric Josef Carlson, Marriage and the English Reformation (Oxford, 1994), chaps 6-7; 'The churchwardens of rural south-eastern Cambridgeshire' in Margaret Spufford (ed,) The world of rural dissenters, 1520-1725 (Cambridge, forthcoming).

3. In what follows, I use the word 'will' in something less than its technical sense. Strictly speaking, the will and testament were distinct instruments. The will is concerned with real property and the testament with money and moveables. As do most scholars, I use 'will' as a shorthand to describe the document containing both instruments. I am focusing on wills alone in this part of the essay because there are very few surviving inventories and administrations until the seventeenth century. All graphs were prepared by Dr Rosemary Rodd.

4. Michael M. Sheehan, The will in medieval England, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Studies and Texts 6 (Toronto, 1963); J. H. Baker, An introduction to English legal history, ed. 2 (London, 1979) esp. chap. 13. The Statute of Wills is 32 Henry VIII, c. 1. On devise of copyhold, see Gcely Howell, Land, family and inheritance in transition: Kibworth Harcourt 1280-1700 (Cambridge, 1983), esp. p. 284; Susan Dwyer Amussen, An ordered society: gender and class in early modern England (Oxford, 1988) 77. On gifts to the church in the middle ages, see Sandra Raban,Mortmain legislation and the English church 1279-1500 (Cambridge, 1982).

5. Michael M. Sheehan, 'English wills and the records of the ecclesiastical and civil jurisdictions', Journal of medieval history 14 (1988) 3-12; Motoyasu Takahashi, 'The number of wills proved in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Graphs, with tables and commentary', in Martin and Spufford, Records of the nation, 189. This, with further unpublished work by Mr Takahashi, suggests that full retention or registration of wills began in the archdeaconry of Leicester in 1515, in the various Essex probate courts in 1528, in the archdeaconry of Sudbury in 1529, in the dioceses of Lichfield and Lincoln in 1532/3 and in the diocese of Worcester in 1537. Cliff Webb in the introduction to his Union index of Surrey probate records which survive from before the year 1650 (Index Library, 99, British Record Society, London, 1990) suggests that full retention or registration of wills in the archdeaconry of Surrey began in 1529. The diocese of Ely, like that of Worcester, with full retention or registration of wills from 1537, therefore appears only a little later than the other courts so far counted.

6. The numbers did drop off: from 129 in 1640 (the last full year of episcopal authority) to 84 in 1641, 78 in 1642, and 41 in 1643. In 1647, there was a surprising and sustained recovery: 99 wills proved in 1647, 111 in 1648, 133 in 1649, etc. One factor which might have contributed to this rise was the weakness of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Christopher Kitching, Probate during the Civil War and Interregnum', Journal of the Society of Archivists 5 (1976] 283-93, 346-56) believes that during the 1640s, many ignored its jurisdiction, 'seeking probate from a surviving local court if they could find one, or else evading it altogether' (p. 287). Ely was apparently one of those dioceses in which a local court remained somewhat vital.

7. Kitcbing, 'Probate during the Civil War', esp. 346-7,350.

8. 32 Henry VIII, c. 1. Medieval restrictions are discussed in Sheehan, Will, esp. 233-58.

9. Ely wills are catalogued by the probate year, not by the date of will-making or death. Wills were usually written within a few days of the testator's death, and the interval between burial and probate was commonly less tban two months: Stephen Coppel, 'Wills and the community: a case study of Tudor Grantham', in Philip Riden (ed.), Probate records and the local community, (Gloucester, 1985) 80,82.

10. Michael L. Zell, 'The social parameters of probate records in the sixteenth century', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 57 (1984) 10.

11. Nesta Evans, 'Inheritance, women, religion, and education in early modern society as revealed by wills', in Riden,Probate records, 55, In his study of the town of Banbury from 1550 to 1800, Richard Vann calculated that only 25.5 % of men and 10.6 % of women who might have done so made a will: Richard T. Vann, 'Wills and the family in an English town: Banbury, 1550-1800', Journal of family history 4 (1979) 352.

12. Amussen, An Ordered Society, 91-3; Claire Cross, 'Northern women in the early modem period: The female testators of Hull and Leeds 1520-1650', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 59 (1987), 83-94; Evans, 'Inheritance, women, religion, and education', 67-9; Mary Prior, 'Wives and wills 1558-1700', in John Chartres and David Hey (eds.), English rural society 1500-1800: essays in honour of Joan Thirsk, (Cambridge, 1990), 201-25.

13. Kitching, 'Probate during the Civil War', 285; Takahashi, 'Number of wills', 206-7. In the seven year period 1694-1700, some 119 Cambridgeshire wills were proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, approximately 12% of the number of those proved in the Consistory Court of Ely. The marked fall in the number of wills proved in the Consistory Court in the first half of the eighteenth century, at a time when the total number of deaths remained much the same, can also probably be accounted for by a further shift to the use of the Prerogative Court.

14. See, for example, the studies cited above by Coppel, 'Wills and the community', Evans, 'Inheritance, women, religion and education', and Vann, 'Wills and the family'. Takahashi, 'Number of wills', 213, suggested that a higher proportion left wills. He calculated that, both in the 1560s and in the 1620s, almost exactly a third of the adult men in England left wills that were proved in the ecclesiastical courts of the province of Canterbury, besides those proved in the province of York.

15. Coppel, 'Grantham 79; Zell, 'Social parameters', 111.

16. Margaret Spufford, 'Peasant inheritance customs and land distribution in Cambridgeshire from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries', in Jack Goody, Joan Thirsk and E. P. Thompson (eds.) Family and inheritance: rural society in western Europe 1200-1800 (Cambridge, 1976), esp. 169-73; personal information, from Motoyasu Takahashi, Research Fellow at Tohoku University in Japan,

17. Lloyd Bonfield, 'Normative rules and property transmission: reflections on the link between marriage and inheritance in early modem England* in Lloyd Bonfield, Richard M. Smith and Keith Wrightson (eds.), The world we have gained(Oxford, 1986), 164-70; Vann, 'Wills and the family*, 353-6; Spufford,'Peasant inheritance customs', 171; ZeJI, 'Social parameters', 111-12.

18. Bonfield, op. cit.: Spufford, 'Peasant inheritance customs (n. 16 above)', 163; Marjorie Keniston Mcintosh, A community transformed: the manor and liberty of Havering, 1500-1620 (Cambridge, 1991), 79, 144. The study I am recommending must be made using a number of parishes, as done by Professor Spufford, to see if patterns of wilt-making vary and if any local differences might aeoount for variations.

19. This is worth noting simply because wills have traditionally been an important source for historians of these groups in the late middle ages. See, for example: Jeremy Catto, 'Religion and the English nobility in the later fourteenth century', in H. Lloyd Jones, Valerie Pearl and Blair Worden (eds,), History and imagination: essays in honour of H. R. Trevor-Roper (London, 1981), 43-55; Joel T. Rosenthal, The purchase of Paradise: gift giving and the aristocracy, 1307-1485(London, 1972); idem, Patriarchy and families of privilege in fifteenth-century England (Philadelphia, 1991).

20. Dr Christopher Marsh used thirty-two such wills from the Prerogative Court in his study of the members of the Family of Love focused on Balsham in Cambridgeshire. Christopher W. Marsh, The Family of Love in English society, 1550-1630(Cambridge, 1994).

21. They also include 440 butchers (perhaps numerous because of the fen cattle), 393 victuallers (along with 183 grocers and 53 shopkeepers), 295 millers, 241 innkeepers (along with 81 publicans), 175 wheelwrights, 160 bricklayers (along with other building tradesmen - 113 thatchers and 56 glaziers), 116 maltsters {for the widely-grown barley), 72 coopers, 59 drapers, 57 glovers, 53 schoolmasters and even as many as 50 surgeons.

22. Takahashi, 'Numbers of wills', 213.

23. It should be noted that all of these totals are based on the labels explicitly given in each will's preamble only; totals could be increased by reading wills and/or inventories for evidence about many testators who have been classified as 'no designation'.

24. Dr Jacqueline Bower had found a similar non-agricultural use of 'yeoman' as a status rather than as an occupation in her work on Kent yeomen in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She has even found 'yeomen' indicted for vagrancy.

25. Amussen, An ordered society, 78; D. G. Vaisey, 'Probate inventories and provincial retailers in the'seventeenth century' in Riden, Probate records, 95,105.

26. For the populations of these three parishes, see the relevant volumes in the Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, i.e., A history of the county of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, ed. C. R. Elrington, et al., 9 vols to date (London and Oxford, 1938- ). On the population of Willingham, see also Spufford, Contrasting communities; and on Dry Drayton and Weston Colville, see also Carlson, Marriage.

27. I have done this for Chilford and Radfield Hundreds in Carlson, 'Churchwardens'.

28. The proportion of one administration to two wills can be seen in the records of the prerogative courts of Canterbury and York, and the consistory courts of Lincoln and Chichester, Peter Spufford, *"A printed catalogue"', 170, n. 9.

29. Will of Stephen Smith of Leverington, [Ely Probate Records,] Qonsistory] Wfiil] 1571. While the wording is not always exactly the same, this is a very typical example.

30. CW 1591; CW 1637.

31. Margaret Spufford, 'The scribes of villagers' wills in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and their influence', Local population studies 7 (1971), 28-43; idem, Contrasting communities), 320-43; J. D. Alsop, 'Religious preambles in early modern English wills as formulae', Journal of ecclesiastical history 40 (1989), 19-27; Christopher Marsh, 'In the name of God? Will-making and faith in early modern England', in Martin and Spufford, Records of the nation, 215—49. Anyone wishing to work in this area is strongly advised to read these three pieces before proceeding, since a brief summary cannot do justice to them.

32. P. W. Fleming, 'Charity, faith, and the gentry of Kent 1422-1529', in Tony Pollard (ed.), Property and politics: essays in later medieval English history (Gloucester, 1984) 37.

33. Marsh, 'In the name of God', 226-9

34. Wills of Thomas and Anne Jessop (both CW 1610), Elizabeth Denison (CW 1613), Thomas Mayhew(CW 1613), and Thomas Jones (CW 1615).

35. Marjorie Mcintosh argues that Havering testators were less deferential to scribes, and often dictated tbeir own preambles or insertions into scribal formulae: A community transformed, 188. Mcintosh gives reasons why this behaviour might have been peculiar to Havering, though Margaret Spufford does find an occasional example of a testator altering his scribe's formula in a way which suggests personal religious views: Contrasting communities, 335.

36. Almanacs: Bernard Capp, 'Will formularies', Local population studies 14 (1975) 49; legal works: two which are often cited by scholars are A boke of presidentes exactly written in maner of a register (London, 1559); and William West'sSymbolaeographia. Which may be termed the art, description, or image of instruments, couenants, contracts, etc. (London, 1590). On the use of West's work, see Alsop, 'Religious preambles'; and Claire Cross, 'Wills as evidence of popular piety in the Reformation period: Leeds and Hull, 1540-1640', in David Loades (ed.), The end of strife (Edinburgh, 1984), 44-51. Cross's argument has been undermined by Marsh 'In the name of God', 243-4.

37. 'Wills as religious propaganda: The testament of William Tracy', Journal of ecclesiastical history 44 (1993) 415-31.

38. Marsh, 'In the name of God', 244-7.

39. Spufford, Contrasting communities, 322-7,333; Coppel, 'Wills and the community*, 82-86; Evans, 'Inheritance, women, religion and education', 58; Qaire Cross, "The development of Protestantism in Leeds and Hull, 1520-1640: The evidence from wills', Northern history 18 (1982) 231-3; John Craig, 'Margaret Spittlehouse, female scrivener', Local population studies (1992) 54—7. Because sixteenth- and seventeenth-century testators tended to make wills when dying, they were thinking especially of facing the Almighty and the way in which the bequest of their soul was phrased might have had more relevance; as it became more common to make wills while healthy the religious preamble fell into disuse: Marsh, 'In the name of God', 222; Stephen Coppel, 'Will-making on the deathbed'. Local population studies 40 (1988) 37—45.

40. Alsop, 'Religious preambles'.

41. Michael L. Zell, 'Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century wills as historical sources', Archives 14 (1979) 69; idem, "The use of religious preamblesas a measure.of religious belief in the sixteenth century', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 50 (1977) 246-9. For Porye, see Alsop, 'Religious preambles', 23; Rushbrigg's will is CW 1586. His is not an isolated case. Professor Spufford and Dr Marsh have in their works a number of examples of deeply religious and pious individuals whose wills begin in ways that would give no indication of it.

42. Craig and Litzenberger, 'Wills as religious propaganda, 417, 418, See also Cross, 'Wills as evidence', 51, for several examples of preambles as 'authentic confessions of faith'.

43. CW 1590.

44. Christine Carpenter, 'The religion of the gentry of fifteenth-century England', in Daniel Williams (ed.), England in the Fifteenth Century (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1987) 53-74; Fleming, 'Charity, faith, and the gentry', 36-58. See also Nigel Saul, 'The religious sympathies of the gentry in Gloucestershire', Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society 98 (1982) 99-112; Malcolm Vale, Piety, charity and literacy among the Yorkshire gentry, 1370-1480 (York, 1976).

45. Clive Burgess, "By quick and by dead": wills and pious provision in late medieval Bristol', English historical review 102 (1987) 837-58; idem, 'Late medieval wills and pious conventions: testamentary evidence reconsidered", in M. A. Hicks (ed.), Profit, piety and the professions in later medieval England (Gloucester, 1990) 14-33; P. H. Cullura and P. J. P. Goldberg, 'Charitable provision in late medieval York: "To the praise of God and the use of the poor"', Northern history29 (1993) 24-39; Peter Heath, 'Urban piety in the later middle ages: the evidence of Hull wills', in R. B. Dobson (ed.),The church, politics and patronage in the fifteenth century (Gloucester, 1984) 209-34. See also Caroline Barron, 'The parish fraternities of medieval London', in C. M. Barron and C. Harper-Bill (eds,) The church in pre- Reformation society, (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1987), 13-37; Norman P. Tanner, The church in late medieval Norwich, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Studies and Texts 66 (Toronto, 1984).

46. Burgess, '"By quick aod by dead*", 840; Carpenter, 'Religion of the gentry', 61-2; Fleming,'Charity, faith, and the gentry*, 50-2; Heath, 'Urban piety', 217-18; dare Gittings, Death, burial and the individual in early modern England(London, 1984).

47. J. J. Scarisbrick, The Reformation and the English People (Oxford, 1984) chap. 1. See also Eamon Duffy, The stripping of the altars: traditional religion in England c. 1400 - c. 1580 (New Haven, 1992); Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: religion, politics, and society under the Tudors (Oxford, 1993).

48. Claire Cross, 'Monasticism and society in the diocese of York 1520-1540', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society5th ser., 38 (1988) 131-45; Carpenter, 'Religion of the gentry', 68. See also Heath, 'Urban piety'; Saul, 'Religious sympathies'; Vale, Piety, charity and literacy.

49. Burgess, '"By quick and by dead"', 857.

50. A. G. Dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the diocese of York, 1509-1538 (London, 1959; repr. 1982) 171-2, 215-17; Cross, 'Development of Protestantism'; idem, 'Wills as evidence'. See Lorraine AUreed, 'Preparation for death in sixteenth-century northern England', Sixteenth Century Journal 13 (1982) 40-5; D. M. Palliser, The Reformation in York 1534-1553 (York, 1971) 18-21,32.

51. Mcintosh, A community transformed, 143; Cross, 'Development of Protestantism', esp. 234, 236-37; idem, 'Northern women' 91; idem, 'The genesis of a godly community: two York parishes 1590-1640', Studies in church history 23 (1986), 209-22. Lorraine Attreed detects a sharp increase in bequests to tbe poor in a wider sampling of northern wills:'Preparation for death', 45-56; W. K. Jordan, Philanthropy in England 1480-1660 (London, 1959). See also: Caroline Litzenberger, 'Local responses to changes in religious policy based on evidence from Gloucestershire wills (1540-1580)',Continuity and change 8 (1993); G. J. Mayhew,'The progress of tbe Reformation in East Sussex 1530-1559; the evidence from wills', Southern history 5 (1983) 38-67.

52. Derek Plumb, 'The social and economic spread of rural Lollardy: a reappraisal', Studies in church history 23 (1986), 111-29; idem, 'John Foxe and the later Lollaids of tbe Thames valley', unpub. University of Cambridge Ph.D. dissertation, 1987.

53. Christopher Marsh, '"A gracelesse, and audacious companie"? The Family of Love in the parish of Balsham, 1550-1630',Studies in Church History 23 (1986) 191-208, esp. 194-5, 198-200. Dr Marsh's monograph, The Family of Love in English society, 1550-1630, was not yet available when this essay was written.

54. William Stevenson, 'Sectarian cohesion and social integration, 1640-1725', in E. S. Leedham-Green (ed.), Religious dissent in East Anglia (Cambridge, 1991) 69-86.

55. Spufford, Contrasting communities, 171-218; idem, Small books and pleasant histories: popular fiction and its readership in seventeenth-century England (London, 1981) esp. chap. 2, On literacy, see David Cressy, Literacy and the social order (Cambridge, 1980).

56. Spufford, Contrasting communities, 181-3, 192-205; Mcintosh, A community transformed, 265.

57. Evans, 'Inheritance, women, religion and education', 59-60, Spufford, Contrasting communities, 171-91, 195-4. Wills cited: CW 1574 (Pamby); CW 1594 (Goodwin); CW 1670 (Frohock).

58. See Spufford, Small books and pleasant histories', Tessa Watt, Cheap print and popular piety, 1550-1640 (Cambridge, 1991)

59. The special significance of devotional and liturgical books as bequests is discussed by Kate Harris, 'Patrons, buyers and owners: the evidence for ownership, and the r6le of owners in book production and the book trade', in Jeremy Griffiths and Derek Pearsall (eds.), Book production and publishing in Britain, 1375-1475 (Cambridge, 1989) 163-99, esp. 163.

60. Gifford's will from Leland H. Carlson (ed.), The writings of Henry Barrow, 1590-1591, (London, 1966) 384. Spufford,Contrasting communities, 210-l1. The evidence from Ely wills and inventories may be compared to that from other places in: Peter dark, 'The ownership of books in England, 1560-1640: the example of some Kentish townsfolk', in Lawrence Stone (ed.), Schooling and society (Baltimore, 1976) 95-111. Two medieval urban studies yield somewhat different results: Heath found books in Hull wills, mostly works of private piety but also two volumes of 'physic', while Tanner found some Norwich clergy book- owners, including some with large collections, but far fewer among the laity. Notably, the largest collection in Norwich was recorded in the inventory of John Baker, a secular priest - 26 books by name and 'twenty other small books' - but his will mentions none. Heath, 'Urban piety', 226; Tanner, Church in medieval Norwich, 35-42, 111-12. Some wills and inventories for comparison: M. Cash (ed.), Devon inventories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new ser. 11 (1966), F. G. Emmison (ed.), Elizabethan life: wills of Essex gentry and merchants (Chelmsford, 1978); and Elizabethan life: wills of Essex gentry and yeomen(Chelmsford, 1980); Claire Cross (ed.), York clergy wills 1520-1600: /. Minster clergy, Borthwick Texts and calendars: records of the northern province 10 (York, 1984); J. S. W. Gibson (ed.), Banbury wills and inventories part one 1591-1620, Banbury Historical Society 13 (Banbury, 1985). The appraisal of books in both the Ely courts is touched on in W. M. Palmer, 'College dons, country clergy and university coachmen (early probate records)', Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 63 [n.s. 10J (1912) 145-200.

61. What follows is based on Paul Slack, The impact of plague in Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1985), esp. 54-60, 127, 147-8; and Takahashi, 'Number of wills proved', 201-04. See also M. A. Faraday, 'Mortality in the diocese of Hereford 1442-1541', Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club 42 (1977) 163-74. Although it might seem as if will-making could drop off during plague, anecdotal evidence suggests that people had adequate warning and opportunity. Fear of contagion and later quarantine made the mechanics a bit awkward, but a standard formal will was evidently achievable: Mcintosh, .4 community transformed, 82.

62. David Cressy, 'Kinship and kin interaction in early modern England', Past and present 113 (1986) 56-60. On the other hand, Vann shows that in Banbury, at least before 1650, a higher percentage of wills mention a wider range of kin than is true for villages which have been studied. The wide mention of extended kin does start to contract after 1650 but is still comparatively high: Vann, 'Wills and the family', 363-6. See also Keith Wrightson, 'Kinship in an English village: Terling, Essex, 1500-1700', in Richard M. Smith (ed.), Land, kinship and life-cycle (Cambridge, 1984) 313-32.

63. 1 am currently working on Dry Drayton and hope to publish some of this research as part of a project on the quondamrector Richard Greenham.

64. Carlson, Marriage, chap. 6. See also Bonfield, 'Normative rules and property transmission'; Vann, 'Wills and the family', 361-2.

65. Carlson, Marriage, esp. 139.

66. Spufford, 'Peasant inheritance customs', 157.

67. Mark Overton, A bibliography of British probate inventories (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1983); Amy Louise Erickson, 'An introduction to probate accounts', in Martin and Spufford, Records of the nation, 273-86; and Women and property in early modem England (London, 1993), particularly 34-44.

68. R. Fieldhouse, 'Social structure from Tudor lay subsidies and probate inventories: a case study: Richmondsbire (Yorkshire)', Local population studies 12 (1974) 9-24; Margaret Spufford, 'The significance of the Cambridgeshire hearth tax', Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society 55 (1962) 53-64; and Christopher Husbands, 'Hearths, wealth and occupations', in Kevin Schurer and Tom Arkell (eds.), Surveying the people (Local Populations Studies Supplement, Oxford, 1992) 65-77.

69. Margaret Spufford, 'The limitations of the probate inventory', in English rural society, 139-74; quote at p. 174. On the survival of accounts, see Erickson, 'An introduction', 286.

70. Margaret Spufford, The great reclothing of rural England: petty chapmen and their wares in the seventeenth century(Loudon, 1984); C. B, Phillips, 'Probate records and the Kendal shoemakers in the seventeenth century* in P. Ridcn (ed.), Probate records, 29-51, quote at p. 37; D. G. Vaiscy,'Probate inventories and provincial retailers', esp. 106-7.

71. Joan Thirsk, 'The content and sources of English agrarian history after 1500', in The rural economy of England (London, 1984) 6-9; The agrarian history of England and Wales, Vol V, 1640-1750: I. Regional farming systems; 11. Agrarian change, ed. Joan Thirsk (Cambridge, 1984—85).

72. M. A. Havinden, 'Agricultural progress in open field Oxfordshire', Agricultural history review 9 (1961) 73-83; Mark Overton, 'Agricultural revolution? Development of the agrarian economy in early modem England', in A. R. H. Baker (ed.), Explorations in historical geography. Interpretative essays (Cambridge, 1984) 128-9; Bruce M. S. Campbell and Mark Overton, 'A new perspective on medieval and early modern agriculture: six centuries of Norfolk farming c. 1250 - c. 1850', Past and present 141 (1993) 38-105. For an overview, see Overton, 'English probate inventories and the measurement of agricultural change', in Ad van der Woude and Anton Schuurman (eds.), Probate inventories: a new source for the historical study of wealth, material culture and agricultural development, Afdcling Agrarische Geschiedenis, Bijdragen 23 (Wageningen, 1980). While Overton's bibliography is quite extensive, see especially 'The diffusion of agricultural innovations in early modem England: turnips and clover in Norfolk and Suffolk, 1580-1740',Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, n.s. 10 (1985), which uses inventories to map the spread of new crops and identify the social dass of innovators; and 'Estimating crop yields from probate inventories: an example from East Anglia, 1585-1735', Journal of economic history 39 (1979) 363-78.

73. Spufford, 'Limitations of the probate inventory', 146-9.

74. M. A. Havinden (ed.), Household and farm inventories in Oxfordshire, 1550-90, Oxfordshire Record Society (1965) 15-19; Rachel P. Garrard, 'English probate inventories and their use in studying the significance of the domestic interior, 1570-1700', in van der Woude and Schuurman, Probate inventories, 55-81. Mrs Gamrd has further work in progress on change in domestic interiors.

75. Lorna Weatherill, 'Probate inventories and consumer behaviour in England 1660-1740', in Martin and Spufford, Records of the nation, 251-72; idem, Consumer behaviour and material culture, 1660-1760 (London, 1988); Spufford, Great reclothing, chap. 7.

76. Weatherill, 'Probate inventories', 271; Spufford, 'Limitations of the probate inventory', 144; Vaisey, 'Probate inventories and provincial retailers', 101. Vaisey usefully cites an episode from Jonson's Volpone which illustrates this.

77. Vaisey, 'Probate inventories and provincial retailers', 99-101.

78. I am grateful to Dr Peter Spufford for inviting me to write this essay; to Dr Rosemary Rodd and Dr Elisabeth Leedham-Green for their assistance with the graphs and statistical data; and to Dr Nesta Evans, Dr Christopher Marsh, Dr John Craig, Dr Motoyasu Takahashi and, most of all, Professor Margaret Spufford.