Sussex Wills at Lewes 1541-1652, Introduction to Original Volume

British Record Society Volume 24

Published 1901

Of the general utility of Will Calendars it is now hardly necessary to speak, but the present Calendar has certain features on which a few remarks are perhaps desirable. The dates of will and probate have been introduced in order to facilitate the identification of the testator, and to assist in distinguishing between persons of the same name and Christian name without reference to the will transcripts; and it is hoped many unnecessary references to these books may thus be saved.

The transcript books are numbered in a' series A 1, A 2, etc.; A signifying Archdeaconry of Lewes. There is a second series of transcripts, late in date, but in the earlier period supplemented by " bundles," of which some items are original wills, others loose copies. This series is known as the Deanery Wills, those of testators from the Deanery of South Mailing, a peculiar jurisdiction of the Archbishops of Canterbury. These bundles are lettered A-to H ; but the instruments in each bundle have been arranged and numbered differently at different times; and in this Calendar these have been entered as they were found. They are of-course liable to rearrangement and to casual disarrangement. There is a further peculiar jurisdiction, that of the titular dean of Battle. The books of this peculiar are called the " Battle Books."

In addition to these are two books known as the "Chichester Books." These books are bound uniformly with the transcript books preserved in the Archdeaconry of Chichester at the Chichester Probate Office. They are designated C 4 and C 11, and these volumes, 4 and 11, are wanting in that series, the books having been sent to Lewes^because their contents referred to the Lewes Archdeaconry, not to the Chichester Archdeaconry. The book C4 is mainly contemporaiy with the Lewes Book A 1> and in part duplicates the Lewes Book numbered Ala. There is also the series of Act-books. These are numbered con­secutively B1, B 2, B 3, etc.; and contain administration and probate acts, together with a small number of miscellaneous entries. Adminis­tration Acts were entered into the transcript books before this series of Act-books began, and these are probably pretty complete as a series.

The Act-books, contain a certain amount of miscellaneous matter. The sequestrations have been gathered together into one list. A few marriage allegations have also been collected. Among the Acts are calendared a considerable number of commissions issued, for taking oaths of persons, commonly executors or administrators, who were, or professed to be, unable to attend before the Surrogate for that purpose. The chief value of these lies in the fact that the parish priest was usually the first named of the commissioners, two clerical neighbours being usually associated with him. It is hoped that these commissions will thus assist in tracing the various incumbents of the rural livings, for the sequestration list alone gives very few of the changes among the clergy. The caveats have also been calendared as giving presumptive proof of the decease of the party in reference to whose estate they were lodged.

The Battle Book has a number of entries relating to the deanery, and to the discipline of the church. Among these are notes- of ecclesiastical punishments for defamation, immorality, and so forth; memoranda of claims made by the bishops and resisted by the deans, whereby it appears that the dispute begun in the time of the Conqueror himself was still going on six hundred years later; entries relating to citations, excommunications, tithes unpaid or in dispute, drunkenness, witchcraft, matrimonial discords, etc., etc. It is somewhat interesting to find in these records evidence that in matters of adultery and the like the accused was still able to purge himself by the oaths of four to six honest persons, as late as 1575. The dean's jurisdiction was somewhat wide as appears by this entry:— Pueriduo Eodem die [9 April 1578] iniu'ctu' erat duobus pueris verberati pro rbymis p. eos compositis de uxore Thome Dobs p. rfaymis ut domi a parentibus et magistris poenas virgani' de caiita&s. licerent Quod facta est The records are incomplete, and there is no means available in the registry of making good the missing portions, save in a very few instances. The first hiatus is between Book A 5 and Book A 6. This is to a certain extent supplied by Book Oil'. A more -important hiatus, of three years, 35, 26, and 27 of Elizabeth, was due to the vacancy Of the see of Chichester, from the death of Bishop Richard Curteys in August 1582 to the elevation of Thomas Bickley, elected 30 Dec. 1585. None of the wills proved in this interval are now to be found, but the act-books supply, perhaps very imperfectly, such scanty details as can be gathered from the mere probate acts.

In addition to the probate acts of this vacancy period there are a certain number of other probate acts -showing that wills were proved in the registry, of which, however, no transcripts are now forthcoming.

In the' same way there are certain "administrations with will.annexed," which are technically administration acts, but with which should be. transcripts of the so-annexed wills. Of these some may on research no doubt be found to be second probates, or probates granted in exercise of power reserved, or administrations issued by reason of the interim death of the executor. Still others may be found among the so-called Unregistered Wills, two bundles designated HI and US. Of these many were in fact duly registered, and in the Calendar have been referred to their proper places in the register books. Various irregularities account for yet other of these cases, as for example Colman, Joane, Brede, 25 Sept. 1576; B1 48, where the act-book contains this note: "We lacke the will to goe on the file." A further number of these probate acts refer to wills proved from March 1641 to the abolition of the episcopal jurisdiction under the Commonwealth. The act-books break Off in March 1642-3; but wills were still 'proved/ perhaps it would be more correct to say still brought in, all through the Commonwealth. Some of these are extant, as original wills, in the "Unregistered" bundles.

The description or occupation of the testator has been added in this Calendar. The utility of this addition hardly requires defence, but it is perhaps necessary to remark that these descriptions are not exactly of the same sense now. In a simpler age the tenant-farmer was designated a husbandman; the man who described himself as a carpenter or a bricklayer, would now be called a builder, and would probably describe himself as a contractor. The esquire means a justice of the peace, and -was a purely official title. Of the more unusual descriptions it is hardly necessary to say anything, as none are really obscure words, and all are to be found in the magnificent .dictionaries now available for beginners in these researches.

This Calendar differs from others in the treatment of the surnames, a point on which a few words of explanation are necessary. In the utter absence of any dependable system of spelling, it is commonly impossible to ascertain from an index all the persons of the same surname therein to be found, except by guessing every possible way of spelling that surname, and searching for every hypothetical form. The extent to which both vowels and consonants are interchangeable makes an endless variety of spelling—a and e, a and 0, e and t, b and p, d and /, f and v, these last also both alternating with w, and so on—a variety so great that many forms would certainly be missed, especially by those unfamiliar with the provincialisms of the county. In this instance every variety of spelling has been brought together under the most readily recognisable form, with cross-references to that form from all the variants. By this process it is possible that names really distinct have been confused together, but the labour of discriminating in such a case, if it should have occurred, is trifling compared with the labour of assembling from sometimes twenty or thirty variants all the persons in the Calendar of one name. To some it may appear that there is no common basis for some of the varieties found under one heading. At first sight for example Pankhurst and Penticost do not appear to have much in common. But every kind of intermediate form is also found, and the two are found as alternatives, or as an alias, as late as 1740. In some instances it is unquestionable that names primarily distinct have become so intimately confused that only most elaborate research could possibly disentangle them. For example in a lay subsidy roll of 1296 (rape of Lewes) printed by Mr. Blaauw (S.A.C., vol. ii, 1849) are the names Robert de Pykecumbe and Adam de Pykcumbe, and Walter de Pytkumbe, doubtless a misreading of Pyckumbe; all of these being good phonetic spellings of the place-name now written Pyecombe, and that place is in the same roll written Pykcumbe. On the other hand Peckham, phonetically Packham, is one of the commonest surnames in East Sussex and West Kent. It is, however, most difficult to distinguish between these two when dealing with some of the intermediate forms such as Pickham, Peccombs, and the division that has been made will be understood to be merely the best that could be devised under the circumstances. In any case of doubt the spelling in the Calendar itself is that of the will so far as could be gathered. Frequently the will itself varies the spelling a good deal, and in the case of probate acts and administration acts, the spelling in the act very often differs from the spelling in the margin. Here, however, one is in .fact only dealing with the fancy of the clerk, and these spellings' are accordingly of veiy little importance.

Some few of the surnames are practically unintelligible, as for example Richard P.mitterrye (presumably for Permittenye) of Bishop's Hartfield, Hareforth' (presumably for Bishop's Hatfield, Herts). This may serve as an example of the care with which these records were originally prepared at times. The indexes to the books are very untrustworthy sometimes; for example, one Edmund Tamot, probably for Edmund a Mott, is indexed under " Christ," the Divine name being taken from the words used by the testator, in dating the will.

In the matter of Christian names it has been felt to .be quite unnecessary to preserve the vagaries of the original. In the vast majority of cases the name intended is obvious. It is frequently Latinised, and in some instances. confusion is thereby introduced. No attempt has been made to distinguish between Maria and Mary, James and Jacob, Ralph and Randolph, etc., etc. Sometimes it is really difficult to know what was intended, for it is fairly plain that some are ' ghost-names.' Dominacle is such a name. It appears to be a mere anglicising of Dominicalis, primarily bestowed perhaps on a child born on a Sunday. The other days of the week do not occur, but it is not easy to see what else it could mean. Another name open to much doubt is Jerard, Jared, Jerad, which may apparently be the same name, and identical with Gerrard. Some of these forms occur as surnames also, and being quite undistinguishable in their variants are all grouped together under Jarrett. Another Christian name of some uncertainty appears often as Eliseus. At times this appears to be Latin for Ellis, other times for Elisha, as in Luke iv, 27.

The Puritanical Christian names are of the usual type. Beestedfast, Aideonhigh, Performethyvowes, Godsblessing, Havemercy, Renewed, Lovegod, are some of the more unusual. Two of these names exhibit that absurd appropriateness, so to speak, which indicates that these were not always baptismal, but sometimes only assumed Christian names. Godsblessing,- for example, was the name of one Bell, a clerk in holy orders. Havemercy Cryer may have been so called in his helpless infancy, for the appositeness of the name was not in any way influenced by his subsequent calling. It is an inconvenient feature of these Pharisaical names that the sex of the bearer is often quite unrecognisable. These vagaries of an infatuated age need not surprise those who have been contemporary with " Shirley " Brooks and " Hepworth " Dixon.

The place-names in the Calendar have been given in their present form. One trifling anachronism has been perpetrated. The old name of the parish of Newhaven was Meeching, but inasmuch as " Meeching sis. Newhaven" occurs as early as 1600, it seemed a small matter to put back the newer name the half-century to the beginning of this Calendar. In like manner the name Eckington,- for Rype, has been neglected. As to some names there has at times been a doubt. Rye and Rype, Friston and Alfriston, are perhaps easily confused, but great efforts have been made to avoid error in this respect.

The dates given are those actually found in the records. It will be discovered that some of these are' in fact inconsistent; these are printed in italic figures. They must be erroneous in some respect, a circumstance hardly avoidable when it is recognised that the transcribing clerks must often have been much in arrear with this work. Further in the act- books the system of entering items under such headings as "eodem die " without a date expressed for many consecutive entries, and sometimes for several pages together, renders it doubtful if these were in fact all " eodem die," and at times an entry has been interpolated under a fresh date, with the result that there is .a measure of doubt till a fresh date is reached, as to which of the previous dates is to apply to certain entries. If these interpolated entries could be recognised with certainty some of this doubt would be removed, but the act-books are often in such confusion that it is most difficult to arrive at a definite decision between mere irregularity and actual interpolation. That the interpolations are themselves correct in fact is perhaps not open to question, but that certain entries have been "crowded in" after the sheet was first written is not open to question at all. In addition to this the dates given in the probate acts at the end of the transcripts do not always agree with the dates in the same acts as entered in the act-books.

While on the subject of dates it is also perhaps useful to observe that the official dates are always " according to the style of the Church of England," a phrase repeated thousands of times. On the other hand, it frequently appears by the testator's use of double dates, the year of our Lord and the regnal year, that his reckoning of the year was not according to the style of the Church of England—namely, regarding Lady Day as the first of the year—but according to the common reckoning, the so-called historical year; calculating, as we now do, from the ist of January. That this custom prevailed to a considerable extent throughout the whole interval from Norman times to the rectification of the Calendar in 1751 is abundantly demonstrated.

It is frequently imagined, though entirely a misapprehension, that the " mos Gallicanus," introduced into Normandy itself only on the French conquest of the English provinces, was brought into England by the Normans. The whole idea of dating the Incarnation from the Annuncia­tion, instead of from the Nativity, is a logical pedantry, doubtless of the Italian or Italian-educated prelates. It was not actually his origination, but was first generally used by Hildebrand, Pope St. Gregory VII, and not till the Pontificate of Alexander III [1159-1181] did the practice of reckoning from the Annunciation, the Florentine calculation, become fairly settled as the ordinary papal usage. That the practice was intro­duced into England by the ecclesiastics who crowded in with the French Queens, the Poictevins, Angevins, Aquitanians, Gascons, and Provencals, is as plain as that the custom so introduced was never universal in England; it was almost always disregarded by the annalists and historians throughout, and as is seen in this Calendar frequently by the common people also. Even the English Church itself did not adhere to its own so-called style, for its ecclesiastical year was set out from Advent, and its calendar of lessons from the Circumcision. Moreover, it must be remembered that Bissextile was always computed by the common reckoning, as illustrated by examples herein to be found. Thus arises the absurdity that the last day of February 1615, according to the style of the Church of England, was the 29th February, because that was the February of the year 1616, which was a leap-year according to everybody's calculation. This little fact displays very clearly the artificiality of this "Style of the Church of England," just as the incessant statement of that style betrays the recognition that there was need for obviating any misunderstanding which might arise by con­fusion with the common reckoning; whereby again it is seen that this style was never universal in the kingdom, and the attempt to engraft it never unopposed. That it became the Government reckoning, and therefore also called the " civil" and " legal" year, and so yet remains for Treasury purposes, old Lady Day being now 7 April, arises from the circumstance that for centuries the great offices of the Crown in these matters were filled by ecclesiastics. No instances have been observed of the ancient English' reckoning from the Nativity, not the Circumcision, but it is to be observed that only in a few special cases do the dates so fall as to give unmistakeable evidence of the testator's meaning in the date of the will. In this respect furthermore he most frequently have been overruled by the opinion of the parish ' priest, who was often called upon to write for an unlettered testator.

Dates stated by regnal years only have the corresponding date anno Domini added in square brackets. A note of interrogation has been put wherever there has seemed to be a possible doubt; and also where the assumption that the testator must have been using the common reckoning, not the ecclesiastical, is the only obvious means of reconciling th'e dates of will and of probate. The frequency with which this occurs is a measure, and a quite inadequate one, of the very general prevalence of the common reckoning.