Hulley Family History > Wills

pPrerogative Court of Canterbury
pPrerogative Court of York
pEngland and Wales
1858 - 1900

pLancashire and Cheshire
p16th to 19th Century
pLeicestershire Record Office

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Wills are an important source for genealogy. They usually show immediate family members, i.e. beneficiaries of the deceased's estate, other related persons e.g. executors and witnesses, and other people who are creditors or debtors of the person making the will.

Persons who owed land and/or property almost always left a will, others lower down the social scale usually did not have sufficient assets to make the writing of a will worthwhile, indeed, many of them could not read or write. The property which they left behind - clothes, tools etc. - were generally divided between their remaining family members without the formality of a will.

If a person died without previously making a will, then he or she died "Intestate". In these cases, application had to be made to the local court for "Letters of Administration" to be granted to a named person - sometimes a wife, husband, brother or sister or even a solicitor - who would then become responsible for the deceased's estate and its eventual disposal.

Before 1858, when the process of probate, i.e. the proving of a will in a recognised court, became the responsibility of central government, all wills and their subsequent disposal were under the control of the ecclesiastical, i.e. Church, courts. These were established in the 12th century under the Roman Catholic faith and continued after the Reformation with the Church of England. The country was divided into parishes, with each one being the responsibility of either the See of Canterbury or that of York. In a minority of cases "peculiar parishes" were introduced as a result of some local conditions e.g. the ownership of a distinct piece of land by a distant lord or monastery.

Prerogative Courts

In English law, these were courts through which the discretionary powers, privileges, and legal immunities reserved to the sovereign were exercised. Prerogative courts were originally formed during the period when the monarch exercised greater power than Parliament.

The royal prerogative is essentially the legitimate exercise of the sovereign's authority. Various powers have been considered part of it, including the coining of money, the creating of peers (members of the House of Lords), the calling and dissolving of Parliament, and the governing of the Church of England, all of which are formally - though not substantively - prerogatives still retained by the British sovereign. Formerly prerogatives, the powers to legislate, tax, and deal with emergency situations have long belonged to Parliament.

By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, the crown's prerogative powers had grown considerably. Certain courts had developed out of the king's council (Curia Regis) to give, in effect, the king's relief in those cases in which the common-law courts had failed to provide adequate remedy or in those areas in which they did not deal. Those courts, all of which played an important role in carrying out royal authority, became permanent specialized institutions, such as the Court of Star Chamber, which dealt with offenses against public order; the Court of High Commission, which was established to enforce the Reformation settlement; the Court of Requests, a poor-man's court that handled small-claims cases; and the Court of Chancery, which was essentially a court of equity.

By the early 17th century, the prerogative courts had provoked considerable opposition from the common-law courts, which had lost a good deal of business to them and saw any further extension of their jurisdiction as a threat to the survival of common law. This opposition reached its zenith at the time when the parliamentary forces were enraged at the determination of Charles I (reigned 1625-49) to govern without Parliament and at his use of the prerogative courts (particularly the Star Chamber and the High Commission) to enforce his religious and social policies. Consequently, with the exception of the Chancery, which had developed important procedures in the areas of trust with which the common-law courts refused to deal, most prerogative courts were either abolished by the Long Parliament or ceased to exist after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The sole prerogative court to survive the Restoration in some form was the Court of Requests, which was itself abolished by the end of the 17th century.

Source: Encyclopædia Britannica


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