Testamenta Leodiensia; Wills of Leeds, Pontefract, Wakefield,Otley and District, 1539-1553;
extracted and ed. by G. D. Lumb
This volume of wills, extracted from the 11th, 12th, and 13th books of the registered copies in the Probate Registry at York, extends from the year 1538 to the year 1553, and is the result of many visits th that ancient city during the years 1902 to 1913.
The volume contains 547 wills of testators residing in Leeds and the surrounding district, which includes a large portion of the ancient kingdom of Elmet and of the Honor of Pontefract. The important towns of Pontefract and Wakefield, and the old market-towns of Otley, Sherburn-in-Elmet, Guisely, Harewood, Rothwell, and Aberford are represented. The inhabitants were connect both by family ties and by community of interets. The testators are knights, esquires, ladies, gentry, clergy , clothiers, traders, farmers and labourers, and much light is thrown upon their social position, their customs, and their manner of life.
The wills were evidently copied in the register book from dictation and the peculiarity of spelling, repeated in successive wills , indicates that they were written by the same clerk. That is confirmed by the fact that where the r egistered copy can be compared with the original will, it will be found that the spelling of the latter is not followed.
A writer in the English Historical Review for July, 1912, reviewing the earlier portion of these wills, remarks that "unhappily, the copyists of the wills are plainly not equally competent." He can be assured that the wills were all copied for this volume by one person, but that thre are many dountful words in the registered copies caused by their being written dictation. Unfortunately the reviewer, in support of his criticism, states that " there is no verb to wit or to witto, meaning to bequeath; they copyist must have misread will, witten with colligation-stroke"! If only the reviewer had referred to the New English Dictionary, such an unhappy remark would not have been made.
The will apparently were generally drawn by the local clergy, who used their own form of will. Thomas Hardwick, of Potternewton, gentleman, a "lawyer", is occasionally made a supervisor, and his name occurs as witness to the will which he probably prepared.
There are many obsolete and dialect words in the ills, and an attempt has been made to explain them briefly by a Glossary in the General Index. Should further information be required the New English Dictionary, The English Dialect Dictionary, Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, The Catholicon Anglicum (Camden Society), and other similar works will be found useful.
A table of the distribution of intestates' effects is printed as an Appendix. It is a copy of an early eighteenth century MS. written in a legal handwriting, and it is believed that such a table is rarely to be met with. In connection with it, some explanation the descent and distribution of real and personal estate in mediaeval times may be of interest.
Before the passing of the Stature 4 and 5 William and Mary, cha.2. explained by 2 and 3 Anne, chap 5, for the province of York, a testator leaving a widow and children could not deprive his wife of one-third part of his estate, and his children of another third, which are termed their reasonable parts. He could only dispose of the remaining third, which he generally referred in his will as "my part," and sometimes as the "death's part." If he had no children the widow was entitled to one moiety, and e might bequeath the other, but if he dided without wife or issue the whole was at his own disposal.
With regard to an intestacy, Sir William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, book ii, chapter 32, remarked that in the PROVINCE of YORK the effects of an intestate, after payment of his debts were in general divided according to the ancient universal doctrine of the pars rationabilis. If the deaceased left a widown and children his substance (deduction for the widow's her apparel and the furniture of her bedchamber) was divided into three parts; one of which belonged to the widow, another to the children, and the third to the administrator; if only a widow or only children, they would repectively, in either case, take one moiety and the administrator the other; if neither widow nor child, the administrator would have the whole. And this portion, or dead man's part, the adminstrator was wont to apply to his own use, till the Stature I James II, chap. 17, declared that the same should be susbject to the stature of distribution (22 and 23 Charles II, chap. 10). It is also to be observed that if the wife was provided for by a jointure before marriage, in bar of her customary part, it put her in a state of non-entity with regard to the cusutom only; but she would be entitled to her share of the dead man's part under the statute of distribution, unless barred by special agreement. And if any children were advanced by the father in his lifetime with any sum of money (not amouting to their full proporotiable part), the would bring that portion into hotchpot with the rest of the borthers and sisters, but with the widow, before they were entitled to nay benefit under the custom but if they were fully adnvanced, the custom entitled them to no further dividend. The heir at common law, who inherited any land either in fee or in tail, was excluded from any filial portion or reasonable part.
With regard to real estate Blackstone states (chapter 23) that by the common law of England since the Conquest, no estate, greater than for term of years, could be disposed of by testament. But when ecclesiastical ingenuity had invented the doctrine of uses as a thing distinct from the land, uses began to be devised very frequently, and the devisee of the use could in chancery compel its execution. But when the Statute of Uses (27 Henry VIII, chap 10) had annexed the possession to use, these uses, being then the very land itself, became no longer devisable, which might have occasioned a great revolution in the law of devises, had not the Statute of Wills been made about five years after, viz. 32 Henry VIII, chap. I, explained by 34 Henry VIII, chap.5, which enacted that all persons being seised by fee simple (except married women, infants, idiots and persons of non-sane memory), might by will and testament, in writing, devise to any other person, except to bodies corporate, two-thirds of their lands held in chivalry, and the whole of those held in socage (the common tenure or freehold), which through the alteration of tenures by the Statute of Charles the Second, amounted to the whole of their landed propertly, except their copyhold tenements, but subject to dower and other incidents of tenure.
A preface to a volume of Yorkshire wills should not be concluded without reference being made to the ver useful indexes compiled by Dr. Collins, and printed in the "Record Series" of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society.
Abstract of Yorkshire wills have been printed by the Surtees Society and the "Record Series," in Wills, Registers, and Monumental Incriptions of Barwick-in-Elmet, in Records of Batley and in Halifax Wills. About 400 wills earlier than those appearing in this volume have been printed in the volumes of "Miscellanea" of the Thoresby Society.
The registers of the following parishes ( of which wills appear in this volume) have been printed, viz.: Adelm Barwich-in-Elmet, Calverley, Garforth, Guiseley, Harewood, Kippaax, Ledsham, Leeds, Methley, Monk Fryston, Otley, Rothwell, and Whitkirk.
G.D.L Leeds, April, 1914.