Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury :
Index of Wills
Registered 1499 - 1712
of Wills Registered 1713 - 1858
Original Wills 1449 - 1858
Inventories 1564 - 1770
Prerogative Court of Canterbury :
Index of Wills Registered
1384 - 1858
Consistory Court of Canterbury :
Index of Wills Registered 1449 to
Wills Registered before 1858
There were many probate courts, but limiting ourselves to wills
produced by people from Staplehurst, there are 3 primary sources to be
considered – Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury, Consistory Court of
Canterbury, and the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. There is likely to
be some Staplehurst wills found in other collections, but these have not
been searched by me. If anyone comes across other wills, I would be
delighted to hear from you.
For anyone interested in extending the
search beyond those recorded here, David Wright has produced an
excellent book ‘Kent Probate Records, A Catalogue and Practical Guide’.
The book outlines the various collections and identifies where they are
held and if there are indexes.
Where a will was proved was broadly determined by the ecclesiastical
jurisdiction. Staplehurst lies within the Deanery of Sutton which is
part of the Diocese of Canterbury. Therefore, most wills were proved by
the Archdeaconry Court of Canterbury.
When people owned goods in more than one jurisdiction, the will
was proved in the more senior Prerogative Court of Canterbury. In
practice, many people preferred the Prerogative Court, particularly in
the 19th century. During the Commonwealth (1653 – 1660), all
wills were proved by a central Court of Probate and these now form part
of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury collection held by The National
There are a small number of Staplehurst wills proved in the
Consistory Court which was presided over by the bishop and was superior
to the Archdeaconry Court.
When probate was granted, the executor paid a fee to have the will
copied into the register. Not all wills were registered. The wills
indexed as 'original' were not registered and are original or copies of
There are many books which explain the probate process and
understanding wills. Some suggestions are:
'Wills before 1858’, by Eve McLaughlin.
‘Wills, Probate & Death Duty Records, An Introduction to’,
by Jane Cox.
‘Kent Probate Records, A Catalogue and Practical Guide’,
by David Wright.
'Probate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills',
by Jeremy Gibson.
Archives web site has information on researching wills which is
From the 16th to 18th century, probate inventories were compiled within
days of a person’s death, and were supposed to list all his or her
moveable assets, such as clothing, household goods and furnishings,
crops, livestock and leasehold property. The inventory also listed debts
owed to the deceased, but it does not identify money the deceased owed
to others, which can result in an inaccurate picture of the value of an
estate. This deficiency can sometimes be overcome by use of the probate
accounts if both inventory and account survived.
However, we need to also note that neither the inventory nor the
accounts have any record of real estate which means that we cannot be
sure of the value of an estate.
Some inventories are of exceptional detail where they list room by room
all the furniture and contents. It can give a fascinating view of the
life style of the deceased.
The inventory’s values are the appraisers estimates of what the
deceased’s goods would fetch if sold.
The making of the inventory was the responsibility of the executor or
administrator and had to be carried out openly in the presence of
witnesses. In practice the appraisal of goods for inventories was
normally carried out by neighbours.
The purpose of the inventory was to provide a record of the deceased’s
assets to prevent dishonesty by the executor or administrator and to
assist him or her in discharging the deceased’s outstanding financial
obligations and distributing the balance of the estate to the next of
After a probate inventory had been complied, it was submitted to the
appropriate ecclesiastical court, which retained a copy for its own
records. The court would then grant probate, if the deceased had left a
will, or letters of administration if he had not.
Probate was only required on estates valued at more than £5.
Note that some inventories were 'registered' or copied by the clerk. The
bulk of the inventories in this index are original papers. I have
indicated the type of document on the index. The quality of the
documents is often poor and difficult to read while others are
excellent; generally the registered copies are easier to read.
The account was a legal document and summarizes the financial status
of the deceased prior to distribution of his estate. It includes
moveable goods only; real estate is not included.
It generally follows a set format. The initial statement identifies the
deceased, the accountant, date, place of usual residence of the
deceased, and relationship of the accountant to the deceased. The status
or occupation of the deceased man is rarely given while usually a woman
will be identified as a widow or spinster.
The accountant can be the widow of a man, son or brother, occasionally
creditor, or if minor children are left, possibly the guardian who is
probably a relative.
The document will include items such as the cost of the funeral, value
of the inventory of goods, debts paid, assets collected, etc.
After all details have been entered, a remainder is calculated of
the value of the estate minus the expenses.
If there was a positive balance, and the deceased had not left a will,
it was the court’s duty to distribute the balance among the deceased’s
next of kin. Details of the manner of the distribution were added at the
foot of the account.
In 1685, an Act of Parliament meant that it was no longer necessary for
administrators to render accounts to the courts unless there was a
request on behalf of a minor, from the next of kin, or from a creditor
of the deceased. Therefore, with one exception, the accounts records
cease in 1685.
For information on how to get copies of these documents
Notes on Data Format:
The index of wills are sorted by surname.
For the Archdeaconry Court Wills, the File, Volume and Folio are as they
are held by the Centre for Kentish Studies. The wills were re catalogued
some years ago and a much older index is published in some documents
which is not compatible with the current catalogue.
The wills are filed within volumes covering a group of years for which
probate was granted (as opposed to the date the will was written or the
date the person died).
I have not included book marks as the volumes are small.
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