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London: Arches

The Court of Arches was an appellate court for the Province of Canterbury. As such, it ruled on appeals from the ecclesiastical courts throughout Wales and all of England, except the 8 northern counties that belonged to the Province of York.

The records that survive in a series date from 1660. There are smaller numbers of records before that date, but they are not included in the printed index. There are records, 1660-1913, for 10,412 cases. It is estimated that over half of these cases concerned testamentary decisions of the lower courts. The printed index is thorough and provides easy access to the microfilmed collections. However, it should be kept in mind that probate records where the estate had little value were not likely to have been appealed. The original documents for the Court of Arches are housed at Lambeth Palace Library in London. For the types of records generated by this court that are used most often in probate research, see the table below, "Records for Probate Research."

Printed Index

1660-1913, All Cases (FHL 942 B4b) & (BYU CS 434 .B7) volume 85
This is volume 85 of the Index Library series (BRS) of printed indexes. It lists the cases in alphabetical order by the surname of the first plaintiff. Each case is assigned a number from 1-10,412 that appears in the left margin. The records for one case are not all grouped together, rather they may appear in several different archival classes. Each type of record is provided with a class designation beginning with a letter or letters of the alphabet. On pages vii-viii there is a brief description of the different groupings and the designated letters by which they are filed.

There are several different indexes in the back of volume 85. The two most important ones for probate research are the Index of Alternate Surnames (mostly maiden names) on pages 533-542 and the Index of Testators on pages 543-569.

Microfilmed Records

Many but not all of the records of the Court of Arches were obtained on two different occasions. The first collection is referred to as 1660-1913 (microfiche series) and begins with fiche 6064501. The second collection is 1554-1883 (series 2) and begins with film 1342388. To see all of the call numbers for the different records of this court, type the initial fiche or film number in the Film/Fiche box of the main menu of the FHL catalog.

Records for Probate Research

Class Type/Description FHL Series
A Act Books Series 2
Aa Acts of Court Series 2
Bbb Commissions "in partibus"
(Evidence taken outside of London)
Not Filmed
D Process Books
(Copies from lower courts)
Microfiche Series
E Libels/Allegations/Interrogatories
(Questions for Parties or Witnesses)
Not Filmed
Ee Personal Answers
(Responses to E by principal parties)
Series 2
F Muniment Books
(Official copies of evidence)
Series 2
G Papers Exhibited
(some wills, accounts & Inventories)
Not Filmed
H 19th Century Case Papers Microfiche Series

Finding Probate Records in the Court of Arches

  1. Start with the Index of Testators in volume 85. A sample from that index follows:
    Boyce, Jn. (1678) 1102
  2. Now turn to case 1102 on page 48 of volume 85. There you will find:
    • BOYCE V BOYCE, 1678: Mary B. v Thos. and Jn. B.; will of John Boyce, of Ashby St. Ledgers, Nthants. (Peterborough).
    • A 13 f. 97: D 219. 
      That is, the plaintiff, Mary Boyce, sued the defendants, Thomas and John Boyce, over something in the will of another John Boyce. The Court of Arches rendered its decision in 1678. Records on this case in the Court of Arches include volume 13 of the Act Books and item 219 in the Process Books.
  3. Look up Series 2 in the FHL catalog to find that volume 13 of the Act Books is on film 1342396. Likewise, you will find in the Microfiche Series that D 219 is on fiche 6064719.