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The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) was the most important pre-1858 probate court. It had both original and appellate jurisdiction throughout England and Wales. Its central location and the security afforded by being the court of the Archbishop of Canterbury ensured its popularity among the upper classes. Probate research should not be concluded without searching the records of this court.
There are two other factors that enhance the importance of the PCC as a general research tool. The Commonwealth experimented with a single, civil probate court for the entire country, 1653-1660. These records were retained by the PCC after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Secondly, the PCC held jurisdiction over citizens abroad who still held property in England or Wales when they died. Hence, the PCC records can also be a source for migration studies.
For those who lived in England and Wales or citizens who died abroad, search:
- Prerogative Court of Canterbury
- Estate Duty Registers, 1812-1857 (London: Estate Duty)
- Court of Arches, 1660- (London: Arches)
- Court of Delegates, 1636- (London: Delegates)
Online Probate Records for the PCC
1384-1858, Registered Copy Wills (PROB 11)
The Registered Copy Wills only are available at the National Archives. This collection constitutes the vast majority of wills for the PCC, but not the other probate records held by the National Archives for this court. The index search online is free. There is a charge for purchasing the actual will online; however, the same will, as well as access to the act books, can be obtained from the FHL microfilms.
Microfilmed Probate Records for the PCC
The FHL holds microfilms for the Registered Copy Wills (PROB 11); the Administration Act Books, 1559-1858 (PROB 6); the Limited Administration Act Books, 1810-1858 (PROB 7); the Probate Act Books, 1526-1858 (PROB 8); the Limited Probate Act Books, 1781-1858 (PROB 9); the Manuscript Calendar, 1631-1852 (PROB 12); and the official printed index, 1853-1858 (PROB 12/272-288). To see all of the film numbers, type the initial film number of each collection in the Film/Fiche box of the main menu of the FHL catalog. The initial film number for the Manuscript Calendars and Registered Copy Wills is 91801. Add 93245 for the Administration Act Books, 172751 for the Limited Administration Act Books, 172524 for the Probate Act Books, and 93361 for the Limited Probate Act Books.
When searching the act books (PROB 6-9) it is essential to know that from 1719 the records are filed by “Seats.” There were 5 seats: the Registrar’s Seat covered parts abroad and the Province of York; the Surrey Seat covered 8 counties in the South and Southwest, plus the cities of Bath and Bristol; the Welsh Seat covered not only Wales but 11 English counties along the Welsh border and in the West Midlands; the Middlesex Seat covered 11 counties near London, plus East Anglia and Lincoln; and the London Seat included the city and 15 parishes outside its walls. For full details on the seat each county belonged to, see the section entitled “District Seat System” in the probate hand list for the PCC in the reference area of the FHL.
There are two other small collection of films for this court. The first collection contains registered copy wills in 3 volumes on FHL/BYU film 227855. Each of the 3 volumes is separately indexed. Volume 1 covers 1614-1615 and volume 2 is 1616-1622. Volume 3 starts with 1622-1639 followed by a few wills dated mainly in the Commonwealth era. The last will is dated 1670. These wills may or may not be in the main collection for registered copy wills. The second collection on FHL/BYU film 91889 is entitled “Sentences: a rough list transcribed from the original calendars for the period 1643-52.” Apparently, the entries for sentences in this time period are not entered in PROB 12.
Finding Registered Copy Wills on Microfilm
- Start with a search in the online index. The online index for a given will reads as follows:
- Ralph Pasmore, Baker of New Windsor, Berkshire
- 13 November 1694
- PROB 11/423
- The date indicates when the will was proven in court, not to the date the will was actually written. Additional details add that the name of volume 423 is Box, and that volume 423 or register Box covers Quire numbers 225-265. A quire number is like a folio number, but it will appear in the upper right corner of the register only every 16 pages. The FHL catalog refers to quire numbers simply as folio numbers.
Modern Indexes to PCC Wills
(The Index Library volumes are preceded by BRS and will all be found under FHL 942 B4b and BYU CS 434 .B7)
- 1383-1558, A-J (BRS volume 10)
- 1383-1558, K-Z (BRS volume 11)
- 1558-1583 (BRS volume 18)
- 1584-1604 (BRS volume 25)
- 1605-1619 (BRS volume 43)
- 1620-1629 (BRS volume 44)
- 1630-1652 (See FHL 942 S2pa, 8 vols. and BYU fiche CS 43 .G46x LH 12762.)
- 1653-1656 (BRS volume 54)
- 1657-1660 (BRS volume 61)
- 1661-1670 (FHL 942 P28ma)
- 1671-1675 (BRS volume 67)
- 1676-1685 (BRS volume 71)
- 1686-1693 (BRS volume 77)
- 1694-1700 (BRS volume 80)
- 1701-1749 (FHL 6359213 on 20 fiche)
- 1750-1800 (FHL 942 P22c, 6 vols. & BYU Ref CS 434 .C3 1976 6 vols.)
- 1801-1857 (Use PROB 12 on FHL/BYU films 91835-91877. 1853-1857 is also in print under FHL Q 942 S2ca, 15 volumes.)
Ancestry.com has a searchable database of the PCC wills index: "England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858" that can be found here.
Finding Administrations on Microfilm
The surviving administrations date from 1559. There are no administration bonds on microfilm. However, the same information given in the bonds can be found in the modern abstracts and indexes listed below and/or the Administration Act Books (PROB 6 & 7). The details for most of the administrations granted, 1796-1857, can also be found on film under London: Estate Duty.
- 1559-1571 (FHL 942 P2gr, volume 1)
- 1572-1580 (FHL 942 P2gr, volume 2)
- 1581-1595 (BRS volume 76)
- 1596-1608 (BRS volume 81)
- 1609-1619 (BRS volume 83)
- 1620-1630 (FHL 942 P28m)
- 1631-1648 (BRS volume 100)
- 1649-1654 (BRS volume 68)
- 1655-1660, A-F (BRS volume 72)
- 1655-1660, G-Q (BRS volume 74)
- 1655-1660, R-Z (BRS volume 75)
- 1661-1700 (Use PROB 12 on FHL/BYU films 91804-91809.)
- 1701-1749 (See the above list for the wills.)
- 1750-1800 (Use PROB 12 on FHL/BYU films 91817-91835.)
- 1801-1857 (See the above list for the wills.)
- 1387-1439, Will Transcriptions (FHL 942 P29f)
Frederick J. Furnivall published 50 wills from the PCC in 1882.
- 1610-1857, Abstracts: Wills/Administrations (FHL 942 P27c & BYU CS68 .C517)
Peter Wilson Coldham compiled abstracts of PCC probates concerning Americans that was published in 1989. Fuller abstracts will also be found in his American Wills Proved in London, 1611-1775(FHL 973 P27ca and BYU CS436 .L7 A14 1992). Both of Coldham’s books are also available at the FHL on CD-ROM, no. 9, part 364. American Wills Proved in London, 1611-1775 can also be found on Ancestry.com.
- 1278-1559, Wills (FHL 942.23 B4ka, volume 3)
Wills during a vacancy in the archbishopric before 1559 were probated by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury. Some 930 wills were probated there during this time period. Fortunately, the majority of these wills are also filed in the PCC. A complete calendar was compiled for all of these wills in 1914 and is available under the above call number. Similarly, other early probates will be found in the Archiepiscopal Registers. See Index of Wills Recorded in the Archiepiscopal Registers at Lambeth Palace (FHL film 395090, item 2). The complete wills, 1414-1443, in the registers of Archbishop Chichele have been published. See FHL 942.23 B4c and BYU DA 690 .C3 A25.
- Other Indexes to PCC Probates (FHL Q 942 B4pro)
The List and Index Society has published several volumes indexing PCC probates including: Inventories, 1702, 1718-1782 (PROB 2-3) in volumes 85-86; Inventories, 1661-1732 (PROB 5) in volume 149; Inventories, 1661-1700 (PROB 4/1-6416) in volume 221; Filed Exhibits with Inventories, 1662-1720 (PROB 32) in volume 204; Cause Papers, 1642-1722 (PROB 28) in volume 161; and Cause Papers, 1783-1858 (PROB 37) in volume 174.