How to look for Wills 1384-1858

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We do not provide copies of online records – please download to view

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Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

What are these records?

These records are Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills in series PROB 11 made between 1384 and 12 January 1858.

These PCC wills are all registered copy wills. They are the copies of the original probates written into volumes by clerks at the church courts.

Until 12 January 1858 all wills had to be proved by the church and other courts. The PCC was the most important of these courts dealing with relatively wealthy individuals living mainly in the south of England and most of Wales.

What information do the records contain?

The information found in wills includes the following:

  • where they lived
  • name of person responsible for carrying out the wishes (executor)
  • date of will
  • witnesses to the will
  • chief beneficiaries

How do I search the records?

You can search the records in Discovery, our catalogue, by filling in the form below.

You don’t need to complete every field to find a record.

The spelling of first and last names may vary, so try using a wildcard * to search for variants of a name or ? to replace a letter, for example Sm* or Sm?th for the different spellings of Smith.

Date range (yyyy):

Date range (yyyy)

Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?

You will not find an entry if the will was not proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. There were three main factors determining in which court a will would be proved:

  • where the person died
  • value of the goods
  • how these goods were distributed geographically

The Prerogative Court of Canterbury covered the south of England and Wales. The Prerogative Court of York covered York, Durham, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire and the Isle of Man.

You will not find any original wills in this collection, as only registered copies are included.

What do the records look like?

The wills are on average a page long, although they can range from a mere five lines to more than 20 pages.

You can download the wills below free of charge to see the typical styles of writing used over the years. The wills of Susanna Smith and Jane Austen have been annotated to show the different parts of a will:

14th century: Thomas Kennardesle 2 December 1391 (PDF, 0.22MB)

15th century: William Marchy 27 January 1479 (PDF, 0.20MB)

16th century: John Yardley 2 July 1522 (PDF, 0.17MB)

17th century: Henry Purcell 7 December 1695 (PDF, 0.21MB)

18th century: Susanna Smith 19 July 1709 (PDF, 0.91MB)

19th century: Jane Austen 10 September 1817 (PDF, 0.72MB)

The majority of the wills

The majority of the wills are written in English. Wills written in French, Dutch or other European languages have an authenticated translation in the PCC registered copies. But this time only the probate clause on occasions was still written in Latin.

Before 1733, sentences (court judgments concerning disputed wills) and probates clauses were written in Latin, with the exception of those from the Interregnum (1651-1660), which are in English.

Related guidance

Palaeography: reading old handwriting
Beginners’ Latin