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About Somerset Will Abstracts 1385-1558
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About the collection
All probate records for the Diocese of Bath and Wells deposited at the probate registry in Exeter were destroyed by enemy action in 1942.

Fortunately there are full (printed) abstracts/extracts to some of these lost wills – collated prior to the devastation of 1942. The volumes listed below contains full abstracts/ extracts (summaries) to the wills in an easy to read format. These contain a complete summary of the details contained within each will and includes all names and places (testators, executors, witnesses and beneficiaries) plus incidental information such as relationships and occupations where found in the original documents.
  • Somerset Medieval Wills 1383-1558: Somerset Record Society volume XIX: Abstracts of Wills for Somerset testators 1531-1558.
  • Somerset Record Society volume XVI: Abstracts of Wills for Somerset testators proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) 1385-1550.
  • Extracts of Wells Wills 1539-1541 (Printed in the proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological Society Volume 61). These are Abstracts of Registered Copy Wills from the Consistory Court of Wells, 1539-1541/2, in the Thomas Serel Collection
  • Somerset Record Society Volume XL: Medieval Wills from Wells 1543-1546 and 1554-1556, wills proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Wells.
Searching can be performed on the following fields: Last name, First name, Year range, Free text, and Volume (drop down).
Where are the originals held?
These wills are full abstracts of the wills and contain all the information given in the original probate material and the original documents are unlikely to give much additional information.

Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are now held at The National Archives (TNA), Kew London www.nationalarchives.gov.uk and can be downloaded (pay per view) via the National Archives online records www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/wills.htm.

The probate records for Wells were deposited at Exeter Principal Registry and were thus destroyed by enemy action in 1942, when the Probate Registry was destroyed in the bombing during the Exeter Blitz of WWII. As an ongoing process, and with much thanks to the work of Sir Mervyn Medlycott the location of over 15,000 copies of wills and administrations for Somerset have been determined. For more details contact the Somerset Heritage Centre www1.somerset.gov.uk/archives/

What information from the document do I need to locate the original?
  • Testator's name
  • Year/ date of will
Understanding the index
Which courts are included?
  • Wills for Somerset testators registered in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) 1383-1500.
  • Wills proved in the Consistory Court of Wells, 1539-1541/2. This court included the parishes of: Allerton, Biddisham, Binegar, Broomfield, Carhampton, Chesterblade, Chilcompton, out-parish of St. Cuthbert in Wells, Dinder, Everchreech, Mark, Priddy, Nether Stowey, Wedmore and Westbury.
  • Wills proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Wells 1543-1546 and 1554-1556. The Archdeaconry court had jurisdiction over most of the eastern half of the county of Somerset, roughly from the River Parrot eastward.
Which diocese is involved?
The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) was the senior and most important of the pre 1858 ecclesiastical courts claiming over-riding jurisdiction over the whole of England and Wales. Wills of those dying overseas were also usually proved in the PPC.

Somerset was in the Diocese of Bath and Wells.

What does the abstract include?
All names and places appearing in the will (testators, executors, witnesses and beneficiaries) plus incidental information such as relationships, occupations, date of death / burial place and value of estate where found in the original documents are included in the transcript.

Names are arranged alphabetically. This means some name variants may not appear clustered together. Names in the index are according to the spelling used in the documents, usually based on the signaturee of the testator.

Dates are given in 'Old Style' or Julian Calendar.

The folio number identifies the group of pages, anywhere from 2 to 16, within which the will's first page appears.

Notes
In older documents it is not uncommon to find people spelling their own names in different ways even within the same document. Spelling only became standardised in the British Isles during the 18th and 19th centuries as the amount of printed literature increased and a state system of elementary education was established following Forster’s 1870 Act.

As NameX isn't active on this search, for last name spelling variations try replacing the letter 'i' with the letter 'y'. eg KNYGHT, WRYNGTON, MANNYNGFYLD.

It was the custom in some courts for will registers to be named after the first testator recorded in them, and this was the practice in the PCC at this time. Thus Book "Rous" takes its name from Sir Robert Rous, kt., whose will was proved in 1386, and who leaves a bequest to Tarrant Abbey, Dorset.

The frequent mention of woad implies that the cloth trade and its sister, the dyeing trade, were both very flourishing in the county during the fifteenth century.
Related National Wills Index collections
Three volumes of Somerset probate indexes are available in the British Record Society Probate Collection 1320-1858:
  • Taunton Archdeaconry Wills 1537-1799 (BRS vol. 45)
  • Taunton Archdeaconry Wills & Administrations 1537-1799, part III, Adminstrations (BRS vol. 53, pp186-313)
  • Wills in the Royal Peculiar of Ilminster 1690-1857 (BRS vol. 53, pp314-318) (BRS vol. 50)
Last updated: 27 June 2012
See also:  Help Searching Somerset Will Abstracts
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