Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury
Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. The term probate refers to a collection of documents, including wills, administrations (also called admons), inventories, and act books. The Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process until to 1858.
As the highest ecclesiastical court, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England and specifically in the following cases.
- Wealthy individuals
- The Interregnum, 1649-1660, when all other courts were abolished.
- Property in more than one diocese in the Province of Canterbury.
- Property in both the Province of Canterbury and Province of York.
- People who died outside England, including British citizens and others who held property in England.
An index to the records of the Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury for 1384-1858 is available online through the following web sites:
- The National Archives of the UK on Documents Online - When you find a reference to a will of interest, you can purchase it online through the Web site by clicking on 'See details' then on 'Add to shopping.' The cost is a straight fee of 3.50 GBP, regardless of the length of the document.
- TheGenealogist.co.uk - This site is a pay site. Actual images of the wills are available.
Printed and Published Indexes
Indexes for 1383-1858 are published in several volumes. The records and indexes for 1383-1857 are also available on microfilm at the Family History Library.
The records are deposited at The National Archives.
- Wills, 1513-1858 (with a few earlier)
- Register copy wills, 1383-1858
- Administration bonds, 16th-19th centuries
- Various act books, 1526-1858
- Inventories, 1464-1782 (with gaps; and some later records)
Family History Library Records
The Family History Library Catalog provides the microfilm numbers so you can borrow them through a family history center near you. The information obtained from the index[es] will help you more quickly locate a will or administration.
Add information about the manuscript, printed and digital records in this location.
The Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury (PCC) had superior jurisdiction in all of England, Wales, Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands and sole jurisdiction where testators had bona notabilia (an estate valued at more than five pounds sterling) in two dioceses or in two peculiars in the province of Canterbury or within two provinces (i.e., York and Canterbury). The Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury also had jurisdiction over all those with property in England, Wales, Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands who dies at sea or overseas. Such persons are distinguished in the calendars by the entry "pts," abbreviation for " parts overseas." instead of the name of the place. During the Commonwealth period from 1653 to 1660 the court, in the form of a civil court, had sole testamentary jurisdiction over all of England and Wales.
Since the Reformation it has been usual for the estates of men of wealth and position to receive grants of probate and letters of administration in this court. During vacancies in this court between 997 and 1590, some wills were proved in the Court of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral (also known as the Court of the Prior and Chapter of Christ Church), Canterbury, Kent.
Business in most London probate courts slowed down after the 1750s - their testators selecting the Prerogative Court of Canterbury as the place to file their wills. The Bank of England would not accept wills from any other court.
- Cliff Webb, My Ancestors were Londoners: A Guide to London Sources for Family Historians (London: Society of Genealogists, 2009), 35.