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Archaeologia Cantiana -  Vol. 134  2014  page 274

A History of the Ecclesiastical Courts of the Diocese of Canterbury, 1566-86, based on the
   Cause papers bound within the Volume MS.F.4.12. By Karen Rushton

surrounding debts owed to or owed by the deceased and the inheritance of real property, or land.34
   The administration of a will without having been granted probate and legal permission to do so was an offence, and one which occurs regularly throughout MS.F.4.12.35 Entry 1 and entry 6 both concern what is described as ‘temerariam administracionem bonorum iurium et creditorum’, or the reckless administration of goods, rights and credits. In both instances it is the executor suing another individual for their unlawful involvement with the deceased’s will. For example, entry 1 sees Thomas Robyns being challenged in court for withholding the goods of the deceased by John Osbourne on behalf of Elizabeth Wibley who was the named executrix of her late father’s will. As such we can see that cases of this type were not usually brought against a named executor for commencing their duties before formal permission had been granted but against other individuals for their unlawful involvement. The cases tend to follow a certain pattern by first establishing that the will was valid, that the plaintiff was lawfully named as the executor and then establishing the specific offence of the defendant, and in the case of entry 1 goes on to give a full inventory of the goods in question along with their value.
   Non-payment of a legacy was another common reason for bringing a testamentary suit. Here the executor would generally be the defendant accused by another individual for failing to pay a legacy lawfully due to them according to the will. In these cases it could be found that legatees had been put off time and again by executors, or the executor often reasoned that goods were not worth as much as some individuals believed them to be or the debts of the deceased had reduced their value.36
   These two types of testamentary dispute constitute the main reasons for the existence of testamentary causes in MS.F.4.12. However another major cause of dispute stemmed from someone dying intestate leading to the parties in a lawsuit disputing who the deceased’s goods should be left to. Between the sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries there were increasing numbers of people making wills due to population and economic changes, making this less of a problem than it had been in previous years.37 However, this also increases the likelihood of people disputing wills in court. Other causes of dispute could be the validity of the will, disputed inventories and the non-payment of tithes.


Defamation causes have been a popular subject for researchers largely due to their personal and sexual nature and are one of the main reasons for these courts earning the epithet ‘the bawdy courts’. However, they make up only around 15 per cent of the cases recorded in MS.F.4.12 as opposed to tithe disputes which account for 39 per cent. Whilst this may

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