General collection information
This index includes probate records made up of wills, inventories and administrations proved in the Church Courts of Winchester Diocese from the 14th century to 1858. Wills before 1858 were generally proved in the church courts, of which there was a hierarchy extending from an individual parish up to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ministers of some parishes had a right to prove the wills of those of their parishioners who had property solely in their parish - known as a peculiar jurisdiction. This could be 'inhibited' by the Dean or Bishop at certain times.
The more important churches within the dioceses, and the cathedrals, often held their own courts. Courts of Dean and Chapters, and of the Prebends, of Cathedrals are numerous - their jurisdictions were over the places from which their revenues derived. In addition, Rural Deans supervised a group of parishes (normally not less than 12, and not including peculiars), and in some parts of the country had authority to prove wills within that area.
A larger number of parishes was headed by an archdeacon, and there would be one or more archdeaconries in a diocese, headed by a Bishop. The archdeaconry courts would normally grant probate for persons with property in their area of jurisdiction. The bishop's court (or consistory court) would grant probate for any person having property in more than one archdeaconry within the diocese. The dioceses in the south of England with the Channel Islands and Wales, formed the Province of Canterbury, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury was the head. His Prerogative Court of Canterbury proved the wills of those with property in more than one diocese or peculiar in the Province. In the north of England, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of York acted in the same way for northern dioceses.
Canterbury claimed overall jurisdiction in probate matters when persons had property in both Provinces or had died abroad. (However, this did not always happen in practice.)
Wills in England and Wales
Wills could be written for males beginning at age 14 and females at age 12. In 1837 the age was changed to 21 for both men and women, although in the case of women, these were primarily unmarried or widowed women, since a woman’s property by law was the property of her husband until 1882.
Using this collection
Wills and probate records can offer details about your ancestor's life, such as names of family members and the value of an estate. The index is designed to help people find their ancestor's original records.
The index may include the following information:
These records may reveal whether your ancestor owned property and if they were wealthy, however, filing a will with a church was a common practice even for people who didn’t own property. Clergymen saw it as part of their duty to make sure that their parishioners had settled their earthly affairs before death.
Collection in context
Prior to 1858, wills for residents of Hampshire were proved in the church courts of the Diocese of Winchester, which was founded in 676 as one of the senior dioceses of the Church of England. In August 1857, Parliament enacted a law to simplify the probate system down to one court, which made wills and probate records a function of the government rather than the churches.
Diocese of Winchester. “About Us.” Accessed October 18, 2022. https://www.winchester.anglican.org/about-us/.
Hampshire Archives. “Wills and other probate records.” Accessed October 18, 2022. https://www.hants.gov.uk/librariesandarchives/archives/popular-records/wills.