Between 1541 and 1836 the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry was extensive, covering the entire counties of Staffordshire and Derbyshire, north Shropshire and north Warwickshire. The bishop of Lichfield and Coventry had general jurisdiction over probate within this area, which was exercised through the Lichfield Consistory Court. Digitised images of wills proved in the Consistory Court are now available online through Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk).
Some areas, known as peculiar jurisdictions or peculiars, were exempt from the bishop’s jurisdiction. These were usually in the hands of other church officials or, in a handful of cases, lords of manors.
The general rule is that where someone held property within one diocese only, the will would be proved, or administration granted, in that court; if in two dioceses, then in the archbishop’s prerogative court. Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills indexes can be found freely available online on the TNA website (The National Archives - Online Indexes - PCC Wills).
From 1653 to 1660, a court of civil commission had the sole probate jurisdiction in England and Wales. The records are filed with those of the PCC. Church courts had substantially shut down during the period of the Civil War after 1642.
Further information about peculiar jurisdictions (PDF 67kb)
The probate process
As part of the necessary process to making a will, the testator appointed an executor (or more than one). Their immediate task, after the testator died, was to arrange for burial, pay and collect debts and get the will proved.
If someone died without making a will (intestate), the court had the authority to appoint administrators. Usually, this would be next of kin – wife/husband, child/children, parent, brother/sister and so on.
Further details about the probate process
Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry – surviving records
In many dioceses, each archdeaconry had its own probate court. In Lichfield, this did not happen and the Consistory Court is the main court for the whole diocese.
Survival of original consistory wills is good after 1600. The manuscript indexes, compiled in the 1850s, have used the act books (with their short, one or two line entries for each case) as their source for the earlier period. Not all documents mentioned there have survived. This makes the published Index Library calendar for the period 1516 to 1652 (by W.P.W. Phillimore, 1892) unreliable, because it relied on these manuscript indexes and ignored the tick markings which indicate what actually survives.
Peculiar court wills are fewer in number and survival is poorer. In particular, there is no regular series for any of the peculiars before the seventeenth century.
Few inventories survive after around 1750.
About this index
This is an index to:
- wills proved in the Lichfield Consistory Court and the various peculiar courts whose records are preserved at Lichfield Record Office
- letters of administration issued by the above courts when people died without leaving a will
- surviving inventories of goods and chattels drawn up by the executors or administrators of estates
It currently covers the period 1630-1780.
A successful search in the index will provide you with the following information :
Surname, forename(s), gender, place of residence, county, occupation or status, date, court, document reference, notes.
Please note that the names of parishes have been standardized using modern spellings to assist with searching, but the names of smaller localities retain their original spelling.
Other records of interest
Where probate was disputed, there may be related papers within the series of Cause Papers (B/C/5) for the Lichfield Consistory Court. Searches in these records can be carried out by using the online catalogue (for material in the period 1681 to 1857, where detailed listing of testamentary records by Anne Tarver has been included).
Lichfield Record Office operates a research service that can search for wills in the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry outside of the period 1630-1780. If you would like to find out more please click on the link below, which will take you to the relevant page on the Archive Service’s main website.
Lichfield Records Research Service Main Web PageNote: The link to our main site will open in a new window.