Testamenta Vetusta

I was introduced to this by Mike Gallafent and only recently found a copy at a second hand bookseller. In response to a request on soc.genealogy.medieval I volunteered to take it to Rod Neep at "Archive CD Books" for him to copy the page images to CDROM; this was done on November 6th 2001.

Testamenta Vetusta is a collection of 807 wills from the late 12th to 16th centuries:

Century No of Wills In database %
12th 1 1 100
13th 12 5 42
14th 121 63 52
15th 356 172 48
16th 317 85 27
All 807 326 40

Here's a list of the testators, the people that wrote the wills; note it is 73 kbytes so will take a few seconds to load.

This list is not the only index in the book. In all there are:

Index No of pages
Testators 9
Nominem (people) 34
Locurum (places) 11
Rerum (things) 31

Testimenta Vetusta was collected and edited by Nicholas Harris Nicholas and published by Nichols and Son, Parliament Street, London in 1826.

He took his wills from the British Museum, private collections, Dugdale's Baronage, Collins' Peerage, County histories, Memoirs of Families, etc (his preface, p. 14). He was not able to access the originals then held in Doctors' Commons because of the difficulties imposed by the staff of those premises (preface, page 13). Some of the wills are abstracts for genealogical purposes where only the people and their relationships are written. He acknowledged his debt to John Nichols' "Collection of Royal Wills".

Nicholas' prime purpose was to illustrate from those wills the manners and customs of their times; additionally he wished to include to include the descents and possessions of families. For every will he gives some footnotes to determine the person and other relevant information; I have yet to examine these and there may be some errors in the genealogy in these footnotes.

As yet I have only been reading it for the first purpose, the manners and customs, and I can only report that for anyone with an interest in medieval times, it is enthralling. These wills describe what those persons held dear: what better introduction to their lifestyles can you imagine?

Fortunately most of the wills had not degenerated into legal documents such as the dreadful things we have now; they mostly possess a charming informality and directness.

Get your own copy from Archive CD Books!