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Smith undoubtedly would not have approved the comparatively modest expenditure on Murton's funeral, for he stated repeatedly in the account that it was entered into before he took on the administration. Murton's affairs soon proved to be in a desperate state. He had actually procured a licence to marry Suzann shortly before his death, which would have cancelled the debt.

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Smith had done this, because he had promised Murton that he would, before he knew of 'the multitude of the deceased testator his debts and the weakness of his estate. As Murton's administrator and former partner, Smith was imprisoned for eight weeks for the deceased's debts. In order to free his stock.

For these debts, all his 'cloth and wares in his shoppe, debt books and goods to the value of one thousand pounds and upwards were seized upon and devided among the creditors aforesaid Administrative costs could swallow a large proportion of a small estate. Such 'necessarie and ordinarie expenses' included drawing up the inventory, a fee to the court for the grant of probate or administration, payment for writing up the account, if the accountant was not competent to do it herself, and numerous further court fees at the final presentation of the account.

These costs varied from one jurisdiction to another. If the estate was a very small one, the court might abate all or part of its fees: whether fees were abated, and by how much, varied according to the circumstances of each case, and seems to have been left to the discretion of the court. Sometimes, the greater part of what should have been a fairly good sized estate could be taken up by legal costs.

The cumulative evidence of the experience of administrators and executors of estates is that men and women at all levels of society in the early modern period were not unsophisticated, illiterate and parochially minded. The poorest widows and labourers were accustomed to act as administrators of estates of deceased relatives.

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This might involve quite complex financial dealings and travel. Although legal advice and assistance was available, many people would have been unable to afford it. Most people faced with settling a deceased relative's estate would have had to rely on the voluntary help of a better informed neighbour or, from the second half of the seventeenth century, on one of the published books of legal advice available for a few pence, for example The Countryman's Counsellor, or Everyman his own Lawyer, or a little more expensively, at ls. Item for the Judges fee for the assignac i on of the Porc i ons to the Children of the said deceased vj s.

Item for this Accountants owne Charges both at the time when she came to take her le tte res of Adrninistrac i on and also when she came to passe this Accompte xx s.


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Although the parish of the deceased is normally given in the preamble to the account, a considerable drawback is that the status or occupation of deceased men is rarely given. Gentlemen and clergymen are usually identified as such, and so are holders of specific offices, such as mayors, aldermen and jurats.

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Some yeomen are also identified, and other occupations can sometimes be inferred from information in the body of the account, but since so many people in this period followed more than one occupation, caution should be used. We have been able to suggest an occupation or status for 6, of the men from information given directly or indirecly in their accounts. We have also been able to supply an occupation or status for a further 2, men from their inventories, and for men from their wills.


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On the other hand nearly two-thirds of women's accounts provide some statement of status for the dead woman. Only one per cent of them were called 'wife'. Since married women normMly had no legal control of any property, they only had any estate for the probate courts to deal with in exceptional circumstances, for example in the rare cases when their marriage settlement had been so framed that they had control of property separate from their husband's estate.

Following the deceased's name and parish in the preamble is normally the date on which the account was presented to the court. It is clear that the courts worked on a seasonal basis. Possibly this was the time when travel was easiest, when people were not occupied with the harvest, and when they were least likely to be discouraged from travelling by plague or some other infection.

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August and September were the months when court business was lightest. Ecclesiastical courts tended to observe law terms, but not rigidly. Business dropped off, but did not entirely cease, after the last day of July and only picked up again in the last week of September after Michaelmas. October was another peak month.

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Much has been written about whether the preambles to wills can be taken as indications of testators' religious beliefs. One probate account preamble, however, does make a definite political statement. The account of the estate of William Norton Esq. The second paragraph of a probate account is a statement of the 'charge'. The charge is normally a common form statement of the inventory value. A copy of the inventory itself had to be produced again with the account and is sometimes attached.

After the statement of the charge comes the body of the account, in which the administrator 'prays' allowance of the various sums expended by him or her from the estate since the deceased's death. The great value of probate accounts to historians lies in the fact that the expenditure is normally itemised in the minutest detail. The first item entered in the account is normally the cost of the deceased's funeral. The earliest death for which an account survives in the diocese of Canterbury is that of Edward Crayforde, who died in Costs incurred in the deceased's last sickness normally follow.

Sometimes details of specific medicines or cures are given, such as the five shillings paid for letting the blood of Henry Hall of Whitstable in , or the two shillings paid to the barber in for administering two glisters to Richard Lynwood of Sittingbourne before his death, or the various apothecaries' wares, including 'unicorn's horn sucket' provided for Charles Marichurch of Dover in , or the 'pidgeons and herrings' laid to the feet of John Tryon Esq. Our knowledge of seventeenth century plague epidemics has chiefly been based on statistics derived from parish registers, municipal records, material arising from official responses to epidemics, and number of diarists of whom Evelyn and Pepys are the best known.

Probate accounts, by listing the expenses of keeping households shut up for weeks or months at a time, plus payments for medical attention and nursing, give an additional insight into the experience of ordinary people during an epidemic. The Stranger communities seem to have led the way in looking after infected families.

The French church at Canterbury laid out money for the support of John Dubuha and his family in nine people may have died altogether in this household. The church also paid for 'keepers' to look after the household during the sickness and 'a poor man' who bought provisions and ran errands for the household. Towns were also introducing plague precautions by this date. Christopher Fynche, Mayor of Faversham, arranged for bread, drink and meat worth seven shillings and a further nine pounds of beef at Is 9d to be supplied to the household of Robert Chapman in Accounts starkly illustrate the high mortality within individual families.

In Deal in , Richard Rantum and seven of his children died; payments for their coffins were the first items in the account of their father's estate.

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Eight weeks was the normal time for which an infected household might be shut up, but it could be longer. The household of Edward Harrys of Faversham, in which Harrys, his wife, two children and a maidservant died, was shut up for four months in The household of Heriry Carey of Birchington was also shut up for four months in Plague was not regarded as inevitably fatal in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Thomas Brayne of Canterbury, his wife, two children and a manservant died in A surgeon also went into the house of Abell Garret in Sandwich in to confirm that it was plague the family was suffering from and to treat Garrett's daughter Margaret. Surgeons and nurses were professionals, but friends and neighbours were also willing to help. When Azarias Turke's family in Cranbrook was infected in , seven in the household died. William Osman was 'continually in the house with the said Azarias and his household and helped them in all the time of their sickness.

When the authorities judged a household to be free from infection, women would go in to clean the house. Rosin and pitch were burnt to clear the air and rosewater was also used. All linen was washed; Andrew Orgill, administrator of Mary Blacklock of St Leonard's Bromley by Bow in Middlesex sent her rugs and blankets to a fulling mill to be cleaned.

Probate accounts demonstrate the economic as well as the human costs of a plague epidemic. Money disbursed by the parish for the support of an infected family had to be repaid when the sickness was over, out of the estate if the breadwinner had died. Michael Jancocke of Minster in Thanet was out of work for three months in ; no-one would employ him for fear of infection because he had been shut up with his brother John when John was dying of plague.


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The family of John Page, a yeoman of Sevington in Kent, was unable to sell his cattle in due to the widespread infection. After Thomas Gruer of Westwell in Kent died of plague in , his next of kin delayed going in to clear his house for fear of any lingering infection. Probate accounts can reveal details of the food available in towns and rural districts, and much can be learned about the diet and housekeeping expenses of families of different social status. Normally, this information is only available for families of gentry status and above, who kept their own household accounts.

After the death of Davyd Croft, a yeoman or gentleman of Murston in Kent, in , his household had to be maintained until the harvest had been gathered in. The account of his estate thus includes a month by month statement of the food and other necessities bought for the family, servants and harvest workers. Whereas the values placed oil goods in probate inventories represent what the appraisors thought the goods might fetch in a sale, prices for goods in probate accounts are a statement of what was actually paid, and therefore more likely to be accurate.

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Detailed study of wages and prices paid for goods in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as recorded in probate accounts may shed light on the local progress and effects of the 'Price Revolution' of the period. In , the administrator of Thomas Maxted of Ospringe in Kent bought on one occasion b of beef for his harvest workers, and on another occasion b of beef. In the late s, the sons of Thomas Spaine, a substantial yeoman of Knowlton in Kent, bought several quantities of beef including b at one time.

This is an increase of barely more than a quarter over a period of more than fifty years; hardly dramatic, considering that these fifty years cover the latter part of the price rises of the sixteenth century. It is clear that detailed work on wage and price information in probate accounts will augment and amplify Phelps-Brown and Hopkins' tables, which are largely drawn from the accounts of Oxford and Cambridge colleges.

If the deceased left minor children, a major responsibility of the administrator was to see to their upbringing. The children's board and lodging, education, clothing and apprenticeship all had to be paid for from their deceased father's or mother's estate, and all expenditure was recorded in the account. The estate could not be wound up until all the children had come of age, and so some accounts ran for years.

Out of more than 13, accounts which survive for the diocese of Canterbury, over contain details of children's maintenance, food, clothing, education or apprenticeship. The necessity for detailed accounts to be kept during a child's minority is demonstrated by the experiences of the Kent historian William Lambarde and his stepson Maximilian Dalison, both of whom had to resort to legal action to recover their inheritances from their guardians.

As Lambarde's biographer has written, 'in the sixteenth century at least, an heir's minority often gave opportunity to even the most trusted friends and relatives to appropriate his inheritance. As a woman's property automatically became her husband's as soon as she married, the relatives of the children of a First marriage had to take steps to ensure that those children received their rightful share of their father's goods in the event of their mother's remarriage.

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