Oxford wills before 1858
All wills had to be proved (formally approved) by church and other courts before 1858. Surviving Oxford wills up to that date fall into four main categories:
- If a testator’s property was all within one Archdeaconry, the will was probated at the Archdeacon’s Court.
- If it was in more than one Archdeaconry but all in the same Diocese, it went to the Bishop’s Court.
- If it was in more than one Diocese, it went to Canterbury.
- If the testator worked for the University, it often went to the Chancellor’s Court in Oxford.
1 & 2. Diocesan and Archdeaconry courts in Oxford diocese
All surviving Oxford wills proved in Diocesan and Archdeaconry courts are held at the Oxfordshire History Centre in Cowley, and are listed in three published volumes:
- Probate Records of the Courts of the Bishop and Archdeacon of Oxford 1516–1732: Volume I: A–K. Based on an index compiled by Ernest Cheyne, revised by D.M. Barrett (British Record Society, 1981)
- Probate Records of the Courts of the Bishop and Archdeacon of Oxford 1516–1732: Volume II: L–Z. Based on an index compiled by Ernest Cheyne, revised by D.M. Barrett (with supplementary indexes compiled by Mary Chapman (British Record Society, 1985)
- Index to the Probate Records of the Bishop and ARchdeacon of Oxford 1733–1857 and of the Oxford Peculiars 1547–1856. Edited by D.M. Barratt, Joan Howard-Drake and Mark Priddey (Oxfordshire Record Society, in association with the British Record Society, 1997).
In addition the Eureka Partnership has published a series of five pamphlets listing persons named in Archdeaconry wills from 1762 to 1800 and in Diocesan Wills from 1774 to 1800
3. Prerogative Court at Canterbury (1384–1858)
Many well-to-do tradesmen of Oxfordshire and elsewhere in the southern part of England had their wills proved at the Prerogative Court at Canterbury. These wills are now held in the National Archives, and they are indexed and can be purchased online:
4. Chancellor’s Court of the University of Oxford (1436–1858)
These wills can be found in the Oxford University Archives. These are not just wills of Fellows of Colleges, but also include many of very ordinary people who worked for the colleges as privileged persons, such as cooks, porters, carpenters, and bakers. It even extends to their relations, such as the will of the bellman’s widow in 1667.
The index to these wills can be found in a book published in 1862 by a former Keeper of the Archives, the Revd John Griffiths, called An index to wills proved in the Court of the Chancellor of Oxford. Google under its mass digitization programme with the University has put this book online:
All Wills after 1858
You can order a copy ofl wills proved in England and Wales from 1858 to the present here: