York Diocesan Archive: Probate Records

Scope and Content

The probate records are divided as follows:

Jurisdiction of the Archbishop

  • Exchequer and Prerogative Courts of York
  • Chancery Court of York
  • Court of the Archbishop within the Liberty of Hexham and Hexhamshire

Jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of York

  • Dean and Chapter
  • Probate Records during Vacancy of the See

Jurisdiction of the Cathedral Dignitaries and Archdeacons

  • Court of the Dean of York
  • Court of the Precentor of York with the prebendal jurisdiction of Driffield annexed
  • Court of the Chancellor of York with the prebendal jurisdiction of Laughton en le Morthen annexed
  • Court of the Subdean of York
  • Court of the Succentor of York
  • Court of the Archdeacon of York
  • Court of the Archdeacon of the East Riding

Jurisdiction of the Dissolved Treasurership of York

  • Peculiar Court of Acomb
  • Peculiar Court of Alne and Tollerton
  • Peculiar Court of Bishop Wilton

Jurisdictions of the Prebendaries of York Minster

  • Prebendal Court of Ampleforth
  • Prebendal Court of Apesthorpe
  • Prebendal Court of Barnby
  • Prebendal Court of Bilton
  • Prebendal Court of Bole
  • Prebendal Court of Bugthorpe
  • Prebendal Court of Dunnington
  • Prebendal Court of Fenton
  • Prebendal Court of Fridaythorpe
  • Prebendal Court of Givendale
  • Prebendal Court of Grindal
  • Prebendal Court of Holme Archiepiscopi
  • Prebendal Court of Husthwaite
  • Prebendal Court of Knaresborough
  • Prebendal Court of Langtoft
  • Prebendal Court of Laughton en le Morthen (see court of the Chancellor of York, above)
  • Prebendal Court of North Newbald
  • Prebendal Court of Osbaldwick
  • Prebendal Court of Riccall
  • Prebendal Court of Stillington
  • Prebendal Court of Strensall
  • Prebendal Court of Tockerington
  • Prebendal Court of Ulleskelf
  • Prebendal Court of Warthill
  • Prebendal Court of Weighton
  • Prebendal Court of Wetwang
  • Prebendal Court of Wistow

Jurisdiction of Dissolved Prebends

  • Peculiar Court of South Cave
  • Peculiar Court of Salton
  • Peculiar Court of Wadworth

Other ecclesiastical and lay jurisdictions

  • Manorial Court of Askham Bryan
  • Manorial Court of Barnoldswick
  • Manorial Court of Beeford
  • Peculiar Court of the Provost of the Collegiate Church of St John, Beverley
  • Manorial Court of Crossley, Bingley, Cottingley and Pudsey
  • Peculiar Court of the Dean and Chapter (formerly Prior and Convent) of Durham within the jurisdiction of Howden and Howdenshire
  • Manorial Court of Linton on Ouse
  • Manorial Court of Marsden
  • Manorial Court of Newton on Ouse with Beningbrough
  • Peculiar Court of Selby
  • Manorial Court of Silsden
  • Peculiar Court of Snaith
  • Manorial Court of Temple Newsam

Administrative / Biographical History

The Borthwick Institute's collection of probate records is the largest in England outside London. The records span the period from the 13th century until January 1858, when the business of granting probate was removed from the Church of England to a new civil probate court. The only exception to this is a brief interval from 1653 to 1660, when all responsibility for probate matters passed to a central court in London, established by Cromwell's government. (All probates for this period are in The National Archives in London, although an index to Yorkshire wills is kept in the Borthwick Institute searchroom.) For post-1858 wills, see GB 193 YDPR.

The vast majority of business was conducted by the bishops’ courts, each bishop enjoying probate jurisdiction within his diocese. The Exchequer court dealt with laymen and unbeneficed clergy with goods solely in the diocese of York, whilst the Chancery court exercised jurisdiction over the goods of beneficed clergy in the diocese. As the highest probate court in the northern province, the Prerogative court granted probate for persons either with goods in more than one jurisdiction in the diocese, or in more than one diocese in the northern province, or in both northern and southern provinces. When a testator had bona notabilia in both provinces, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury commonly took precedence over York (the probates for these are similarly kept in The National Archives). During vacancies of the see, archiepiscopal jurisdiction lay with the dean and chapter of York. The right to grant probate also lay with the many peculiar jurisdictions scattered throughout the diocese.

The main probate records are the wills, in the form of originals and registered copies, and administrations (where a person died without leaving a will), in the form of original administration bonds and entries in the probate act books. Other supplementary documents, such as tuitions and inventories of the goods of the deceased, are also extant. Although there were several courts in which a will could be proved, the types of documents produced were essentially the same regardless of which court was responsible.


The system of arrangement is reflected in the scope and content.

Access Information

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation and the wishes of the donors/owners. All the probate registers and act books, and some of the original wills and bonds of the Prerogative and Exchequer courts have been microfilmed. To minimise wear and tear on this important class of documents it is not normally possible to see the original wills, inventories or administrations, although photocopies can be supplied on request.

Acquisition Information

The Diocesan Registrar has deposited records relating to the Diocese of York at the Borthwick Institute since 1953. The probate series was deposited between 1958 and 1960 by the York District Probate Registrar.

Other Finding Aids

Alphabetical indexes to all the Borthwick Institute’s holdings of probate records are available in the seachrooms. Many have been published by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, with indexes for the period 1688-1731 compiled by the research department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In addition, an online guide to Borthwick probate records can be found at www.york.ac.uk/inst/bihr/Guidesandfindingaids.htm. A leaflet offering a brief guide to using the probate indexes is also available.

The York Medieval Probate Index, a detailed alphabetical guide to over 10,000 wills from 1267-1500, and the York Peculiars Probate Index, with over 25,000 wills proved in the peculiar courts from 1383-1883, are available online via www.findmypast.co.uk (a subscription is payable but access to findmypast.co.uk is free of charge on-site at the Borthwick and many other local libraries). Further indexes will be added in due course.

For further details regarding how to locate wills, see J.S.W. Gibson, Wills and where to find them (Chichester, 1974), and A.J. Camp, Wills and their whereabouts (London, several editions).

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Bound volumes, bundle of parchment and paper.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Martyn Lawrence, Archives Hub project archivist, August 2005, with reference to the following:

  • David M. Smith, A Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (York, 1973)
  • David M. Smith, A Supplementary Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (York, 1980)
  • Alexandrina Buchanan, A Guide to Archival Accessions at the Borthwick Institute 1981-1996 (York, 1997)

Conditions Governing Use

A reprographics service is available to researchers. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute, University of York terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Appraisal Information

These records have been appraised in accordance with Borthwick Institute policy.

Custodial History

See J.S. Purvis, Towards a University (York, 1968), for information regarding the history of the York Diocesan Archive and its deposit at the Borthwick Institute.


Accruals are not expected.

Related Material

York Diocesan Archive.


  • J. Bower, 'Probate Accounts', in Short Guides to Records. Second series: Guides 25-48 (Historical Association, 1997), no. 34.
  • C. Cross, York Clergy Wills 1520-1600: I Minster Clergy, Borthwick Texts and Calendars 10 (1984).
  • C. Cross, York Clergy Wills 1520-1600: II City Clergy, Borthwick Texts and Calendars 15 (1989).
  • R.A. Marchant, The Church under the Law (Cambridge, 1969).
  • D.M. Smith, 'The exercise of the probate jurisdiction of the medieval archbishops of York', in D. Wood (ed.), Life and thought in the Northern Church, c.1100-c.1700: essays in honour of Claire Cross (Woodbridge, 1999), 123-44.
  • C.C. Webb, A Guide to Genealogical Sources in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, 2nd edn (York, 1988), 29-37.

Geographical Names