Prerogative Court of Canterbury

Abbreviated to PCC.

In England in the past a lot of things were dealt with in church courts. These were mainly those of an Archdeacon, Bishop or Archbishop. The latter was called a ‘prerogative court’. The main way in which these church courts are relevant to family histories are in that they granted administration (admon.) (where there was no will or admin with will in a few special circumstances), and probate of wills, up to Jan. 1858.

Property in one Archdeaconry could be dealt with in an Archdeaconry Court, that in more than one Archdeaonry but in one diocese in the Consistory Court, that in more than one diocese but in one province (i.e. the jurisdiction of an Archbishop) in a prerogative court. In England there were (and are) just two provinces, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is senior to that of York, so if someone held property in both provinces a will would be proved in the PCC.

Probate or admon. should have been sought in the lowest court possible, though later on it became fashionable to seek probate in the PCC. The wills of those who died overseas also had to be proved in the PCC (or grants of admon. made by the PCC). Since there are quite a few mariners on this tree, especially in the Go(a)tham ONS, there are quite a few wills proved in the PCC for this reason.

During the interregnum Archdeacons and Bishops were removed from office, and so their courts ceased, and all wills were proved in London. These wills are now at the National Archives in the same collection, PROB 11, as the PCC wills and are often erroneously referred to as PCC wills. Most of my ancestors did not live near a diocesan boundary nor were very wealthy, so their wills did not need proving in the PCC, and so not surprisingly there is a noticeable bulge in PROB 11 wills from the interregnum period.

Information about the Prerogative Court of Canterbury Records can be found here on TNA website.

Because of the loss of most Devon wills in 1942, the proportion of wills of my Devon ancestors, and also of the Devon Gothams, whose wills were proved in the PCC will be distorted to look greater than it really was, especially as nearly all my ancestors and a significant proportion of the Gothams lived in the Archdeaconry of Totnes for which there is not even a surviving calendar of wills. Many were artisan workers or small farmers, rather than labourers, so quite likely did write wills.

For my Kentish ancestors there should not be this distortion, since there is such a good survival of all sorts of probate records for the Diocese of Canterbury. (If there is distortion, it is due to the unevenness to which I have researched different lines.)

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