Rented and farmed land holdings can be reconstructed from outgoing rents, and we can also learn something about the size and running of the deceased's establishment. The account of Alexander Selbie esquire of Biddleston in Northumberland presented by his widow lists twelve servants by name, with their wages ranging from £5 9s 6d to 6s.22
Sometimes the deceased person had died whilst still administering another person's estate. In these cases there will be references to legacies and portions, and to the legatees and relatives of the person who had named the deceased as his executor or administrator. Mortality rates were high in the period when accounts occur in any number, and such probate chains can become quite involved.23 Certain clues to controversy and other legal proceedings might also be discovered, giving the researcher the scent of a trail to more information held in the records of both ecclesiastical and civil courts. References to sequestration, or to 'probate in solemn form', or explicitly to litigation can reveal a new contentious aspect to what would otherwise have appeared to have been a largely administrative probate process.
|It[e]m for the Charges in p[ro]ving the will in Comuni forma, & after
wards in solemni iuris forma at the instance of Henry
Henry Burdon's name also appears in the discharge as a creditor of the deceased receiving 30s.
|Item he craveth allowance, for charges on defending
of suites against William Johnson in the chancery at
|0 li 4 s 0 d
In this case the accountant had alleged that William Johnson was hindering the collecting of the debts owing to the deceased. In the charge of the account Midleton's father, the administrator, had made the allegation that Johnson had 'hindered' the collection of £30 17s 8d of debts owed to the deceased, and the very next entry after the one quoted above is for 10s in house rent owed by Johnson, again 'debarred and hind[e]red by the meanes of William Johnson'.24
The following except from the same account reveals more about Marmaduke Midleton's death.
|It[e]m this Accomptant craveth allowance for the
fun[er]all expenses of ye deceased as also for this
Accomptantes charges & his horse in fetching the
Coroner & for defra[y]ing the charges of the Coron[er],
Jury & other things there unto incident -
|1 li 6 s 8 d
Clearly Midleton's death was the subject of a coroner's enquiry. Sometimes in these cases the coroner's charges are itemised, including his fee for 'crowning' the deceased, and very rarely the cause of death is stated. About this time, a coroner charged a mark (13s 4d) for viewing the body of a man accidentally drowned at Kyloe in Northumberland.25
Researchers can sometimes reconstruct from the accounts of the funeral expenses some idea of the ceremonial of the day, and perhaps even the menu of the arval dinners or funeral feasts that took place. Such funerary items can also often be found in inventories as well.
|p[ai]d Bulmer Ile for Comfits &c. for the buriall of Cuthbert
|006 li 17 s 00 d
|p[ai]d for a mourning gowne his widdow had is
|003 li 12 s 04 d
|For given the poore at his buriall is
|002 li 00 s 00 d
|For the Church charges is
|000 li 15 s 06 d
|For whirrie hier bringing up his body from Heworth
|000 li 02s 06 d
|For a Chest for the Corps is
|000 li 14 s 00 d
|For wine and Cakes, Cheese and Candle the first night is
|000 li 11 s 10 d
|For scutiones 12 s. for his funerall sermond xj s. both is
|001 li 13 s 00 d
|For suger for wine 22 d. and to Mr Astell for counsell at first
|000 li 06 s 10 d
|For given Rob[er]t Hull for warning the company to the buriall
|000 li 01 s 00 d
And the account goes on further to itemise 'the cotton and making of her mourning gowne', the wine for two men 'about the buriall', the links (torches), the sugar and ginger supplied by Henry Shadford for the burial, and the mortuary. Collections of probate accounts have been used to throw more light on the changing social rituals surrounding death, funerals and burial customs.26
23 For example the account presented by George Atthie in 1607 [Ref: DPRI/1/1607/H11/1-2]: Atthie was his wife's fourth husband (that we know about), and with each marriage her steadily accumulating property passed to her latest husband. In each case Anne Atthie neglected to execute the wills and administer her husbands' estates, so that in 1607 George Atthie by the right of his wife was acting as administrator for each of her former husbands' estates, and the (joint) account therefore includes payments of legacies and portions etc. deriving from three different persons' estates.
24 The records of Durham Chancery Court are today held by the National Archives (Ref: DURH).
25 The 1635 account of Thomas Bell of Kyloe (Ref: DPRI/1/1635/B2/1).
26 C. Gittings, Death, burial and the individualin early modern England (1984).