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In the selection of the contents of the following sheets, there has been another object which, though of inferior general interest, will, it is hoped, be frequently found useful. The pedigrees of noble and other families of consequence, before the commencement of the Heralds' Visitations, are often confused and imperfect; and, with the exception of family evidences, which are rarely preserved, and, if preserved, are not always accessible, and Inquisitiones post Mortem, which merely shew who were the heirs of particular persons, wills are almost the only sources of authentic information on the subject. Much information touching various families is also frequently contained in the wills of persons not connected with them, and which would not therefore be consulted; hence a miscellaneous collection, well indexed, cannot fail to throw considerable light on descents now contradictory or uncertain; and whether the facts developed on these points confirm what was doubtful, or establish what was unknown, the value of them to those interested in genealogical researches is unquestionable. The names of all manors and advowsons are likewise retained and referred to in a separate index, by which the descent of real property may often be traced.
It was in the original plan of this work to have selected only the wills of people of eminence; but the numerous curious points illustrated by the testaments of persons in humbler stations of life, required the admission of some of them, with the view of forming as complete a collection as was possible. From the same motive, though the work only pro
fesses to contain abstracts of wills, a few are printed entire.
Some observations are necessary on the sources whence the wills here printed have been taken. Nothing would have been so satisfactory as to have copied them from the originals; but the heavy expence and other obstacles attendant on such a proceeding, rendered it absolutely impracticable; whilst the total absence of every thing like urbanity, even if a stronger expression be not merited, in the deportment of those with whom the public come in collision at the principal Registry in the kingdom-that at Doctors' Commons-deterred the Editor from soliciting permission to transcribe or collate the wills here abstracted with such of the originals, or recorded copies as exist there.
The person who, when perusing a will in that Repository, has once experienced the rude manner of address to which the applicants are subject, and the still more insolent tone in which it is sometimes uttered, must be endowed with an unusual forbearance if he subjects himself to such conduct when he can possibly avoid it. Whether an amendment will ever take place can only be conjectured; but it is scarcely possible to conceive a public office, which, so far as the convenience of the public in the respect in question is concerned, more imperiously demands it, especially when the large emoluments of the Registers are considered.
The difficulty of access to original information on the subject of Wills compelled the formation of this Collection from various sources. As it was an object
to present as much testamentary evidence as could be obtained, abstracts of several Wills are printed from Dugdale's Baronage, Collins' Peerage, County Histories, Memoirs of Families, and other works; but the chief sources have been Manuscripts in the British Museum, and in private Collections. It was, not always, that there was any choice in the selections, for the MS. notices alluded to, were made in most cases by former Collectors for genealogical purposes, though they had generally the good taste to preserve every curious bequest or recital descriptive of the manners of the times. The critical antiquary may possibly find several words erroneously printed, and expressions used which are incorrect, but which the Editor was unwilling to alter, lest the correction should be uncalled for, from the consideration, that, however faulty, it might be the literal expression of the original. This remark is made in anticipation of the criticism of others, for not having more frequently exercised his own. The notes to the different Wills are chiefly biographical, or rather genealogical; though in some places they present a sketch of the testator's character, and in others point out an historical fact which the will in the text illustrates.
This work is the first attempt, with the exception of the highly valuable Collection of Royal Wills edited by John Nichols, Esq. the venerable and eminent Historian of Leicestershire, to illustrate the manners and customs of past ages by the unerring evidence of the testaments of contemporary persons. The contents of that volume are carefully abstracted in
this, though as that publication gives the Wills at length, the extracts have not been so copious as may perhaps be expected. A few curious Wills have at different times, and in various works been printed, but nothing less than an extensive and miscellaneous collection can be really useful for illustration; as the peculiarity which caused a solitary one to be noticed might frequently have arisen from individual eccentricity rather than from the general habits of the period; and we might be attributing to the effect of national manners what in fact was only the result of personal caprice. A general collection, however, relating to people in various ranks of society affords a criterion which cannot mislead; and if several thousand wills were printed literally from the originals, with glossarial notes and copious indexes, from the earliest period to the end of the seventeenth century, on the plan of this work, the most valuable illustration of the dresses, manners, language, and, in a word, of every thing connected with the domestic history of this Country, would be formed, which could possibly be produced.
Little more remains to be said than to fulfil the gratifying duty of expressing thanks to those from whom assistance has been derived. The gentleman who contributed the valuable introductory matter in explanation of many passages in the different wills, merits his especial thanks, and he much regrets that he has commanded that his name should be withheld. Motives which he fully appreciates, unfortunately prevent his publicly acknowledging other obligations where they are most eminently due. He flatters
himself, however, that though unexpressed, the friends alluded to will feel assured that they are deeply felt.
To Sir Richard Colt Hoare, whose literary reputation does not exceed the kindness with which he places the result of his researches at the disposition of others, he is indebted for the interesting plate of the Seal attached to Lady Hungerford's Will, and for other acceptable contributions. Of his obligations to the able Historian of Northamptonshire, almost every page bears testimony; and of these, and many other proofs of his good opinion, he is highly sensible.