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Wills and inheritance in late Anglo-Saxon England, 871-1066

Eric Hemming

PhD Dissertation, Queen Mary, University of London, 1991

Abstract: In this thesis, the sources considered suitable for the study of inheritance were reviewed, and a theoretical model for a system of customary inheritance was developed. The study divides into two part seach relating either to the sources or to the model. The first part of the thesis re-evaluates the traditional divisions of sources for the study of inheritance and devises new divisions for use in this study. The second part of the thesis uses these new divisions in developing a model for the operation of inheritance and discusses the role of these sources in relation to that model.

In place of the traditional division of source material for the study of inheritance, a system was devised consisting of two broad areas: Wills and Additional Documents. The area of Wills was divided into the following headings: Written Wills, Oral Declarations, Category A, B, or C Lost Wills, and Grants made while Dying. Additional Documents included the following material: Reference to an Inheritance, Reference to Property Descent, and Documents relevant to the nature of wills. The merits and limitations of these sources were discussed with reference to their preservation whether as single sheet contemporary copies or in cartularies.

The theoretical model for a system of customary inheritance is relatively simple. The relationship between that system and the sources alters the traditional perspective on those sources with the result that the evidence from written wills is seen as supplemental rather than central to the study of inheritance. From this new perspective, it becomes apparent that the property donated inside wills represents only a portion of a donor’s total possessions and that in the operation of the customary inheritance system, male donees are preferred as the recipients of landed property.

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