The Church court was a common cause of complaint against the Church throughout the 14th century. Not just because the King would have liked to take over jurisdiction of many matters that remained the preserve of the Church, but because of the frequent instances of maladministration.
One of the duties of the Church was to oversee the appropriate handling of wills when a person deceased. The church court, usually run by the local archdeacon was supposed to ensure that an inventory was drawn up of the deceased’s goods, which in turn were duly valued. Once this had been done the Church “proved” the will, took an administration charge and then charged the executors with dispersing the legacies in accordance with the will.
This process was commonly abused. What more often happened is that which is complained of in the piece below. Having charged a rapacious sum (20 shillings from a will of 100 shillings) for proving the will, the Church Court could not care less what happened to the goods. The officials did not bother to insist that the list of goods had been drawn up or valued. In effect this gave carte blanche for the executors to help themselves to the deceased’s property as no one could prove how much had been available to the intended beneficiaries.
Item cum testamenta defunctorum probanda fuerint coram ipsis raro vel nunquam ea approbant nisi prius de bonis defunctorum pro approbatione eorundem aliquam exegerint de executoribus testamentorum predictorum pecunie gravem summam quandowue si bona huiusmodi testantium concernentia ad 100 solidis vix ascendunt exigunt 20 solidis et si ascendant ad 10 libras exigunt 40 solidis. Et si ab executoribus eisdem ad eorum sufficientiam offeratur tunc nullo facto inventario de bonis huiusmodi testantium statim eisdem executoribus administrationem concedunt. Et quod est nequius administratio mendaciter adminstrationem plenarie complevisse et inde per suas patentes litteras ipsos executores acquietant nullo recepto in ea parte compoto nec audito quo pretextu contingit interdum quod executores huiusmodi inde audaciam assumentes bona defectorum pro magna parte indebite consumunt et ea usibus propriis usurpant preter contra voluntates ultimas et legitimas defunctorum et contra constitutiones et canonica instituta.
From Ely Diocesan Records D2/1 Consistory Court Records (Cambridge University Library) fo 25