Wills and Will-Making in Anglo-Saxon England

September 2011
1 black and white, 2 line illustrations
346 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781903153376
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
York Medieval Press
BISAC HIS037010, LAW006000

Wills and Will-Making in Anglo-Saxon England

Linda Tollerton

A study of the implications and practices of wills and will-making in Anglo-Saxon society, and of the varieties of inheritance strategies and commemorative arrangements adopted.
A remarkable series of Anglo-Saxon wills have survived, spanning the period from the beginning of the ninth century to the years immediately following the Norman Conquest. Written in Old English, they reflect the significance of the vernacular, not only in royal administration during this period, but in the recording of a range of individual transactions. They show wealthy laymen and women, and clerics, from kings and bishops to those of thegnly status, disposing of land and chattels, and recognising ties of kinship, friendship, lordship and service through their bequests; and whilst land is of prime importance, the mention in some wills of such valuable items as tableware, furnishings, clothing, jewellery and weapons provides an insight into lifestyle at the time.
Despite their importance, no study has hitherto been specifically devoted to Anglo-Saxon wills in their social and historical context, a gap which this book aims to fill. While the wills themselves can be vague and allusive, by establishing patterns of bequeathing, and by drawing on other resources, the author sheds light on the factors which influenced men and women in making appropriate provision for their property.

Linda Tollerton gained her PhD from the University of York.

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Table of Contents

Anglo-Saxon written wills: the nature of the evidence
The process of will-making
Politics, power and the bequest of land
Lay bequest of land: pious gifts and family strategy
The bequest of movable wealth
Wills, commemoration and lay piety
Conclusion: Why make a written will in Anglo-Saxon England?
Appendix 1: The corpus of Anglo-Saxon wills
Appendix 2: The evidence for wills and will-making in the Liber Eliensis and Chronicon Rameseiensis
Appendix 3: The bequest of movable wealth
Appendix 4: Local churches mentioned in wills
Appendix 5: Note on unpublished material by Patrick Wormald


This book is, at all levels, a very welcome, and a very successful, attempt to give wills the attention they deserve.... An important and substantial book, it makes an estimable contribution to a field that has been neglected for too long. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

Groundbreaking in that it is the first book-length study of the Anglo-Saxon will [and] a welcome addition to the canon of Anglo-Saxon source studies that should be read by anyone with an interest not only in these extraordinary documents themselves, but in the culture they illuminate. EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE

An elegant survey that pays particular attention to the social uses of these documents. . It is a must read for Anglo-Saxonists, but it has much to offer other medievalists, including legal historians, as well. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW

A helpful and scholarly contribution to the study of wills in Anglo-Saxon England. Its singular strength lies in the detail which Tollerton brings to the subject, exploring in depth themes touched on fleetingly in previous literature. [It] will doubtless remain the standard work on the subject for many years to come. HISTORY

An important and very useful book. THE MEDIEVAL REVIEW