by Ann Williams[1]


The class of documents known as Anglo-Saxon wills differ in some significant ways from the later concept of a last will and testament, mainly in the fact that they are not in themselves legal documents; actual bequests were made orally, and the texts we have are simply memoranda of what was said. Often they exist only as copies made for ecclesiastical beneficiaries, and therefore tend to emphasize any bequests to the church. A further difficulty is that much landed property was not in the testator’s gift, but passed according to customary laws which are imperfectly understood, and therefore is not mentioned in the will. This especially affects inheritance by sons, who are under-represented in the surviving texts (because they were already provided for). Despite these problems, the wills have much to tell about the families and connections of the aristocratic testators, many of them women, as well as their landed resources and (especially in respect of women’s wills) their moveable property (clothing, jewellery, furnishings). Though there was a common pattern, each will has to be read individually, and the example chosen is that of the tenth-century aristocratic lady, Wynflaed.

Foundations (2017) 9: 3-20                                    © Copyright FMG and the author

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