chapter  9
22 Pages

Discord and Disinheritance: Windows into Family Relations from Testamentary Litigation

The testamentary causes observed in the Canterbury records illustrate that one frequent explanation for meager bequests to or disinheritance of close kin was a breakdown in rapport between will-maker and his or her heir or spouse. While the wills themselves often explain the factors that led to a paltry legacy or complete disinheritance, the testamentary litigation that ungenerous wills engendered provides a much more detailed glimpse into the motives, assisting the historian in understanding the reasons for meager bequests to close family members. Unlike the will left by the deceased, the allegations, interrogatories, and depositions allow others to speak: both legatees and disappointed heirs (and their witnesses) could report on conduct that might explain the will’s contents.