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Home > What can inventories tell us? > Background information

Background information


Most people like to leave their possessions and property to family and friends when they die. To make sure that their wishes are known and followed, people write down their bequests in a document known as a will. However, some people die without making a will and others have so many things that the executors (the people in charge of making sure the terms of the will are carried out) find their job very difficult. In cases like this, an inventory can be drawn up.

The inventory is a list of all the property and goods owned by a person - it even includes debts! In the past, inventories were drawn up by friends of the person who had died or people who worked in the same kind of job. There were no rules about what had to be included in an inventory so some are very long and give details about every possession whilst others are very short.

 

 

 

Depiction of a medieval banquet showing some items that are often mentioned in inventories. Image is taken from the Luttrell Psalter.

 

 


Reading Tudor inventories can be very difficult. After all, these documents are over 400 years old! People in Tudor Times used a different style of handwriting, they spelt things differently and sometimes they use different words to the ones we use today. But they are not impossible to read. The best thing to do is to try reading the words out loud - it often makes more sense this way. If you get really stuck you can use the translations but try to have a go on your own first. If you need to find out what a word means have a look at the glossary terms. Good luck!!

 

Go to the inventories

 

 

The original will and registered copy will of John Fenwick, dated 1580.

 


A large number of inventories from the Tudor period have survived and they can tell us a lot about the people who were living at that time. Although they look quite boring they contain very useful information, such as how people dressed, what things they used, how many rooms they had in their houses, what they did for a living, what animals they kept and what kind of things could be bought in a shop.

The only trouble is that not everyone left an inventory. In fact, it was only people who had anything worth something that left a will or an inventory - in other words, it was just rich people. But, just like today, there were big differences in the lifestyles of different rich people in the Tudor period.

You are going to find out more about some Tudor people by looking at their inventories but first a word of warning!

 

Extract from a Tudor inventory.

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