Medieval Estate Planning: The Wills and Testamentary Trials of Sir John Fastolf
32 Pages Posted: 7 May 2012
Date Written: May 7, 2012
Medieval will-making has often been associated with efforts right before death. But estate planning activity at an earlier time was also possible and was pursued by the upper reaches of English society. Sir John Fastolf (1380-1459), a wealthy East Anglian knight, made substantial efforts to plan his estate. He made several wills and charters enfeoffing land to his use. But his efforts faced many obstacles and ultimately failed, resulting in a contest regarding the validity of his death-bed will.
This essay documents those estate planning activities. It does so by recounting a story of longstanding interest to medieval historians and other scholars. Using extensive primary sources, the essay, for the first time, explores completely and orderly all the relevant wills, charters, and other documents as well as the voluminous testimony in the will contest.
The full story shows that Fastolf’s estate planning efforts were ultimately frustrated by deathbed changes, other claims on the property, the need for royal approval, political factors, conflicts among executors, and papal intervention. Nor is it clear whether they ever could have been successful or whether medieval estate planning could ever be secure.
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