Presence; a ”Gentlewoman” and her maid

In England & Wales a Will must be witnessed by people in the ‘presence’ of the Will maker s9(c) of the Wills Act 1837(“the Act”) provides

“the signature is made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time”

I posted about a woman who went to her attorney’s office to execute her will in the 1770’s and the influence that it has regarding remote witnessing of documents today.

In the 18th century, it was uncommon for English wills to be made by women. In 1779 Honora Jenkins “Gentlewoman” (the parish burial register records her as also being a widow) was entered into the probate register of the Prerogative Court in York.

Prerogative Courts in Canterbury and York had jurisdiction to grant probate or administration where the deceased left an estate above £5 within the diocesan boundaries of York or in more than one diocese in the northern province.

Honora’s is one of a handful of women’s names on that page of the register; two were identified as widows, one as a spinster.

Honora was born in 1720 and married John Jenkins, a customs house agent in 1747. On her father’s death in 1760, Honora inherited his estate in her own right expressed in his will as

”not in any way subject to the debts or control of her husband”

She also inherited the estate of the last Brooke baronet an uncle who died a lunatic and unmarried in 1770.

Honora was childless and had been widowed; the date she made her will isn’t known but when she died in 1778 her estate was left to a Mr Dade.

The validity of Honora’s will was tested in 1781 by the Court of Chancery in Casson v. Dade

Honora had given instructions to her solicitor to prepare a will attended his office to sign it and have it witnessed, where –

”Being asthmatical and the office very hot, she retired to her carriage to execute the will, the witnesses attending her: after seeing the execution they returned into the office to attest it”

Honora’s maid gave evidence that the carriage horses had reared up and moved the carriage back to bring the window and the witnesses attesting their signatures into Honora Jenkins’ line of sight; immediately after the attestation, the witnesses took the will to her, and one of them delivered it to her, telling her they had attested it, upon which she folded it up and put it into her pocket (which served a similar purpose as a handbag does today).

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