Testamentary practices and village courts in the Bailiwick of ’s-Hertogenbosch (c. 1470-1550)
This paper discusses the origin, function and uses of schepentestamenten, acts of last will registered before municipal courts of aldermen. From the second half of the fifteenth century, peasants and townsmen found recourse to these courts for the registration of acts of last will. At first these acts were primarily contracts among spouses mutually conveying to each other the property upon death, but especially after the secularisation of the notarial profession in 1531 the number of pious bequests and religious beneficiaries greatly increased. In general, three strategies prevail in the employment of the last will: overruling the customary dispensation to the surviving spouse and provide this person with additional resources, specifying the position of each of the children (especially when some were illegitimate or had received by life), and preventing loss of wealth from the family. For the legal instruments, the aldermen resorted to their standard formulary, although attuned to the peculiarities of the last will. The trust and authority the courts of aldermen enjoyed, in combination with their executive clout in enforcing compliance, allowed them to discard various formal elements required in notarial instruments, while also making them popular institutions for the registration of last wills.