St Valentine's Day
8.30 p.m.
Dr Jane Cox
Paul A. Fox
John Horton
Jane CoxJeffrey G.J. Somerton

This was a strange evening in the annals of the Society, for the Secretary and Jr. Treasurer were forced to depart after dining with the guest speaker, and the Sr. Treasurer was unable to come – all because the meeting had been arranged at short notice.

Jane Cox then proceeded to give quite the best talk that I had heard in three years of attending the Society, to an audience of three (a fourth arrived after the meeting had ended). Jane's authority to talk on this subject is unquestionable for her first task on joining the P.R.O. was to sort out eighty-four tons of public records from a damp cellar.

Her speech began in an extremely witty manner with an account of what not to do when visiting the P.R.O. She recommended that you on no account admitted you were doing genealogy, and that all kinds of impressive sounding technical words like P.11s should be spouted at the keepers.

We were then taken through the complexities of the different courts in which wills were proved, and the people who were involved with them. She told us of a study which she had made which showed that as little as 1% or less of the male population made wills. Her great-grandfather, a milkman, she told us, had his will proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (which was in London) "and he was rubbish!".

Her recent work on Shakespeare's will was discussed, and she had come to the conclusion that all the certified copies of his signatures were fakes. Since she published this in the Times she has, much to her chagrin, received daily letters from members of the Baconian Society who think she is supporting them.

As a final flourish, she read extracts from the most amusing wills she had encountered, including various ones in which the will was contested on the grounds of drunkenness. One man left a third of his estate to his wife "if she was his wife".

P.A. Fox

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    Last updated May 8th, 2000