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Response to Review no. 223

On behalf of myself and my fellow editors I would like to express my thanks to Professor Clarkson for the close attention that he has clearly paid to our book, for his consideration of each and every chapter and for his comments on the volume as a whole. Of course, even in a summary of this length it is impossible to do full justice to the content of every contribution, based as they are either upon extensive reading in the secondary literature, or upon a considerable body of original research, and often upon both. I am sure that Professor Clarkson will agree that there is much more to enjoy in each chapter, for which he provides an admirably succinct foretaste.

Professor Clarkson offers a small number of criticisms, the first of which relates to the organisation of the volume, and in particular to the situation of the chapters by Overton and Hodges. Basically, I agree that Mark Overton’s chapter could easily have been included elsewhere in the volume. Part I of the book, however, does not only deal with the legal context, but also explores the various uses to which these records have been, and can be, put by historians. As an editorial team we felt that the breadth of the Overton piece justified its inclusion here rather than in the more specialist studies in Part III. With regard to the other chapter specifically mentioned, as Mary Hodges and her team do indeed use probate inventories as their main source of information and other sources as well (notably parish registers, wills and lists of inhabitants), I would have thought that it was suitably situated under the heading ‘Probate Inventories Plus’, even if it is less well endowed with the ‘plus’ factor than the chapter that follows by Bernard Jennings.

With regard to Professor Clarkson’s remark that ‘The repetitions are irritating and even confusing at times’, I do hope that they are not generally confusing, for if they are then the editors have indeed been found wanting. But if they are irritating then I am afraid that this is one of inevitable pitfalls of multi-author volumes. It would have been wholly inappropriate for the editors to have ironed these repetitions out, for each essay stands in its own right, and will no doubt often be read independently, as well as forming part of a composite whole. Repetition, therefore, is unavoidable.

Some of these essays, as Professor Clarkson notes, have indeed been published before, but only three of the seventeen. One of these was published in French (and is reproduced here in a revised version); another is a condensed version of an important article that first appeared in a collection of essays that had a truly appalling sales record; and the third is the classic article by Margaret Spufford that fully deserves reproduction here, no matter how well known. With regard to the suggestion that ‘Overton’s work is familiar to experts in the field’, I am less sure than Professor Clarkson that this detailed analysis of prices has hitherto received the exposure it deserves, even among experts, while for the less expert I am sure that it will prove fascinating.

This brings me to the final point that Professor Clarkson raises: the target audience for this volume. The tradition of Local Population Studies since its inception has been an inclusive one: both the journal and the supplements to which it has given rise, of which When Death Do Us Part is the latest, are written to be accessible to a wide audience and (incidentally) include authors from both the professional and the non-professional arms of the historical community too. This does not mean, however, that they will be of no interest to the specialist: many of the papers in this volume provide new, research-based insights into a variety of aspects of early modern economy and society through the glass of wills, probate inventories and probate accounts, and I am quite sure that scholars familiar with probate evidence will indeed ‘want to buy this volume’, just as they subscribe in numbers to Local Population Studies itself. But it does mean that the volume is also designed to be accessible to students new to the field, whether within or without the academy, and hence there is material that introduces the novice to the various forms of probate evidence, their pitfalls and possibilities, as well as more advanced studies. Furthermore, I know of no other volume that treats all three of the main classes of probate evidence in one volume, and none either that elucidates the legal background and questions relating to survival of probate evidence as fully as does When Death Do Us Part.

I thank Professor Clarkson again for a review that I interpret, despite these small reservations, as giving two and a half cheers for When Death Do Us Part, and I do hope that after the considerable amount of work that the editors have put into this volume it does indeed prove valuable: to the specialist, to the novice and to the many scholars of early modern England that stand between the two.