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Name: Alex Marchbank

PhD: History

Thesis Title: Testamentary Identity: The Evidence of the Norfolk and Kent Wills, c. 1450-1535. 

Thesis Description:

English wills survive in the tens of thousands from the late fourteenth century onward and are the most important source for accessing the religion of the mass of late medieval people. My thesis will explore how the commemorative, devotional and charitable functions of the will evolved as a forum for the construction of religious identity in two east-coast counties that hosted both orthodoxy and dissent. By comparing testamentary evidence from Norfolk and Kent, this research will shed light on the development of the will as a vehicle for piety and identity as well as a legal device for inheritance in the century before the Reformation. This project aims to expose patterns and varieties of lay piety and the significance of family, community, gender, geography, economy and wealth in the shaping of testamentary and wider religious practice. It will explore the interaction of legal and social conventions with local traditions, the impact of pastoral care on lay pious action, cultural transmission between generations and the opportunities offered by localities for religious devotion.

While the will remains central to studies of English lay piety its reliability as an index of religious belief and practice has been seriously questioned and scholarly understanding of testamentary practice is limited. This research will be the first concerted comparative analysis of changing practices of will-making with particular reference to religion in late medieval England.  There has been some attention to the use of church courts for the purposes of probate, on the growing use of English in wills, and practices of testamentary ‘cultural creativity’, but a comparative study of testamentary practices across more than one county or diocese is long overdue. This study aims to show that not only the content but the nature of the will is important for our understanding of popular religion, constructions of identity and the development of administrative, legal and literary practices with regard to probate in the late medieval period. The project focuses on Norfolk and Kent, east coast counties rich in testamentary evidence. It samples wills from across these two counties to assess general themes for analysis and will then compares in more depth a more manageable selection of parishes situated in settlements of differing sizes. Other sources such as churchwardens’ accounts, bishops’ registers, and books of hours help to come to a fuller understanding of patterns within pre-Reformation piety and the place of testamentary practices within late medieval life. Exploration of testamentary piety is important for medievalists as it addresses questions of social and religious organisation and constructions of identity.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr Rob Lutton (University of Nottingham)

Professor Wendy Scase (University of Birmingham)

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Reviews assistant, Nottingham Medieval Studies 

Co-organiser of the University of Nottingham PG Medieval Research Seminars, 2017-19. 

Lead applicant for 'Medieval Midlands' conference held at De Montfort University, 27-28th April 2017. 



  • 'Gender and the marginalization of ‘the poor’ in late medieval England', paper at Gender and Medieval Studies conference 'Gender and Aliens' (University of Durham), January 2019
  • '‘I make my testament in forme folowyng’: A consideration of self-expression and regional variation in late medieval wills and testaments' paper at Kalamazoo IMC, May 2019. 
  • ‘Whils I was sole widowe’: late medieval married women’s wills as sites for self-expression?' paper at Leeds IMC, July 2019


  • 'Buried in the Text: Bodies and Burials in Medieval Women's Wills', paper at University of Nottingham Research Seminar, November 2017. 
  • 'Legal Spaces' roundtable participant at Women's Negotiations of Space, 1500-1900 Conference (University of Hull), January 2018. 
  • 'Investigating burial: contrasting approaches from archaeology and history' with Solenn Troadec, University of Nottingham Postgraduate Medieval Research Seminar, February 2018. 
  • 'Communal Worship: Nuns, Laywomen, Agency, Action and Change' workshop co-organiser (with Micheline White and Jaime Goodrich) at Attending To Women 2018 (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee), June 2018. 
  • 'Late Medieval Wills: Directions for Future Research - A Round Table Discussion' roundtable participant (Leeds IMC), July 2018. 
  • 'Strategies of Memory and Identity in Late Medieval Women's Wills', paper (Leeds IMC), July 2018.  


  • 'Testamentary Identity: Gown, Gravestone and Gore', paper at Medieval Midlands, April 2017.
  • Research Relay presentation at M3C Research Festival, May 2017. 
  • 'Ambre bedes that was her moders’: Prayer beads and gender in Lincolnshire Wills, 1505-1534', paper at 'Powerful Objects' (EMREM, University of Birmingham), May 2017. 


I am an Associate Fellow of the HEA. 


  • Introduction to the Medieval World - University of Nottingham 

About Me:

I studied BA History and German at the University of Nottingham (2010-2014; First Class) and received AHRC Midlands3Cities funding for my History MA at Nottingham (2015-2016; Distinction). 

Professional Memberships/Affiliations:

  • Social History Society 
  • Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship

Other Research Interests:

  • Gender history
  • Material Culture 
  • Anthropology


University email address:

Twitter: @alexmarchbank Alex Marchbank

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