a1 Department of History, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4L9 Canada
For the great majority of English men and women in the Reformation the principal indication of individual religious beliefs is the initial clause in their testaments, bequeathing their souls to God. Cast in the form of a personal bequest and frequently composed on the testator's deathbed, the religious statement appears to provide a revealing personal comment upon the individual's beliefs, unlike seemingly more public acts or protestations of faith. Unfortunately for the historian interested in tracing the presence of early Protestantism, Calvinism or religious conservatism within individuals or communities, will-making by the early modern era had become a cultural ritual. With a strong potential for ritualised statements, the pitfalls in using these preambles in isolation as indications of faith are generally well known. It is the intention of this paper to outline evidence for considering testamentary declarations as formulae, in indeterminate relationship with the specific religious convictions of the testators.