It's not uncommon to find John Doe named as surety on a bond, as shown in the eighteenth century probate bond below:

Know all Men by these Presents that We James Dixon of Stathern in the County of Leicester Butcher, and John Doe are held and firmly bound unto Richard Grey Clerk.

Either there were an awful lot of John Does in Leicestershire, or John Doe was just a fictitious placeholder. Were there practical legal risks in naming John Doe as surety on a probate bond, and what was the point in doing so?

  • It might help you to know if the bond had to be paid up front and reclaimed -- if so, fictitious placeholders might be more likely.
    – user6485
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 14:10
  • 1
    @atiras Probate and marriage bonds were not paid unless the conditions of the bond were breached, this is clear from the wording.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 14:14
  • These days you have to pay in advance if you're asked to pay a bond, I believe, but familyrecords.dur.ac.uk/nei/NEI_bonds.htm gives good back ground reading for the (possible) period in question. What date is the bond? Of course it could just be pure laziness or error on the part of the person record in the bond -- is it confined to a single place? Do the wills have more than one executor names? P.S. maybe an image that shows the whole wording?
    – user6485
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 14:24
  • @atiras The bond is very standard, printed wording as shown in the examples at the link you provided. This particular example is from the 1750s but I could provide several other examples from other decades in the 18th century, from several different counties. This particular will only has the one executor named.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 2:27

1 Answer 1


Having thought it through a bit, Google helped and I found this article on the FamilySearch Wiki that is adapted from a print article by respected genealogist, Anthony Camp. Although it is about bonds on marriage licences and the original question is about probate bonds in particular, I see no reason why what applies to one bond type shouldn't apply to them all.

The relevant bits are

The bond, sworn "by two sufficient witnesses" ... pledged to forfeit a large sum of money (ranging from £40 to £200), if there was any consanguinity (a relationship within the prohibited degrees) between the parties or any pre-contract to another person. ... The second bondsman soon became a formality, any convenient person acting. Later the second bondsman was often completely fictitious, names like John Doe and Richard Row being used.

My emphasis in italics. Thus it suggests to me that there was indeed a requirement for two bondsmen but the procedures around the second bondsman became somewhat informal, reducing, at the extreme, to fictitious names.

Personal interpretation - the risk associated with a fictitious second bondsman is surely not material. The objective of the bond is to concentrate the mind of the bondsmen on ensuring due process is followed on the marriage or probate. By having only one real bondsman, the effect is that one guy is doubly incentivised. The only risk is if (a) probate or marriage goes wrong and (b) the first bondsman is dead or cannot otherwise pay. Presumably the Church authorities would not accept a bond signed by a pauper in the first place so would need to feel some sort of confidence that the bondsman could pay and that this was therefore a genuine deterrent.

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