The present volume is the first instalment of a Calendar of certain documents selected from the class formerly known as Escheats, or Inquisitions post mortem. The guiding principle of selection has been to include all inquisitions dealing with the hereditary descent of land, assignments of dower, proofs of age, lands of lunatics and the like, reserving for separate treatment all inquisitions ad quod damnum, and all inquisitions not bearing upon the subjects before mentioned. A list of the inquisitions ad quod damnum is now in course of publication; and a detailed calendar of the remaining enquiries will be published later.
The period covered by the present volume is the reign of Henry III.; and the earliest inquisition described in it is dated in the 20th year of that king. It is, however, only by degrees that the inquisition on the death of a landowner assumes a regular form; and the growth of the administration intended to deal with it is equally gradual. Even the writ of diem clausit extremum cannot be traced beyond the 39th year of that king; and to the very end of the reign it is possible to note occasional variations from the regular course.
Two stages in the development of the officer known as the Escheator can be traced. In the first, the taking of the inquisitions is the duty of the Sheriff; and all the other executive functions such as seizing the lands on the death of their owner, restoring them to the heir and the like are done by him. But the actual custody of the lands, while in the king's hands, belongs to officers known as custodes escaetarum, and sometimes as escaetores. On the Close Roll of 16 Henry III., m. 14d, two of these keepers are appointed for each county; two years later, we find two for the whole of England, namely Richard de la Lade and Adam son of William, and accounts rendered by these last for lands in their hands are to be found on the Pipe Rolls of the period. The first Escheator in the later sense seems to have been
Robert de Creppinges, who acted as Escheator North of Trent from 20 to 32 Henry III.; but even after this appointment, we find many writs addressed to the Sheriff on subjects that seem rather to belong to the province of the Escheator. Henry de Wengham occurs as Escheator South of Trent about the year 30 Henry III.; but the first account for that office is the account of William de Wendling for the years 43–45 Henry III. These two chief escheators had subordinates in each county, known as co-escheators or sub-escheators, to whom part of their work was entrusted; but the writ ordering the taking of an inquisition is always addressed to the chief escheator, who transmitted it to his subordinate.
Certain liberties and districts lay without the power of the escheators; and writs touching lands within them were either sent direct to the officers in charge of them, or remitted to them for execution by the original recipient.
It should be explained that when the Calendar does not mention the name of the recipient of the writ, it is to be understood that the writ was addressed to the Escheator.
The inquisitions taken by the Escheator were returned by him into Chancery; but a further duty lay upon him of accounting at the Exchequer for the profits of the lands in his hands or for money received by him on behalf of the king. As vouchers for these accounts, he was compelled to produce at the Exchequer copies, or notes, of the inquisitions taken before him and any other documents that might be required to discharge claims against him. Hence arises the parallel set of documents known as Escheators' Accounts and Inquisitions, Exchequer. For the reign of Henry III. there is only one such copy in existence, and several writs; these have been included in the present Calendar.
Before the publication of the present volume, the only means of reference to the class of Inquisitions post mortem were the four volumes published by the Record Commission between 1806 and 1838. On the unsatisfactory character of that publication it is needless to insist. The omission of the names of the heirs was partially remedied by the publication in 1865 of two volumes of extracts edited by Mr.
Charles Roberts and entitled 'Calendarium Genealogicum.' These only cover the reigns of Henry III. and Edward I.; and the obvious inconvenience of pursuing a system in which the names of heirs were given in one calendar and the lands in another made if undesirable to proceed further on those lines.
It was determined therefore to undertake a new calendar altogether; and to begin by classifying the mass of documents on the principles already explained. In the abstracts here given of the Inquisitions post mortem, the lands, the tenures of lands, the date of the death of the owner, if stated, and the names and ages of the heirs have been given, with an abstract of any information contained in the document as titles, relationship and so forth; the names of the tenants of knights' fees have also been included. On the other hand, extents of manors have been omitted, their presence in the original documents being indicated by the words '(extent given).' The names of jurors, sheriffs, and escheators are also for the most part left out.
The entries in the Calendar have been numbered successively for reference only. The original documents are bound in files and numbered, and should be applied for by the file and number to be found at the end of each entry; the initial letter C. signifies that the document in question belongs to the Chancery series; and E. in like manner refers to the Exchequer series.
The table which follows this introduction shows the new arrangement of the Inquisitions post mortem and the relation between the old and present references of the documents in it.
The text of the present volume has been prepared by Mr. J.E.E.S. Sharp, an Assistant Record Keeper, and the index by Mr. A. E. Stamp, M.A. of this office.
H. C. Maxwell Lyte.
Public Record Office, 28 March, 1904.