Pages vii-xi

Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: Series 2, Volume 1, Henry VII. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1898.

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THE text and the index of the present volume, together with the following notes on procedure, &c. have been prepared under my direction by Mr. Maskelyne, of this Office.


Public Record Office,

10 May 1898.

UPON the announcement of the death of any person reputed to hold directly of the King, a writ was prepared in the Chancery, and sent under the Great Seal to the escheators of those counties where the deceased’s lands were situate, requiring them to certify the King, upon the oath of a jury to be empanelled by the Sheriff, touching certain matters specified in the writ. The reply, or return, known as an “inquisition,” “office,” or “escheat,” was sent to the Chancery, sewn, on to the writ, and the name of the person delivering it, and the date of its receipt were noted on its. face by the receiving clerk.

Such was the simplest case. The writ issued immediately upon the death of the tenant, in other words, as it is always stated in the writ, “quia datum est nobis intelligi, quod A. B. qui de nobis tenuit in capite, diem clausit extremum,” a decent paraphrase of the bald statement, “has died.” From this characteristic phrase, which invariably occurred in it, this the simplest form of such writs, came to be known as a writ of “diem clausit extremum,” and upon this writ by far the greater number of the inquisitions calendared in the present volume were taken.

Other writs, however, were in use, originating either in altered circumstances affecting the case for enquiry, or in peculiarities of official routine. Thus, we find (No. 278) a writ of “diem clausit extremum,” with an explanatory note that it was a new writ, a former one not having been executed before the expiration of the reign of the King who authorised it. The case was rare, and for this writ there appears to be no special name.

Again, it happened, not infrequently, that the term of office of the escheator to whom the writ was directed, expired before the enquiry could be held. Thereupon a new writ issued, with a recital of the occasion of it, “quia predictus nuper escaetor “antequam executionem brevis predicti fecerit, ab officio suo “predicto amotus fuit.” Here the characteristic word was again selected for its title, and it became known as a writ of “amotus” (No. 686).

Delay in the issue of a writ, but unexplained, accounted for yet a third variety. Time had elapsed since the tenant’s death, and the writ in question may be recognised by the direction, contained in it, to the escheator, to enquire who had occupied the lands since the date of the tenant’s death. It was known, however, from its peremptory commencement, “Præcipimus tibi quod,” &c. as a writ of “mandamus“ (No. 597).

Or, it might be, that the Chancery was dissatisfied with the return made; and here it may be useful to consider for a moment how the information contained in these inquisitions was supplied to the escheator. This in most cases, we may suppose, was done by the family solicitor, or his prototype, who produced the wills, settlements, &c., which affected the estate, and a document ready drawn was submitted to the jury (see Paston Letters ed. Gairdner, i. No. 42). The findings, in whole or in part, of any inquisition might subsequently be judicially voided upon a “traverse”; but, by reason of information supplied, or upon the testimony of documents in their own custody, the Chancery officials were frequently in a position to call, on their own motion, for further enquiry. There seems to be no doubt that, in the case of wills, the officials of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury had spread a network of spies over the province, to check the improper probate in peculiar courts of wills that fell within the archbishop’s jurisdiction. The officials of the Chancery may have availed themselves of a similar machinery, for, as we shall see, they do not appear to have been dependent solely on the escheators for their information. The inquisitions, moreover, in their own custody, taken on the deaths of previous tenants, enabled them (Nos. 210, 211 et seq.), in repeated instances, to check the findings with regard to given families and long descended lands, even where obvious deficiencies, due to the carelessness of escheator and jury alike, did not suggest the desirability of a fuller return. We find, accordingly, a writ (No. 643) which recapitulates the findings of a previous inquisition, points out in what respects they are insufficient, and directs that the uncertainties thus detailed shall be cleared. From its nature this writ was known as a writ “ad melius inquirendum.” Another definitely states that the King is informed that the tenant held other lands besides those mentioned in a previous inquisition, and directs the escheator to enquire “quæ plura terras, &c. idem A.B. tenuit” (No. 664), and was known accordingly, as a writ of “Quœ plura.”

To this same class of further proceedings upon a writ of “diem clausit extremum,” the varieties whereof are in all probability by no means fully represented in the present volume, may be added a writ designed to meet a case which must have recurred. It had been found by inquisition (No. 1073) returned to a “diem clausit” writ, that A. B. had died, and that C. D. was her heir, and was of full age. The heir thus found had, however, himself died before “suing his livery,” and the escheator is now directed, by a writ of “certiorari” (No. 1191), to ascertain the date of his death and his heir.

Such, then, were some at any rate of the writs seeking information after the death of a reputed tenant in chief. When this information had been obtained, if the tenant had left a widow surviving or children under age, further processes were necessary, with corresponding writs. The widow had claim to dower, and we have, accordingly, a writ “de dote assignanda” (No. 328); the young son, or daughters, came of age, and proof of it was required, under a writ “de œtate probanda” (No. 1080), and finally, where ladies shared their parents’ inheritance between them, we have one example (No. 1125) of a partition, made under a special writ. Perhaps, however, the young heir died, while under age. His ancestor’s lands were already in the custody of the King or his nominee; still, an enquiry was requisite, and this was held under again another writ. The escheator was directed to enquire what lands, by the death of the ancestor, and by reason of the minority of the heir, now also deceased, “ad manus nostras devenerunt.” In this instance also the characteristic word served to distinguish the writ, which was known as a writ of “devenerunt” (No. 763).

In all the cases we have so far reviewed the machinery was set in motion by writ, and upon the death of a tenant. A writ, however, was not always employed, nor was death the sole occasion. It was considered, now and again, desirable to supersede the escheator, or to associate other persons with him in the inquiry. Letters patent were in such cases issued, and the inquiry is said to be held under a commission (No. 764). Lunacy and attainder were other occasions, than death, of inquisitions, and thus we have a writ “de lunatico inquirendo” (No. 326), and a writ which specifies the name, and the date of the attainder, of a tenant, and directs inquiry as to his lands (No. 527).

The efficiency of the system would consist in the discovery, upon changes of tenancy by death, of all lands, &c., held in chief, with an absence of needless inquiry. Not seldom, to judge by the present volume, the officials were at fault, and a mesne tenancy is again and again established, as the result of the inquiry, without profit to the King. That they failed, on the other hand, to discover many fitting subjects of inquiry seems no less clear; for a considerable collection of inquisitions is in existence taken, in the absence of any writ, or, so far as appears, direction from the central office at all, by escheators acting “virtute officii” (No. 247). It was to the inquisitions thus taken that we alluded above, as proof that the clerks of the chancery were not dependent on the escheators alone for the information upon which they issued their writs. The escheators, at any rate, in a certain number of cases, to all appearance, did not report them, but proceeded to investigate them, as they were empowered to, without.

In whatever manner taken, whether by writ, or commission, or by virtue of the escheator’s office, the inquisition was required by statute to be engrossed in the form of a pair of indentures (No. 267), and was liable in default to be cancelled (Nos. 559, 593, 755). The one part of the indenture remained in the escheator’s custody, and may occasionally be met with among private evidences; the other, as we have said, was returned to the chancery, with the writ if writ there was, annexed.

Upon the receipt of the inquisition in the Chancery, a copy of it was, it is believed in all cases, prepared and forwarded to the Exchequer, with the omission only of the juror’s names. Thus if both series, of normal and “virtute officii” inquisitions on the one hand, and of the Exchequer transcripts of them, known, for purposes of production, &c., in the Public Record Office, as “Escheator’s Inquisitions,” on the other, were complete, we should possess every such “inquisition,” “office,” or “escheat” in duplicate.

When we examine the existing collections, we find that some years back the “post mortem” Chancery inquisitions for the reign of Henry VII. were sorted out into two divisions, those taken under writs or commissions, and those taken “virtute officii” and so bound up in two distinct sets, each volume, in the case of the former, comprising a year. These volumes have been recently rebound, and numbered consecutively throughout for greater security and ease of production. The first ten volumes correspond to the first ten years of the reign; then two years are contained in one volume, and thereafter the numbers of the volumes cease to correspond with the regnal years. Apart from safety, or convenience, the disregard of the regnal years, and the consecutive numbering of these volumes has a good deal to recommend it, since, upon no conceivable plan could the documents have been arranged in strict chronological order, and their actual arrangement, by reason of continual overlappings of returns, or writs, is fallacious.

In the present calendar the inquisitions are described in the order in which they occur in the bound volumes. The entries in the calendar are consecutively numbered, for convenience of indexing and cross reference only. The documents will not be produced in the Search Rooms of the Public Record Office by these numbers, but by the references, given in italic at the foot of each entry, to the rebound and renumbered volumes, within which the old numbering of individual documents still holds good. Where an Exchequer transcript of the Chancery original inquisition is found to exist, a further reference to the Exchequer series of transcripts, or “Escheators Inquisitions,” is appended. These transcripts are, relatively, very few in number. They have been arranged in files, a file containing the extant documents for one year, or for several consecutive years, in one county, or in grouped counties, such as Norfolk and Suffolk, which enjoyed the services of one escheator between them. All the files for one county, from the reign of Henry VII. to the extinction of the system which occasioned them, are consecutively numbered through, county after county.

In the instalment of the calendar here completed, the contents of the first eleven volumes of the Chancery series are described. When the whole Chancery series for the reign has been calendared, including the inquisitions “virtute officii,” which come at the end, a certain number of Exchequer transcripts, within the period, but the Chancery originals whereof are missing, together with divers writs, &c., preserved on the exchequer files, will be calendared with any additions to the Chancery series that may have by then happily come to light.

At the time when the present volumes of Chancery inquisitions were made up, many inquisitions were known to be already lost, or mislaid. Thus in the old MS. index to these volumes, certain names appear without references attached to them at all. Further, since the time when the individual documents were numbered, on the occasion of, or possibly long prior to, the making up of these volumes, a very considerable number of inquisitions has been lost, the descriptions of which are for the most part recoverable from the old MS. list. Lastly a number of documents, such as inquisitions “ad quod damnum,” which exist in the bound volumes, are omitted in this calendar. All such omissions and losses will be tabulated in the concluding volume for the reign.