General history: The office of coroner

Pages 214-215

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1797.

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The office of coroner

AT the time the Earls gave up the wardenships of their respective counties, and the office of sheriff was constituted, there were other officers likewise constituted, who were ordained together with him to keep the peace of each county; these were called Coroners, Coronatores, because they had principally to do with the pleas of the crown, or such wherein the king was more immediately concerned; and in this light, the lord chief justice of the King's bench is the principal coroner of the kingdom, and may, if he pleases, exercise this office in any part of the realm.

There are particular coroners for every county in England, usually four, sometimes six, and sometimes fewer, and they are still chosen by all the freeholders in the county court, as, by the policy of our antient laws, all other officers were, who had concern in matters that affected the liberty of the people. Of antient time this office was of great estimation; for none could be elected to it under the degree of a knight; and there was an instance in the 5th of king Edward III. of a man's being removed from it, because he was only a merchant. Now, indeed, through the neglect of gentlemen of property, this office has been suffered to fall into the hands of those of lower rank, being at present usually executed, in this county in particular, by attornies at law; and although formerly none who were coroners would condescend to be paid for serving their country, yet for many years past they have only solicited to be chosen for the advantage of the perquisites and fees which they are by statute allowed to take, which now amount to so considerable a sum as to be highly burdensome to the county.

The office and power of a coroner, like those of a sheriff, are both ministerial and judicial, as the sheriff's- substitute, but principally the latter, which almost wholly consists in taking inquisitions upon view of the body, when any one is slain, or dies suddenly, or in prison, or any kind of unnatural death whatsoever, and the body is found within his district; and this he does by a jury summoned from the neighbourhood. The whole of which inquisition he is to certify to the court of King's-bench, or to the next assises. Another branch of this office is to enquire concerning shipwrecks and treasure trove. (fn. 1) His fees of office, which are paid out of the county stock, are twenty shillings for every inquisition he takes, and nine-pence a mile for every mile he travels from his own home to take the same. There are at present five coroners chosen to exercise this office in this county.


  • 1. Blackstone's Com. vol. i. p. 348. Dudg. Warwicksh. p. 23.