Public records: Inquisitions post mortem



Inquisitions post mortem (sometimes known as escheats) are among the most 'genealogist-friendly' of records, and were a mainstay of traditional medieval genealogy. These were inquiries, undertaken after the death of a feudal tenant in chief (that is, a direct tenant of the crown), to establish what lands were held and who should succeed to them. They survive from around 1240 until the Restoration in 1660, when feudal tenure was abolished.

After the death of a tenant in chief, a writ (of 'diem clausit extremum') would usually be issued to the local escheator, the official responsible for taking possession of the dead tenant's estate. He would then convene a local jury and conduct an inquiry - usually a separate one was held in each of the counties where the deceased had held land. The earliest inquisitions are less detailed, but generally the information recorded would include the date when the tenant died, the names of the manors held and details of the services performed in return for them, and also the name, age and relationship of the heir (or of each coheir). The ages might well be approximate, particularly if given in 'round figures', and for older heirs; if the heir were a minor, however, accuracy would be important.

Further records might be made of the assignment of dower (part of a husband's estate, to be held by his widow for her lifetime). If the heir were a minor, the crown had the right to his or her wardship - the heir would not take possession of the estate until his or her majority was attained, and at this point proof of age might be recorded. From 1540, in cases where the heir was a minor (or in cases of lunacy), further information may be found in the records of the Court of Wards and Liveries (letter-code: WARD).

One shortcoming of this system, genealogically speaking, is that it applied only to tenants in chief. No such record would be taken for anyone who was, technically speaking, a sub-tenant, no matter how rich or powerful he might be. On the other hand, many other people are mentioned incidentally in the inquisitions. Those of higher status appear as sub-tenants or as trustees ('feoffees') of the deceased; feoffees were often related to the tenant, although the relationships are not usually stated. Humbler people appear as jurors, or may give evidence about the age of the heir, and detailed manorial surveys might also be made.

There are published abstracts of the inquisitions post mortem (and the associated documents), from the earliest records up to the early 15th century (in progress), and also for the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509). (These abstracts do not generally include detailed manorial surveys, but do include the names of jurors from volume 22 onwards - i.e. from 1422 onwards.) For the intervening period there are older printed calendars, which include the names of the manors held, but few genealogical details.


Links and bibliography for inquisitions post mortem

For source material on the internet, click here

The following are available online:

Discussion

Published lists and abstracts

The following are the main sequences of published lists and abstracts covering whole classes of records. In addition, many local collections have been published, some including more detailed information.

Chancery Inquisitions

C132-142. These editions cover the main series of Chancery inquisitions post mortem (and copies in the Exchequer and the Court of Wards and Liveries). A number of local selections have also been published, as well as the series relating to separate administrative jurisdictions, mentioned below.

Exchequer Inquisitions

E149, E150. Most Exchequer Inquisitions are duplicates of the Chancery Inquisitions, and are indexed in the volumes listed above; but for a few there are no copies in the Chancery.

Palatinate of Chester

CHES3 (c.1277 to c.1645), including some for Flintshire:

Palatinate of Durham

In DURH3 (1318-1637):

Palatinate of Lancaster

1297-1637, of which about 40 survive in PL4, for the period 17 Richard II-30 Henry VIII.
The surviving inquisitions in this class - post mortem and others - are listed in the online P.R.O. online catalogue. (Where available, relevant details can be found either by using the "search the catalogue" option, or by clicking "browse". In browsing mode, type the series name ("PL4") into the "Browse from reference" text box and click "go", then select the "View by ... Reference" option. Details of individual documents should now be visible.)

Duchy of Cornwall

E306/9 (17 Henry VI to 9 Henry VII). The 12 inquisitions are listed in the P.R.O. online catalogue. (Where available, relevant details can be found either by using the "search the catalogue" option, or by clicking "browse". In browsing mode, type the series name ("E306/9") into the "Browse from reference" text box and click "go", then select the "View by ... Reference" option. Details of individual documents should now be visible.)

Duchy of Lancaster

DL7 (Henry III to Charles I):