Public records: Chancery rolls



Most of the public records discussed so far are those of the Exchequer, the financial branch of medieval government. Many other administrative records were maintained by the Chancery, in its original role as the royal secretariat (its other function as a court of equity is covered in a separate section).

From the end of the 12th century, the Chancery began to record copies of the documents it produced on several series of rolls. As outlined below, various series were produced at different times, but probably the most important for the genealogist are the Patent and Close Rolls (which originally recorded royal letters - sent open or closed), the Charter Rolls (royal charters) and the Fine Rolls (financial 'offerings' to the king). With a few exceptions, these four series have been published, at least as far as the year 1509, mostly as English abstracts. (These printed texts run to about 180 volumes, as far as the reign of Elizabeth.)

The printed versions of these records, most of which are indexed by name, are among the most accessible and useful for medieval genealogists. The people mentioned in them are certainly not all royal officials (although if your ancestor was a royal official, they may allow a fairly detailed account of his movements to be compiled). Many of the entries record the day-to-day dealings of the manor-holding classes with government - appointments to local offices, permission to hold markets or grant land, involvement in law suits, debts, misdemeanours and so on. Others are concerned with matters of more direct genealogical interest, such as the inheritance of land, provision of dower for widows and the wardship of minors. In the late medieval period, many private charters were also enrolled for safety. Many humbler people are also mentioned in the rolls, either in their own right, or incidentally - for example, the enrolled orders concerning the partition of estates may contain detailed surveys, in which tenants are named.

Below is a list of some of the series of Chancery rolls (and two series of inquisitions), with a brief indication of their contents, and details of the main printed editions.


Links and bibliography for Chancery rolls

For source material on the internet, click here

Contents:

Cartae Antiquae Rolls

C52 (Richard I - Edward II). Miscellaneous charters - some of them spurious - issued mainly by kings from William I to Henry III.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Charter Rolls

C53 (1199-1517). Royal charters issued under the Great Seal, including confirmations (with recitals) of earlier charters.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Close Rolls

C54 (from 1204). Their original purpose was the enrolment of Letters Close (i.e. letters sealed closed) issued under the Great Seal, which typically conveyed orders to the officers of the crown; these included writs summoning peers to Parliament. Enrolments declined as the use of the Great Seal was supplanted by that of the Privy Seal, and ceased altogether during the reign of Henry VIII. The Close Rolls were also used for the enrolment of private deeds; particularly after many were destroyed in the Peasants' Revolt.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Close Rolls (supplementary)

C55 (1243-1434). Several specific types of writs not enrolled in the main series.
The following information is available online:

The main printed edition is:

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Fine Rolls

C60 (from 1199). In early times they were known alternatively as the Oblata Rolls. They record the payments or 'offerings' to the crown which were required for the transaction of almost any piece of administrative or judicial business. Some patents were also entered, for the appointment of sheriffs, escheators and other officials.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

A project is in progress to fill the gap in the existing calendars:

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Inquisitions ad quod damnum

C143 (Henry III to 1485). An inquisition ad quod damnum could be held before the king gave permission for a market or fair to be held, or for someone to make a grant of land, to determine 'what damage' this might do to his interests or the interests of others. Some Tudor inquisitions are among the inquisitions post mortem (C142).
The following information is available online:

The P.R.O. online catalogue includes brief abstracts for:

The main printed editions are:

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Inquisitions miscellaneous

C145 (1218-1485). These include inquiries on a wide range of subjects, including estates which were forfeited for treason. Some Tudor inquisitions are among the inquisitions post mortem (C142).
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Liberate Rolls

C62 (1200-1436). Records of writs authorising payments by the Exchequer (and other writs connected with the accounting procedure); their volume decreased in the late 14th century, and the series ends in the early 15th.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Norman Rolls

C64 (a few dates between 1200 and 1522). Incomplete set of rolls, covering a variety of both Chancery and Exchequer business in Normandy, before its loss to the French in 1204; also a list of the English lands of Normans which were then seized by the king. The series briefly resumed, as 'Norman Patent Rolls', after the reconquest of Normandy by Henry V two centuries later.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Originalia Rolls

E371 (from 1213). Not strictly Chancery rolls, but prepared by the Chancery to notify the Exchequer of fines or other payments to be collected. Later rolls also contains details of commissions and other matters.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Parliament Rolls and Statute Rolls

SC9 (1290-1321), C65 (from 1327) and C74 (1277-1469). The Parliament Rolls record the proceedings of Parliament, namely the petitions, answers and bills which preceded acts of Parliament (the acts themselves are enrolled from 1483 only, earlier ones being on the Statute Rolls). From 1483, petitions begin to be omitted; private acts of Parliament also disappear during the 16th century.
The following information is available online:

An online chronological listing of Private and Personal Acts of Parliament is available:

The main published editions are:

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Patent Rolls

C66 (from 1201). Enrolments of Letters Patent (i.e. letters left open, rather than sealed) issued under the Great Seal. (Among the subjects they later covered were inventions - hence the modern meaning of the word 'patent'.) There was a very wide variety of subject matter, including grants of lands and wardships, licences to widows to marry, pardons, confirmations of charters and licences to alienate land. On the back of the rolls were entered proclamations and commissions, giving details of appointments to a variety of offices.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Patent Rolls (supplementary)

C67 (from 1275). Several series of enrolments of particular types of Letters Patent, not enrolled on the main series. These include the Protection Rolls (letters of protection and safe conduct), the Pardon Rolls (letters for general and special pardons) and the Staple Rolls (concerning trading monopolies).
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Scutage Rolls

C72 (1214-1338). Enrolled records of exemption from scutage (a payment made instead of performing military service), permission to tenants in chief to collect scutage from their tenants, and also summonses for several domestic military campaigns.
The following information is available online:

The main printed edition is:

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Warrants for the Great Seal

C81,82 (from 1230). Authorisations for the use of the Great Seal.
The following information is available online:

The main printed editions are:

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Welsh Rolls

C77 (1276-1295). Entries relating to Wales, and some relating to England but attested in Wales.
The following information is available online:

The main printed edition is:

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