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Guide reference: Legal Records Information 2
Last updated: 29 March 2010

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide to look for records of land ownership changing hands between 1195 and 1833.

For Welsh feet of finean agreement between two parties in a lawsuit over land - also known as a final concord.s please contact the National Library of Wales.

The feet of fines are useful for finding information about changing land ownership where other records are not available.

2. Essential information

Some abstracts of and calendara list, usually in chronological order, in which a detailed summary of individual documents is provideds to feet of fines are online - try searching using 'feet of fines' and a county name.

The use of fines was a means of creating a legal record of land ownership.

There was no legal obligation to have title registered in this way and often disputes were made up simply as a way of getting a decision recorded officially.

Before 1290, agreements reached in court were often recorded on the plea rolls but were sometimes recorded elsewhere. From the reign of Edward III, all feet of fines made in the central courts were made in the Court of Common Pleasa law court dealing with 'common pleas' or actions between subjects which did not concern the monarch.

Fines, also known as final concords, are written in a standard form. They are mostly in Latin until 1733, except for a short period between 1650 and 1660 where English was used.

Often the fine is one of a series of conveyancing deeds some of which may give more detail about the property. These deeds were private documents and are usually kept in local and private archives, although some have ended up at The National Archives.

To find the locally held deeds search the A2A catalogue. Try searching by family name or locality with the word 'deed' or 'deeds'.

For deeds at The National Archives use the advanced search option in our catalogue using keywords 'ancient deeds' or 'modern deeds.

3. Terms you might come across

Querent - purchaser
Deforciant - seller
Concord - final agreement

4. What are feet of fines?

Feet of fines are court copies of agreements following disputes over property. In reality, the disputes were mostly fictitious and were simply a way of having the transfer of ownership of land recorded officially by the king's court.

The agreements were normally written out three times on a single sheet of parchment - two copies side by side and one copy across the bottom (the foot) of the sheet, separated by an indented or wavy line.

The purchaser kept one copy, the seller the other and the final copy - 'the foot of the fine'- was kept by the king's court as a central record of the conveyance.

Using one piece of parchment separated in this way gave protection against fraud or forgery as only the genuine copies would fit together - like a jigsaw.

5. Information in a foot of fine

Final concords always begin 'Hec est finalis Concordia' - 'This is the final agreement'.

The fine opens with the date, given by regnal year, legal term, and names of the judges. Regnal years and legal terms can be converted into conventional dates by using C R Cheney's Handbook of Dates.

The key word to look for in the text is INTER, after which the names of the parties are given.

Other abbreviations used include 'q' or 'quer'- the querent, and 'def' - the deforciants.

The property description is formal and not intended for use as a detailed guide to property boundaries.

The sum of money given is, by the 14th century, no longer the actual purchase price but a guide price to the value of the property on the open market.

After 1489, the date on which the fine was 'proclaimed', i.e. announced in court, is endorsed on the back of the fine.

6. Feet of fines before 1509: CP 25/1

6.1 Background

Medieval feet of fines made before the royal courts of law 1195-1509 are in record series CP 25/1. Read the series description in the catalogue for a full account of how these records were created and are arranged.

'Feet' as such run from 1195, although there are some earlier concords in this series dating back to 1182.

Medieval fines are significant as they are often the only surviving record of a transfer. Post-medieval fines were normally taken out in addition to other types of deed transferring the property.

There is no single comprehensive index of people or places for the medieval feet of fines, but there are some miscellaneous indexes covering particular periods and counties, mainly compiled in the 17th century, in IND 1/7178-7232.

6.2 Start your search with calendars

The best way to start looking for a particular person or place is to use the calendarscalendar - a list, usually in chronological order, in which a detailed summary of individual documents is provided to feet of fines produced by local history societies - these have their own indexes of people and places.

Calendars to feet of fines are available online for certain periods and counties. An internet search for 'feet of fines' with a county name is a good place to start.
 
Useful websites include:

You should find that an entry in a calendar gives you the reference to the original document (CP 25/ followed by other numbers). If you find an abstract of a document on a website you may not need to see the original document.

6.3 How to search our catalogue for feet of fines in CP 25/1

If you can't find what you need using the calendars, browse CP 25/1 in our catalogue. Most series are arranged by county and then in rough chronological order.

There is a subseries called Diverse, varied and unknown counties. This contains files:

  • which relate to property in more than one county -  'divers counties' files
  • where the county is not obvious - 'unknown counties' files
  • where they were omitted from the main county sequence - 'various counties' files

To find all the fines relating to a particular county for a particular period, all these sub-series should be checked.

When you find the right item, make a note of the reference which will be CP 25/1 followed by another number. With this reference you will be able to visit us at Kew and order the original document. Alternatively you can enquire about having copies made and sent to you.

7. Feet of fines 1509-1833: CP 25/2

7.1 Background

The documents for this period are in series CP 25/2, and are filed in a number of groups by county, regnal year and legal term.

There is no single comprehensive index of people or places, but there are some miscellaneous indexes covering particular periods and counties, mainly compiled in the 17th century, in IND 1/7178-7232.

7.1 Start your search with calendars

The best way to start looking for a particular person or place is to use the calendars to feet of fines produced by local history societies - these have their own indexes of people and places.

Abstracts of and calendars to feet of fines are available online for certain periods and counties. An internet search for 'feet of fines' with a county name is a good place to start.
 
Useful websites include:

If you can't find a calendar covering the county and period you are interested in, use the following to identify which feet ought to survive for a particular county in CP 25/2:

  • the contemporary chronological indexes to the related Notes of Fines (CP 26/1-14)
  • drafts of the final concords

CP 26/1-14 are arranged by regnal year and legal term and then, within each term, by county, with separate groups for fines relating to properties in more than one county. Browse the catalogue descriptions to identify those relevant to your research.

As with the fines themselves, the index entries are in Latin until 1733. Until 1759, each entry gives the name of the querent (purchaser), the name of the deforciant (vendor) and the name of the place(s) where the property lay. After 1759, only names of county and parties are given.

7.2 Using our catalogue to identify documents

You must now translate references you find into a piece within CP 25/2. Browse CP 25/2 by hierarchy and pick the relevant county. Then within this county pick the relevant regnal year and legal term (Michaelmas, Hilary and so on).

For example CP 25/2/389/11JasIHil refers to the Hilary session of the 11 year of James I's reign.

Particular cities may be listed by name. Use the advanced search in our catalogue and enter keywords such as 'york' to look for relevant documents.

There are some relevant subseries for towns and cities that you can browse in CP 25/2.  

8. The Palatinates of Chester, Durham and Lancaster; and Wales

Feet of fines for the Palatinates are in their own series. For 

  • Chester (1280-1831) browse CHES 31 by regnal year
  • Durham (1535-1834) search DURH 12 by date
  • Lancaster (1377-1834) search PL 17 by date (the date relates to the session in which the fine was levied in the Palatinate Court of Common Pleas)

Feet of fines and related series for Wales, formerly in WALE 2, WALE 3 and WALE 6, are now in the National Library of Wales.

9. Further reading

Some of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives' bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives' library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

  • R E Latham, Feet of Fines, The Amateur Historian, Vol. I, No. 1 (1952)
  • J Kissock, Medieval Feet of Fines: A Study of Their Uses, The Local Historian, Vol. XXIV, No. 2 (1994)
  • N W Alcock, Old Title Deeds (Phillimore, 1986)
Guide reference: Legal Records Information 2

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