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Guide reference: Legal Records Information 11
Last updated: 20 January 2011

1. Introduction

This research guide only covers the inheritance of land by those (usually wealthy) people who held some of their lands as tenants in chief of the crown, and were therefore subject to various feudal dues.

The Court of Wards and Liveries, which replaced a previous, looser, system of administering the king's feudal dues, was established as the result of two statutes in 1540 (32 Henry VIII c. 46) and 1542 (33 Henry VIII c. 22). When a tenant-in-chief (holding land directly from the Crown) died, his or her land reverted to the crown until the heir paid a sum of money (a relief), and was then able to take possession (livery of seisin) of the lands. However, if the heir was under age (under 21 for a male heir, under 14 for an heiress) then the wardship of the heir, custody of their lands and the right to arrange their marriage passed to the monarch, until the heir came of age. The wardship and marriage was not usually kept in Crown hands, but was sold, sometimes to the next of kin, often simply to the highest bidder.

The Court was a financial institution, responsible for collecting these feudal revenues. However, it also had to cope with the practical and legal consequences arising from wardship and livery. When feudal tenures were abolished by the Long Parliament in 1645, the Court also came to an end. The abolition of the Court was confirmed by Charles II in 1660 (12 Charles II c. 24).

2. The records

The most useful series is WARD 9, which contains many different types of document.

Unfortunately, all of the documents in WARD 10 and WARD 12, and many in WARD 1, WARD 3, WARD 4, WARD 11 and WARD 15, are in a very poor condition and cannot be consulted. Documents are written primarily in English or Latin, but in some series such as Deeds and Evidences (WARD 2) they may even be in French or German.

Currently, The National Archives is running a cataloguing project to improve the catalogue descriptions in WARD 2.

3. Making a search

It is extremely difficult to trace a case from beginning to end, due to the uneven survival rate of the documents. This research guide will try to map the route through the court, illustrating the most helpful classes to search at a particular stage.

When a tenant in chief died, an inquisition 'post mortem' was taken, usually in response to a writ of 'diem clausit extremum or mandamus' issued out of chancery. Some of these writs in the docket books of writs in WARD 9. The inquisition post mortem was taken before the county escheator who then returned his findings to chancery. Another copy went to the court of wards and liveries and can be found in WARD 7. The court's local representative, the feodary, had to attend every inquisition to prevent fraud, and in time he conducted his own survey of the lands, which usually gave a higher value than did the jury. Feodaries' surveys are now in WARD 4, WARD 5 and WARD 9 and provide a useful means of reference if no inquisition post mortem survives.

4. Sales of wardship and marriage

People wishing to buy a wardship, or to lease some of the lands, put in a petition to the Master of the Wards. Many files of petitions are in WARD 9, with some in WARD 1. If a petition was granted, an indenture was drawn up between the court and the petitioner: a fine (sum of money) for the wardship was agreed, and the grantee's name, the fine, and the terms of its payment were entered on a schedule. Details can be found in the entry books of bargains for sale in WARD 9. Counterparts of indentures of wardship and lease are in WARD 6, and books of indentures of wardship and lease are in WARD 9. Grants of wardship and marriage were entered on the patent rolls (C 66), before and after 1540.

5. Accounts of revenues and expenditure from lands in ward

The revenue raised through wardship and the leasing of lands had to be accounted for. Accounts submitted to the court are of the medieval and early modern 'charge and discharge' type: i.e., revenue receipts are followed by payments made out of those receipts. Try the receiver generals', feodaries' and ministers' accounts (WARD 8); the miscellaneous books (WARD 9); the miscellaneous documents (WARD 10); and the miscellaneous records in bundles (WARD 11).

6. Livery of lands

When an heir came of age, he passed out of wardship but could not enter upon his inheritance until, like all those heirs of full age on inheritance, he had sued out his livery. This process for both was particularly complicated. Eventually a warrant was issued for the livery to pass under the Great Seal. Information regarding livery can be seen in the entry books of livery and copies of letters patent can be found in entry books of letters Patent both of which are located in WARD 9. Grants of livery were entered on the patent rolls (C 66), before and after 1540.

7. Litigation

The Court had its own jurisdiction, based on an English bill procedure like that of chancery, and a ward could only sue or be sued in this court. Wardship often led to litigation, primarily through the illegal retention, sale, or leasing of a ward's lands or through their 'waste'.

Proceedings began by the submission of a bill or information by the plaintiff. If approved, a date was fixed for a hearing and the bill annotated to show this. A writ of sub pena was sent to the defendant, and copied into the docket books of privy seals and commissions in WARD 9. The writs can show when the defendant made or submitted his response. Pleadings are in WARD 13 - WARD 15. From the end of Elizabeth's reign they were generally arranged by the initial letter of the name of the plaintiff. Once the pleadings were completed, the court considered the depositions of witnesses which had been taken in response to a list of interrogatories. These were generally conducted by specially-appointed commissions. All types of commissions can be seen in WARD 9 and WARD 3. If evidence was submitted, such as a deed, charter, indenture or will, these are to be found in WARD 2, which is only partly listed, and then in a very strange way.

Whenever the court made an interim or final decision, it was recorded formally in a decree or order. The majority of these are contained in entry books of decrees and orders in WARD 9. There are other original paper orders and decrees in WARD 1. If a particular case was halted at any stage, it is possible to search through entry books of the staying of process and entry books of injunctions in WARD 9 which show when this happened.

8. Further reading

H. E. Bell, An Introduction to the History and Records of the Court of Wards and Liveries (Cambridge, 1953)

J Hurstfield, The Queen's Wards, (London, 1958)

Guide reference: Legal Records Information 11

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