How to look for records of... Court of King’s Bench records 1200-1702

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • None

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you navigate the Court of King’s Bench records 1200-1702.

If you are researching a person between the 13th and 18th centuries these records are very valuable. These and other common law records are the largest source of dated references to individuals until the start of parish registers.

These records are a rich source of information on:

  • the development of common law and the legal process
  • the judges, court officials and local officials
  • the lives of the many individual litigants, especially their trespasses, criminal acts and financial dealings
  • rural gentry, their tenants and officials and the local villages; and their illegal or semi-legal activities (especially in the earlier period)
  • urban mercantile classes and local tradesmen and the growth of trade and commerce (particularly so later on)
  • London, because of the development of the King’s Bench’s jurisdiction as the local (first-instance) court for Middlesex

There are frequently transcripts of proceedings in local courts, mainly of counties and hundreds, whose own records rarely survive.

The records of appointments of attorneys by litigants give extensive information about their careers and clientele and can be indicative of local social networks.

2. What was the Court of the King’s Bench?

The King’s Bench was the most senior criminal court in England for most of it’s existence, exercising supervisory jurisdiction over all inferior criminal courts. It was based on the principle of pleas heard regularly and formally within the king’s immediate purview even if not always in his actual presence.

The usual mechanism for bringing cases from local inferior courts to the King’s Bench was by means of a writ of certiorari (requiring the record to be sent to King’s Bench for review) obtained by an unsuccessful defendant.

There was an on-going conflict between the Kings Bench and Common Pleas courts over their respective shares of civil litigation. This was only settled after 1660. However, the court’s close association with the king meant it was superior to Common Pleas, taking from it cases where error was alleged.

Before 1536, many regions of Wales operated under a different legal jurisdiction. Welsh cases before this date may therefore be held in other collections. Please see the catalogue description for WALE for more information.

For further background see section 11.

3. An overview of the records

The records consist of various rolls and files which are either:

  • Plea side – a case between two private parties
  • Crown side – a case between the Crown and subject

They are rich in information but difficult to navigate because

  • there are relatively few finding-aids to their contents (there are no indexes at all to the files, and very few to the rolls after 1250)
  • some of them are not yet completely sorted or catalogued
  • they are written in abbreviated Latin

Frequently the only practical way of searching the rolls not covered by published finding aids is to browse by county and date.

See the further reading section and section 6 for finding aids.

4. Court records: rolls and files

Until the later 17th century the records of the court consist of rolls and files.

4.1 Rolls

From 1200 to 1702 the records of hearings on both the Plea side (between two private parties) and Crown side (between the crown and subject), and minor business such as the casting of  essoins and the appointment of attorneys, were written into a long series of plea rolls – KB 27. (See below)

After 1702 they were split into separate Crown series KB 28 and plea series KB 122.

4.2 Files

The legal process behind the material in the plea rolls is recorded in the various series of files. They consist of writs strung together with twisted parchment. These documents are sometimes in a poor condition.

File survival is nowhere near as complete as that of the plea rolls, but it improves in the later 14th century and again in the 16th. Only isolated examples survive from before 1272. (See section 7)

5. Plea rolls and subsidiary rolls

The plea rolls, traditionally called Coram Rege rolls in KB 27 contain the records of proceedings for each case for a given term. They are in formulaic Latin with many abbreviations for stock procedural phrases. You can search the KB 27 rolls online up to the year 1690 at the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website.

From the first half of the 14th century each roll consists of, in the following order:

  • a pleas side roll
  • a roll of fines and forfeitures (first seen in 1304, regular after 1323)
  • a ‘Rex’ roll for crown pleas
  • a roll of warrants of attorney

Rotuli for essoins are in some rolls until 1290, but a separate series of essoin rolls starts about 1256 (see section 5.1).

During the 14th century the fines and forfeitures become noticeably longer during sessions away from Westminster, as the issues of Justices of the Peace and other county officials were entered. When the court visited a county during these provincial sessions between 1323 and 1421, it also ‘delivered’ (i.e. heard all cases pending in) the gaols there. The records of the deliveries are filed in the rolls.

Earlier rolls for 1193-1272 are in KB 26. There is a detailed and indexed list of the Henry III rolls in Various Common Law Records (1970) (see further reading).

Essoin rolls

These rolls record the essoins which are allowable excuses for non-attendance. They begin as separate rolls, KB 121, from about 1256 (examples for before 1272 are in KB 26).

The earlier rolls are the most substantial, most covering only one term, but in the 14th century they gradually get smaller with the decline of the King’s Bench share of civil business initiated by writ. Despite the recovery and rapid growth of civil business in the 15th and 16th centuries, essoins continued to decline because cases were based on litigation by bill, in which essoins were not allowed.

After 1390 there are only two rolls, one for the whole reign of Henry V and another, covering the period from 1600 to 1800 (except for one membrane for 1487-1488). For a detailed account of these rolls, see Various Common Law Records (further reading).

Controlment rolls (c.1329-1840)

Controlment rolls in KB 29 were annual memoranda rolls kept for the clerk of the crown so he could check on the crown cases he was concerned with. They were at the core of his reference system, and are cross-referenced in other documents. You can search the Controlment Rolls online up to the year 1691 at the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website.

They begin to survive in 1329, although they may have been begun earlier, and they continue into the 1840s. In their fully developed form (in existence essentially by the reign of Henry VIII) they have three main sections for each term. These were:

  • the Bag Roll, which contains a memorandum of every suit or prosecution begun in that term
  • Roll of Entries (the controlment roll proper), containing a memorandum of all the proceedings in each case in each term, from appearance to judgment and after
  • Special Writ Roll, in which all special writs, such as mandamus, scire facias etc were enrolled in full, with their returns if any were made

Read the catalogue description of KB 29 for further information.

Accounts of issues

A few estreats of King’s Bench fines, sent to the Exchequer between 1317-1738, are in E 101/108-110, 614-17, 667, 681-82.

Feet of fines

Few final concords were made in the King’s Bench, only 119 during the reign of Henry III, the latest known is from 1271. Most are in two files – CP 25/1/284/18-9.

Use the King’s Bench and Common Pleas in the Reign of Henry III (see further reading), as it has briefly calendared (summarised) the records.

6. Searching the rolls

Published sources/finding aids

Until 1250 there are full printed transcripts for all the rolls, except for a few essoin rolls, in Curia Regis Rolls, vols. 1-20 (1923-2006), which include full indexes of people and places, and for subjects in all but volumes 18–20.

From 1250-1390

You can use the judicial writs on files (see section 7) to a limited extent as an index to the plea rolls. Each contain a cross-reference to the rotulus of the plea roll on which its issue was authorised, a practice well-established by 1300. It’s especially effective when checking the writs for one or a few counties, and can provide real assistance in picking up one of the entries in a case.

Search the rolls in KB 26, KB 27, KB 29 and KB 121 by date. Once you have ordered a roll, the only practical way of searching within the rolls not covered by the above publications is by county and date.

In the rolls, county headings are given in the left-hand margin, so going through even a large roll looking for cases for a particular county is relatively quick, especially for a small county or one far from Westminster.

Once you find an entry for a particular case, you can follow it through the rolls backwards to its commencement and forwards to its resolution or, more often, its disappearance.

From 1390-1702

For this period there are quite extensive means of reference to Plea Side roll entries, which were created by court officials for their own use.

To find civil pleas there are Docket Rolls:

The docket rolls consist of chronological repertories which give:

  • a marginal note of the county
  • the type of entry on the roll
  • plaintiff and defendant names and the plea roll rotulus on which the entry is written
  • some rolls also give lists of appearances of attorneys

The only means of reference to the earlier Rex rolls are the Controlment rolls in KB 29. These indicate by term the rotulus number on which a case is entered, or indicate the withdrawal or postponement of cases.

Later there are Great Docket Books of Crown cases in IND 1/6652/1-4, but little remains for before 1660. There are only six terms for Charles I’s reign: Trinity and Hilary 1631, Michaelmas 1639, and Hilary 1646.

There is a typescript list of deeds enrolled in the rolls for 1272-76 (KB 27/1-20), and a manuscript list for the period 1656-1760 (KB 173/1-2). Both are available in the reading rooms, Kew.

7. Files overview

The court’s files of writs and returns survive in great numbers until 1660. The number of file series grew at first slowly but after 1549 very rapidly, reaching their peak about 1630.

There are huge gaps, for varying periods, in most series after 1630-1631. The majority of the files for the last two centuries of the court’s existence were destroyed in the 19th century.

Many of those that have survived and have been identified are only partial, and what remains is sometimes badly damaged.

To identify whether there is a surviving file for the date required, browse or search the various series of files (see suggested series below) by date in our catalogue. Once ordered, the files usually have an established county order (see section 8).

What information can they contain?

Finding file material for a case can add much rich detail to information from the rolls. The files contain:

  • lists of pledges for parties to the cases (these can be very informative about social networks if something is known about them from other sources)
  • lists of jurors, sworn or unsworn
  • records of proceedings in inferior courts, especially county, hundred and borough courts, in cases which were brought into the court on writs of recordare facias

8. Plea Side writ files: litigation by Chancery original writs

The main Plea Side file series is KB 136: the Brevia files. They began during Henry III’s reign, with a few surviving examples in KB 136/1/3 from 1257 onwards.

Their survival is patchy. There are gaps in the sequence of reference-numbers which may later be filled in by as yet uncatalogued material. Check the KB 136 catalogue description to find out how much of a file survives and has so far been identified.

How are they arranged?

The modern numbering of these files reflects the structure of the series, arranged by reign, year, term and return-day.

KB 136/3/4/1/7, for example, is a file from the reign of Edward II (3); from the fourth regnal year (4); from the first term of that year, which in this reign is Michaelmas (1); for the seventh return day of that term, the Octave of Martinmas (7).

Because the amount of business in King’s Bench was lighter than that of the Common Pleas, there are never two files for a single return day. From about 1368 one file often covered up to four return days. From 1607 there are term files, usually two for each term, reducing to one per term in 1642.

In the 13th and 14th centuries the writs within the files are arranged in a fixed county order, which was modified in the 15th century. The original filing order was: Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Middlesex, London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire; although as a palatinate Lancaster disappeared from 1351-61 and then permanently after 1377.

The 15th century modifications were: Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Surrey, Sussex, Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland, and (in any order) Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Lincoln.

Recorda files KB 145

These KB 145 files are the record of court proceedings of cases in inferior courts which were subsequently transferred to King’s Bench by one of the parties through the issue of a writ of certiorari facias. The earliest file so far identified is from 1327.

The files included both Plea Side and Crown Side recorda, but the latter eventually came to predominate and from 1677 it became a Crown Side file.

Many of the filings which came from broken Recorda files attracted the interest of archivists from the 17th to mid-20th centuries, who arranged them in artificial collections (such as KB 138 and C 47) without realising their provenance.

For the period between about 1320 and 1420, the Recorda files each had a smaller file called Precepta Recordum, attached to its parent by a linking thong, to hold smaller process documents. Only three tethered examples have survived, but many of the separated Precepta files survive and are also in KB 145.

Panella files KB 146 (c.1318–1606)

These were created mainly to hold the records of nisi prius sessions, as juries were increasingly used in the counties before assize courts to decide cases begun at Westminster. Justices returned their verdicts in the form of a Postea, together with names of the people serving on the jury panel, which gave the files their name.

During the 15th century, as litigation became more popular than pleading by original writ, the bills themselves were kept in these files, which sometimes had ‘Bille Finite’ added to their title.

Between 1519 and 1522 the Posteas were removed and arranged in county packets tied with parchment and labelled. Later the contents of the packets mostly became dispersed, and are unsorted, with only a small proportion in their original arrangements. These files are not accessible at the moment.

9. Plea side files: litigation by bill

Through the 15th century bill litigation became increasingly popular. After 1500, and especially between 1549 and 1607, much of the documentation for litigation by bill, principally initiated by what became known as a bill of Middlesex, followed by a writ of latitat, had out-grown the Panella files.

The Panella file had become large and unwieldy, and its now varied contents were hived off into several separate series of files (now KB 147-160) for convenience. From the period after 1500 you need to examine an increasing number of files to trace fully the documentation of a particular case.

From the point of view of the general research value of the material, the Declarations, the Bille and the Panella are much the most important of these series.

Splitting of the Panella files (1503 onwards)

In about 1503 the common bills (of Middlesex) and their related precepts were removed from the Panella files to a new series, the Bille Commune files, KB 148.

Then, about 1519-21, the Panella files lost all their remaining bill material, mainly real Middlesex actions, to another new series of Bille files, KB 147. These files also took over the filing of general orders about the court’s sessions from the Panella files. Panella files stripped of nearly all their content, carried on until about 1598 before ceasing to be kept.

Between about 1520 and 1548 the Bille files also took over:

  • latitats returned endorsed ‘non sunt inventi’ or ‘cepi corpora’
  • the declared bills, containing the true cause of the action
  • final process writs and returns

They also took writs of ‘habeas corpus cum die et causa’ and their returns, probably from the Recorda files.

Splitting of the Bille Commune files (1550-1605)

The Bille Commune series in KB 148 also underwent many changes because of the gradual hiving off of many of its contents to new dedicated file series. KB 148 ends in about 1605, presumably because the entirely formal and purely fictional nature of the remaining contents were considered not worth keeping.

This subdivision process was long and complex.

Stage 1: In about 1550 the latitats returned endorsed ‘Non est inventi’, cases that were leading nowhere, were taken out of the Bille files to a new series of Non Sunt Inventi files, KB 153. This series ends in about 1590, probably because these writs were not worth keeping. They are of little interest unless they happen to mention a person of whom no other record survives.

Stage 2: The continuing Bille files continued to carry supporting process relating to bills, and were renamed Brevia Billarum files (KB 151). They included the jury panels, which made the files increasingly large. In 1571 they were removed to a new series of Panella Billarum files in KB 154.

The cases that the juries were impanelled to decide normally went to nisi prius sessions at the Lent and summer assizes, so the preceding Hilary and Trinity KB 154 term files became huge.

These two were reorganised in 1591 into 38 coverless files, one for each county, labelled with county and term, and wrapped around with thongs to group counties with the same initial letter with separate groupings for the less-used letters, 10 in all. The files for Easter and Michaelmas terms remained as before but were labelled ‘Venire Facias’. The files with panels are important as a source for the study of juries, because they give neat collections of juries for a particular county for a short and defined period.

Stage 3: In 1574 ‘habeas corpora’ writs of various kinds, such as bringing litigants into court for prosecuting or answering suits or making satisfaction, were also removed, to a series of terminal Habeas Corpora files, KB 155.

Stage 4: In 1589 latitats or other writs and precepts returned endorsed ‘cepi corpora’ by the sheriff were removed to Cepi Corpora files, KB 156.

Stage 5: This left the Brevia Billarum files shorn of all their mesne process, leaving only post-judgment writs and returns, so they were renamed Brevia Judicialia files, in effect ‘judgment writs’.

Stage 6: In 1607 they lost the writs of Capias ad Satisfaciendum to another new file series KB 157.

Subdivision of the Bille files (1549 onwards)

The Bille files, having become the main file for bill business, then became subdivided itself. This development may have come about as a result of the appointment of a former filazer, Richard Haywode, as joint chief clerk in 1549. That year the most important documents in the Bille files, the real bills themselves, were removed into a separate files, which soon came to be known as the Declarationes files, KB 152. These are the most important of all the new series, because they ‘declare’ the true cause of the action and are the equivalent of the earlier original writs.

The individual bills in them are undated until 1569, but then they became dated; by 1581 they were also numbered. By 1591 the number of declarations had become so great (8-9,000 a year) that there could be ten files for a single year, so it was decided to file them by the first letter of the plaintiff’s name. Smaller letters were grouped, creating 17 terms per file.

Auxiliary files

There are also four series of auxiliary files for litigation by bill.

1. Cedule files, KB 149, consist of notes (‘cedule’) of commitments to bail, and survive from 1514 onwards. At that point, many cases leading to bail were still initiated by writ and the bail notes are in an already established form. Within 30 years bill cases overwhelmingly predominated, and the formula ‘per recognicionem’ distinguishes real from fictitious bail, and the membranes altered to a pentagonal or hexagonal shape.

Afterwards, as common bail in bill cases became very frequent, the files became too large to have covers and vulnerable to splitting into chunks and loose membranes. By 1607 the files were re-named Baillia communia files. The individual bails are returnable on precise dates, so you can establish the working dates during each term. Within dates, the bails are filed in alphabetical order of attorneys.

2. From 1588 to 1614 docket rolls called Ballia Communia, KB 162, record the issue of bails.

3. In 1572 special (i.e. non-fictitious) bails, sometimes and later universally signed by justices and far fewer than common bails, were removed to a new series of Cedule per Recogniciones files, KB 158.

4. Docket rolls for special bails were kept between 1589 and 1602 (KB 163), but files from 1661 onwards were destroyed under schedule.

Miscellaneous files

Commititur files, KB 159, from 1610-1661 record committals to the marshal’s custody for the execution of court judgments. Satisfacciones files in KB 160 contain the plaintiff’s acknowledgement that the defendant has satisfied him for the adjudged debt and damages. From 1661 both series were destroyed under schedule.

The Warranta Attornata Recepta files in KB 150 are separate filings for warrants of attorney, not filed at the beginning of Brevia files as they were in the Common Bench. The earliest example is from 1463, the latest 1610, and the files add further detailed information about attorneys.

10. Crown Side files: criminal business

10.1 Brevia Regis files, later Brevia files KB 37 (c.1324-c.1692)

KB 37 emerged around 1300 to hold the process documents relating to the growing Crown Side business. They developed in parallel with the ‘Rex’ sections of the plea rolls (KB 27). The files took away material previously held in the older series of Brevia files in KB 136, which then became the equivalent file for the Plea Side of the court. The Brevia Regis files grew large as a result of the steady growth in Crown Side business. This resulted in the creation of the Indictments files (see section 10.2).

KB 37 are term files, arranged in county order like KB 136 (see section 8) and the equivalent Common Pleas Brevia files in CP 52. Internally they used the established county order used in both those other series, but did not adopt the revised order in which the others were arranged during the 15th century. The nature of their own rearrangement, within return days, has not yet been ascertained.

They are listed using the same numeration scheme as the King’s Bench and Common Pleas Brevia. It is not known exactly when the series was begun or ended. In 1598 the files were confusingly re-titled simply ‘Brevia’, in the 1650s translated as ‘A File of Writtes’. They ceased to be kept at an uncertain date after 1692.

10.2 Indictments files KB 9

These files in KB 9 emerged sometime between 1361 and 1385 to hold the main documents generated by the development of the court’s higher criminal jurisdiction, by then fully-formed and exercised both by:

  • the court itself at its provincial sessions using trailbaston powers
  • by commissioned justices sitting locally who then sent in their files

Earlier the same material was collected in the ‘Middlesex bag’ or filed in the Recorda files.

The first surviving term indictments file is from 1385, with a very good survival rate from 1391 onwards. You can access many KB 9 files, up to the year 1562, online at the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website.

You can browse the files in our catalogue by term until 1675. From 1675 it is separated into two series:

  • London and Middlesex – KB 10
  • Out counties – KB 11

There are also some separate files containing the indictments and related material arising from the court’s oyer and terminer jurisdiction exercised during its provincial sessions. The series also contains another type of oyer and terminer files, resulting from special commissions issued on various occasions between 1351 and 1539 to justices who subsequently returned them to King’s Bench. These were kept separately from the ordinary KB 9 term files. Some smaller oyer and terminer files of that kind were, especially after 1430, filed in one of the term files.

These files are a major source for the study of disorder and related problems during the 14th and 15th centuries. By the end of the latter it had been established that indictments had to include:

  • the name and occupation of the accused
  • the date and place of the offence
  • the name of the victim
  • details of the goods stolen or the weapon
  • the nature of the offence

The other documents in a file consisted of process relating to the indictments, including jury panels. There are also some medieval coroners rolls collected by the court during its travels, although the great majority are now in JUST 2.

The Controlment rolls provide cross-references to the files in the ‘Bag’ roll, which can sometimes be used as a form of index to the Indictments files, but usually the only practical method of searching is to work systematically through the files.

10.3 Informationes files KB 9

KB 9 also contain informations, bills of accusation brought by individuals suing both on their own behalf and for the crown. They were restricted to use only in cases of trespass against penal statute law.

By the 15th century, statutes took account of informations by prescribing a specific financial penalty of half of any fine to anyone successfully suing on behalf of the crown, and from the 16th onwards this became increasingly common.

There was an increase in informations filings on the term Indictments files during 1616–18, apparently leading to the temporary creation of a separate series of Informations files about 1617. The new series did not last long. From about late 1623 onwards informations are subsequently in the main files once more.

10.4 The Baga de Secretis KB 8

KB 8 is a series of files relating to ‘state trials’, between the late 15th and early 19th centuries, particularly for treason but also for particularly serious felonies. They were kept in a ‘bag of secrets’ stored in a locked closet.

They consisted both of enrolments of the proceedings and related process documentation. The defendants concerned included:

  • Sir Thomas More
  • Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard
  • Protector Somerset
  • Lady Jane Grey
  • Archbishop Cranmer
  • Guy Fawkes
  • the Regicides of 1649 and the Jacobite rebels of 1715 and 1745–6

The courts which tried them were mainly special ones, most with commissions of oyer and terminer , but 17 took place in the court of the lord high steward. However, some of the 18th century ones took place on ordinary indictments in King’s Bench, and eight of the earlier files in the series, between 1477 and 1555, are ordinary King’s Bench indictments files. The presence of these files in the Baga de Secretis leaves gaps in the main series.

They were clearly moved to the bag because of the importance of the individual trials recorded in them, but they also include all the ordinary Crown Side indictments business for the term in question. In some cases it is difficult to be sure which case was thought important enough to justify their transfer to the Baga de Secretis.

You can search some records within KB 8 by the name of the accused. However, the best way to identify relevant records is to use the detailed calendar to the series. This calendar was printed in three parts in appendices to the reports of the 3rd-5th reports of the Deputy Keeper for 1842 to 1844, appendix II, pp. 214-68, 213-97 respectively. It is available in the reading rooms at Kew.

11. The Court’s jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of the Court of King’s Bench evolved over the centuries. It was founded as an alternative to the Exchequer, the Common Pleas and the justices in eyre, to hear pleas that fell within the king’s immediate purview. In 1178 five justices were appointed to carry out this purpose. However, the earliest known plea roll to survive from the court is from 1200, making that the first year for which there is evidence that the court had a distinct existence from any other court.

Suspended from 1215 to 1234 it subsequently had a continuous existence. It was eventually subordinate only to parliament. After 1234 the court was barred by chapter 11 of Magna Carta from hearing common pleas, as they were not to follow the court but had to be held in a fixed place. Therefore it came to specialise in pleas of special interest and concern to the king. For example, those which involved his own property interests, or breach of his peace, or an error of judgment by another royal court.

The distinction of its business from the Common Pleas was not so marked in the 13th century as it later became. The Common Pleas heard cases of trespass and even appeals of felony which later were exclusively appropriated by the King’s Bench. The differentiation of their relative spheres of activity came about gradually.

It advanced markedly in the first half of the 14th century, when a series of developments between 1318 and 1337 led to its recognition as the central court for the criminal law. In 1305 it adopted oyer and terminer r powers, previously only exercised by commissioned itinerant justices. It held numerous and extensive provincial sessions in many counties between 1323 and 1398, with revivals in 1414 and 1421. It then settled permanently at Westminster. Its smaller share of civil business compared to the Common Pleas continued until the 17th century.

By 1640, however, the King’s Bench was attracting most debt business, at the expense of the Common Pleas. From the mid-15th century, the development of the procedural device of the bill of Middlesex, enabled the court to bring in cases from all counties in England by creative use of its first instance jurisdiction in Middlesex, where it sat. It also obtained a share of business in ‘trespass on the case’, which originated in the Common Bench. With this a generalised initial allegation of trespass was supplemented by a ‘declaration’ of the plaintiff’s particular case. The court extended this to debt litigation. Similarly, in the 1560s the court adapted the new trespass device created for leases and ejectment, into an effective means for the recovery of land. This stretched its powers into the property business of Common Pleas.

The growing conflict between the two courts over their respective shares of civil litigation, which became serious in the later 16th century, was only settled in the decades after 1660. The King’s Bench, remained superior to the Common Bench throughout, taking from it cases where error was alleged.

12. Further reading

Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

For the institutional history of the court, the best short guide (by J B Post) is section 311 of the PRO Current Guide, part I (final edition 1998, published on microfiche), which is available at The National Archives in hard copy.

King’s Bench and Common Bench in the Reign of Henry III, Selden Society Supplementary Series (Selden Society, 2010). Gives a detailed list of sessions, justices and their records term by term throughout that reign.

Various Common Law Records, PRO Lists and Indexes, Supplementary Series, I (Kraus Reprint Co., 1970). Details of all the plea and essoin rolls 1217-72 and lists the court sessions during that period, as well as giving a detailed account of the essoin roll right down to the 18th century.

G O Sayles, Select Cases in the Court of King’s Bench, 7 vols., Selden Society 55, 57, 58, 74, 76, 82 and 88 (1936-71). Long and detailed introductions to the records (except the files, which were not then available) and their contents from 1272 to 1422, with much valuable information about the officials of the court.

M Blatcher, The Court of King’s Bench 1450-1550: a study in self-help. (Athlone Press, 1978). Useful for the rivalry between the court and the Common Bench over their share of lucrative debt litigation.

The Reports of Sir John Spelman, II, ed. J H Baker, Selden Society, XCIV (1978), pp. 352-67. Contains detailed information about the personnel of the court from 1485 to 1597.

J B Post, ‘King’s Bench clerks in the reign of Richard II’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, XLVII (1974), pp. 150-63, is a detailed study of the court officials in that reign.

C A F Meekings, ‘King’s Bench Files’, in Legal Records and the Historian, ed. J H Baker (Royal Historical Society, 1978), pp. 97-139. Gives a detailed description of the development of the file series (with an explanatory diagram) as well as detailed information about the research value of each series, their survival ranges, and lists of King’s Bench clerks from 1399 to 1547.

R L Storey, The End of the House of Lancaster (Barrie & Rockliffe, 1966) was the first monograph to make extensive use of the King’s Bench Indictments files.

Placita coram domino rege apud Westmonasterium de termino Sancte Trinitatis anno regni regis Edwardi, filii regis Henrici vicesimo quinto : [The pleas of the Court of King’s Bench, Trinity term, 25 Edward I, 1297] by W P W Phillimore and E A Fry (British Record Society. Index Library; v. 19).