Court of King's Bench: Crown and Plea Sides: Recorda and Precepta Recordorum Files
Annual files containing records of proceedings in inferior courts, such as general eyres, assizes, gaol delivery, oyer and terminer, Common Pleas, Chancery common law side, and local liberty courts, including especially those of boroughs, returned into King's Bench after the issue of writs such as certiorari, mandamus or error which exercised the court's superior jurisdiction over them.
The files thus preserve many records of proceedings in courts both central and local whose original rolls and files have not survived, and also of some local courts which were not courts of record. For part of the period physically smaller process records were filed in subsidiary Precepta Recordorum files which were, and in some cases still are, attached to the main file by the thong.
In the fourteenth century the files contain original petitions to the king's Council or Parliament with related matter which were sent on to the King's Bench under writs of mittimus for it to take appropriate action upon them. Until the fifteenth century the files contain a variety of inquisitions, extents and miscellaneous items of interest (for example, the confession of a French spy in 4 Richard II), and in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries they include bills for the furnishing, equipment and maintenance of the court's venue in Westminster Hall.
In the seventeenth century King's Bench jurisdiction over local government increased, and the files increasingly reflect that trend, coming predominantly to contain matters arising before justices of the peace and borough courts, and by 1677 the files were predominantly Crown Side files.
The recorda file began as mixed Crown Side/Plea Side file, but despite the removal of indictments to a separate series of Indictments Files (KB 9) sometime between 1370 and 1385, Crown Side business gradually gained predominance, and by the mid seventeenth century Plea Side business had entirely disappeared from the file. In 1677 the style of the cover label was made similar to that of the indictments file in recognition of the fact that it was now an entirely Crown Side file.
It was always an annual file, with material filed in order of receipt; from the early sixteenth century it was usually subdivided by term markers, and by the end of that century each term usually had its own subsidiary thong within the main file. For nearly a century, from the reign of Edward III to that of Henry V, physically smaller items not annexed to large records of proceedings, such as orders to the justices, respites, pardons, writs of non molestetis resulting from them and memoranda, were filed in a file of precepta recordorum, with its own cover, which was attached to the main file by a thong. There are 46 such files surviving between 1327 and 1418, but all but three have become detached from their parent recorda files. Precepta recordorum files are numbered separately from the recorda files where they have become separated.
The surviving files are numbered on a systematic basis. The first element is a reign number, running from 1 (Edward II) to 18 (James II). The second is the regnal year or, during the Interregnum, the calendar year, with the year beginning on Lady Day (25 March) which is the dating used on the file covers. Where a precepta recordorum as well as a recorda file has survived separately, each is given a further subnumber. In the event of further files being identified, they will be added at the appropriate point in the numerical structure. The earlier part of the list gives some former references assigned to individual files in the 1930s when they briefly formed part of an undifferentiated series of writ files with the reference KB 136; some of those references appeared in print.
The Court of King's Bench was, until 1830, superior to all the other courts of common law except the Exchequer, although it was always inferior to Parliament and after 1585 its own decisions could be overturned in the Court of Exchequer Chamber. Its Recorda files reflect the supervisory jurisdiction of the court over those other courts from the early fourteenth to the late seventeenth century. The courts over which King's Bench exercised its supervisory jurisdiction included those of the justices of the general eyre, assizes, gaol delivery, oyer and terminer (both special and general), peace and labourers, commissions of sewers and coroners, as well as the courts of Common Pleas, Marshalsea, Chancery (common law side) and many local courts, such as those of liberties (including the Palatinate of Lancaster), counties, hundreds and, in particular, boroughs.
It was able to use writs of certiorari to call in cases which came before those courts, and the writ was returned with a record of proceedings in the case and, where appropriate, other related matter. Writs of error were used to enable King's Bench to overturn judgments reached in inferior courts if some error in the proceedings could be proved; the returns brought in on such writs were also filed among the recorda. The earliest surviving file dates from late in the reign of Edward II but recorda files existed at least as early as 1285, when an enrolment of a Derbyshire case mentioned a record being found 'in ligula recordorum' for Michaelmas term (KB 27/90, rot 25d).
During the seventeenth century the court's supervisory jurisdiction was extended. In about 1615 it began to use writs of mandamus to direct the actions of local authorities, especially by restoring the tenure of ejected office-holders, including those with ecclesiastical offices, and by reviewing allegedly corrupt elections to such offices. Under Charles I writs of certiorari began to be used to remove into King's Bench recognizances to enforce orders made before justices of the peace, and later the orders themselves were called in for scrutiny, so involving the court in detailed local matters like licensing, poor settlement and orders of bastardy. By the seventeenth century, writs of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum to sheriffs and other keepers of prisons, ordering them to bring before the court for trial particular prisoners in their custody, had became common. All those developments are reflected in the contents of the recorda, which came predominantly to include matters arising before the justices of the peace and borough courts.
Found an error? Suggest a correction to help improve our descriptions.
Users have not yet tagged this record
Use the form below to include your knowledge of this record. If your description includes any citable references, please add these to the "Citable References?" field on the right, remebering to seperate each reference with a comma, for example (FO 176/1/1, FO 178/2/1, and so on...)