Court of Wards and Liveries: Inquisitions Post Mortem
This series contains duplicates of the Chancery series of inquisitions post mortem sent to the Court of Wards and Liveries for use in the administration of wardships and grants of livery, and inquisitions of lands of lunatics and idiots.
By regnal year
Inquisitions post mortem were hearings conducted before juries summoned by the sheriff and normally presided over by a crown official - an escheator in most instances - which typically were held by mandate of a chancery writ requiring a return of the value and terms of tenure of an estate held by a lately-deceased, the identity and age of the heir, heiress or co-heiresses to such an estate, and the date of the late tenant's death. With the establishment of the Court of Wards, the issue of the Chancery writ to the Escheator on the death of a tenant-in-chief of the crown was authorised by a warrant from the Master, Surveyor, Attorney or Receiver of the Court of Wards. These officials received the information that a tenant-in-chief of the crown had died, and that an inquisition was therefore due, either from the heir himself, or from the local Escheator or Feodary, who had a duty to inform the court.
Escheators did have the power to take inquisitions on their own authority. However, the Court of Wards distrusted the impartiality of the escheators, and succeeded in restricting this power of independent action to estates worth under £5 a year. In addition, the Escheator was increasingly bypassed by the issue of special commissions, so that few inquisitions were taken before the escheators in the seventeenth century. The court often ordered further inquisitions (ad melius inquirendum) when the Feodary's survey of the lands indicated that they had been undervalued by the escheator.
The purpose of the inquisitions was to ensure the correct identification and assessment of all properties which ought to be in the king's hands by reason of escheat (for want of an heir or because of forfeiture) or by right of wardship or marriage (of heirs under twenty-one and heiresses under fourteen).
Certain hearings ancillary to the inquisitions are properly associated with them and were conducted in like manner. They were most frequently held in order to obtain full extents of estates, prove the ages of heirs and heiresses, and assign dower to widows.
The jury's findings were returned within one month to Chancery as an indenture, along with any associated documentation - which would most commonly include the Chancery writ, if one had been issued, endorsed as having been carried out: a duplicate indenture was kept by the escheator. The clerks of the Petty Bag in Chancery sent transcripts of those inquisitions to the Court of Wards when the deceased tenant had been found to hold in chief of the crown: these were kept as a working archive by the court, to become the basis of the crown's case at the taking of later inquisitions.
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