Chancery and Supreme Court of Judicature: Close Rolls
Letters close, which were usually of an executive nature conveying orders and instructions, and, therefore of a private and personal nature, were issued folded and 'closed' by the application of the great seal. They were enrolled on the close rolls.
Although the content of the close rolls was of a private and personal nature, it could deal with matters of great importance, the letters being addressed to officials like sheriffs or illustrious personages like foreign rulers. Writs were issued concerning matters ranging in importance from major constitutional decisions to the daily economy of the royal household.
From the early fourteenth century, there was a growing tendency to use the privy seal for such purposes, and the decline in the use of the close rolls for this traditional reason began. The last writ enrolled on a close roll was dated 1532-33, and for a number of years previously they had only been used for writs of livery and seisin.
Writs of summons to Parliament were regularly enrolled on the close rolls until 1541-42, when writs for peers ceased to be recorded. Other documents relating to the legal functions of the great seal and issues coming under the auspices of the lord chancellor were also enrolled on the close rolls: memoranda relating to the delivery of the great seal; swearing of officers and legal functionaries; and parliamentary wages.
There had been a steady increase in the tendency to enrol private deeds of many sorts on the dorse of the close rolls, particularly from 1382, when a statute of Richard II enacted that those losing deeds, provided they could prove their having once existed, could petition the king for remedy. This practice continued, but by no means restricted to the dorse of the rolls, until the series ceased in 1903.
Documents thus enrolled include deeds of bargain and sale; deeds of lease and release; surrenders of office; disentailing deeds; conveyances in trust for chapels, schools and charitable purposes, pursuant to an act of 1735; conveyances under Queen Anne's Bounty Act, 1703; deeds of settlement of ecclesiastical districts and parish boundaries; awards respecting enclosures; and conveyances of bankrupts' estates, in accordance with the statute of 1571.
Also, deeds poll relating to change of name; certificates of naturalisation; deeds of relinquishment of holy orders under the Clerical Disabilities Act, 1870; memorials of annuities, according to the act of 1776; memorials of the names of trustees of assurance companies; specifications and disclaimers of patents; recognizances and bonds of receivers and official liquidators; consents under private bills; registration of partners of joint stock companies; and deeds constituting such companies.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, the close rolls superseded the rolls of the other three courts of record as a vehicle for the enrolment of private deeds and conveyances. Many of these were concerned with the conveyance or surrender of lands to the Crown for particular purposes, including those of the dissolved monasteries.
Close rolls were made up by the regnal year. Within it, parts were created to make roughly uniform sized rolls. Being concerned with administration, they were originally almost chronological, and even much later the earliest instrument is generally near the beginning of a roll. However, it became customary to save portions of rolls for particular subjects, such as writs of aid for purveyors.
From the reign of Elizabeth I, the close rolls were divided into four, on a geographical basis, the B, Y, E and N divisions. The origins of this were probably related to the division of fees. The divisions were:
- B - Anglesey, Brecon, Cornwall, Carmarthen, Caernarvon, Devon, Glamorgan, Middlesex, Somerset, Surrey and the City of London
- Y - Bedford, Chester, Derby, Dorset, Hertford, Lincoln, Nottingham, Northumberland, Oxford, Rutland, Stafford, Suffolk, Sussex, Warwick, Westmorland and Berwick upon Tweed
- E - Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cardigan, Denbigh, Essex, Hampshire, Hereford, Kent, Monmouth, Pembroke, Wiltshire and Haverfordwest
- N - Cambridge, Cumberland, Durham, Flint, Gloucester, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Leicester, Merioneth, Montgomery, Norfolk, Northampton, Radnor, Shropshire, Worcester and Yorkshire
Unlike the complex process involved in making up (engrossing) letters patent, a much simpler process existed for letters close, their nature being more private and personal, and therefore less solemn and formal. The letter was made out either by the chancellor or keeper of the great seal at the request of the sovereign, and in his name. The letter had to be attested before sealing with the great seal. From 1189 the sovereign often attested himself; if not, persons of high rank in the household or judiciary normally did so. The contents often determined the the status of the attestor. Those instruments attested per breve were attested in writing, by writ.
Letters close were sometimes returned to Chancery with a note of the proceedings taken upon the orders contained therein. From the reign of Henry VIII, close rolls were used for the enrolment of many sorts of private deeds and recognizances, enrolled for safe custody, a practice begun previously, deeds being particularly numerous from 1382. As the traditional uses of letters close became archaic, the deeds, along with a variety of enrolments pursuant to statutes, became the sole content of the close rolls. This meant that engrossments as such no longer existed.
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