Court of King's Bench: Plea Side: Essoin Rolls

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Details of KB 121
Reference:KB 121
Court of King's Bench: Plea Side: Essoin Rolls

These rolls record the essoins (allowable excuses for non-attendance in court) made in King's Bench from 1272 onwards.

The series is a broken one, and there is only one roll later in date than 1422. During the fourteenth century the rolls gradually get smaller in line with the decline of King's Bench's share of civil business initiated by writ. The recovery and then rapid growth of that share in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was based on litigation by bill, in which essoins were not allowed, so the number of essoins continued to go down.

Although they have sometimes been regarded as unimportant, and were were deliberately omitted from the published Curia Regis Rolls series, they have more recently been accorded greater significance. Without them it is impossible to follow the course of many actions relating to land or understand the law and procedure they involved, and for some cases that never reached pleading they are the only evidence that they were ever initiated.

Date: Edward III - 1800
Related Material: Before 1272 similar records are in KB 26
Separated Material: Rolls recognised as of the Court of Common Pleas were transferred in 1954 to CP 21
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record
Language: English and Latin
Physical description: 99 roll(s)
Physical condition: Many of the surviving rolls are badly damaged
Closure status: Open Document, Open Description
Custodial history: The earliest rolls now in KB 121, dating from the reigns of Edward I to Edward III, were kept for many centuries in the Tower of London. Those of the first two Edwards had probably been there from the time of the Stapledon array of records held in the Tower in the last years of Edward II, and the fortress seems to have been used as a repository for some legal records during the first part of the reign of his successor, accounting for the presence there of a few rolls later in date than 1326. They were kept with a much larger number of Common Pleas essoin rolls, with which they became confused. Like many other records kept in the Tower they are badly, and in many cases severely, damaged. The whole group was examined and labelled at the Tower shortly before the establishment of the Public Record Office in 1838, and a list prepared under the supervision of Thomas Duffus Hardy was printed in DK Report II (1840), appendix ii, pp 51-2. Twenty-two items in that list (now KB 121/77-95, 97-99) were King's Bench essoin rolls. They were only identified as such and transferred to KB 121 in 1954, and they were not added to the list until 1988. In 1971 one stray fragment (KB 121/96) was transferred from the Scottish Record Office. In 1857, when the King's Bench records were moved from Carlton Ride to the new record office in Chancery Lane, only the latest roll in the series (now piece 75), was identified as an essoin roll of the court. By 1891, when the first edition of Scargill Bird's Guide was published, a further 82 items had been added, but from where has not yet been ascertained. Of them, 32 were in fact Common Pleas essoin rolls. They were removed to CP 21 references in 1954. This history of archival confusion no doubt explains why Professor G.O.Sayles was unaware of the existence of a series of King's Bench essoin rolls when preparing his seven volumes of select cases of proceedings in the court between 1272 and 1422. (Selden Society vols LVI, LVII, LVIII, LXXIV, LXXVI, LXXXII, LXXXVIII (1936-71).
Publication note: A great deal of information about essoin rolls, with explanations of the characteristic abbreviations and marginations used in them and the development of the names used for fictitious essoiners, more particulary in relation to the Common Pleas rolls but still with great relevance to those of King's Bench, is to be found in Lists and Indexes Supplementary Series No I: List of Various Common Law Records (1970).

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