Court of Common Pleas: Plea Rolls

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Details of CP 40
Reference:CP 40
Court of Common Pleas: Plea Rolls

The series of plea rolls of the Court of Common Pleas from the beginning of the reign of Edward I onwards.

Each roll covers a term and is made up from individual rotuli which carry a formulaic record of pleading and process in the court. They do not record what was actually said by the serjeants at law, who had a monopoly of pleading in the court by 1300, and the judges; that can only be known from the reports of pleading in particular cases in the so called 'year books', which exist from about 1270 onwards, and which were principally concerned with reporting cases in the Common Pleas. Each roll is, as in the case of other series of plea rolls, made up of a large number of individual rotuli or rolls, single sheets of parchment normally used on both sides and filed together at the head to make up the whole unit. From 1290 each rotulus was numbered at the foot, and from 1305 each one also carries the surname of the clerk who compiled it and handed it in. From 1327 until the end of the court's life in 1875 there is a single, almost unbroken series of rolls made for the chief justice of the court and bearing his name.

The rolls do not include essoins but do contain separate sections for warrants of attorney and for the enrolment of charters and other deeds. From 1272 to 1327 there is an additional but incomplete series of rolls headed 'Rex', kept by the keeper of the writs and rolls. During the first 19 years of Edward I there are a few rolls, including the same material, made for junior or puisne justices of the court, but there are no more thereafter. After the removal of pleas of land into the recovery rolls in 1853, what we now call 'plea' rolls came generally to be known as 'common rolls', because they did not include pleas of land, but only actions of a personal or mixed nature, while the recovery rolls were known as 'plea rolls', because they did. The two series of rolls were eventually reunited in 1838 (CP 40/3984), and a few enclosure awards were enrolled in the plea rolls during the following 15 years.

The plea rolls reached their greatest size in the early 17th century, and thereafter declined, partly because of a decline in business but also because the attorneys who by then drew them up often failed to hand them in for filing.

Date: 1273-1874

Chronological by year and law term. From 1559 the rolls were divided into two or more sections, up to a maximum of nine, for a single term. Some of the divisions into parts were made when the rolls were first assembled, the part number being written next to the heading at the beginning of the roll. During work on the records at Carlton Ride in the 1840s and 1830s it appears that many more rolls were split into parts for convenience, and given labels indicating which rotuli the particular part included; those labels are the source of the numbers given to some rolls in the list. Some of the rolls split at that time were already only part of a roll for a term, eg CP 40/1371 is headed 'secunda pars', but was subsequently itself split to create CP 40/1372. These changes account for the inconsistent ways in which individual rolls are described.

Related Material: There are docket books running from 1660 to 1839, which give the rotulus numbers of cases reaching judgment in IND 1/6373-6605.
The series of 'Rex' rolls continues after 1327 but after that date is classified separately in CP 23
See also the plea rolls from the Palatinate of Lancaster Court of Common Pleas in PL 15
There are also various calendars of entries IND 1/17114
There are also various calendars of entries IND 1/17115
There are also various calendars of entries IND 1/17125
There are also various calendars of entries IND 1/17134
There are also various calendars of entries IND 1/17167
Other indexes of places for deeds enrolled IND 1/17168
There are also various calendars of entries IND 1/17172
A file of such calendars which also contains an index of of places for deeds enrolled is: IND 1/17174
Index to the recoveries in the plea rolls IND 1/17180
The separate series of recovery rolls relating to pleas of land from 1583 are in CP 43
The earlier rolls of the court are now in the series formerly known as Curia Regis Rolls, KB 26
There are also docket books running from 1660 to 1839, which give the rotulus numbers of cases reaching judgment in IND 1/6373
Index to the recoveries in the plea rolls IND 1/17182
Index to the recoveries in the plea rolls IND 1/17181
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English and Latin
Creator: Court of Common Pleas, 1194-1875
Physical description: 4135 roll(s)
Custodial history: During the earlier centuries the plea rolls, which were initially stored in the Common Pleas Treasury in Westminster Hall, were periodically transferred from the custody of the court to the keeping of the chamberlains of the Exchequer, when they had become less current and did not need to be so frequently consulted. By 1436 all the rolls down to 1399 had been so transferred, but it was not until 1670 that any subsequent transfer, of the rolls from 1399 to 1509, was made. No further transfers were made at all until the remaining rolls, from the reign of Henry VIII to 1819, and including the recovery rolls, were removed from Westminster Hall to the Public Record Office in 1840.
Publication note: There is a printed index to the rolls for 1327-1328 in Lists and Indexes, XXXII. For the enclosure awards in the rolls, see the 'List of some enclosure awards in the Public Record Office'.
Unpublished finding aids: There are no indexes as such to the rolls, although references to the precise rotulus numbers of particular cases appear in a variety of sources for various periods. The largest source is the series of prothonotaries' docket rolls in CP 60 There are cross references to rotulus numbers in the fourteenth century 'Rex' rolls in CP 23

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