Catalogue description Records of the Palatinate of Lancaster

Details of PL
Reference: PL
Title: Records of the Palatinate of Lancaster

Records of the Palatinate of Lancaster, mainly relating to the legal jurisdiction of the Palatinate.


  • Chancery administrative records
  • Chancery Court
  • Court of Common Pleas
  • Crown Court

Date: 1357-1977
Related material:

See also the Records of the Duchy of Lancaster in DL

The 1873 deposit was listed in manuscript around the end of the 19th century; see OBS 1/830

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English, French and Latin

Palatinate of Lancaster, 1377-1875

Physical description: 52 series
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

from 1873 Palatinate of Lancaster

Custodial history: The main deposit of Palatinate of Lancaster records came into the Public Record Office from Lancaster Castle in 1873. Edward Baines in his History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster (4 vols, London, 1836), remarked that it was established custom to keep the records for the preceding twenty years at the Preston Registry, with those for earlier years being deposited at Lancaster, 'where the court sits every assizes before one of the two judges of the courts at Westminster who have chosen the northern circuit, and who are half-yearly commissioned, the one as chief justice, and the other as one of the justices of the common pleas at Lancaster' (vol 1, p 220).
Publication note:

R Somerville, 'The palatinate courts in Lancaster' in Law and lawmakers in British history, papers presented to the Edinburgh Legal History Conference, 1979 (Royal Historical Society Studies in History Series, XXII) R Somerville, 'Ordinances for the duchy of Lancaster', Royal Historical Society Camden Series, 4th series XIV (1975) R Somerville, Office holders in the duchy and county palatine of Lancaster from 1603 (London, 1972) R Somerville, 'Preparation and issue of instruments under seal in the duchy of Lancaster' in Essays in memory of Sir Hilary Jenkinson, ed A E T Hollaender (1962), pp 372-289 R Somerville, History of the duchy of Lancaster, vols 1-2 (London 1953, 1970) R Somerville, 'Duchy and county palatine of Lancaster' Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, CIII, pp 59-67 (Liverpool, 1952) R Somerville, 'Duchy of Lancaster records' Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series XXIX (1947) R Somerville, The duchy of Lancaster (London, 1946) R Somerville, 'Duchy of Lancaster Council and Court of Duchy Chamber' Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series XXIII (1941) Robert Somerville, 'The Preparation and Issue of Instruments Under Seal in the Duchy of Lancaster' in Studies Presented to Sir Hilary Jenkinson, ed J Conway Davies, pp 372-389 (London, 1957) Schedule containing a list and particulars of series of documents removed from the Office of the Clerk of the Crown of the County Palatine of Lancaster to the Public Record Office, which are not considered of sufficient public value to justify their preservation therein (1894) W Hardy, Charters of the duchy of Lancaster (London, 1845)

Administrative / biographical background:

The Palatinate of Henry Duke of Lancaster, 1351 to 1361

On 6 March 1351, Edward III conferred on his cousin Henry, fourth Earl of Lancaster, the dukedom of Lancaster. In the same charter he raised the county of Lancaster to a county palatine for Henry's lifetime, to join Chester and Durham which already had that status.

The effect of the charter was to give the new Duke sovereign rights in the county: he could exercise powers co-extensive with those exercised by the King in the rest of the country. One feature of palatine powers was that the administration of justice was now in the hands of the duke. He used his palatine seal to appoint his own justices to hear pleas of the Crown and all other common law pleas.

He also appointed the Sheriff, coroners and other local officers. He appointed a Chancellor and established his own Chancery in the county which issued the original writs needed to initiate court proceedings and all other writs arising in the administration of the Palatinate. The King's writ no longer ran; instead of being executed by royal officers (or, because of the previous grant of liberties, the duke's officers) royal writs were directed to the Duke or his Chancellor, and further writs issued from the palatine Chancery to effect their execution.

The profits of justice belonged to the new duke. The King no longer had a claim on revenues arising from feudal incidents such as wardship, and his escheator for the north-western counties of England was instructed to take no further action in the Palatinate. The Duke appointed his own escheator, who presumably accounted to the Duke at his Exchequer.

The charter had stated that the Duke was to enjoy the royal rights already enjoyed by the Earl of Chester in the Palatinate of Chester, but in fact the reservations specified were more extensive than those restricting the Earl of Chester.

The Palatinate in abeyance, 1361 to 1377

The Duke of Lancaster died on 23 March 1361. The grant of palatine powers had been for Henry's lifetime only and the Palatinate ceased to exist after his death. This meant that the administration of justice reverted to the Crown. Justices and other officers were appointed by the King under the royal seal and common and Crown pleas were heard at the King's courts at Westminster or by itinerant justices. Other palatine powers lapsed: the sheriff accounted at the royal Exchequer again; a royal escheator was appointed to pursue the Crown's claims to revenues derived from feudal incidents. The secretarial and writ-issuing functions of the palatine Chancery reverted to the royal Chancery.

The duke's lands had passed to his two daughters who were his co-heiresses. Lancaster formed part of the portion of Blanche, who was married to the King's son John of Gaunt. After her sister's death in 1362 all the late duke's lands were re-united in their possession and John of Gaunt was created Duke of Lancaster. In November 1362 John of Gaunt and his sons by Blanche were granted the liberties enjoyed by Henry before the creation of the Palatinate.

The Palatinate of John of Gaunt, 1377 to 1399

On 28 February 1377, Edward III re-created the Palatinate in a grant to his son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The terms of the grant, including the reservations, were the same as those in the 1351 grant of palatine powers. The grant was confirmed by Richard II in September 1377 after his accession to the throne.

The charter made no provision for a Court of Exchequer; nonetheless John established one on the royal model and appointed his own barons of the Exchequer to receive the profits of justice, to levy fines imposed by justices, to act on estreats received from the Chancery and to receive accounts from the sheriff and escheator. In November 1378 John petitioned for, and received, a further grant from Richard II permitting him to have an Exchequer in the Palatinate in his lifetime, with the same jurisdiction and powers as the royal Exchequer.

The 1378 charter also specified a liberty enjoyed by the first duke, namely the power to appoint justices in eyre for forest pleas, except for pleas to which the Crown was a party. In 1390 John petitioned successfully for an extension of the grant of palatine rights beyond his lifetime for the benefit of his male heirs. On 3 February 1399, John of Gaunt died. Henry of Bolingbroke, his son and heir, was abroad, having been banished from the country the previous year. He returned to take possession of his inheritance, deposed Richard II, and claimed the vacant throne as Henry IV.

The status of the Palatinate during the months between John's death and Henry's accession is uncertain: it is not clear whether Richard II's effective confiscation of the landed inheritance extended to the palatine liberties and powers.

The Palatinate under the Crown, 1399 to 1875

During his first Parliament in 1399 Henry IV declared his intention of keeping his inheritance of Lancaster in the same form as before his accession, administered by the same officers and with the same franchises. The Duchy of Lancaster was maintained as an entity separate from other Crown possessions and the Palatinate continued as a judicial system independent of, although consistent with, the administration of justice in the rest of the country.

In practice the Palatinate was administered by officers of the Duchy. This led to a blurring of the distinction between the Duchy and the Palatinate. The developing inter-dependence was reinforced by Edward IV who, on ascending the throne in 1461, decreed that Henry VI's Lancastrian possessions should continue as a separate entity and that the Palatinate, still with its own seal, Chancellor, justices and officers, should be a parcel of the Duchy.

From 1471 the offices of Chancellor of the Duchy and Chancellor of the Palatinate were held by the same person. The centre of palatine administration moved to London and in effect became part of the Duchy administration; what was left in Lancaster was mainly the judicial machinery.

The change in the Palatinate's status did not lead to its integration into the administration of the rest of the country. For instance, it was excluded from the sphere of influence of the 16th century Council of the North. However, it meant that the Palatinate was affected less that the Palatinates of Chester and Durham by measures to curtail their independence such as the Act for the Recontinuation of Liberties and Franchises in 1535.

The Palatinate was affected by the disturbances in England between 1641 and 1660 but not to the extent of abolition. The courts in Lancaster continued to sit, albeit with some interruptions. However, this was on the basis of a series of resolutions by the House of Commons rather than the usual commissions by the Chancellor of the Palatinate. The Restoration in 1660 brought the revival of palatine powers.

During the 18th and 19th centuries repeated attempts were made to abolish the Duchy and Palatinate. The Duchy officers resisted them successfully, with the assistance of local public opinion, until 1873. In that year the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (36 & 37 Vict c66) transferred the common law and criminal jurisdictions of the Palatinate to the new High Court of Justice. From November 1875 the Palatinate consisted only of the equity jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery and the Chancellor's right to appoint justices of the peace and other local officers. In 1971 these powers were also lost when the Court Act effected the merger of the Lancaster Chancery Court with the national High Court of Justice.

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