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 1583, 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.
Digital images of some of the records in this series are available through the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website. Please note that The National Archives is not responsible for this website or its content.