Catalogue description Court of Common Pleas: Brevia Files

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Details of CP 52
Reference: CP 52
Title: Court of Common Pleas: Brevia Files

Brevia files are the main series of writ files of the court, containing writs returned by the sheriff of each county. The surviving records consist of whole intact files, partial files and loose writs. Each file relates to a set 'return day' within one of the four annual law terms (Michaelmas, Hilary, Easter and Trinity); writs ordered to be returned by that day were filed together when they came into the court.

Each writ is endorsed with the sheriff's account of what he had done in response to it, and the returns which he had been asked to send in are sewn to the writs. These consist mainly of jury panels, lists of pledges, records of pleas in inferior courts, and occasional inquisitions. The records of inferior courts had usually been taken on writs of recordare facias loquelam, and came especially from the courts of counties, but also those of hundreds and wapentakes and occasionally of manorial courts.

From 1 May 1292 the judicial writs issued by the court are 'signed' by the clerks who wrote them. From the early 1290s some writs are annotated with the number of the plea roll rotulus on which the order to issue it had been recorded; by 1300 this is the norm.

In earlier centuries the brevia files include letters to the justices, mainly dedimus potestatem writs, and exigents orders. From that late sixteenth century onwards, the dedimus potestatem writs are in the concords of fines files in C 24/1- C 24/13 and the exigents orders are with other unsorted outlawry writs in CP 59.

The records are in Latin, except between Trinity 1651 and Trinity 1660 and from Easter 1734 onwards when they are in English.

Date: 1272-1796

The files are arranged chronologically within the series. The reference used consists of a set of numbers based on the monarch, regnal year, legal term and return day, except during the Interregnum period when it is based on calendar year, legal term and return day. Writs that were found loose and could not been reunited with their original files are collected at the end of the sequence for each monarch.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the writs within each file are arranged in a fixed county order, which is modified during the fifteenth century. The original county order is: Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Middlesex, London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire (although as a palatinate Lancaster disappeared from 1351-1361 and then permanently after 1377). The modified fifteenth century order is: Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Surrey, Sussex, Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex to Derbyshire as previously, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland, and (in any order) Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Lancashire.

Letters to the justices and warrants of attorney, sometimes very numerous, come at the beginning of some files, before Norfolk, in files for return days at the beginning of term. Exigent writs or writs of exigi facias were filed before Oxfordshire.

From the early fourteenth century, there are two files for each of the first and second return days in the term. The first part consists of counties up to and including Gloucestershire; the second includes the rest of the counties from Oxfordshire onwards. From 1315 the second part is normally labelled 'Oxon' on its cover.

From Hilary term 1587, there are separate files for Middlesex and London for the first and subsequently the last return days. These additional parts have been numbered as 1A.

During the reign of Charles II, the first and last return days within each term are split into five parts, each group of counties there included was associated with a pictographic symbol: heart, ladder, crow, buckle or bell. These have been numbered respectively as 1, 1A, 1B, 2 and 2A.

During the reigns of George II and George III, a single file may cover more than one return day.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English and Latin
Physical description: 8322 file(s)
Restrictions on use: 3 working days notice to produce
Access conditions: Open
Publication note:

The background to this series and work done to arrange and describe it are outlined in Adalgisa Mascio, '"Almost too ruinous to be repaired": the Unknown Treasures project at The National Archives and the Court of Common Pleas brevia files', Archives, LIII no 136 (2018), 1-11.

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