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Court of King's/Queen's Bench - Curia Regis (Courts)

Nature of Source

Records from the  highest court of common law which dealt with criminal cases and civil suits, holding jurisdiction over other common law courts until 1830. The legal system that developed in medieval Britain centred around the principals of common law dominated by the royal courts, known as the King's or Royal Court otherwise referred to as the Curia Regis. In the 12th century the King’s Court divided into two separate entities, firstly the Court of Common Pleas and secondly the King's Bench. In 1268 it obtained its own Chief Justice and eventually the court’s connection with the monarch loosened, becoming a separate common law court.

Three competing courts were active in hearing common law cases, namely the Exchequer (which later developed into an equity court), the Court of Common Pleas, and the King's Bench. The principles of equity justice which for many offered a fairer less rigid system of justice did not develop until the mid 14th century. Many of the records relate to disputes over land and property tenure.

Under the far-reaching reforms of the Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875, existing courts were combined into the Supreme Court of Judicature which was subdivided into the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Under the terms of the Acts, the King's/Queen's Bench, the Court of Chancery, the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Exchequer became part of the High Court of Justice. King's/Queen's Bench cases appear on Plea, Coram Rege and Judgement Rolls.

In theory common law courts were based in London but in reality cases were heard at a local level. The cases were timed to be heard at the Assizes (or the court's predecessor, the General Eyre) and it is possible that the records of a dispute could be found amongst the Assize and General Eyre records held at County Record Offices.

Before 1268 the court was closely connected to the monarch and formed part of the Curia Regis. The court papers were written in Latin up to 1733 and thereafter in English but used heavily abbreviated technical language. There are few indexes and the papers are very difficult to use. They are therefore inaccessible to most researchers without excellent palaeographic skills and a good understanding of legal procedures. Newspaper reports of a dispute should also be consulted. Pedigrees might be found amongst cases dealing with land disputes.

The court order of precedence, in descending order, for dealing with the majority of cases is as follows:

Lower Courts
Petty Sessions/Magistrates Courts
Quarter Sessions/Crown Courts
Assizes/Crown Courts
Higher/Senior Courts
High Court of Justice (Including the King's Bench/Queen's Bench, Chancery Division and the Family Division)
Crown Court
Court of Appeal

Where Found

The National Archives (KB 27, Court of King's Bench: Plea and Crown Sides: Coram Rege Rolls)
British Record Society (Founded in 1889, the society specialises in publishing indexes, calendars and transcripts of British public records. The society is best known for indexes to pre-1858 wills and Hearth Tax returns. Other indexes include marriage licences, inquisitions post mortem, chancery proceedings and Coram Rege Rolls. Also check with local Record Societies for indexes and calendars of material held at a local level. Volumes can be found at local libraries, family history societies, the British Library, TNA library, and the Society of Genealogists)
Selden Society (Published volumes. The society publishes records from the Court of Common Pleas such as De Banco Rolls and Curia Regis Rolls. Each volume includes an introductory essay on the material)

Period Covered

1268 - 1875

Genealogical Value

Name, occupation andaddress of those indicted. Names of jurors.

Further References

Bevan, Amanda. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives: The National Archives, 2006

 

Blatcher, Marjorie. The Court of King's Bench, 1450-1550: A Study in Self Help: Athlone Press, 1978


Jacob, Giles. A New Law-Dictionary: Containing The Interpretation and Definition of Words and Terms Used in the Law: London, 1729 five editions (Some editions available to read online or download from Google Books and the Internet Archive)

 

Oates, Jonathan. Tracing Your Ancestors from 1066 to 1837: Pen and Sword Books, 2012

 


TNA Research Guide: Court of King's Bench 1200-1600
TNA Research Guide: Court of King's Bench: Criminal Cases 1675-1875

Websites

Online Databases

Ancient Petitions, Henry III - James I (Details of petitions contained in TNA series SC 8 pursuing grievances which could not be resolved at common law, or requests for a grant of favour. Searches can be made directly in the TNA Discovery Catalogue with the reference for the petition or a general search within the series)
www.commonlii.org
(Commonwealth Legal Information Institute: England and Wales High Court [King's Bench Division] Decisions, 1583-: Free searchable online access to core legal judgments, decisions and reports from the Kings Bench Division of the English and Wales High Court. The King's Bench Division is also known as the Queen's Bench Division when the monarch is a queen. Users can also browse court proceedings by titles or year)
www.commonlii.org (Commonwealth Legal Information Institute: England and Wales High Court [Queen's Bench Division] Decisions, 1839-: Free searchable online access to core legal judgments, decisions and reports from the Queen’s Bench Division of the English and Wales High Court. Users can also browse court proceedings by titles or year)
http://aalt.law.uh.edu
(Digital images of documents from Medieval and Early Modern England from The National Archives, 1200 to 1650. Series covered include CP 40 (Court of common pleas plea rolls), KB 27 (Court of king's bench plea rolls), E 159 and E 368 (Memoranda rolls), E 13 (Exchequer plea rolls), C 33 (Chancery orders and decrees), JUST 1, (Records of the General Eyre and commissions of assize), CP 25 (Feet of Fines)