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Court of Wards & Liveries (Courts) (Land & Property)

Nature of Source

Records dealing with the position of the king as a feudal lord. The court was established by Henry VIII to administer the monarch's feudal dues arising from land and property inheritance.

The court performed two main revenue raisings functions for the king. Firstly the court administered the monarch's feudal dues which arose following the death of a Tenant-in-Chief (tenants who held land directly from the king). Because the ownership of the moveable and heritable (property or land) assets reverted back to the king as the ultimus haeres or last heir, the new rightful heir was obliged to pay the king a sum of money upon taking possession (livery of seisin). Secondly the court administered the dues owed to the monarch in cases of land inherited by an orphaned son under the age of 21 or daughter under 14. The monarch collected profits from the estate and made charges for administrating the estate. These dues were collected until the ward attained full age or married before this time. The king could also raise money by selling his wardship to a relative of the ward. When the ward reached majority age and became the rightful owner of the estate, a further payment was due to the king. Wardship issues were previously dealt with by the Court of Chancery.

The records of the court are of main relevance if an ancestor belonged to the minority landowning classes. A number of supporting documents (including Inquisitions Post Mortem) were offered to the court as evidence of the minor's rightful claim to the property. These documents should have been returned to the owner's family however in many cases the documents remained in the custody of the court and these form the holdings held at The National Archives. The documents often cover a wider period than the existence of the court and are mainly written in Latin and English. The Court's local representative, the feodary also conducted land surveys and valuations. The records are difficult to use as they are not arranged in a coherent manner and is therefore near impossible to establish which case a bundle of documents refers to. Also much material has either been lost or destroyed.

Also see
Inquisitions Post Mortem
Wills and Inheritance and Letters of Administration

Where Found

The National Archives (WARD, Records of the Court of Wards and Liveries. A project is underway to catalogue material in series WARD 2 which includes deeds and evidences presented to the court and not returned to their owners. The indexes cover all names and places mentioned in the papers and include indentures, letters, charters, final concords, quit claims, bonds, inventories, receipts, court rolls, rentals, wills, letters of attorney, awards, agreements and a variety of notes and memoranda. The summary index is available at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type ‘WARD’)

Period Covered

1540 - 1660

Genealogical Value

Name of landowner and names of heirs. Description of land held

Further References

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


Bell, H.E. An Introduction to the History and Records of the Court of Wards and Liveries: Cambridge University Press, 1953

Hurstfield, Joel. The Queen's Wards: Longmans, 1958

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


Round, J.H. (ed). Rotuli de Dominabus et Pueris et Puellis de XII Comitatibus (1185): Pipe Roll Society, 1913 (The book provides information on the land held by widows, heiresses and wards of court of tenants-in-chief or in the gift of the king. A digitised Latin version is available to download or read online at the Internet Archive. The book is also available to view at The National Archives in series E 198/1/2)

TNA Research Guide: Land inheritance in the Court of Wards and Liveries 1540-1645