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Inquisitions Post Mortem/Escheats (Medieval & Land & Property)

Nature of Source

Records from a Crown inquest taken after the death of a feudal Tenant in Chief. The Inquest sought to establish the land held by the deceased as well as the legal heir. The inquest was often accompanied by an extent or survey which offers a complete description of the deceased's manor. Surveys also reveal the topography of the area and the occupations and employment of those that worked on the estate or manor.

From the medieval period onwards the issue of land ownership and property rights and the matter of inheritance became a highly significant concern for those with a supposed claim on property. From the Norman Conquest onwards, the King granted estates to his most trusted followers who were known as Tenants in Chief. In return the Tenants in Chief owed certain obligations or fealty to the king, usually in the form of supplying knights to defend the power of the Monarch. They also held political power through their membership of the King's Court or Curia Regis. The Crown recognised the problems with property inheritance and the need to maintain his support from the Tenants in Chief. To this end he initiated a series of inquests known as Inquisitions Post Mortem (IPM) following the death of a Tenant in Chief. IPMs finished after feudal tenure was abolished in 1662.

The inquiry, headed by a crown official known as the Escheator and in the presence of a jury, set out to establish the following information:

The land held by the deceased from the Crown
Annual value of the land
The services due from the land
The tenant's heir
Age of tenant

The records only relate to a minority of the population mostly concerning important landowners. Regardless of the wealth of a sub tenant he or she will probably not be mentioned. The names of trustees or feoffees of the deceased are named in IPMs who were often related to the deceased. Elsewhere amongst the documents the names of the jurors are given. Sometimes extracts from wills or deeds can be found amongst the papers. The documents were written in Latin, but follow a set pattern so with a basic knowledge of Latin the documents are reasonably straightforward to interpret.

Summaries of the inquest were entered on to Fine Rolls lodged with the Chancery and any action taken following the survey is recorded in Close Rolls and Fine Rolls along with the name of the escheator. Copies of the inquest were lodged with the Chancery and Exchequer.

In the absence of an heir, the land and property reverted back to the crown who could then assign the land to a third party. If the heir was underage he became a ward of the crown with the land administered on his behalf as directed (from 1540) by the Court of Wards and Liveries. The minor legally inherited the land on reaching the age of majority or full age, 21 for males and 14 for females.

A Tenant in Chief was probably a person of some wealth and social standing, owning land and probably a lord of the manor. It is likely that he had the right to bear arms, so the records of the herald visitations should be investigated. His land and property holdings can be searched through a number of sources including Charter Rolls, Close Rolls, Title Deeds and Wills. Copies of wills were often attached to the inquest. If the subject of the inquest was a lord of the manor or a high ranking officer of the manor then a number of sources can be searched such as manorial documents which will place the person in their local environment and county histories, especially the Victoria County History series, which deal with the social history of an area and might even include a pedigree.

Also see
Court of Wards and Liveries
Heraldic Coats of Arms & Seals
Heraldic Visitations
Pedigrees and Family Histories

Where Found

The National Archives (C 132-C 142, Chancery: Inquisitions Post Mortem; E 150, Exchequer: Inquisitions Post Mortem; E 149, Exchequer: Escheators' Files, Inquisitions Post Mortem; E 136, Exchequer: Escheators' Particulars of Account; WARD 7, Court of Wards and Liveries: Inquisitions Post Mortem; DURH, Records of the Palatinate of Durham; CHES, Records of the courts of the Palatinate of Chester, including the county of Flint; PL, Records of the Palatinate of Lancaster; Fine Rolls)

A catalogue of names covering series C 132-C 139 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 the series reference.

TNA Library (Printed calendars)
County Record Offices and Local Reference Libraries (Printed calendars)
Society of Genealogists (Volumes from various publishers)
The British Record Society (Published volumes)

Period Covered

1235 - 1662

Genealogical Value

Name, age and date of death of deceased landowner. Name of the manor and land held at death with a description of the landholding with a valuation. Name of landowner's heir and his or her age. Name of the escheator and names of jurors.

Further References

Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem and other Analogous Documents preserved in the Public Record Office (Various volumes of transcribed summaries with some available online at the Internet Archive)

Chambers, Paul. Medieval Genealogy: How to Find Your Medieval Ancestors: Sutton Publishing, 2005

Jeaffreson, John Cordy (ed). Middlesex County Records. 4 Vols: Greater London Council, 1972 (1886) (Volumes available to download and view at the Internet Archive or at British History Online)

Westcott, Brooke. Making Sense Of Latin Documents For Family And Local Historians: Family History Partnership, 2014

TNA Research Guide: Landholders and heirs in inquisitions post mortem 1236-c.1640

Websites (Public records: Inquisitions post mortem) (The Inquisitions Post-Mortem Project - University of Winchester) (The Inquisitions Post-Mortem Project - University of Winchester: The Historical Importance of IPMs) (Medieval Glossary) (Feudalism. The site includes a Feudalism Pyramid showing the hierarchical structure of feudal society)
(Foundation for Medieval Genealogy : The Foundation was established in 2001 by a group of British genealogists and historians with a special interest in the medieval period. The Library Catalogue provides a bibliographic catalogue of secondary source material for medieval genealogy and heraldry)

Online Databases (The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England: An online database that aims to register every recorded individual who lived in Anglo-Saxon England from late sixth to the end of the eleventh century. The database is a collaboration between King's College, London and the University of Cambridge and include sources such as chronicles, saints' lives, charters, inscriptions and coins)
British History Online (Abstracts and transcriptions of a number of Inquisitions Post Mortem covering 1237-1309 including some for the City of London covering 1485-1603) (English translation of the  Inquisition post mortem taken at Stratford Langthorne in Essex in 1563 following the death of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, by Nina Green) (The Tapley-Soper Collection of Inquisitions Post Mortem covering Cornwall, transcribed by Lindsey Withers) (The Inquisitions Post-Mortem Project: University of Winchester)

Some indexes and calendars complied by local groups.

CD Roms

Anguline Research (Yorkshire Inquisitions, 1241-1306)
Archive CD Books (The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Association, Record Series Volume 1, 1885. The series includes a calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem for the County of York)