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The Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions 'Post Mortem'

The Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions 'Post Mortem': A Companion

Edited by Michael Hicks
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    The Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions 'Post Mortem'
    Book Description:

    The Inquisitions Post Mortem (IPMs) at the National Archives have been described as the single most important source for the study of landed society in later medieval England. Inquisitions were local enquiries into the lands held by people of some status, in order to discover whatever income and rights were due to the crown on their death, and provide details both of the lands themselves and whoever held them. This book explores in detail for the first time the potential of IPMs as sources for economic, social and political history over the long fifteenth century, the period covered by this 'Companion'. It looks at how they were made, how they were used, and their "accuracy", and develops our understanding of a source that is too often taken for granted; it answers questions such as what they sought to do, how they were compiled, and how reliable they are, while also exploring how they can best be used for economic, demographic, place-name, estate and other kinds of study. Michael Hicks is Professor of Medieval History, University of Winchester.Contributors: Michael Hicks, Christine Carpenter, Kate Parkin, Christopher Dyer, Matthew Holford, Margaret Yates, L.R. Poos, J. Oeppen, R.M. Smith, Sean Cunningham, Claire Noble, Matthew Holford, Oliver Padel.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-865-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Michael Hicks
  6. Glossary
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  8. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)
    Michael Hicks

    Inquisitions post mortem (IPMs) were the product of sworn inquiries by local jurors into the landholdings after death of feudal tenants. Initiated by the crown, they survived from 1235–6 until 1660, when feudal tenures were abolished. Feudalism was a system of land tenure universal in England in which land was held in return for service, all of it ultimately from the king, whether directly by tenants-in-chief or through intermediate lords (mesne tenants). Henry III and later kings wanted to keep track of their feudal rights and to exploit any potential profits or feudal incidents.¹ Inquisitions post mortem were one...

  9. 2 Crossing Generations: Dower, Jointure and Courtesy
    (pp. 25-46)
    Michael Hicks

    Land was transferred between generations on the death of the deceased tenants according to the rules of inheritance discussed in the Introduction. This chapter is not concerned with who it was who inherited, by what title, or what it was that they inherited. It also specifically excludes the inheritance of moveable goods (chattels) that were bequeathed by will. Actually the process of succession was less tidy and immediate than the opening statement suggests. This was because the deceased tenant generally left behind a spouse, a widow or widower, who had to be supported from portions of the estate. The legitimate...

  10. 3 The Lesser Landowners and the Inquisitions Post Mortem
    (pp. 47-78)
    Christine Carpenter

    During the last thirty years or so one of the largest areas of growth in medieval English history has been the study of the lesser landowners, or, to use the anachronistic but convenient term, the gentry.¹ Although this kind of study has now reached back to the thirteenth century,² the original impetus for its appearance was the revolution brought about by the work of K. B. McFarlane, the man who transformed the history of England in the fourteenth and, especially, the fifteenth centuries. McFarlane’s work on the nobility and their ‘bastard feudal’ gentry followings invited exploration of the gentry and...

  11. 4 Tales of Idiots, Signifying Something: Evidence of Process in the Inquisitions Post Mortem
    (pp. 79-96)
    Kate Parkin

    By the time Shakespeare had Macbeth complain that ‘life [was] a tale told by an idiot … signifying nothing’ it was evidently a commonplace that the words of idiots were of no account.² They had no more significance in the earlier context of fifteenth-century tenurial inheritance, and for that reason the designation ‘idiot’ was one to be avoided or hidden if at all possible. But cases of idiocy do signify something for the historian because of the glimpses they give of individuals protecting their interests as best they could in unusual and urgent adverse circumstances. By teasing out the personal...

  12. 5 The Value of Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions Post Mortem for Economic and Social History
    (pp. 97-116)
    Christopher Dyer

    Economic and social historians have been wary of using the extents attached to inquisitions post mortem as historical evidence. Those produced before the Black Death were alluring because they offered in abbreviated form manorial surveys with indications of the size of demesnes, numbers of tenants of different status (free, customary, cottars), rents and services, and assets such as woods, parks, fishponds and mills, all with annual values attached. A fortunate researcher, especially one working on the early years of the fourteenth century, might occasionally be told in the extents about the fields in which the demesne lay, and the system...

  13. 6 ‘Notoriously Unreliable’: The Valuations and Extents
    (pp. 117-144)
    Matthew Holford

    The central purpose of inquisitions post mortem (IPMs) was to enable the king to exploit to the full his feudal rights. Primer seisin and prerogative wardship entitled the crown to occupy the estates of deceased tenants-in-chief and to receive the issues. Valuation of those estates was therefore an essential element of the IPM, enabling the crown to anticipate its future income or, more usually by the fifteenth century, to assess the worth of wardships as a form of patronage.¹ The writ diem clausit extremum ordered the crown’s escheator to enquire as to the lands held by a tenant-in-chief, the services...

  14. 7 The Descriptions of Land Found in the Inquisitions Post Mortem and Feet of Fines: A Case Study of Berkshire
    (pp. 145-154)
    Margaret Yates

    The purpose of this chapter is to argue that we can have greater confidence in the descriptions of land contained in inquisitions post mortem than previously held. Whilst there may be significant problems with individual descriptions, IPMs can become a very useful source of quantifiable data, if employed quantitatively, in conjunction with other sources of evidence, and with a realistic acknowledgement of what they can and cannot reasonably be expected to reveal. The evidence on which this assertion is based is drawn from a case study of Berkshire which looks backwards to the earlier period at the beginning of the...

  15. 8 Re-assessing Josiah Russell’s Measurements of Late Medieval Mortality using the Inquisitions Post Mortem
    (pp. 155-168)
    L.R Poos, J.E. Oeppen and R.M. Smith

    In 1948 Josiah Russell published what was a remarkably innovative study in the demographic history of medieval England.¹ It principally involved exploitation of evidence in the Domesday Survey, bishops’ registers, an array of manorial extents, the poll taxes and the inquisitions post mortem. Russell’s approach displayed a competence in demographic methodology that was unusual, indeed precocious, for a historian of population at this time. The book, one could claim, was unique in an era that pre-dated the formal emergence of historical demography in the 1960s by almost three decades. It revealed a striking willingness to experiment with formal demographic methodology...

  16. 9 A Great Historical Enterprise: The Public Record Office and the Making of the Calendars of Inquisitions Post Mortem
    (pp. 169-182)
    Sean Cunningham

    On 27 March 1802 John Caley, secretary to the Record Commission, was compelled, with deep regret, to inform the newly-appointed speaker of the Commons, Charles Abbot, Lord Colchester, that ‘the remuneration ordered to be made to him for his services … is neither adequate to his expectations nor as he conceived to his deserts’.¹ Many project research associates no doubt have shared that sentiment over the years. Yet despite his complaint, Caley went on to perform an important role in the first steps taken to widen access to the public records. Abbot, Caley’s mentor, had been a key figure in...

  17. 10 Writs and the Inquisitions Post Mortem: How the Crown Managed the System
    (pp. 183-200)
    Claire Noble

    This chapter is inspired by ten years of editing the inquisitions post mortem for the reign of Henry VI filed in the C 139 series at the National Archives.¹ Accompanying the inquisitions are many hundreds of writs which the work also involved calendaring. The continuous processing of these somewhat formulaic little manuscripts did not put me off them, but made me become increasingly interested in their history, largely prompted by the scarcity of information about them. Identifying the writs and the sequence of their use is of obvious importance in understanding them, but discussion that contextualises the production, development, and...

  18. 11 ‘Thrifty Men of the Country’? The Jurors and Their Role
    (pp. 201-222)
    Matthew Holford

    Royal government in medieval England relied on the assistance and cooperation of local people. That was true not only of the crown’s principal officers in the localities–sheriffs, escheators, commissioners and the like–but of the local juries on whose information so much of government relied. As royal government became increasingly intensive, from the thirteenth century, so the volume of work done by juries grew proportionately, and increasing numbers of people became directly engaged with the state. Recent work has emphasised that the growth of the state depended on the work of juries, and that jury service was ‘one of...

  19. 12 Place-Names and Calendaring Practices
    (pp. 223-238)
    Oliver Padel

    This chapter is only indirectly about inquisitions post mortem. Since Roy Hunnisett published his two invaluable guides to calendaring, Indexing for Editors (1972) and Editing Records for Publication (1977), these inquisitions have been one of the classes of record on which major progress in calendaring has been achieved, culminating in the fine set of five volumes now added to the series. The author was asked to help with the identification of Cornish place-names in these volumes and so was able to make known to the editors his great reservations concerning the task which they were being asked to perform as...

  20. Index
    (pp. 239-254)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-255)