|SOME NOTES ON MEDIEVAL ENGLISH GENEALOGY|
This is a brief outline of the format of late-medieval feet of fines, intended to provide some practical help with the interpretation of the abstracts on these pages.
Most feet of fines concern land in a single county, and are arranged chronologically by county within the series CP 25/1. Those involving land in more than one county, or in unidentified counties, with other miscellaneous fines, are in separate sequences known as divers (or mixed), unknown and various counties (CP 25/1/282-294). There are also separate series for the palatinates of Chester (CHES 31) and Lancaster (PL 17); no feet of fines survive for the palatinate of Durham before 1535.
After the early 14th century, all fines were made in the court of Common Pleas at Westminster (the court sat in York for part of 1392, during a period of civil unrest in London).
The timetable for business in the court of Common Pleas was based on a series of return days, fixed with reference to religious festivals, at intervals of about a week within the law terms. The date given for each fine is not the actual date when it was made, but that of the previous return day. So the actual date of the fine normally falls in a period of a week or so after the date given.
For some fines, two dates in different terms are given, the first being that when the fine was made, and the second that when it was recorded. This delay usually occurred because a tenant was required to appear in court and acknowledge the change in the ownership of the land.
In this period, the parties were almost always described as the querent(s) (the party who initiated the fictitious legal action that was being settled by the agreement) and the deforciant(s) (the party against whom the action had been brought). Most commonly, the property was being conveyed by the deforciant to the querent, though this was not always the case.
Fines could be used to convey only freehold property, and its nature, extent and location would be described.
This could include manors, buildings and land, rent (in money or in kind), and the advowsons of churches or chapels (the right to appoint their priests). Buildings and land would be specified in a fixed order, commonly beginning with messuages (buildings with their associated plots of land), and including (arable) land, meadow, pasture and wood. The quantities of land were usually given in acres, but could also be specified in other measures such as virgates, carucates and bovates. The acreages were sometimes given precisely, but there was a tendency to use round figures, and the quantities given are often assumed to be overestimates.
It may be stated that the fine concerns a moiety (half), two thirds or some other fraction of the land. This could arise, for example, if an inheritance had been divided between coheirs, or if a third of the land was being held in dower by a widow.
In some cases the land, or part of it, might be held by a third party for the term of his or her life, or for a fixed term of years, and the fine conveyed the right to the land after the end of that term, not its immediate possession. The names of sub-tenants are given only very rarely.
In this period, the legal process that led to the making of the fine was almost always initiated by a plea of covenant.
The agreement specified what had been agreed about the property in question, and is the key to interpreting the nature of the transaction. Sometimes it simply recorded a grant of the property by the deforciant to the querent, but usually it was expressed using more complicated legal formulae.
The most common form of words to describe a conveyance of land from the deforciant (D) to the querent (Q) is, at its simplest:
"D has acknowledged the land to be the right of Q as that which Q has of the gift of D, and D has remised and quitclaimed them from himself and his heirs to Q and his heirs for ever."
The wording may vary in several respects, but this general pattern accounts for perhaps three quarters of the fines in this period.
In most cases, there was more than one querent, and usually the property would be acknowledged to be the right of one of them, with the "remise and quitclaim" clause specifying only the heirs of this one.
Similarly, there was usually more than one deforciant, the deforciants often being a married couple. In this case, the agreement would usually indicate whether the land being conveyed was the husband's, or had been brought to the marriage by the wife. For example, in the formula above, the deforciants would "remise and quitclaim" from themselves, and from either the heirs of the husband or the heirs of the wife. In variations which omit this clause, the indication could come elsewhere in the agreement - perhaps only in the warranty.
The common formula above might be modified by omitting the "remise and quitclaim" clause, and replacing it with a statement that the querent had granted the land back to the deforciant. This grant typically specified additional conditions on the deforciant's tenure, rather than that the property should simply pass to his heirs. This method was often used to make a settlement of the property within a family. For example, property might be granted to a married couple and their male heirs, with further provisions in case the marriage produced no male heirs, or no heirs at all. These fines can be among the most informative for the genealogist.
Another variation was for the roles of the querent and deforciant in the case just discussed to be reversed, so that the querent acknowledged the property to be the right of the deforciant, and the deforciant then granted it to the querent.
In cases where the property was being conveyed by the deforciant to the querent, it was common for the deforciant to grant a warranty, which meant that if a third party subsequently contested the querent's right to the land, the deforciant would have to defend it in the querent's place.
Usually, the warranty was granted against "all men", but sometimes it might be limited to a specified person. Sometimes the person specified was the head of a religious house with no conceivable claim to the property (usually the abbot of Westminster). This was a legal device to avoid a more general warranty being implied.
(In the accompanying abstracts, warranties are noted, but details are given only when they are not implied by the rest of the agreement.)
In cases where the property was being conveyed by the deforciant to the querent, the querent was usually stated to have given the deforciant a sum of money in return. Although this could reflect a real payment in earlier fines, by this period the sum recorded was a conventional round figure that bore little relation to any amount of money that might actually have changed hands.