England Land Inheritance, Wills, Entail, Inquisitions Post Mortem (National Institute)

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Inheritance of Land[edit | edit source]

Customs and Rights of Inheritance[edit | edit source]

  • Borough English
    The system of ultimogeniture in which the youngest (rather than the eldest) son of the deceased inherited the property. It is generally called borough English in England because it was common in a part of Nottingham known as the English Borough (in contradistinction to the French Borough) (Harvey 1948). If the deceased had no issue, then his youngest brother inherited. Borough English prevailed for burgage tenements in cities and ancient boroughs, and often in the rural districts extending beyond them (Humphery-Smith 1997). It was prevalent in Surrey, Middlesex, Suffolk and Sussex among others and was also seen in the 20th century in Denmark and perhaps other continental countries. In England it was abolished 1922-1925 along with other manorial forms of tenancy.
  • Courtesy of England
    This was where a widower could hold his deceased wife’s land if they had a minor child, even if he remarried. The custom was abolished 1925.
  • Escheat
    When an estate reverted to the lord or the crown because a tenant:
  • Died without heirs.
  • Died with only a minor heir.
  • Had committed an offence for which the punishment for forfeiture.

Revenues from escheated estates were collected by crown escheators. Escheats were abolished in 1925.

  • Freebench or Dower
    A widow’s right to a share of her late husband’s copyhold lands for life, or until remarriage.
  • Gavelkind
    The custom whereby a tenant’s lands, other than his widow’s dower, were divided equally amongst his sons or, if he had none, his daughters. It was common in Kent, parts of Dorset, Middlesex and Wales. Tenants under gavelkind came of age at 15 and their estates could not be escheated by felony. Abolished in 1925.
  • Primer Seisin
    The right of the crown to one full year’s profit of the estate of an of-age heir of a tenant-in-chief.
  • Primogeniture
    The eldest son was heir to his father’s land (real estate) and his siblings were excluded. Abolished 1925.
  • Wardship and Marriage
    If a tenant-in-chief left an under-age heir, then the crown was entitled to hold the land until majority (21 for a boy, 14 for a girl), except under gavelkind. The crown received the revenues of the estate, but often farmed it out to the highest bidder. The king was also able to dictate whom a ward and a widow married.

Procedures of Inheritance of Land[edit | edit source]

Wills[edit | edit source]

Wills should not be regarded as indicating the total land holdings of the testator as s/he may have made arrangements about real estate through marriage or other settlements before composing the will. The main land holding usually passed by common law to the eldest son and was often omitted from the will also. Freehold, copyhold and leasehold land in many different parishes may be mentioned, and each type can be researched further. However, if prior arrangements have been made then the testator may only mention recent land purchases, and even the probate valuation will not include the real estate, with the exception of leaseholds. Unproven wills were occasionally used in manorial courts for inheritance of land, as in the case described by Peter Alefounder (Using Manorial Records to Trace Thomas Alefounder, schoolmaster and Mapmaker. Journal of One-Name Studies Vol 7 #3, page 6-7).

Entail[edit | edit source]

The situation where land is tied up in one family by means of a grant from the owner to one person and the heirs of his body. Such land was called estate tail and the mode of tenure fee tail. Each successor only enjoyed a life interest (so could not sell it) and it passed by primogeniture to his heirs. The process was also called strict settlement and met a number of contemporary needs, such as preventing reckless and dissolute heirs (or ex-wives) from squandering all the family resources, provision for widows, and for children of intended marriages. However it did cause some problems when heirs failed or the family needed to raise money for improvements, mining, paying debts etc. (see section on private acts of parliament for sale of such land); and made it difficult for wealthy middle class folk to buy into the landed gentry, thus increasing stratification of classes. A notable paper on strict settlements and succession in landed families was given by Barbara English (1994).

Entailed land could be leased but such leases would become void on the death of a landlord who was tenant in tail, but in 1833 any tenant in tail could break the entail by a deed enrolled in the Court of Chancery. English and Saville have a book (Strict Settlements: A Guide for Historians. Occasional Papers in Economic and Social History #10. University of Hull Press) devoted to strict settlements.

Inquisitions Post Mortem (IPMs)[edit | edit source]

An enquiry into the possessions, services and rightful heir of a deceased person who held land directly from the crown i.e. tenants-in-chief. It was literally an enquiry after a death and nothing to do with medical post mortems. All English land belonged to the king and when a tenant-in-chief died the land actually reverted (escheated) to the crown and an IPM made to see if the king’s rights were affected by the death. The heir is identified and his or her age given since males under 21, and females under 14, would be treated as wards until they came of age, the king taking all profits from the estate until the heir came of age. He also had the right of disposal of an heiress in marriage, and could sell these rights to the highest bidder.

IPMs date from 1236 until just after the Restoration and were carried out locally by the county’s Chancery official called an escheator and a jury to assess what income and rights were due to the crown. First a writ de diem clausit extremum was sent to the county escheators requiring them to summon a jury to determine the facts. The result of the enquiry is the inquisition post mortem and gives:

  • Details of lands held by the deceased including value and tenure; they are not all for large landowners as escheats and forfeitures made many petty landowners tenants-in-chief (Steel).
  • Deceased’s date of death.
  • Name and age of his heir, which would be accurate if under age but may not be for majors, see the interesting example given by Norman Hidden (Legal Age in Inquisitions Post Mortem. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 22 #6, page 214-216.).

IPMs are in Latin in a standard layout and all have been indexed and many translated. There are Calendars of Inquisitions Post Mortem, originals and translated abstracts published in English held at TNA and on film. In addition many county record societies have also published translations for their counties. TNA research guide L10 has details of material held there, and Unett evaluates an example IPM. M. L. Bierbrier (New Developments in Mediaeval Genealogy: Mediaeval Paper Trail. Genealogists’ Magazine. Vol 27 #10, page 466-467.) notes the quickening pace of the publication of English summaries of the IPMs, the latest brings the series up to 1422; genealogists await the 15th century ones with much interest. Some examples of translated abstracts from the FamilySearch Catalog are given below.

Chart: Inquisitions Post Mortem Abstracts

Inquisitions Post Mortem for the Isle of Wight'
FHL film 1470908.

No.138 Geoffrey de Insula

Writ I Nov 21 Edw I [1 Nov 1293]
Baldwin his son, aged 23 at the feast of St. John the Baptist last, is his next heir.
Inquisition Southampton 25 Nov 22 Edw I [25 Nov 1293]
Gatecumbe. The manor (extent given) held of Lady Isabel de Fortibus, countess of Albemarle, for 1½ knight’s fee, doing suit at the castle of Caresbrok every three weeks.
Kyngeswell. A messuage, 22 acres land, 2 acres pasture and 1 acre wood, held of William le Prouce, rendering 5s yearly; and 4 acres land held of Roger de Chillingwode, rendering 12d yearly; of all which he was enfeoffed jointly with Iseult de Alba Marla his wife for their lives with remainder to his heirs.
Merston. A sixth part of a knight’s fee pertaining to the manor of Gatecumbe, comprising a capital messuage, 70 acres land, pasture and 40s rent, whereof the said Geoffrey and Iseult and Baldwin their son were jointly enfeoffed, viz to the said Geoffrey and his heirs, and to Iseult for life.

Inquisitions Post Mortem 1300-1600 [for Devon] on six films starting at FHL film 1470908 including some Miscellaneous Inquisitions as follows:

No.270(71) John DEGHERE 22 Richard II (1398)

John Deghere of Ayssheberton, outlaw.
m1. Writ dated at Westminster 5 Dec 22 Ric II (1398)
m2. Another writ on the petition for William Somerhill dated at Westminster 10 Dec 22 Ric II (1398)
m3. Devon
Inquisition taken at Ayssheberton 20 Mar 22 Ric II (1398/9) before John Coplestone escheator; by the oath of John Eliot, William Halghewill, Robert Corbet, John Ferrour sen, John Toukere, John Ferrour jun, John Stroote, John Loomb, William Stroot, John Yweyn, Richard Vitry and John Benet jun who say that John Deghere of Ayssheberton was outlawed at the suit of Henry Tyt in a plea of debt. He was seized of a messuage in Ayssheberton, held of Edmund, bishop of Exeter, by fealty and 4d rent; worth by the year clear, 6s. The escheator seized that messuage by reason of the outlawry; and afterwards the said John Deghere granted the same to John Wogwyll, who granted it to William Somerhyll by name of William Bygport, who thus became seized thereof.
John Deghere died Friday before Christmas 18 Ric II (Friday 18 Dec 1394).
Robert, son and heir aged 22.

No.57(105) John DEAN 27 Henry VIII (1535)

m1. Commission directed to John Fulford, knight, John Wyse esq and John Whiddon gent concerning idiocy of John Dean (1). Dated at Westminster 9 Jul 27 Hen VIII (1535)
m2. Devon Delivered into court 16 Oct by Oliver Louyband
Inquisition taken at Exeter 5 Oct 27 Hen VIII (1535), before John Fulford and John Whyddon, by the oath of John Bobage, Edward Furse, John Newcomb, William Noseworthy, William Hore, William Knapman, John Loskey, John Peryman, John Rowe of Berydon, John Whyte, John Furlong, John Pounsford, John Kelond, Augustine Dyer and Richard Selake; who say that John Dean is not an idiot nor has he been so at any time, but is sufficiently discreet to rule his lands.

[References to 54(115) and 59(94)]

CHART: Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem and Other Analogous Documents [dealing with heredity, descent of land, assignments of dower, proof of age, lands of lunatics etc. for England] Henry VII 1-24 in FHL film 0917525

No. 972 John WHITYNGTON clerk

Writ 20 May, 18 Henry VII; Inquisition 14 Mar, 19 Henry VII [1504]

He was seized of the under-mentioned manor etc in fee. He died 16 Feb last. Maud Whityngton aged 8 and more, and Isabel Whityngton, aged 2 and more, are his cousins and heirs, viz daughters of Richard Whityngtin, his brother.
WORCESTER. Manor of Staunton, worth 19l [£19], held of the viscount Lisle, lord of Payneswick, co. Gloucester, service unknown.
Two messuages in Staunton worth 20s, held of the abbot of St. Peter’s, Westminster, be fealty and 20s rent yearly, for all service.'


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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