Ballard Genealogy and Heraldry

Inquisition Post Mortem

These IPM's are from the Public Record Office collection in London either from Class C142 or WARD7.

1. Introduction

An inquisition post mortem is not the same as a coroner's inquest, or the medical post mortem carried out after a suspicious death. Instead, it is a local enquiry into the lands held by people of some status, in order to discover whatever income and rights were due to the Crown. Such inquisitions were only held when people were thought or known to have held lands of the crown.

In feudal theory all land belonged to the King and was therefore either held by him, i.e. royal demesne, or of him, whether directly or indirectly. Those who held land directly from the king were known as tenants in chief. When a tenant in chief died, his lands escheated to (fell into the hands of) his lord, the king. If there was no heir, the lands went back to the king's demesne. If there was an heir, the king kept the lands until the heir took possession (livery of seisin) of the lands on payment of a sum of money known as a relief. When the heir was under age, however, the king kept possession until the heir came of age, and received the rights of wardship and marriage (i.e. he collected the revenues of the estate, and could dispose of the heir in marriage). The king was able to sell these rights to third parties, who were only sometimes the next of kin. These feudal tenures and rights were abolished in the Interregnum, and again by Charles II.

2. What Information do they Contain?

They give details of what lands were held (a separate one was held for each county involved), and by what tenure, and from whom, as well as the date of death, and the name and age of the heir. They are in Latin, in a standard layout.

Each inquisition starts with the county, the name of the escheator (the official holding the inquest), and a list of the jurors. The name of the deceased and the date of their death comes next. Then follows a brief description of each landholding, its value (often underestimated) and the tenure by which it is held. This section may include extracts (in English) from a will or an enfeoffment to use (putting the lands into the hands of trustees, in order to avoid the king's claims to livery and wardship, etc, and also to allow lands to be left to people other than the heir at law). At the end, the next heir is identified, and an age given. If the heir was of age (over 21, or over 14 for an heiress), the actual age given may be an estimate. The next heir is usually one male, or one female, or a number of females: lands were split between daughters (who were treated as having an equal claim if there was no male heir), but not between sons. Sometimes a proof of age was recorded in a separate type of inquisition (de aetate probanda). Widows also had rights of dower in the lands, which continued long after the deaths of their husbands, and there are inquisitions (de assignatione dotis) into this as well. These inquisitions are included with the inquisitions post mortem.


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