The Exchequer archive of Inquisitions Post Mortem

Many IPMs survive in multiple copies: one in the Chancery series of inquisitions, and one, sometimes more, in the Exchequer series. The early history of the Exchequer archive is currently obscure, but by the late fourteenth century its workings are reasonably clear. A copy of the Chancery IPM was provided to the Exchequer and was used to check the accuracy of the escheator's account. After audit the account and any related inquisitions and writs were filed together. (Sometimes the inquisitions and writs were physically attached to the account.) Those included not only IPMs but inquisitions, often ex officio, concerning other aspects of the escheators' responsibilities such as the alienation of lands without royal licence.

The later history of this archive is, again, unclear but it seems to have undergone considerable disruption in the post-medieval period. In the nineteenth century it was reconstructed by Joseph Hunter and his colleagues at the Public Record Office (as it was then known). Then in the early twentieth century the documents dating from before 1485 were reorganized. (Those dating from after 1485, now E 150, appear to retain their original arrangement.) Copies of IPMs and some related writs were placed in two separate series: Exchequer Inquisitions Post Mortem (E  149) and Exchequer Enrolments of Inquisitions (E 152). The remaining inquisitions and writs were classed as Escheators' Files (E 153). The distinction between E 149 and E 152 seems principally to have been the size of the documents: small sheets of parchment, usually containing only a single inquisition, are found in E 149, while E 152 contains larger sheets and rolls, often containing several inquisitions.  (Because they are original rolls, these often contain ‘miscellaneous' escheators' inquisitions as well as copies of IPMs.) Both series were also supplemented by material from other Exchequer archives.

The complex history of the archive makes it difficult to be certain how complete it is now and whether it was originally intended to be comprehensive. It seems likely, though, that at least by the fifteenth century each Chancery inquisition was expected to have an Exchequer duplicate inquisition, and that the majority did so. In many instances Chancery and Exchequer copies are in the same, distinctive hand and it is clear that both were prepared by the escheator or his staff. In other cases the copy is likely to have been prepared by Chancery clerks. The present archive, however, is sadly incomplete: a good deal of material has either been lost or still lies hidden in unsorted material at the National Archives. At a very rough estimate Exchequer copies survive for about half of the Chancery IPMs.

The Exchequer copies have a simple, practical value to the researcher: they are sometimes better preserved than their Chancery equivalents and their contents more readily decipherable. Furthermore, they frequently contain marginal notes and arithmetic which illuminate how the escheators' accounts were audited. The Exchequer copies also shed significant light on how the IPMs were actually put together. This is because escheators sometimes provided the Exchequer not with a newly-written fair copy of an IPM, but with an earlier draft. Often this was corrected where necessary to agree with the Chancery inquisition, but the corrections still allow earlier readings to be traced. In very many cases these are stylistic, often removing ambiguity, but sometimes they are more substantive. Holdings may be specified in more detail (providing acreages of a piece of pasture, for example) or the terms of rent-payment may be given. Corrections may also reveal alternative information regarding, for example, the value and tenure of lands, or the age of an heir. Presumably this alternative information was discovered to be defective, insufficient, or injurious to the party whose interests the IPM reflected. On other occasions the Chancery and Exchequer inquisitions do not agree in some details, which seems to have caused surprisingly few difficulties. The printed calendars aim to give details of all material differences between the Chancery and Exchequer copies, but they do not routinely note instances where alternative readings have been corrected in the Exchequer text. The documents themselves will therefore continue to be a significant source for researchers interested in the IPM process and in the background to particular IPMs.

CIPM xviii.416, the Yorkshire IPM of Sir Philip le Despenser, taken in 1401, provides a particularly interesting example of the corrections that could be made to a draft copy that was later submitted to the Exchequer. The Chancery inquisition detailed only the value of the manor of Parlington (near Leeds), at £12. The draft had included a detailed extent of the manor, although rather than valuing each item, only the overall value of £12 had been specified.

In the manor there is a site, worth nothing yearly; 280 a. demesne land; 24 bovates of land; 10 a. and .... [illegible] roods of meadow; 18 a. pasture; a place (una placia) with a stank, in which a water-mill was built but is now empty; 23s. 1d. assize rent; rent of ?1 lb. pepper and 1 lb. cumin; 36 autumn works and 36 works of lifting and stacking hay (opera levacionis & tassacionis prati); and a court, every three weeks, with a tourn twice a year; annual value £12.

In the absence of individual values it was evidently felt that the extent was superfluous, and it was therefore deleted, with only the summary value remaining to be incorporated in the Chancery copy.

Detail of the deleted extent in E 149/75/8 m. 2. Image reproduced courtesy of the National Archives.

But the extent is, of course, of considerable interest to historians today. Since Parlington, like many manors, does not have surviving estate documents, extents such as these (even without valuations of individual items) are a vital source. (We will look at how they can be used and interpreted in future features.)

A significant part of our project's enhancement of the calendared IPMs for Henry IV and Henry V involves re-examination of the Exchequer texts. We are providing separate classmarks for each inquisition, making the Exchequer copies much easier to locate and consult. Wrongly identified Exchequer inquisitions are being newly calendared. We hope, in the process, to clear up many uncertainties about the Exchequer archive and to produce an authoritative account of its nature and history. It is an exercise in archival detective work that promises significant insights into how the IPMs were created and used.