What was the Court of Chancery
The court of Chancery developed from the medieval practice of petitioning the King to resolve disputes.
At times before statute law, that is the law as determined by Acts of Parliament, was fully functional, one recourse to justice to was to petition the King. If one man felt he had suffered an injustice from another or when two men could not come to agreement, then petitioning the King to provide an equitable solution was a sensible way to resolve the problem
Many of the disputes dealt with by the Court of Chancery related to such matters as land and property ownership, marriage settlements, inheritance and wills, trusts, debts, apprenticeships, etc. The records of the disputes are of course a valuable resource for the family historian, especially as often disputes were between several members of the same family.
Searching Chancery records is not always easy since records were filed not by suit but by the type of record.
The Origins Network has recently (July 2006) made the Chancery records from the reign of Charles 1 available online providing easy access to those researching family history and genealogy from this period.
It is worth bearing in mind though, that these proceedings will mainly relate to the landed classes, rather than more humble folk.
Chancery Records during the reign of Charles 1
By the time of Charles 1, Chancery proceedings had become well structured and started with the plaintiff setting out a Bill Complaint. This would have been drawn up by a lawyer, was always extremely lengthy and written in very formal language.
The title of the suit is of the form Jones vs Smith, although this can be misleading since there may be many plaintiffs and many defendants. Also the title of the suit could change if plaintiffs or defendants died or married.
The Bill of Complaint gives the plaintiff’s name, his title or occupation, his residence, the names of the offending parties (ie the Defendants), and seeks the Court’s authority to require the Defendants to provide written answers to a series of specific questions. These questions comprise the substance of the complaint.
The next document to appear would be the Answer or Answers to the Bill of Complaint.
The Plaintiff then had the option to submit answer the Answers, this was the Replication.
Further Answers followed the Replication.
The Defendant could enter a Demurrer to the Bill of Complaint claiming the case was defective and required no Answer.
There were a total of 82,000 cases tried in the Court of Chancery during Charles’ reign (1625-1649). Origins provides a search facility based on either the plaintiff’s or defendants name. You then have the option to purchase an abstract of the source documents. How much useful information a particular case will provide varies greatly form almost nothing at all to a vast wealth.
The abstract provides information on
* The condition and size of the document(s)
* The types of document within the resource (Bill of Compliant, Answer etc)
* Names, places and dates (if any) mentioned in the document
* Opinion as to whether a longer abstract, a transcript or copy is likely to be worthwhile and a cost for doing this
Court of Chancery – Further information
[schema type=”person” name=”Kat Lane” orgname=”Moonfleetonline” description=”Writer on family history” country=”GB” ]