English Medieval Legal Documents ›
4.0 - Administrative Law (Records of State)

The medieval monarchs kept remarkably complete administrative records, not only of royal proclamations and charters granted to their subjects, but also of the daily transactions of each of their administrations. "The earliest surviving chancery enrollments of royal charters, letters close, and letters patent date from the reign of King John. These rolls are particularly useful in casting light on possible reasons for the king's special interest in an action that otherwise appears quite ordinary." (45) The pipe rolls, the record of the exchequer, record fines paid to the king, while the close rolls and patent rolls record instructions sent by the king to the justices concerning actions coming before them. An extensive list of published administrative law sources can be found in Maxwell.(46)

The main source of these documents is the PRO, now the National Archives. In 1800 the Record Commission of Great Britain was established and between 1802-69 issued 56 publications concerning the records of England, Wales and Scotland. These included ancient laws, calendars, documents, fine and oblate rolls, parliamentary writs, pipe rolls, records of parliament and statutes of the realm.(47) A list of the publications of the Record Commission as well as those of the PRO are listed in Mullins.(48) In more recent times, the PRO has switched to publishing calendars of records, rather than full texts, and the records of both the chancery and the exchequer are being systematically calendared. "The various series include Chancery Records such as the charter rolls, patent rolls, close rolls and liberate rolls, treaty rolls, inquisitions post mortem and chancery warrants, Exchequer Records such as the memoranda rolls, judicial records such as the Curia Regis rolls and ancient deeds (particularly conveyances of land) state papers, domestic and foreign." (49)

State documents also appear in a series of chronicles of Great Britain, commonly referred to as the Rolls Series, which was published under the official title of Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores. It consists of 99 numbered publications in 251 volumes, issued between 1858 and 1911. It was intended to cover the whole spectrum of medieval historical documents, and it includes legal documents, such as calendars of the close and patent rolls, cartularies, charters and year books, as well as parliamentary records. For a complete annotated list of titles issued in the series, see Mullins.(50)

The work of editing and publishing source material has also been undertaken by learned societies, such as the English Historical Society, (now defunct), the Camden Society,which merged in 1896 with the Royal Historical Society, and the Pipe Roll Society, as well as local historical societies for county records. No attempt has been made in this guide to cover all these publications. For complete listings of early learned society publications, both national and local, see Mullins.(51) For updated lists, follow the embedded links in this guide to the home pages of the various societies. Only the main sources are listed in this guide.

 


45. Turner, Ralph V. The King and His Courts; the Role of John and Henry III in the Administration of Justice, 199-1240.Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1968 at p.7
46. Maxwell, William Harold, and Leslie F. Maxwell , comps. A Legal Bibliography of the British Commonwealth of Nations. 8 Vols. 2nd ed. London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1955- at pp.75-97
47. Breem, "Historical Sources" in Moys, Elizabeth M. Manual of Law Librarianship: the Use and Organization of Legal Literature, 2nd ed. Boston: G.K.Hall, 1987 at p.253
48. Mullins, Edward L. C. Texts and Calendars : an Analytical Guide to Serial Publications. 2 Vols. Royal Historical Society, 7, 12. London: Royal Historical Society, 1958-1983. vol. 1, at pp.3-36
49. Breem, "Historical Sources" in Moys, Elizabeth M. Manual of Law Librarianship: the Use and Organization of Legal Literature, 2nd ed. Boston: G.K.Hall, 1987 at p.255
50. Mullins, Edward L. C. Texts and Calendars : an Analytical Guide to Serial Publications. 2 Vols. Royal Historical Society, 7, 12. London: Royal Historical Society, 1958-1983. vol. 1, at pp.42-60
51. Mullins, Edward L. C. Texts and Calendars : an Analytical Guide to Serial Publications. 2 Vols. Royal Historical Society, 7, 12. London: Royal Historical Society, 1958-1983.

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