How to look for records of... Equity proceedings in the Court of Exchequer
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
By the mid-sixteenth century, the Exchequer was developing an equity jurisdiction, which ran alongside the ancient common law Exchequer of Pleas. The records of the equity side of the Court of Exchequer contain much that is of value to family, local, economic, and social historians. Its business included disputes over titles of land, manorial rights, tithes, mineral rights, ex-monastic land, debts, wills and so on. In 1841, the Exchequer lost its equity side, and its outstanding business was transferred to the court of Chancery.
Many people will access the Exchequer equity records in the first place by discovering an interesting description with the reference starting E 134, in the course of a keyword search in Discovery, our catalogue. On looking at the document, they will find that they are in the middle of a case. This is because the depositions in E 134 were the only Exchequer equity records to be listed in some detail in the 19th century, giving plaintiffs, defendants and subjects in dispute. Most of these descriptions have been incorporated into our catalogue.
Using E 134 for an initial search can be an easy way into exploring the records: but be warned – E 134 only includes depositions taken in the country. Our catalogue contains detailed descriptions for cases before 1773 only, and does not include the names of the deponents. If depositions were taken in London only, or if the case did not involve depositions, you will have to try tracing the case from other series of records. These have not been listed at anything like the same level of detail, and need to be accessed by contemporary ‘indexes’ available only at The National Archives. There is no union index of names. Few of the contemporary indexes are in strict alphabetical order.
2. Working through a case
Documents relating to cases heard in the Exchequer fall into many different categories, each filed separately. Almost all are in English. Each series has a detailed series description, or Series Description, given in brief in our catalogue, and available in fuller form in the paper catalogue at The National Archives.
If you know that an equity dispute was heard in the Exchequer, try a keyword search (using variant spellings) in E 134. If nothing turns up this way (or if something does and you want to find out more!), then look at the pleadings (see E 112 below) and proceed logically through the case as indicated in 1 (b), below. The most important documents are the pleadings, the depositions, and the decree, if any.
For named people – a speculative search is difficult. The Bill Books, which are the original filing registers for the pleadings in E 112, are subdivided by county and are not arranged alphabetically, although the full names of the plaintiffs and defendants are given. Many defendants are recorded in the appearance books (E 107): these are arranged chronologically, but are not indexed. However, the Bernau index (at the Society of Genealogists) indexes deponents and defendants in Exchequer Depositions (E 134) but may not be complete. A list of deponents 1559-1695 is available at The National Archives and at the Society of Genealogists, but is not indexed.
For places/subjects – try a keyword search restricted to E 134. You may also wish to look through the paper versions at The National Archives, which are arranged in two sequences, by county and by date. Read through the Bill Books for the county at The National Archives, to find pleadings which did not produce depositions in E 134.
Some commissions in the series of Special Commissions (E 178), which are arranged by county in a chronological sequence, also relate to equity disputes. The list is descriptive, and searchable online. To find the title of the suit (if any) you will have to read the commission itself (in Latin until 1733) or look for an endorsement or other annotation on the return. The exhibits (E 140) and exhibits in Clerks’ Papers (E 219), although less well listed than the several Chancery series, may also be worth checking.
3. The records
The records of cases fall into three categories: pleadings, evidence, and court decisions and opinions.
Pleadings were statements made by the parties to a suit; these bills, answers, replications and rejoinders are collectively known, for short, as bills and answers.
Evidence took the form of: affidavits (statements on oath); depositions (examinations of witnesses on lists of questions filed in advance by the parties); surveys (enquiries conducted by commissioners acting on instructions from the Exchequer); and exhibits.
Court decisions are recorded in several overlapping series of decree and order books, and in reports by the officers of the court.
Pleadings and bill books
A bill of complaint submitted by the plaintiff initiated a suit, by setting out the case against the defendant (E 111, E 112 below). Conventionally it included a statement that the parties were ‘Debtors and accountants to His/Her Majesty’. This was to imply that if the wrong was not righted the revenues of the crown would be affected, either directly, or indirectly, because the plaintiff would then be less able to pay his own debts or dues to the crown. There is a possibility that fairly lowly tenants of crown manors were likely to use this court, but in many cases the status as a crown debtor was fictional.
The bills and answers usually give much circumstantial detail. In addition to the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ names, the pleadings give their occupation, rank, and address. When brought by the Attorney General the bill was known as an ‘Information’.
The defendant replied to the bill with his answer; the plaintiff might respond with a replication, and the defendant with a rejoinder, and so on. A purely legal objection given by way of reply was called a demurrer. Because both bills and answers are ex parte, each party setting out his case at length, and in the most favourable light, they may include a wealth of background detail. However they may not necessarily be true or accurate representations of the facts.
Bills, answers and so on in each suit were strung together in a single file, and given a reference number, which is entered on the top left hand corner of the bill. The bills and answers are in two record series:
|(a)||E 111||Exchequer, Bills and Answers, Early (Henry VII-Elizabeth I)
Most of these are not Exchequer documents but strays from the records of other courts, such as the Court of Requests. The list is descriptive and easily searchable online.
|(b)||E 112||Exchequer, K R, Bills and Answers (Elizabeth I-Victoria)
These are arranged by reign, subdivided by county. They are not searchable online. To find individual pleadings, you must, at The National Archives:
order up the Bill Books described below
get a suit number and county
key this up in the E 112 list to find the modern number of the portfolio
use the suit number to find the right papers in the portfolio
3.1.1 Bill books (Elizabeth I-Victoria)
These are the original, and still the best, means of access to the bills. They still serve as the main ‘index’. The bills were entered by the Exchequer clerks under different sections for each county. They are indexed by plaintiff, and give the full names of the parties. Before 1700, and sometimes after, they give the subject. Entries up to 1733 are usually in Latin. Some of the very early ones are faded, and need to be seen under ultra violet light. Bedford, Buckingham, Cambridge, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumberland, Devon, Essex, Hampshire, Hereford, Hertford, Huntingdon, Kent, Lancashire, Lincoln, Middlesex and all Welsh counties
|Monarch||Date range||Catalogue reference|
|Elizabeth I||1558-1603||IND 1/16820|
|James I||1603-1625||IND 1/16822|
|Charles I||1625-1649||IND 1/16824|
|Charles II||1660-1674||IND 1/16828|
|James II||1685-1688||IND 1/16832|
|William and Mary||1688-1694||IND 1/16834|
|William III||1694-1702||IND 1/16836|
|George I||1714-1727||IND 1/16838|
|George II||1727-1760||IND 1/16840|
|George III||1760-1801||IND 1/16842|
|George IV||1820-1830||IND 1/16848|
|William IV||1830-1837||IND 1/16850|
Berkshire, Derby, Dorset, Durham, Leicester, Monmouth, Norfolk, Northampton, Northumberland, Nottingham, Oxford, Rutland, Shropshire, Somerset, Stafford, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Warwick, Westmorland, Wiltshire, Worcester, York
|Monarch||Date range||Catalogue reference|
|Elizabeth I||1558-1603||IND 1/16821|
|James I||1603-1625||IND 1/16823|
|Charles I||1625-1649||IND 1/16825|
|Charles II||1660-1674||IND 1/16829|
|James II||1685-1688||IND 1/16833|
|William and Mary||1688-1694||IND 1/16835|
|William III||1694-1702||IND 1/16837|
|George I||1714-1727||IND 1/16839|
|George II||1727-1760||IND 1/16841|
|George III||1760-1801||IND 1/16843|
|George IV||1820-1830||IND 1/16849|
|William IV||1830-1837||IND 1/16851|
3.1.2 Other means of reference
|Elizabeth I, cos. Bedford – Kent: MS Calendar|
|Elizabeth I-Victoria: Miscellaneous Bundles. MS Index of both plaintiffs and defendants|
|(c)||E 193||Replications and Rejoinders (Elizabeth I-Victoria). Prior to about 1700 the replications and rejoinders in this series appear to be strays from the series of Bills and Answers (E 112). Those dated before 1660 are mostly substantive, adding details on the alleged facts of the case. After that date, they are formulaic, although a few exceptions and demurrers have also been preserved here. By the eighteenth century (and frequently before then) the filing of replications and rejoinders was a mere formality, and they now form a separate series (E 193). Such documents merely state that the preceding bill/answer was true in all respects, and the opposing claims untrue. They use a standard form of words, and add nothing material to our knowledge of the case. They are listed by date; there is a partial index in OBS 1/752, which has to be searched with the modern series list. It relates only to suits post 1700, and omits many cases.|
|(d)||The appearance in court of the defendant, whether in person or, as was usual, by his attorney, was noted in the appearance books (E 107). Prior to 1815 the books record the names of defendants both in cases on the Memoranda Rolls (E 159) ‘Per Rec'; and in equity disputes ‘Per Bill Anglican’ or, where the Attorney-General was the plaintiff, ‘Per Informac’. The early books sometimes enter subsequent proceedings under the first entry. Since the defendant’s name is given first, the order of the parties should be reversed to obtain the title of the suit, if this is not already known. The principal means of securing the appearance of the defendant in court was the writ known as the sub poena; only one sub poena book has survived, giving the names of the parties (E 222/1). Sub poenas which failed to secure the desired effect may be found with an accompanying affidavit among the affidavits (E 207, E 103, E 218: see 3.2(b) below).|
|E 107||Appearance Books (Elizabeth I-Victoria). Not indexed|
|E 222||Sub Poena Book (c1667-1670). Not indexed|
(a) Depositions When the pleadings were finished, and no more counter-replies remained to be filed, the court commissioned certain persons to examine witnesses. Both sides drew up a list of simple questions, called interrogatories, to be put to the witnesses. Each question was given a number, and was subject to vetting by the court (see E 194-195, below 3.3(b)). The answers to these questions, called depositions, provide information about the case, and often about the parties involved in the dispute, which may not be included in the pleadings. The answers can be understood fully only by reference to the numbered questions of the interrogatories; and separate sets of depositions were taken to answer each party’s interrogatories. The deponent’s name, address, age and occupation are set out at the head of his deposition. The depositions fall into two groups: depositions taken before the barons of the Exchequer at Westminster, and depositions taken in the country by commissioners appointed by the court. In a few cases, especially those in which the crown had an interest, the court appointed commissioners to conduct an inquiry into the facts of the case such as, for example, the boundaries of a manor. The parties might themselves request such a survey after filing an affidavit (E 103, for which see 3.2(b) below). The records are arranged in the following series:
|E 133||Depositions before the Barons (Elizabeth I-Victoria). These are listed, without indication of date or subject matter, in three groups. The first is listed alphabetically by plaintiff, excluding crown cases; the second is crown cases listed alphabetically by defendant; and the third is a list of cases in which the plaintiff is not known, plus miscellanea, such as a bundle of evidence concerning defective titles (Charles I). Easily searchable online for plaitiff or defendant.|
|Other means of reference: Elizabeth I (E 133): MS calendar, giving date, parties, and subject matter.|
|E 134||Depositions taken by Commission. These are listed in some detail in calendars which give the names of the parties, the date, and a brief description of the nature of the dispute. Easily searchable online to Easter Term 1773 (13 George III).|
|(i)||Elizabeth I-George II. Listed both in a chronological series (Report of the Deputy Keeper of Public Records, volumes xxxviii-xlii) and a topographical sequence by county, in which cases are then entered in chronological order. Note that a number of depositions listed in the chronological series were subsequently transferred to E 178 but such transfers are recorded only in the topographical listing.|
|(ii)||George III – Victoria. Chronological listing. The counties are noted in the left hand margin of the calendars. No descriptions in our catalogue.|
|(iii)||Undated and miscellaneous (Elizabeth I-Victoria). Calendared in numerical order. An index of both persons and places refers to this calendar. Some 269 out of 2632 miscellaneous depositions have descriptions in our catalogue.|
|(iv)||Supplementary, all pieces in this subseries have our catalogue descriptions (Elizabeth I-Victoria). Typescript list. No index.|
Other means of reference: the Bernau Index at the Society of Genealogists includes many deponents and defendants, although the coverage may not be complete. Deponents are listed in a county arrangement 1559-1695 in a typescript list, of which copies are in The National Archives and at the Society of Genealogists. The National Archives’ copy is not indexed, but the Bernau Index includes references to this list.
In cases of misunderstanding or malpractice, deponents might swear an affidavit in the Exchequer, sometimes giving additional details about themselves as well as about the case (E 103). Such affidavits were made only in a minority of cases.
|E 178||Special Commissions (Elizabeth I-Victoria). Commissions of enquiry in both equity and revenue causes. A few include maps, which are, in general, noted in Maps and plans in the Public Record Office, 1. British Isles (HMSO, 1962) and have been given map references. Descriptive list in Public Record Office lists and indexes, xxxvii, where commissions are listed by county, in date order. Searchable online.|
|E 221||Commission Books (Elizabeth I – Victoria). These refer to both E 134 and E 178, and record the return of executed commissions into the Exchequer.|
|E 165/43-45||Exchequer K R, Miscellaneous Books (1578-1584; 1624-1630; 1725-1745). These are Commission Books recording the issue of commissions, writs and so on, in both revenue and equity proceedings. Therefore they therefore include commissions to take the answers of defendants, or the depositions of witnesses, although the majority of entries relate to proceedings on the Memoranda Rolls (E 159) rather than equity disputes between party and party. E 165/45 includes the names of the commissioners, identifying those appointed at the suggestion of the plaintiff and defendant respectively.|
|E 204||Entry Books of Writs (1725-1842). These continue from E 165/43-45. The detail entered decreases significantly in the later volumes. Not indexed.|
(b) Affidavits These are sworn statements made before the court or, in the country, before commissioners of oaths. Most are procedural, and many relate to the service of process, especially of the sub poena intended to secure the appearance in court of the defendant. They are usually in common form, but some add considerable circumstantial detail; others enlarge on the status of individual deponents, on the evidence, or the circumstances of the case. Affidavits in equity causes and in revenue cases enrolled on the Memoranda Rolls (E 159) are filed in the same bundles. There are three series:
|E 207||Bille (to 1774). The files contain much other procedural matter. Date list, no index.|
|E 103||Affidavits (1774-1841). Date list only: the later indexes relate solely to revenue proceedings.|
|E 218||Exchequer Office, Affidavits (1695-1822). Date list only, no index.|
(c) Exhibits Documents produced in court as supporting evidence, but not subsequently reclaimed by the parties. With the transfer of outstanding business to the Chancery in 1841 one of the Exchequer clerks became a Chancery Master. Exhibits in Exchequer cases are found in the following series:
|E 140||Exhibits. Listed alphabetically by parties where known, but without indication of date or subject matter. Some exhibits are described in more detail in OBS 1/752: this list has to be searched with the modern series list.|
|E 219||Exchequer Office, Clerks’ Papers (17th-19th century). Includes exhibits. Descriptive list; card index of plaintiffs where known.|
|C 106||Chancery, Masters’ Exhibits, Master Richards. Most are exhibits in Chancery actions, but the series includes Exchequer cases also (although the list does not identify them as such). Descriptive List.|
|C 121||Chancery, Masters’ Documents, Master Richards. Most relate to Chancery actions, but the series includes Exchequer cases also. See C 106, above.|
(d) Clerks’ papers Much of the procedural work in Exchequer equity cases was done by the clerks of the King’s Remembrancer’s Office. This part of their duties was similar to that of the Chancery Masters. The clerks’ papers include correspondence, office copies, exhibits, briefs, drafts produced for each stage of the suit, and bills of costs, as well as papers relating to the working of the Exchequer Office itself.
|E 219||Exchequer Office, Clerks’ Papers. (17th-19th century). Descriptive list. Card index of plaintiffs, where known. The list has a good introduction, which should be consulted before using the list.|
Court decisions and other formal records
(a) Decrees and Orders At each stage of an equity dispute an order of the court was required to effect the next stage of the proceedings. Orders appointed days for hearing, authorised the issue of commissions and the like, and, on occasion, made interim settlements. Most orders ran ‘of course’ and were little more than formalities; a few add substantially to our knowledge of the case. The first notice of an order was a brief entry in the Minute Books (E 161); orders were then written out in full (Original Orders, E 128, E 131) and registered (E 123-125, E 127). The final judgement was called a decree. Many cases were either withdrawn or settled out of court before they reached this stage, so that no conclusion would be reached by the court. The first notice of a decree was an entry in the Exchequer Chamber Minute Books (E 162). These, with the clerks’ papers, (E 219) are the only records which give any indication as to what actually happened in court, as distinct from the decisions of the court. Like the orders, decrees were first written out in full (E 128, E 130) and then registered (E 123-124, E 126). Some drafts and copies of both decrees and orders are in the clerks’ papers (E 219). A full description of the interrelationship of the several series is given in the introduction to the E 123 series list. The series overlap, and entries relating to any one case may be found in more than one record series.
|E 111/56||Entry Book of Decrees and Orders (Philip and Mary). Not indexed.|
|E 123||Entry Books of Decrees and Orders, Series I (Elizabeth I-3 James I). Decrees and Orders.|
|Indexes:||Descriptive list, MS, in order of entry, Elizabeth I-James I. List of parties, MS, in order of entry, James I. IND 1/16897 indexes E 123/1A-E 123/1B.|
3.3.1 Other means of reference
Adam Martin, Index to Repertories, Books of Orders, and Decrees, and other records in the Court of Exchequer (London, 1819). Place name index. The references have to be keyed to modern series lists: Wood’s index (IND 1/17050). A descriptive list arranged in county order.
|E 124||Entry Books of Decrees and Orders, Series II (1 James I-1 Charles I). Decrees and Orders to Michaelmas 1604, then Orders only.|
|Indexes:||List of parties, MS Descriptive list, MS, to 1610 only.|
|E 125||Entry Books of Decrees and Orders, Series III (1 Charles I-13 Charles II). Orders only.|
|Indexes:||List of parties, MS, to 1649 only. Indexes (incomplete) in IND 1/16854-16850: see Catalogue of indexes (List and Index Society Volume 232).|
|E 126||Entry Books of Decrees and Orders, Series IV (2 James I-Victoria). Decrees only. See also E 159, below.|
|Indexes:||Calendars, MS, giving parties and subject (James I-5 William and Mary). Indexes of parties 1677-1841, IND 1/16862-16866: see Catalogue of Indexes.|
|E 127||Entry Books of Decrees and Orders, Series V (13 Charles II-1841). Orders only|
|Indexes:||Parties only, IND 1/16866-16891. The series is incomplete. Some index the original orders (E 131) rather than the registers, but can be used with minor adjustments as indexes to the registers.|
|E 128||Decrees and Orders, Original (Elizabeth I-1663)|
|E 130||Decrees, Original (1663-1841)|
|E 131||Orders, Original (1663-1842)|
Some decrees, particularly those in which the crown had an interest, might be enrolled elsewhere, in addition to the entry book copy.
|E 159||King’s Remembrancer, Memoranda Rolls Occasional enrolment throughout. Important for 1673-1674: see introduction to list of E 123.|
|Indexes:||Agenda Books, IND 1/17051-17979(2); IND 1/6724-6727|
Decrees relating to crown lands might also be recorded for the Auditors of Land Revenue.
|LR 1||Enrolment Books of Grants, Leases, Warrants, and so on|
|Indexes||See series list and Catalogue of Indexes|
|LR 2||Miscellaneous Books Not indexed.|
The first notification of an order or a decree was an entry in the Minute Books.
|E 161||Common Minute Books (1616-1841) Brief notes of orders. Not indexed.|
|E 162||Exchequer Chamber Minute Books (1584-1841) Minutes of decrees. The volumes (1695-1841) also give some indication of procedures. From 1595, minutes of decrees are sometimes noted on the bills of causes, E 162/48-87|
|E 219||Exchequer Office, Clerks’ papers (17th-19th century) These include many drafts, originals and copies of decrees and orders.|
(b) Reports and Certificates At any stage in the dispute the written pleadings, interrogatories and so on, might be referred for comment to the officers of the court; revenue matters might also be referred to the Auditors of Land Revenue. Many surviving reports represent a fairly late stage in the proceedings, dealing with funds in court or the taxation of costs. A few contain very detailed accounts of the disposition of estates.
|E 194||Reports and Certificates (1648-1841)|
|Indexes:||Alphabetical by plaintiff, IND 1/16892-16896|
|E 195||Miscellaneous Reports (Charles II-1841). Mostly exceptions to reports; and bank certificates. Not indexed.|
|LR 9/111||Auditors of Land Revenue, Miscellanea. (Elizabeth I-George IV)|
|E 116-117||Detailed list|
(c) Funds in Court The Court could order that disputed monies should be paid into court, to be held in trust pending settlement of the dispute in question. Where the quarrel was over the estate of a deceased person, the court sometimes ordered the sale or realisation of the profits of that estate. Monies paid into court were invested frequently in consolidated stock: that is, in the Bank of England. Initially administered by the King’s Remembrancer or his deputy those funds were, from 1820, administered by the Accountant General of the Court.
|E 217||Account Books of Funds in Court (1675-1841). E 217/1-6, which are indexed, are detailed accounts under the titles of the suits. Other volumes in the series are arranged chronologically, and the entries brief. They contain many entries unrelated to equity proceedings: see the introduction to the series list.|
|E 185||Equity Petitions (1627-1841). Many of these post-date the filing of the decree, and relate either to the taxation of costs or the payment of funds into or out of court. Petitions earlier than 1800 are mostly for admission to sue in forma paupers.|
|Indexes:||MS list of parties, 1800-1841|
|E 194||Reports and Certificates (1648-1841). Many relate to funds in Court. See above.|
The cost of litigation
Most procedures in the court of Exchequer (or any other court) involved the payment of fees, although the total cost could sometimes be reduced by admission to sue in forma pauperis (see E 185 above). Entries in the registers, writs, and copies were charged at standard rates. The introduction of duties on such fees meant that formal records had to be kept.
|E 225||Register’s Accounts for Decrees and Orders (1691-1794). Entry books, arranged chronologically under the names of each clerk.|
|E 194||Reports and Certificates (1648-1841). Many are concerned with the taxation of costs, by which the court reduced the successful party’s claims for costs to a level which the court considered reasonable. See above.|
|E 219||Exchequer Office, Clerks’ Papers (17th-19th century). Includes draft bills and accounts. See above.|
|E 165||Exchequer, K R, Miscellaneous Books, The Commission Books, E 165/43-45, which record the issue of commissions to take depositions, answers, and so on, among other matters, record the payments of fees to the acting clerk in court, although the amounts are not given.|
4. Further reading
WH Bryson, The Equity Side of the Exchequer (Cambridge, 1975).
DB Fowler, The Practice of the Court of the Exchequer (2 vols, London, 1795). A manual produced by a working officer of the court, and much the best guide, at least to eighteenth century procedure.
A Martin, Index to various repertories, books of orders, and decrees and other records preserved in the Court of Exchequer (London, 1819). Selective index to places mentioned in decrees and orders, memoranda rolls, and so on.
See also the introductory notes to The National Archives’ onsite Record Series Lists. Many of the lists have been revised, and introductions added, since their publication in the List and Index Society volumes.