Fines, or final concords, were conveyances of land by means of a legal action (normally fictitious after 1300), that resulted in a copy of the final agreement, or concord, between the purchaser, known as the querent, and the seller, known as the deforciant, being filed with the records of the king's court and open to public inspection. This final agreement was normally written out three times on a single sheet of parchment - two copies side by side and one copy across the bottom of the sheet, separated by an indented or wavy line. The purchaser kept one copy, the seller the other and the final copy - 'the foot of the fine'- was kept by the court as a central record of the conveyance. It was a means of having title registered to guard against subsequent fraud or forgery as copies if this three piece jig-saw would only fit together if genuine. There was no legal obligation to have title registered in this way. Often the fine is one of a series of conveyancing deeds some of which may give more detail about the property - such private deeds are less likely to have survived with the public records.
2. Feet of fines before 1509: CP 25/1
Medieval feet of fines made before the royal courts of law - mainly the Court of Common Pleas but in the 13th century also the Court of King's Bench and the roving General Eyre or Assize courts - are now in the record series CP 25/1. 'Feet' as such run from 1195, although there are some earlier concords in this series dating back to 1182. They are more significant than later fines as a medieval fine may be the only surviving record of a transfer, whereas post-medieval fines were normally taken out in addition to other types of deed transferring the property. A full historical account is given in the introductory note to the CP 25/1 series list. Most are now arranged by counties and then in rough chronological order. Some which relate to property in more than one county are arranged into 'Divers Counties' files. Others where the county is not obvious, are in 'Unknown Counties' files, or where they were omitted from the main county sequence, are in the 'Various Counties' files. To find all the fines relating to a particular county for a particular period, all these series should be checked.
There is no single comprehensive index of persons or places for the medieval feet of fines. Most of those for the period before 1216 have been published by the Record Commission or the Pipe Roll Society. For some counties, local record societies have published calendars of feet of fines for particular periods. A full list of such publications (to October 1992) appears in the introductory note to the CP 25/1 series list. They may not include all relevant fines from the Divers, Various and Unknown series. An up to date list of publications, and some new abstracts of fines, may be found on the website Some Notes On Medieval English Genealogy. There are also a number of miscellaneous indexes covering particular periods and counties, mainly compiled in the 17th century, that may be ordered as original documents and can be found in the IND 1 series.
3. Feet of fines, 1509-1833: CP 25/2
From the reign of Edward III, all feet of fines made in the central courts were made in the Court of Common Pleas, and are now filed in a number of groups by county, regnal year and legal term. There is no single comprehensive index of persons or places. A full list of such publications (to October 1992) appears in the introductory note to the CP 25/2 list; an up to date list of publications may be found on the website Some Notes On Medieval English Genealogy. Contemporary chronological indexes to the related Notes of Fines (CP 26/1-14) or drafts of the final concords, can be used to identify which feet ought to survive in CP 25/2 for a particular county. They are arranged by regnal year and legal term and then, within each term, by county, with separate groups for fines relating to properties in more than one county. From the CP 25/2 series you must now identify the bundle sub-number for fines relating to the area, and the Term, and then order as in this example:
- department code CP
- series number 25/2
- piece number 389/11James I Hil - exactly as it is in the list but removing all spaces
Particular cities may be listed under Civitas ('city') or towns under Villa ('town'). As with the fines themselves, the index entries are in Latin until 1733. Until 1759, each entry gives the name of the querent (purchaser), the name of the deforciant (vendor) and the name of the place(s) where the property lay. After 1759, only names of county and parties are given.
4. The Palatinates of Chester, Durham and Lancaster; and Wales
Feet of fines for Chester for the period 1280-1831 are in CHES 31; for Durham, 1535-1834 in DURH 12 and for Lancaster, 1377-1834, in PL 17. Feet of fines and related series for Wales, formerly in WALE 2, WALE 3 and WALE 6, are now in the National Library of Wales.
5. Information in a foot of fine
Final concords are written in Latin until 1733, but they do follow a standard form, always beginning Hec est finalis concordia, i.e. 'This is the final agreement'. The fine opens with the date, given by regnal year, legal term, and names of the judges. Regnal years and legal terms can be converted into conventional dates by using C R Cheney's Handbook of Dates. The key word to look for in the text is INTER, after which the names of the parties are given. Other abbreviations used include 'q' or 'quer'- the querent, and 'def' - the deforciants. The property description is formal and not intended for use as a detailed guide to property boundaries. The sum of money given is, by the 14th century, no longer the actual purchase price but a guide price to the value of the property on the open market. After 1489, the date on which the fine was 'proclaimed', i.e. announced in court, is endorsed on the back of the fine.
6. Further reading
R E Latham, 'Feet of Fines', The Amateur Historian, Vol. I, No. 1 (1952)
J Kissock 'Medieval Feet of Fines: A Study of Their Uses', The Local Historian, Vol. XXIV, No. 2 (1994)
N W Alcock, Old Title Deeds (Phillimore, 1986)