Court of Wards and Liveries - History


Wardship of minor heirs of a tenant in chief was one of the king's ancient "feudal incidents" (amongst escheat, marriage, relief, custody of an "idiot", etc.), that is to say a right of royal prerogative dating back to the feudal principle of seigneurial guardianship. Such right entitled the king to all the revenues of the deceased's estate, excluding those lands, generally 1/3 of the estate, allocated to his widow as dower, until the heir reached his majority of 21, or 14 if a female. The king generally sold such wardships to the highest bidder or granted them gratis, generally by letters patent to a favoured courtier as a reward for services, which saved cash having to be found from the privy purse. On attainment of his majority the heir was required to obtain a "Proof of Age" certification witnessed by prominent men from his local area who certified that he had reached the age of 21. Such certificate then formed the basis for the king to issue a writ to the custodian of the land in question to release it to the heir.

An example of such grant made on 20 November 1495 is as follows:

"Grant to William Martyn, esquire, and William Twynyho, esquire, of the keeping of the lands late of John Trenchard, tenant in chief, and after the death of Margaret, widow of the said John, of the lands which she holds in dower; with the wardship and marriage of Thomas Trenchard, his son and heir".

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