England Inquisitions Post Mortem
From the Norman Conquest to 1660, strict legal theory meant that all land in England was either held by the King or held of the King “in fee.” Land was held in this manner either directly, as Tenant-in-Chief, or indirectly, by a mesne tenant. When a deceased person’s land was thought to be held directly from the king, an inquest was convened to inquire into the identity and extent of the land at the time of death, by what rents and services they were held, and the name and age of the next heir. If there was no heir, the land escheated (reverted) to the crown. If the heir was under aged, the crown claimed rights of wardship and marriage over the lands and the heir until the heir came of age. In the case of an adult heir, livery of seisin of lands was granted on performance of homage to the King and payment of reasonable fine, also called a relief. The heir was the oldest male child. In the event there was no male child, the property may have been divided equally among the daughters.
In general, when a tenant-in-chief died, the lands reverted to a special official of the King, called an escheator (at first there were only two) and an inquisition was called. A draft of the information was given to the escheator by lawyers acting for the family. The escheator summoned juries of free men in each of the districts where the land(s) in question were located in order to ascertain by sworn testimony certain facts about the estates and the heir. The escheator acted sometimes through his own authority, but usually through a writ from Chancery.
These records began about 1235 and end in 1660. They name the deceased, the date of death (seldom before 1342), described the property, and gave the name of the heir (if one was named). The user should be cautioned that not all of the information is reliable. Some of these records are calendared. Some have been transcribed and printed.
A Dictionary of Genealogy by Terrick V.H. FitzHugh
“Inquisitions Post Mortem, Henry III - Charles I: Landholders and Their Heirs,” Research Guide Legal Records Information 10 from The National Archives.
The Local Historian by John Richardson
Two articles appear in The Amateur Historian (942 B2ah) volume 1 (Dec/Jan 1953) pages 77-81, and volume 6 (Spring 1965) pages 235-41.