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Friday 29 May 2015

The Chancery pre-1707

The Chancery was the office which, from the 12th century onwards, issued the official written acts in the king's name - charters and other grants, letters patent conferring offices, titles, legitimations and remissions and brieves (brief warrants) initiating judicial or administrative processes.

The charters bore the King's great seal as evidence of royal authority. At the head of the Chancery was the Chancellor who had custody of the King's Great Seal.

Later he was also responsible for documents passed under the authorisation of the 'quarter seal' (actually the top half of the great seal) and the Prince's seal.

excerpt from a Chancery patent NAS ref. C20/10/6
Before their final authorisation, charters had to go through various stages known as 'passing the seals'. Charters were initiated by a 'signature', a warrant for the drawing up of the charter under the royal sign manual and written in the vernacular.The Signet Office issued a further precept, in Latin, ordering the Keeper of the Privy Seal to issue yet another precept under his seal to authorise the issue of the charter under the Great Seal. Although from the late 17th century some grants could pass directly from the signature to the Great Seal, most had to go through the whole procedure with fees payable at each stage. This very expensive and cumbersome process continued until 1847.

The Treaty of Union provided that there should be one great seal for the whole United Kingdom but that a new seal should continue to be used in Scotland for 'private rights'. Today the First Minister is keeper, and the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland is deputy keeper having custody of the 'great seal', the quarter seal, prince's seal and cachet (a stamp bearing a facsimile of the royal sign manual).

Great Seal Registers

Charters issued under the Great Seal consisted mainly of royal grants of lands and confirmations. The registers also contain patents of nobility, commissions to major offices, letters of remission (or pardons), naturalisation and legitimation, and charters of incorporation, patents (until 1853) and licences to print money. Registration was supposed to be compulsory but by no means all charters were actually recorded.

Although the first crown charters were issued in the 11th century, many of the early charters and charter rolls have been lost. The earliest surviving roll is from the reign of Robert I, 1315-21 but there are many gaps until 1424 when the registers in volume form begin. Apart from the Commonwealth period, the charters are in Latin until 1847.

It is rarely necessary to consult the original registers as the records of charters under the Great Seal are published from 1306 to 1668 in the Register of the Great Seal of Scotland (Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum or RMS for short). These are fully indexed. The indexes are in Latin until 1651.

NAS referenceDescriptionDateIndex
C1-3Registrum Magni Sigilli (Great Seal Register)1315-current  
C4Register of Confirmations and Resignations1858-1868C6/7 and in each volume
C5Register of Crown Writs1869-1874 C6/7 and in each volume
C6Indexes 1582-1919Superseded by RMS and typescript indexes except for the paper register between 1596 and 1608 and patents for inventions
C7Great Seal Warrants (1st series)1663-1794, 1807-currentMS Inventory lists contents of each bundle.
C10Draft Great Seal Warrants1732-1886  
C11Draft Great Seal Warrants (Paper Register)1738-1902 
C13Warrants of Crown Writs 1869-74  


These indexes are all available in the Historical Search Room at General Register House.

Register of the Great Seal of Scotland , 1306-1668 (11 volumes)
Index of persons, places and offices in each volume. Published (NAS ref. C1-3, C16)

Charters in the Register of the Great Seal (NAS ref. C2)
1668-1701 Typescript
1701-1750 Typescript
1750-1800 Typescript
1800-1919 Typescript

Charters in the Paper Register (NAS ref. C3)
1668-1852 Typescript

Charters in the Principality Register (NAS ref. C4, C5, C16, C17)
1716-1913 Typescript

Commissions (NAS ref. C3, C16, C38)
1668-1955 Typescript

Remissions (NAS ref. C2, C3, C7, C19, PS2, SP4)
1668-1906 (2 volumes) Typescript

The institution of baronetcies in England by King James VI dates from 1611. In 1625, King Charles I instituted Scottish baronetcies of Nova Scotia in an attempt to encourage settlement in that colony. Since the Union of 1707, all baronetcies are of the United Kingdom.

Patents to baronets of Nova Scotia (NAS ref. C2 and PS5/1)
1625-1701 typescript

Quarter Seal records, 1652-current (NAS ref. C14-C15)
The Quarter Seal was used from the reign of James I for precepts (orders) to crown officers to give 'sasine' of lands following on from retours (abolished in 1847) and to grant gifts of landed property fallen to the crown as the last heir (ultimus haeres)

Quarter Seal Record, 1751-61, 1831-current (NAS ref. C14).
List of contents in each volume from 1831.

Quarter Seal Warrants, 1652-58, 1662-current (NAS ref. C15).
Incomplete before 1775.

Prince's seal, 1620-1874 (NAS ref. C16-C18)
The Prince's Seal was used for grants of land in the principality or stewartry of Scotland lying mainly in Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and the Lothians. The warrants are arranged to correspond with the registers. After 1800 only one specimen draft warrant for each year has been retained.

NAS referenceDescriptionDate
C16Prince's Seal Registers1620-1819 with gaps
C17Prince's Seal Warrants1717-1874 with gaps
C18Draft Prince's Seal Warrants1739-1819 with gaps

Charters in the Principality Register
(NAS ref. C4, C5, C16, C17)
1716-1913 Typescript

Patents for inventions, 1765 - 1875

After 1707, English patent law was applied to Scotland but it was still necessary to obtain a separate grant to protect the invention in Scotland. Applications were made through the Home Office in London, but the 'charters of gift', the Scottish term for patents, were recorded in the Register of the Great Seal. A separate record was only established after 1813. Chancery retained the original specifications, including drawings, which were not reproduced in the registers. In 1852 the Patent Law Amendment Act (c.83) provided that letters patent should apply to the whole United Kingdom but a separate record was maintained for Scottish grants which were pending before the act. Between 1852 and 1883 certified copies of letters patent and specifications were transmitted to the Scottish Chancery Office. In 1911 the Secretary for Scotland authorised the destruction of all the certified copies.

NAS referenceDescriptionDate
C19Record of Specifications1813-1868
C20Original Specifications1765-1858
C21Patents (Various)1857-1875

Indexes to Patents and Specifications (NAS ref. C3, C7, C9, C19, C20)

Persons and SubjectsTypescript1712-1812
PersonsNegative photostat of manuscript1813-1848
SubjectsNegative photostat of manuscript1813-1848
Persons and SubjectsNegative photostat of manuscript1849-1855

B Woodcroft, 'Alphabetical Index of Patentees of Inventions, 1617-1852' (Commissioners of Patents, 1854) relates to English patents only but may be useful in tracing a corresponding Scottish patent.

Registers of Retours and Service of Heirs

Retours, or services of heirs, were sent to Chancery to show that, as a result of an inquest, the heir was legally recognised as rightful inheritor to lands owned by his deceased ancestor. For further information on these records, read our guide on inheriting land and buildings.

NAS referenceDescriptionDate
C22-27Registers of Retours and Papers 1530-1912
C28-30Service of Heirsfrom 1847

Services of Heirs before 1700 (NAS ref. C22)
'Inquisitionum Retornatarum Abbreviatio, 1425-1700'. Published in 3 volumes.
Index of persons and places arranged by county in volume 3. Printed.
These have been published on CD-ROM by the Scottish Genealogical Society.

Services of Heirs after 1700 (NAS ref. C22 and C28)
Each volume contains two indexes: one by the name of the heir, the other by name of the ancestor.

SeriesVolume numberDateFormat
1st11700 -1749Printed
1st21750 -1799Printed
1st31800 -1829Printed
1st41830 -1859Printed
2nd11860 -1869Printed
2nd21870 -1879Printed
2nd31880 -1889Printed
2nd41890 -1899Printed
2nd5 (see below) 1900 -1909 Printed
2nd61910 -1919Printed
2nd71920 -1929Printed
2nd81930 -1939Printed
2nd91940 -1949 Printed
2nd101950 -1959 Printed
2nd111960 -1969 Printed
2nd121970 -1979 Printed

Volume 5 includes additional indexes for 1700 -1796 (NAS ref. C25/10 -11) and 1792 -1846 (NAS ref. C22/175 -176)

Tutories and curatories in the record of retours
The retour procedure was also used to appoint a tutor to administer the affairs of a fatherless child.
1701 -1897 Typescript (NAS ref. C22)

Deeds, 1834-current (NAS ref. C31-34)
Conveyances, leases and other deeds concerning crown property in Scotland.

Responde books , 1545-61, 1573-1847 (NAS ref. C35)
Record of the 'casualties' payable to the crown on an heir being given sasine of his lands. Early records are printed in the Exchequer Rolls.

Records of Sheriffs' Commissions, 1748, 1829-current (NAS ref. C38)
Index 1668-1955.

Further reading
'Guide to the National Archives of Scotland' (Stationery Office, 1996) pp82-94.

'Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia, The Laws of Scotland, vol 7' (1995), pp586-92.

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