Mapping the Medieval Countryside: The Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions Post Mortem

Lead Research Organisation: University of Winchester
Department Name: History


Inquisitions post mortem (IPMs) are records of the lands held at their deaths by tenants of the crown. They are the single most important source for the study of landed society in later medieval England and, to a lesser extent, of Tudor and Stuart England. Thousands survive in The National Archives at Kew. Those for the years 1236-1447 and 1485-1509 have been calendared in 29 large volumes (CIPMs). These volumes are highly expensive and difficult to manipulate in the ways required by modern scholarship and now feasible using computer technology.

This project is a collaborative venture by Prof Michael Hicks of the University of Winchester and the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London. Priority is being given to the electronic publication, wider dissemination, and enhancement to the best modern standards of CIPMs already published. There have been three smaller projects funded by the Marc Fitch Fund, the University of Winchester, and the British Academy that have established the feasability of what is proposed. The project builds on CCH's vast experience and expertise arising from the Fine Rolls and Gascon Rolls projects.
This project will digitise all the CIPMs (1236-1447, 1485-1509) and publish them on open access on British History Online to make them much more widely accessible to any researcher anywhere in the world.

For no period are IPMs more important than the fifteenth century, which has been described as 'one of the most formative but least researched periods in English agrarian history' (Campbell, 1993). Fortunately the most recent volumes spanning 1399-1447 have been calendared to the highest standards to meet the most demanding requirements of modern historians . This project will enhance these volumes as necessary with sophisticated structural and semantic markup that will enable analysis and mapping of their content and thus convert them into a digital interface that operates as a web-mounted interactive database linked to a mapping system. This will permit sophisticated searching, analysis, and visualisation through maps of all the data that currently is almost unusable. This will place this material and the study of the medieval countryside on a radically improved footing.

The project will include a full source study that will test the reliability of the data and establish where it is to be trusted and where discounted. IPMs copied from earlier documents will be identified, thus enabling them to be excluded from calculations. Two in-depth case studies will demonstrate the value and potential fof the IPM data and will provide guidance on how such material can be most effectively used. There will be a conference of invited experts that will generate a guide to future users for publication both online and as hard copy.

The project will make a major contribution to understanding of English rural society in the first half of the fifteenth century. It will enable well-known developments in agrarian history, such as the shift from arable to pasture, to be traced in much greater detail. It will enable historians to trace in detail the changing value of land and the changing shape of aristocratic incomes, It will provide vital insight into the strategies used by families to preserve and parcel out their inheritances in a period when demographic decline led to a considerable increase in female and collateral heirs. It will promote more detailed and extensive research on the identities and activities of the jurors whose verdicts formed the basis of IPMs, and thus on the rural 'middling sort' in the fifteenth century.

Following the completion of this project, it is intended to enhance the electronic text of the other published volumes to the same standard so that they too can be fully exploited.

Planned Impact

IPMs are a vital historical sources for many aspects of late medieval English history in which a century of editorial effort and vast quantities of public money have been invested to produce 29 huge volumes (CIPMs) that are sadly under-used. The volumes and still more the set are almost confined to copyright and academic libraries in the UK, decaying and out of print. The most recent volumes are priced prohibitively for individuals, vols 24-26 at £175 ($330) each, and available, beyond the pocket of most individuals, and only in extremely short print-runs or print to order.

To digitise the whole set is to multiply the audience and users many times over. British History Online (BHO) is the primary location for much historical data, including the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England and the Victoria County Histories, which alone attracts hundreds of thousands of hits each year. BHO has 10,000 users and 45,000 page views a day. Anybody visiting BHO will find the CIPMs (see CIPMs become available free of charge. The data is accessible to anyone with online access anywhere in the world. Academic and professional historians, archaeologists, and geographers will have much easier access. Attention will be drawn to their electronic existence to local history and family history society publications through articles, press releases, and through the CIPM website ( The IPMs will become the essential source for local historians and genealogists that they ought to be.

Current understanding of IPMs will be promoted (a) by republication of Prof. Carpenter's introduction to CIPM XXII on BHO (b) the CIPM website (, which will be progressively updated (c) by the multi-authored book of the 2010 Winchester Conference, Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions Post Mortem: The Source, the Process, and the Potential. Initially disseminated to a relatively small academic audience through a monograph, the book will be republished on BHO to inform all on-line users. Links will be added to the TNA website for users of original IPMs. A further conference and multi-authored publication will build on this project.

Although BHO provides a general-purpose search engine, the more sophisticated analyses required by many historians and geographers, to trace or map developments eg in agriculture and the economy, demography, estates or land-use, will still require laborious tabulation. For the period 1399-1447, the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London will convert the whole dataset into a fully searchable geospatially-linked web-mounted database to enable this potential to be fully unlocked. Especially valuable to academics, this freely accessible resource will be advertised to BHO users, to lead their research to greater sophistication here. After the completion of this project, it is hoped to enhance the electronic text for earlier and later periods to the same standard and to make them fully searchable also.

This project will substitute electronic media for original IPMs and calendars and will enable both to be better preserved. Whilst much money will be saved in library use, travel, and especially researcher time and software development, the impact will be primarily cultural. Future research will start from a fuller understanding of the sources and its users. The project contributes to and provides the foundation for much future research and permits easier and more sophisticated electronic analysis. It will impact not just on the relatively small communities of academic medieval archaeologists, historians and geographers, but on the vast numbers of non-latinate family and local historians for whom CIPMs offer almost inaccessible access to the late medieval centuries.


10 25 50
Description The project created a webmounted database of existing data on www.inquisitionspostmortem, and an open access searchable webmounted resource on British History Online.
Exploitation Route data can be used to inform other projects
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

Description The project created data that was usable for local history, family history, field archaeology, and landscape studies. Webhits on the mmain website have increased to 8,000 per month. The material can be used in particular to carry family and local history back into the thirteenth century.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Title 10 To fully enhance the CIPMs for 1399-1422 
Description The existing published calendars for 1399-1422 have been upgraded to the standards of 1422-47 with missing data and converted into the electronic version that will be posted later in 2013 on British History Online 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Much increased webhits. 
Title Mapping the Medieval Countryside 
Description All data from Calendars of Inquisitions Post Mortem volumes 21-26 digitised and coded for advanced analysis by people and places 
Type Of Material Data handling & control 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact not applicable