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Quote: Let there be done, by 
the authority of parliament, that which right and reason and good faith and good conscience demand.

Court of Chancery. Medieval Manuscript Illumination, c.	1460. Inner Temple Library.

Court of Chancery

The Court of Chancery was the highest court of judicature next to the House of Lords.
The Lord Chancellor presided in this court having under him the Lords Justices and Vice Chancellors, who act[ed] for him in separate courts, and the Master of the Rolls, who had the keeping of all the rolls and records of the Court of Chancery and also presided in a court of his own. The Court of Chancery was a court of equity. Under the Act of 1873 the powers and jurisdiction of Court of Chancery were transferred to High Court of Justice and it now exists as the chancery division of that court.

Lloyd's Encyclopædic Dictionary, Vol II.
London: Edward Lloyd, Ltd., 1895. 149.

ORIGIN AND HISTORY. The courts of equity may be said to have their origin as far back as the Aula or Curia Regis, the great court in which the king administered justice in person assisted by his counsellors. Of the officers of this court, the chancellor was one of great trust and confidence, next to the king himself; but his duties do not distinctly appear at the present day. On the dissolution of that court, he exercised separate duties.

On the introduction of seals, he had the keeping of the king's seal, which he affixed to charters and deeds; and he had some authority in relation to the king's grants,—perhaps annulling those which were alleged to have been procured by misrepresentation or to have been issued unadvisedly.

As writs came into use, it was made his duty to frame and issue them from his court, which, as early as the reign of Henry II., was known as the chancery. And it is said that he exercised at this period a sort of equitable jurisdiction by which he mitigated the rigor of the common law,—to what extent it is impossible to determine. He is spoken of as one who "annuls unjust laws, and executes the commands of the pious prince, puts an end to what is injurious to people or to morals,"—which would form very ample jurisdiction; but it seems probable that this was according to the authority or direction of the king, given fromtime to time in relation to particular cases.

He was a principal member of the king's council, after the conquest, in which, among other things, all applications for the special exercise of the prerogative in regard to matters of judicial cognizance, were discussed and decided upon. In cononection with the council, he exercised a separate authority in cases in which the council directed the suitors to proceed in chancery. The court of chancery is said to have sprung from this council. But it may be said that it had its origin in the prerogative of the king, by which he undertook to administer justice, on petitions to himself, without regard to the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts, which he did through orders to his chancellor. The great council, or parliament, also sent matters relating to the king's grants, etc., to the chancery; and it seems that the chancellor, although an ecclesiastic, was the principal actor as regards the judicial business which the select or king's council, as well as the great council, had to advise upon or transact. In the reign of Edward I. the power and authority of the chancellor were extended by the statute of Westminster 2d.

In the time of Edward III. proceedings in chancery were commenced by petition or bill, the adverse party was summoned, the parties were examined, and chancery appears as a distinct court for giving relief in cases which required extraordinary remedies, the king having, "by a writ, referred all such matters as were of grace to be dispatched by the chancellor or by the keeper of the privy seal."

It may be considered to have been fully established as a separate and permanent jurisdiction from the 17th of Richard II.

In the time of Edward IV. the chancery had come to be regarded as one of the four principal courts of the kingdom. From this time its jurisdiction and the progress of its jurisdiction become of more importance to us.

It is the tendency of any system of legal principles, when reduced to a practical application, to fail of effecting such justice between party and party as the special circumstances of a case may require, by reason of the minuteness and inflexibility of its rules and the inability of the judges to adapt its remedies to the necessities of the controversy under consideration. This was the case with the Roman law; and, to remedy this, edicts were issued from time to time, which enabled the consuls and prætors to correct "the scrupulosity and mischievous subtlety of the law;" and from these edicts a code of equitable jurisprudence was compiled.

So the principles and rules of the common law, as they were reduced to practice, became in their application the means of injustice in cases where special equitable circumstances existed, of which the judge could not take cognizance because of the precise nature of its titles and rights, the inflexible character of its principles, and the technicality of its pleadings and practice. And in a manner somewhat analogous to the Roman mode of modification, in order to remedy such hardships, the prerogative of the king or the authority of the great council was exercised in ancient times to procure a more equitable measure of justice in the particular case, which was accomplished through the court of chancery.

This was followed by the "invention" of the writ of subpœna by means of which the chancery assumed, upon a complaint made directly to that court, to require the attendance of the adverse party, to answer to such matters as should be objected against him. Notwithstanding the complaints of the commons, from time to time, that the course of proceeding in chancery "was not according to the course of the common law, but the practice of the holy church," the king sustained the authority of the chancellor, the right to issue the writ was and regulated by statute, and other statutes were passed conferring jurisdiction where it had not been taken before. In this way, without any compilation of a code, a system of equitable jurisprudence was established in the court of chancery, enlarging from time to time; the decisions of the court furnishing an exposition of its principles and of their application. It is said that the jurisdiction was greatly enlarged under the administration of Cardinal Wolsey in the time of Henry VIII.

The courts of equity also began to act in personam and to enjoin plaintiffs in common-law courts from prosecuting inequitable suits. A controversy took place between Lord Chancellor Ellesmere and Lord Coke, Chief Justice of the King's Bench in time of James I., respecting the right of the chancellor to interfere with any the proceedings and judgments of the courts of law. The king sustained the chancellor; and from that time the jurisdiction then claimed has been maintained.1

*  *  *

DISTINCTIVE PRINCIPLES. It is quite apparent that some principles other than those of the common law must regulate the exercise of such a jurisdiction. That law not mitigate its rigor upon its own principles. And as, down to the time of Edward III., and, with few exceptions, to 21st of Henry VIII., the chancellors were ecclesiastics, much more familiar with the principles of the Roman law than with those of the common law, it was but a matter of course that there should be a larger adoption of the principles of that law; and the study of it is of some importance in this connection. Still, that law cannot be said to be of authority even in equity proceedings. The commons were jealous of its introduction. "In the reign of Richard II. the barons protested that they would never suffer the kingdom to be governed by the Roman law, and the judges prohibited it from being any longer cited in the common-law tribunals."

This opposition of the barons and of the common-law judges furnished very sufficient reasons why the chancellors should not profess to adopt that law as the rule of decision. In addition to this it was not fitted, in many respects, to the state of things existing in England: and so the chancellors were of necessity compelled to act upon equitable principles as expounded by themselves. In later times the commonan-law judges in that country have resorted to the Roman law for principles of decision to a much greater extent than they have given credit to it.

Since the time of Henry VIII. the chancery bench has been occupied by some of the ablest lawyers which England has produced and they have given to the proceedings and practice in equity definite rules and forms which leave little to the personal discretion of the chancellor in determining what equity and good conscience require. The discretion of the chancellor is a judicial discretion, to be exercised according to the principles and practice of the court. See DISCRETION.

The avowed principle upon which the jurisdiction was at first exercised was the administration of justice according to honesty, equity, and conscience,—which last, it is said, was unknown to the common law as a principle of decision.

In the 15th of Richard II. two petitions, addressed to the king and the lords of parliament, were sent to the chancery to be heard, with the direction, "Let there be done, by the authority of parliament, that which right and reason and good faith and good conscience demand in the case."

These may be said to be the general principles upon which equity is administered at the present day.

1. [AJ Note: until 1873, when the court was dissolved and its jurisdiction transferred
to the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice].

Bouvier, John. Bouvier's Law Dictionary, New Edition. Vol I. Francis Rawle, Ed.
Boston: The Boston Book Co., 1897. 681-683.

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Manuscript illustration of the Court of Chancery copyright © Inner Temple Library.  Used with Permission.

Site copyright ©1996-2022 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Created by Anniina Jokinen on October 15, 2022.

Index of Encyclopedia Entries:

Medieval Cosmology
Prices of Items in Medieval England

Edward II
Isabella of France, Queen of England
Piers Gaveston
Thomas of Brotherton, E. of Norfolk
Edmund of Woodstock, E. of Kent
Thomas, Earl of Lancaster
Henry of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster
Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster
Roger Mortimer, Earl of March
Hugh le Despenser the Younger
Bartholomew, Lord Burghersh, elder

Hundred Years' War (1337-1453)

Edward III
Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England
Edward, Black Prince of Wales
John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall
The Battle of Crécy, 1346
The Siege of Calais, 1346-7
The Battle of Poitiers, 1356
Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
Edmund of Langley, Duke of York
Thomas of Woodstock, Gloucester
Richard of York, E. of Cambridge
Richard Fitzalan, 3. Earl of Arundel
Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March
The Good Parliament, 1376
Richard II
The Peasants' Revolt, 1381
Lords Appellant, 1388
Richard Fitzalan, 4. Earl of Arundel
Archbishop Thomas Arundel
Thomas de Beauchamp, E. Warwick
Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford
Ralph Neville, E. of Westmorland
Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk
Edmund Mortimer, 3. Earl of March
Roger Mortimer, 4. Earl of March
John Holland, Duke of Exeter
Michael de la Pole, E. Suffolk
Hugh de Stafford, 2. E. Stafford
Henry IV
Edward, Duke of York
Edmund Mortimer, 5. Earl of March
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland
Sir Henry Percy, "Harry Hotspur"
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester
Owen Glendower
The Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403
Archbishop Richard Scrope
Thomas Mowbray, 3. E. Nottingham
John Mowbray, 2. Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Fitzalan, 5. Earl of Arundel
Henry V
Thomas, Duke of Clarence
John, Duke of Bedford
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester
John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
Richard, Earl of Cambridge
Henry, Baron Scrope of Masham
William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk
Thomas Montacute, E. Salisbury
Richard Beauchamp, E. of Warwick
Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick
Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter
Cardinal Henry Beaufort
John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset
Sir John Fastolf
John Holland, 2. Duke of Exeter
Archbishop John Stafford
Archbishop John Kemp
Catherine of Valois
Owen Tudor
John Fitzalan, 7. Earl of Arundel
John, Lord Tiptoft

Charles VII, King of France
Joan of Arc
Louis XI, King of France
Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy
The Battle of Agincourt, 1415
The Battle of Castillon, 1453

The Wars of the Roses 1455-1485
Causes of the Wars of the Roses
The House of Lancaster
The House of York
The House of Beaufort
The House of Neville

The First Battle of St. Albans, 1455
The Battle of Blore Heath, 1459
The Rout of Ludford, 1459
The Battle of Northampton, 1460
The Battle of Wakefield, 1460
The Battle of Mortimer's Cross, 1461
The 2nd Battle of St. Albans, 1461
The Battle of Towton, 1461
The Battle of Hedgeley Moor, 1464
The Battle of Hexham, 1464
The Battle of Edgecote, 1469
The Battle of Losecoat Field, 1470
The Battle of Barnet, 1471
The Battle of Tewkesbury, 1471
The Treaty of Pecquigny, 1475
The Battle of Bosworth Field, 1485
The Battle of Stoke Field, 1487

Henry VI
Margaret of Anjou
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York
Edward IV
Elizabeth Woodville
Richard Woodville, 1. Earl Rivers
Anthony Woodville, 2. Earl Rivers
Jane Shore
Edward V
Richard III
George, Duke of Clarence

Ralph Neville, 2. Earl of Westmorland
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
Edward Neville, Baron Bergavenny
William Neville, Lord Fauconberg
Robert Neville, Bishop of Salisbury
John Neville, Marquis of Montagu
George Neville, Archbishop of York
John Beaufort, 1. Duke Somerset
Edmund Beaufort, 2. Duke Somerset
Henry Beaufort, 3. Duke of Somerset
Edmund Beaufort, 4. Duke Somerset
Margaret Beaufort
Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond
Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke
Humphrey Stafford, D. Buckingham
Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
Humphrey Stafford, E. of Devon
Thomas, Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby
Sir William Stanley
Archbishop Thomas Bourchier
Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex
John Mowbray, 3. Duke of Norfolk
John Mowbray, 4. Duke of Norfolk
John Howard, Duke of Norfolk
Henry Percy, 2. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 3. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 4. E. Northumberland
William, Lord Hastings
Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter
William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel
William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford
John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford
Thomas de Clifford, 8. Baron Clifford
John de Clifford, 9. Baron Clifford
John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester
Thomas Grey, 1. Marquis Dorset
Sir Andrew Trollop
Archbishop John Morton
Edward Plantagenet, E. of Warwick
John Talbot, 2. E. Shrewsbury
John Talbot, 3. E. Shrewsbury
John de la Pole, 2. Duke of Suffolk
John de la Pole, E. of Lincoln
Edmund de la Pole, E. of Suffolk
Richard de la Pole
John Sutton, Baron Dudley
James Butler, 5. Earl of Ormonde
Sir James Tyrell
Edmund Grey, first Earl of Kent
George Grey, 2nd Earl of Kent
John, 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton
James Touchet, 7th Baron Audley
Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy
Robert Hungerford, Lord Moleyns
Thomas, Lord Scales
John, Lord Lovel and Holand
Francis Lovell, Viscount Lovell
Sir Richard Ratcliffe
William Catesby
Ralph, 4th Lord Cromwell
Jack Cade's Rebellion, 1450

Tudor Period

King Henry VII
Queen Elizabeth of York
Arthur, Prince of Wales
Lambert Simnel
Perkin Warbeck
The Battle of Blackheath, 1497

King Ferdinand II of Aragon
Queen Isabella of Castile
Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor

King Henry VIII
Queen Catherine of Aragon
Queen Anne Boleyn
Queen Jane Seymour
Queen Anne of Cleves
Queen Catherine Howard
Queen Katherine Parr

King Edward VI
Queen Mary I
Queen Elizabeth I
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond

Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland
James IV, King of Scotland
The Battle of Flodden Field, 1513
James V, King of Scotland
Mary of Guise, Queen of Scotland

Mary Tudor, Queen of France
Louis XII, King of France
Francis I, King of France
The Battle of the Spurs, 1513
Field of the Cloth of Gold, 1520
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador
The Siege of Boulogne, 1544

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex
Thomas, Lord Audley
Thomas Wriothesley, E. Southampton
Sir Richard Rich

Edward Stafford, D. of Buckingham
Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire
George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford
John Russell, Earl of Bedford
Thomas Grey, 2. Marquis of Dorset
Henry Grey, D. of Suffolk
Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester
George Talbot, 4. E. Shrewsbury
Francis Talbot, 5. E. Shrewsbury
Henry Algernon Percy,
     5th Earl of Northumberland
Henry Algernon Percy,
     6th Earl of Northumberland
Ralph Neville, 4. E. Westmorland
Henry Neville, 5. E. Westmorland
William Paulet, Marquis of Winchester
Sir Francis Bryan
Sir Nicholas Carew
John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford
John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford
Thomas Seymour, Lord Admiral
Edward Seymour, Protector Somerset
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
Henry Pole, Lord Montague
Sir Geoffrey Pole
Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland
Henry Manners, Earl of Rutland
Henry Bourchier, 2. Earl of Essex
Robert Radcliffe, 1. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 2. Earl of Sussex
George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon
Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter
George Neville, Baron Bergavenny
Sir Edward Neville
William, Lord Paget
William Sandys, Baron Sandys
William Fitzwilliam, E. Southampton
Sir Anthony Browne
Sir Thomas Wriothesley
Sir William Kingston
George Brooke, Lord Cobham
Sir Richard Southwell
Thomas Fiennes, 9th Lord Dacre
Sir Francis Weston
Henry Norris
Lady Jane Grey
Sir Thomas Arundel
Sir Richard Sackville
Sir William Petre
Sir John Cheke
Walter Haddon, L.L.D
Sir Peter Carew
Sir John Mason
Nicholas Wotton
John Taylor
Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Younger

Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio
Cardinal Reginald Pole
Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester
Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London
Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London
John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester
John Aylmer, Bishop of London
Thomas Linacre
William Grocyn
Archbishop William Warham
Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham
Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester
Edward Fox, Bishop of Hereford

Pope Julius II
Pope Leo X
Pope Clement VII
Pope Paul III
Pope Pius V

Pico della Mirandola
Desiderius Erasmus
Martin Bucer
Richard Pace
Christopher Saint-German
Thomas Tallis
Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent
Hans Holbein, the Younger
The Sweating Sickness

Dissolution of the Monasteries
Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536
Robert Aske
Anne Askew
Lord Thomas Darcy
Sir Robert Constable

Oath of Supremacy
The Act of Supremacy, 1534
The First Act of Succession, 1534
The Third Act of Succession, 1544
The Ten Articles, 1536
The Six Articles, 1539
The Second Statute of Repeal, 1555
The Act of Supremacy, 1559
Articles Touching Preachers, 1583

Queen Elizabeth I
William Cecil, Lord Burghley
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
Sir Francis Walsingham
Sir Nicholas Bacon
Sir Thomas Bromley

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick
Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon
Sir Thomas Egerton, Viscount Brackley
Sir Francis Knollys
Katherine "Kat" Ashley
Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester
George Talbot, 6. E. of Shrewsbury
Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury
Gilbert Talbot, 7. E. of Shrewsbury
Sir Henry Sidney
Sir Robert Sidney
Archbishop Matthew Parker
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich
Sir Christopher Hatton
Edward Courtenay, E. Devonshire
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Thomas Radcliffe, 3. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 4. Earl of Sussex
Robert Radcliffe, 5. Earl of Sussex
William Parr, Marquis of Northampton
Henry Wriothesley, 2. Southampton
Henry Wriothesley, 3. Southampton
Charles Neville, 6. E. Westmorland
Thomas Percy, 7. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 8. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 9. E. Nothumberland
William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Henry Howard, 1. Earl of Northampton
Thomas Howard, 1. Earl of Suffolk
Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland
Henry FitzAlan, 12. Earl of Arundel
Thomas, Earl Arundell of Wardour
Edward Somerset, E. of Worcester
William Davison
Sir Walter Mildmay
Sir Ralph Sadler
Sir Amyas Paulet
Gilbert Gifford
Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague
François, Duke of Alençon & Anjou

Mary, Queen of Scots
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
Anthony Babington and the Babington Plot
John Knox

Philip II of Spain
The Spanish Armada, 1588
Sir Francis Drake
Sir John Hawkins

William Camden
Archbishop Whitgift
Martin Marprelate Controversy
John Penry (Martin Marprelate)
Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury
John Dee, Alchemist

Philip Henslowe
Edward Alleyn
The Blackfriars Theatre
The Fortune Theatre
The Rose Theatre
The Swan Theatre
Children's Companies
The Admiral's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men
Citizen Comedy
The Isle of Dogs, 1597

Common Law
Court of Common Pleas
Court of King's Bench
Court of Star Chamber
Council of the North
Fleet Prison
First Fruits & Tenths
Livery and Maintenance
Oyer and terminer

The Stuarts

King James I of England
Anne of Denmark
Henry, Prince of Wales
The Gunpowder Plot, 1605
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset
Arabella Stuart, Lady Lennox

William Alabaster
Bishop Hall
Bishop Thomas Morton
Archbishop William Laud
John Selden
Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford
Henry Lawes

King Charles I
Queen Henrietta Maria

Long Parliament
Rump Parliament
Kentish Petition, 1642

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
John Digby, Earl of Bristol
George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax
Robert Devereux, 3rd E. of Essex
Robert Sidney, 2. E. of Leicester
Algernon Percy, E. of Northumberland
Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2. Earl of Manchester

The Restoration

King Charles II
King James II
Test Acts

Greenwich Palace
Hatfield House
Richmond Palace
Windsor Palace
Woodstock Manor

The Cinque Ports
Mermaid Tavern
Malmsey Wine
Great Fire of London, 1666
Merchant Taylors' School
Westminster School
The Sanctuary at Westminster


Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
London in late 16th century
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's View of London, 1616
Larger Visscher's View in Sections
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London

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