What the heck is a writ devenerunt? Or….Latin will be the death of me….


I’ve said before that my Latin education stopped after the first year, when the new school I was attending realised I wasn’t quite as bright as they’d initially thought. I was not “A” stream material, I fear, so down I went, not one notch, but two! Oh dear.

Anyway this is one of the reasons why I’m filled with horror when I find medieval references in Latin. I can scrape by in medieval French, but not Latin! The latter language is sprinkled liberally through documents…and the Lord help you if you read something by a nineteenth-century historian who was writing for those who, like him, were fully educated in Latin and Greek!

Worthy sources like the Inquisitions Post Mortem are full of Latin bits and pieces, the post mortem of the title being but an example. To this day the law oozes with Latin, and this morning I came upon the phrase writ devenerunt. What the heck is that when it’s at home?

A quick search soon unearthed the following explanation:

[A writ devenerunt, now obsolete] is directed to the king’s escheators when any of the king’s tenants in capite dies, and when his son and heir dies within age and in the king’s custody, commanding the escheators, that by the oaths of twelve good and lawful men they shall inquire what lands or tenements by the death of the tenant have come to the king. Dyer, 360; Termes de la Ley.

Oh, and by the way, tenure in capite means tenure was held directly from the king. Just in case you were wondering.

And how do I suddenly know these Latin phrases? By looking at this excellent online law dictionary https://dictionary.thelaw.com/  So the next time some annoying Latin phrase stumps you, off to the Law.com Dictionary you go, asap! I’m sure there are other such dictionaries online, but this is the one I happened upon first, and it provides all the information I’ve sought so far.

By the way, there is a book called Later Medieval Inquisitions Post Mortem, edited by Michael Hicks. It’s probably very informative, but the price is a little hefty for an idle purchase. There aren’t any reviews at Amazon, which I imagine is a reflection on the cost, not the contents.

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