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Court of Chancery decrees

Call Number: MS 135


Collection of separately written official copies of Court of Chancery decrees from Great Britain. The cases, collected by Sir Thomas Phillipps, were apparently chosen to illustrate some point of law or procedure, usually concerned with wills or mortgages.


  • Creation: 1733 - 1783


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials. Materials are in fragile condition and should be handled with care.

History of the Court of Chancery

English common-law courts were well-established by the 14th century CE, and common law was becoming increasingly inflexible and complicated by technical and artificial rules. As the courts refused to provide alternate forms of relief from those established, including payment of damages and recovery of possession of land or chattels, individual litigants in their disappointment turned to the king or queen with petitions for justice. These petitions were referred to the Lord Chancellor.

By the 15th century, the lord chancellor had developed several different equitable remedies, as well as policies guiding these remedies' operations. Initially, the chancellor was not bound by precedent in the same way that the common-law courts were, and the chancellor was able to dispense justice with minimal procedural formality. This court was available to all, from common laborers to peers of the realm. The court dealt with a wide range of complicated disputes, including inheritance and wills, land and other property, debts, marriage settlements, apprenticeships, and trade and bankruptcy.

By the 17th century, common-law judges and Parliament were unhappy with the chancery court's encroachment on the province of the common-law courts, and the lord chancellor agreed not to hear any case in which there was adequate remedy in common law. The Court of Chancery was abolished as a separate equity court under an act of 1873, and in 1875 it became the Chancery Division of the Supreme Court of Judicature, one of three divisions of the High Court of Justice.

[Information taken from the National Archives "Chancery Equity Suits 1558-1875," and, "Chancery Division."]


1 linear foot (2 document cases)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

Each case was heard before the Lord High Chancellor (if none, the Lords Commissioners or the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal), or his deputy, the Master of the Rolls. Each decree recites at moderate length the apparent facts of the case before giving the decree itself. The decrees are not necessarily final; often they instruct a Master in Chancery to determine a proper financial settlement and report back, and sometimes they refer an issue of fact to an assize court, or a specific point of law to the opinion of judges in another court.

Most of these copies are on stamped paper. Many are docketed "Blisset Six Clerks Office" or "Birch Six Clerks Office," with a note of a sum of money. Officials of the Six Clerks Office were responsible for representing the parties to a case in Chancery and for copying and preserving the numerous necessary documents; part of their income came from supplying unwanted but legally required 'office copies' to the parties involved. These manuscript decrees may be those 'office copies.'

Some annotations were made by a legal scholar before binding. Decrees were written in many hands. Clerks were paid by the number of sides written, and words may appear elongated in some items due to this. The decrees remain in the order in which they were found when arriving at Spencer.

Physical Location

MS 135

Custodial History

Phillips manuscript number 25471. Hofmann may have purchased the collection from Gurney in 1936?

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, Hofmann-Freeman consignment II, 1969.

Processing Information

The cases were at one point bound together; these bindings were removed by Spencer Reserach Library staff in 1975.

Guide to the British Court of Chancery Collection
Court of Chancery decrees
Finding aid prepared by alh, 1975. Finding aid encoded by mwh, 2021.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Court of Chancery decrees, MS 135, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States