Feet of Fines have long been one of the standard sources used by English local historians, but very few of those relating to Gloucestershire were available in print until the Gloucestershire Record Series began to publish an edition of those for the medieval period.
A foot of fine is the record of an agreement, also called a final concord or fine that resolved a dispute, real or pretended, commonly about the ownership of land. One of the parties to the dispute purchased a writ to bring the dispute into the king's court, thereby becoming the plaintiff, but before the suit came to judgement the parties sought permission to reach an agreement (or concord). When the agreement had been approved by the court it was written out three times on a single sheet of parchment, the first two head to head on the upper two thirds of the sheet and the third across the lower third to form the foot of fine. The parchment was cut into three with indented lines, the fit of the three parts being a test of authenticity. The two upper parts were given to the parties to the agreement and the third, the foot, was retained by the court.
The approval of the agreement by the king's court and the permanence of the record gave the final concord an authority and fixity which a private agreement could not attain, so that the procedure was increasingly used in the conveyance and settlement of land. The files of feet now preserved in the Public Record Office provide an incomparable record of landed property and its owners from the twelfth century to the nineteenth.
Abstracts of Feet of Fines for 1199-1299 were published as volume 16 in the Gloucestershire Record Series, and a further volume, continuing the series to the end of the reign of Henry VII, is in preparation.