The Exchequer in the later twelfth century

Brand, John David (1989) The Exchequer in the later twelfth century. Doctoral thesis, Polytechnic of North London.


It is often said, in academic circles, that no thesis ever turns out in quite the way it was envisaged at the commencement of the study. The following pages do not upset that general rule: which has been a surprise to me, if not to my supervisors. Most theses are undertaken on a topic about which the student inevitably has limited knowledge and experience: the purpose of the study is to advance the state of knowledge in a limited area which has not previously been explored in depth. My subject, the Exchequer in the later twelfth century, has been well worked over many times before. My own interest in it was aroused more than a quarter of a century ago, when I had occasion to consult and search printed Pipe Rolls for references to the minting and exchanging of money in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. As a professional accountant I was intrigued by the clumsy and crude form of the accounts which make up those rolls. On joining the Pipe Roll Society, in 1964, a conversation with its then Treasurer, H.C. Johnson, pointed me to the unpublished materials in the Public Record Office, which contained much of interest to me, both for their occasional references to the subject I was then researching, and for the glimpses they gave of detail underlying the formal accounts. Purchase of C. Johnson's edition of the Dialogue of the Exchequer, and the first edition of Madox's History and Antiquities of the Exchequer, threw much light on what was previously obscure, whereas Hall's Antiquities and Curiosities of the Exchequer was quite obviously at variance, in many places and in many respects, with what I had observed from the original records. Round's essay on 'The Origins of the Exchequer' provided some valuable insights into how the Exchequer worked.

These sources were my main guides for several years, while continuing spasmodically with desultory researches into the original records. Later, more modern articles and books which referred to the medieval Exchequer came my way, through largely unplanned wider reading, but these were usually unsatisfactory to some degree by comparison with what the records themselves indicated. By chance, one of the last books I came to was R. L. Poole's The Exchequer in the Twelfth Century, and that made much plain. Poole's clarity of expression justifiably made a great impact on his contemporaries, and his work has been the textbook of succeeding generations of historians. No matter that some of his conclusions, some of his facts, have been criticised and corrected; those emendations have largely languished in the byways while constant recourse was made to Poole's very readable, and very quotable, text.

This present study therefore started with the intention of re-writing Poole in the light of my own researches, and with the benefit of such subsequent work as has been published on particular aspects or details. Good intentions are often ill defined, and, after several false starts, that proved to be the case here. Poole's influence was too strong, pervading almost all subsequent published work, which, even when re-examining some points, relied implicitly on others. The following pages now, therefore, seek to examine, and discuss in depth, the fundaments of the early Exchequer as disclosed by the surviving records and illuminated by Richard fitz Nigel's contemporary account of its operation.

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