Category Archives: British Exchequer

A Surfeit of Lampreys: A Surfeit of Success: 12th Century England

Exactly 877 years ago today, on 1st December 1135, King Henry I died, allegedly from over indulging himself on lampreys (one of favourite meals). His ‘surfeit of lampreys’ caused an acute intestinal reaction (possibly food poisoning) that led to a speedy end. Death from such an outwardly ludicrous cause was a somewhat inglorious conclusion to an illustrious reign. This year, 2012, marks the centenary of the birth of Charles Dickens; and Henry’s premature death is the sort of ‘comical’ demise one associates with some of the characters penned by that celebrated 19th century author. Such a judgement might be a little harsh. Over the past year, I hope that my monthly Blogs on Henry I’s reign have demonstrated his great success as Ruler of England (and Normandy) between 1100 and 1135. Indeed, such were Henry I’s achievements that the monks of Peterborough Abbey declared on Henry’s death: “He was a good man, and people were in great awe of him. No one dared injure another in his time. He made peace for man and beast.” [EHD, Volume II, page 209] Such an assessment, coming from the compilers of The Anglo/Saxon Chronicle, is praise indeed.                                                                                                                                     Over the past two years, 2011 and 2012, my monthly Blogs have analysed the reigns of King Henry I (1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (1154 to 1189). In analysing these two distinguished monarchs, I have also, from time to time, inevitably touched on the reigns of Stephen, Richard I and John. That is, my blogs have in effect covered the whole of the 12th century, so I think it is thus very fitting for me to conclude this December 2012 Blog by analysing and assessing the twelfth century as a whole.

(A) The Achievements of 12th Century England

There were, of course, setbacks to progress in the 12th century, notably the breakdown of government in Stephen’s reign (1135 to 1154). The Third Crusade of 1189 to 1192, right at the end of the 12th century, also caused tension and problems. Yet, overall, the 12th century witnessed gains to English Society.

(1) Economic Growth.

The 12th century was a period of marked economic growth. There was investment in agriculture, transport, and general building. According to John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, the volume of currency in circulation in England  greatly increased in the 12th century; from roughly £25,000 to £37,500  around the time of King Henry I’s accession (1100), to about  £250,000 at the time of King John’s accession in 1199 [Hatcher & Bailey, ‘Modelling the Middle Ages’, OUP, (2001), page 138]. This increase in currency circulation probably reflected the increasing proliferation of markets in 12th century England. The population of England also doubled in the 12th century, from roughly 1.5 million in 1100 to about 3 million in 1200 (and these figures might be even higher). Nor did this population increase imply a lessening of GDP per head. In fact, according to Hatcher & Bailey, real GDP per head might well have increased in the 12th century [Hatcher & Bailey, page 159].

(2) General Social and Political Progress for Specific Groups

In a perhaps generalised way, the condition and status of certain groups in English Society did appear to improve in the 12th century; even if these improvements were not uniform throughout the century. For example, beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the rights of widows were increasingly protected throughout the 12th century. In fact, on one level, the 12th century was a period of political advance for women. Several notable female rulers played vital roles in 12th political life in England: Queen Edith Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne, The Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Jewish minority in Angevin England also seemed to prosper for most of the 12th century (with the obvious exception of the 1190 Pogroms). The Jewish population in Angevin England increased to a maximum total of 5,000 by 1200, and this population increase was accompanied by a geographical spread throughout England. Up to a point, positive central government activity by English Kings helped this Jewish expansion (see my September 2011 Blog for details).

(3) Development of English Common Law

This was the greatest single achievement of 12th century England.

Beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the 12th century saw a continual series of ground-breaking measures that collectively  established the Common Law in England (and Wales): one of the glories of European Civilisation:-

  • Leges Henrici Primi (1115) This measure designated serious crime, and enshrined the principle of Appeal. See my October 2012 Blog.
  • Assize of Clarendon (1166) This measure dealt with the criminal law, including the rights of the principal law officers. See my February 2011 Blog
  • Inquest of Sheriffs (1170) This measure enshrined the supremacy of the government over the law officers. See my March 2011 Blog.
  • Assizes of Novel Disseism & Mort d’Ancestor (c.1176) These were major innovations in civil law, dealing with rights of property. See my October 2011 Blog.
  • The General Eyre (1194) As part of the 1194 General Eyre (General Tour of Inspection by the King’s Justices), Justicar Hubert Walter ordered that, in each English shire, three knights and a clerk should act as ‘Keepers of the Pleas of the Crown’. This meant that they would be responsible for collecting and retaining evidence for criminal cases that would then be heard by the King’s Justices. This vital measure is the origin of the modern Coroner System. Note that the 12th century law officers (sheriffs) were not included as ‘Keepers of the Pleas’. Even now, our modern police force is not directly linked to the Coroner’s Court.

It is a remarkable record of legal progress, and the principles of 12th century Common Law still greatly influence English-speaking nations today: the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. Nor have I included all the 12th century Common Law Edicts. The Jury System was written into the above Assizes. A measure of the greatness of the English Legal System in the 12th century is to contrast it with the legal structure of early 19th century England (supposedly a more ‘civilised’ era). By 1800, the English Legal System had become so convoluted (if not corrupt), that a ridiculous total of 200 crimes carried the death penalty (many of them being trivial offences). In contrast, the 12th century saw the death penalty confined to about six offences (Pleas of the Crown).  The 18th Century still conjures up an image of refined gentility, with its classical architecture, polished manners, and baroque music; yet it was also the age of the notorious (and nefarious) ‘Black Act’ of 1723. That legally abominable Act of Parliament introduced the Death Penalty in Britain for over 50 criminal offences, many of them utterly trivial (such as destroying fish ponds while disguised). It goes without saying that such a legally bizarre measure as the 1723 Black Act, would have been inconceivable in the more civilised 12th century.

(B) Final Conclusion

I began this final Blog on King Henry I by suggesting that perhaps his strange demise had overtones of a Charles Dickens novel. In retrospect, I think that Anthony Trollope would be a more appropriate author, especially when viewing the 12th century as a whole.

In the ending of the final novel of his famous Barset Series (‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’); Anthony Trollope writes: “And now, if the reader will allow me to seize him affectionately by the arm, we will together take our last farewell of Barset.” To paraphrase that celebrated author, ‘We will together take our last farewell of 12th century England.’

Like Anthony Trollope’s Barset Novels, the 12th Century was filled with a host of distinguished dramatis personae:-

  • Renowned Fighting Monarchs, such as King Richard the Lionheart of England (reigned 1189 to 1199), and King William the Lion of Scotland (reigned 1165 to 1214).
  • Illustrious Female Rulers, such as Edith Matilda (Queen Consort of England 1100 to 1118) and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen Consort of France, 1137 to 1152 and Queen Consort of England, 1154 to 1189).
  • Exceptionally talented administrators, such as Justicar Bishop Roger of Salisbury (de facto Justicar c.1110 to c.1125) and Archbishop Hubert Walter (Chief Justicar of England, 1193 to 1198).
  • Leading Financiers, such as Aaron of Lincoln (lived from 1125 to 1186).
  • Profound Philosophers, such as Archbishop Anselm (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093 to 1109). Anselm was the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God.
  • Talented Welsh Princes, such as Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth. He was known as The Lord Rhys (Yr Argwydd Rhys). King Henry II made him Justicar of Deheubarth in 1171.
  • Gifted young persons whose lives were sadly (and prematurely) ended, such as Prince William the Adelin (lived from1103 to 1120). Prince William was Henry I’s son and heir; he tragically died in the White Ship Disaster of 1120.
  • Flawed Icons, such as Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury between 1162 and 1170).
  • Villains, such as Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who died in 1144. He was the original ‘robber baron’, who took advantage of the breakdown of law and order in King Stephen’s reign to ransack Cambridgeshire and the Fens in 1144. Towards the end of the 12th century, Richard Malebisse took advantage of the anti-Semitic hysteria generated by the Third Crusade to play the leading role in the massacre of the York Jewish Community in 1190.
  • Exceptionally talented monarchs, such as King Henry I (reigned 1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (reigned 1154 to 1189).The latter king is probably the greatest monarch ever to reign in England.

In the words of Anthony Trollope, “To them all I now say farewell” (except Geoffrey de Mandeville and Richard Malebisse); but it is certainly not a case of farewell to my Angevinman Blog! In 2013, I hope to take a chronological  leap of 250 years into the mid-fifteenth century. The delights of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ await me and, hopefully, my readers.

Have a Happy Advent and Christmas!

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April 6th 1110: King Henry I plays Checkers.

Friday 6th April 2012, is a very special day. It is the Festival of Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the Christian Calendar, and therefore a Bank Holiday. The fact that our financial institutions, even now, have to remain closed in the UK on this day is entirely appropriate, as it reflects the religious significance of Good Friday in our national life. Yet on another level, the closure of banks and other financial institutions today is also somewhat ironic, as Friday 6th April 2012 also marks the start of the new UK Financial Year (which will run from 6th April 2012 to 5th April 2013). Perhaps in Henry I’s reign, this anomaly would not have been so apparent; as in his reign the bishops also acted as financial administrators of the national finances.

So let us now go back just over 900 Years to the Court of King Henry I.

  • It is the year 1110. After his great victory over his elder brother Duke Robert at Tinchebrai (in 1106) Henry I had increasingly resided in Normandy. This was politically astute, as Henry’s power in England partly rested on his authority in Normandy. To govern England in his absence, Henry relied on his wife, Queen Edith Matilda. Queen Edith Matilda was an able ruler. She issued writs (in her own name) and attended meetings of the king’s council. Queen Edith Matilda was helped by an inner circle of advisors who regularly met in the Treasury. These advisors tended to be dominated by clerics, notably Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, Robert Bloet, Bishop of Lincoln and Richard, Bishop of London.
  • In 1110, Henry I had a pressing need to raise extra revenues (some things in government never change). The reason was that Henry had to provide a dowry for his daughter Matilda, who had been betrothed to the Emperor Henry V. Such a marriage alliance with the Emperor would further strengthen Henry’s power and authority. The result was the development of a vitally important department in English Government: The Exchequer. The institution of the Exchequer was to be one of the most significant developments in government occurring in the reign of King Henry I.

The Institution of the Exchequer c. 1110

The term ‘exchequer’ is derived from the chequered cloth that covered the table on which was conducted an audit of the sheriffs’ accounts, in the presence of Treasury advisors. Chief of these advisors was increasingly Bishop Roger of Salisbury, who progressively began to assume the status of Royal Justicar. The table itself was about three metres in length and about 1.5 metres in breadth. The cloth served as a huge abacus, and different squares and columns on the cloth represented different amounts of money.

Twice a year (Easter and Michaelmas), the sheriffs would present themselves at the Treasury, and hand over the moneys they had collected, such as tax receipts. When the sheriffs handed over their money, it was set out on the cloth alongside what they owed, and surpluses and deficits could then be calculated. It was a simple but an effective means of improving the government accounts.

Exchequer Storage: The Pipe Rolls.

As seen, twice yearly, the sheriffs made their payments to the Exchequer. These twice yearly financial transactions then had to be recorded on membranes as a permanent record. The membranes were then affixed to each other and rolled into a tight roll for storage. These rolls then resembled a pipe, so are called, oddly enough, ‘pipe rolls’. They were vital for efficient government, recording as they did payments made to the government, debts owed to the crown and disbursements made by royal officials. The first complete pipe roll is for the financial year 1129/1130, though they undoubtedly existed before that date. The device of the pipe roll was one of the greatest boons bequeathed by Henry I to later English medieval monarchs. The Pipe Rolls only became continuous in the reign of Henry I’s grandson, King Henry II, starting in 1155/56. They reflect the competence and expertise of that great monarch.

Early References to the Exchequer: c. 1110 to 1120

The first references to the Exchequer occur in the second decade of Henry I’s reign.

(1) Writ of Henry I in favour of  Holy Trinity, London.

“Henry, king of the English, to Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, and to the Barons of the Exchequer, greeting. Notice that I have ratified the gift which Queen Maud [Edith Matilda] gave and granted to the canons of Holy Trinity, to wit, 25 pounds.”

(2) Writ of Henry I in favour of the Abbot of Westminster.

“Henry, king of the English, to Richard, Bishop of London, greeting. I bid you do full right to the Abbot of Westminster concerning the men who forcibly, by night, broke into his church at Wenington. And unless you do it, my Barons of the Exchequer will cause it to be done in order that I may hear no further complaint about it for lack of right.”

Both these extracts are taken from English Historical Documents, edited by D. C. Douglas and G. W. Greenaway (1981) pages 520-521

The second extract is especially interesting, as it shows the Exchequer Barons acting in a legal capacity, besides showing that forcible entry, at night, was as much a problem in the early 12th century, as it is 900 years later in our own era. One can almost picture an exasperated Henry I telling the esteemed Bishop of London ‘to pull his episcopal finger out.’

{Wenington is now located in the London borough of Havering}

The Pipe Roll of the year 1129 to 1130.

The first surviving complete pipe roll, that of 1129/1130, reveals that at the end of the third decade of his reign, Henry I was financially very secure, partly reflecting the success of his innovation of the Exchequer. The Pipe Roll indicates that for the fiscal year 1129-1130, a grand total of £23,000 was paid over to the Exchequer. Of this total, £2,400 (i.e. 10%) was raised by direct taxation. This direct tax was the Geld, a land tax levied at 10% per hide of land (a hide was equivalent to about 30 acres).

Henry I’s financial strength was not followed by his successor, King Stephen (1135-1154). As a result of Stephen’s incompetence, royal income declined catastrophically during his reign, such that Henry II found himself with a minute annual income of £7,000 when he became king in 1154.

King Henry II and his councillors had to laboriously repair the national finances, by a combination of judicious borrowing and tallaging cities, boroughs and royal manors. Gradually, the national finances recovered under Henry II’s prudent measures. In the 1160s, the average annual government income rose to £16,700. In the 1170s, the average was £19,200. Only, in the final years of Henry II’s reign, after 1180, when the average annual income rose to £23,300 did royal income equal what it had been fifty years before in the final years of King Henry I’s reign. This is conclusive proof of Henry I’s brilliant management of the national finances; and it is his innovation of the Exchequer, together with the pipe rolls, that partly explains his great fiscal success.

Concluding Comments

In analysing 12th century financial policy, it is a case of ‘Like Grandfather: Like Grandson.’ King Henry I built up the national finances by a strategy of peace and stability in England, combined with innovations in fiscal management. His grandson, King Henry II, relied more on judicious borrowing from Flemings like William Cade and Jews like Aaron of Lincoln. These prudent loans were allied to sensible tallaging of the main English settlements – but it took a long time for Henry II’s financial measures to bear fruit. The main thing was, Henry II ‘stuck to his guns’ (or, rather, his swords and hauberks).

Question

Is there a moral here for the present government?

(Answers please to Number 11 Downing Street . . .)

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