My resource here was the superb "Medieval Source Book"

Medieval Sourcebook:
The Dialogue concerning the Exchequer (excerpts)
Late 12th Century

(translated from Stubbs' "Charters," p. 168.)

[Henderson: Introduction, p.3-4, (with slight alterations)]

[3] The Dialogue Concerning the Exchequer is one ofthe few actual treatises of the middle ages. It is a most learnedessay concerning all that went on at the bi-yearly meetings ofthe exchequer (the treasury of England) officials, and branchesout into a description of all the sources of revenue of the Englishcrown, and of the methods of collecting them. The value of thisessay for early English history cannot be over estimated: in everydirection it throws light on the existing state of affairs.

According to Brunner, Gneist, Pauli and F. Liebermann [Einleitungin de Dialogus de Scaccario, (Göttingen: 1875) the Dialoguewas complete in the winter of 1178-9. [4] Stubbs thought that it was composed after 1181, perhaps as late as 1188. The authorof the work, whose name is not mentioned in the two existing manuscripts,has been proved by Madox to be Richard son of Bishop Nigel ofEly. Richard, as well as his father, was for many years a highofficial at the exchequer, and was clear-headed and logical, andwas, in addition, gifted with great literary ability. His knowledgeof the classics is shown by his frequent quotations from them.


In the twenty-third year of the reign of King Henry II., whileI was sitting at the window of a tower next to the River Thames,a man spoke to me impetuously, saying: "master, hast thounot read that there is no use in science or in a treasure thatis hidden?" when I replied to him,"I have read so." straightway he said: "why, therefore,dost thou not teach others the knowledge concerning the exchequerwhich is said to be thine to such an extent, and commit it towriting lest it die with thee?" I answered: "...I will do what thou dost urge. Rise, therefore, and sit opposite to me; and askme concerning those things that occur to thee. But if thou shaltpropound something unheard of, I shall not blush to say 'I donot know.' But let us both, like discreet beings come to an agreement."And he; "thou respondest to my wish. Moreover, although anelementary old man is a disgraceful and ridiculous thing, I willnevertheless begin with the very elements."

I What the Exchequer is, and what is thereason of this name.

Disciple. What is the exchequer?

Master. The exchequer is a quadrangular surface about tenfeet in length, -five in breadth, placed before those [24] sitaround it in the 'manner of a table, and all around it it hasan edge about the height of one's four fingers, lest any thingplaced upon it should fall off. There is placed over the top ofthe exchequer, moreover, a cloth bought at the Easter term, notan ordinary one but a black one marked with stripes, the stripesbeing distant from each other the space of a foot or the breadthof a hand. In the spaces moreover are counters placed accordingto their values; about these we shall speak below. Although, moreover,such a surface is called exchequer, nevertheless this name isso changed about that the court itself which sits when the exchequerdoes is called exchequer; so that if at any time through a decreeany thing is established by common counsel, it is said to havebeen done at the exchequer of this or that year. As, moreover,one says to-day at the exchequer," so one formerly said "at the tallies."

D. What is the reason of this name?.

M. No truer one occurs to me at present than that it hasa shape similar to that of a chess board.

D. Would the prudence of the ancients ever have called it so forits shape alone, when it might for a similar reason be calleda table (tabularium) ?

M. I was right in calling thee painstaking. There is another,but a more bidden reason. For just as, in a game of chess, thereare certain grades of combatants and they proceed or stand stillby certain laws or limitations, some presiding and others advancing:so, in this, some preside, some assist by reason of their office,and no one is free to exceed the fixed laws; as will be manifestfrom what is to follow. Moreover, as in chess the battle is foughtbetween kings, so in this it is chiefly between two that the conflicttakes place and the war is waged,-the treasurer, namely, and thesheriff who sits there to render account; the others sitting byas judges, to see and to judge.

D. Will the accounts be received then by the treasurer, althoughthere are many there who, by reason of their power, are greater?

M. That the treasurer ought to receive the account from the sheriffis manifest from this, that the same is required from him wheneverit pleases the king: nor could that be [25] required of him whichbe had not received. Some say, nevertheless, that the treasurer and the chamberlains should be bounden alone for what is writtenin the rolls in the treasury, and that for this an account shouldbe demanded of them. But it is believed with more truth that theyshould be responsible for the whole writing of the roll, as willbe readily understood from what is to follow.

II. That there is a lower one and an upperone; both have the same origin however.

D. Is that exchequer, in which such a conflict goes on,the only one ?

M. No. For there is a lower exchequer which is also calledthe Receipt, where the money is handed over to be counted, andis put down in writing and on tallies, so that afterwards, atthe upper exchequer, an account may be rendered of them; bothhave the same origin however, for whatever is declared payableat the greater one is here paid; and whatever has been paid hereis accounted for there.

III. As to the nature or arrangement of thelower one according to the separate offices.

D. What is the nature or arrangement of the lower exchequer?

M. As I see, thou canst not bear to be ignorant of anyof these things. Know then that that lower exchequer has its persons,distinct from each other by reason of their offices, but withone intent devoted to the interests of the king, due regard, nevertheless,being paid to equity; all serving, moreover, not in their ownnames but in the names of their masters; with the exception Oftwo knights, he, namely, who conducts the assays, and the melter.Their offices depend on the will of our king; hence they seemto belong rather to the upper than to the lower exchequer, aswill be explained below. The clerk of the treasurer is there withhis seal. There are also two knights, of the chamberlains. Thereis also a certain [26] knight who may be called the silverer,for, by reason of his office, be presides at the testing of silver.There is also the melter who tests the silver. There are alsofour tellers to count the money. There is also the usher of thetreasury and the watchman. These, moreover, are their offices:The clerk of the treasurer, when the money has been counted andput in boxes by the hundred pounds, affixes his seal and putsdown in writing how much he has received, and from whom, and forwhat cause; he registers also the tallies which have been madeby the chamberlains concerning that receipt. Not only, moreover,does he place his seal on the sacks of money, but also, if hewishes, on the chests and on the separate boxes in which the rollsand tallies are placed, and he, diligently supervises all theoffices which are under him, and nothing is hidden from him. Theoffice of the knights, who are also called chamberlains becausethey serve in the name of the chamberlains, is this: they carrythe keys of the chests; for each chest has two locks of a differentkind, that is, to neither of which the key of the other can befitted; and they carry the keys of them. Each chest, moreover,is girded with a certain immovable strap, on which, in addition,when the locks are closed the seal of the treasurer is placed;so that neither of the chamberlains can have access except bycommon consent. Likewise it is their duty to weigh the money whichhas been counted and placed by the hundred shillings in woodenreceptacles, so that there be no error in the amount; and then,at length, to put them in boxes by the hundred pounds as has beensaid. But if a receptacle is found to have any deficiency, thatwhich is thought to be lacking is not made good by calculation,but straightway the doubtful one is thrown back into the heapwhich is to be counted. And take note that certain counties fromthe time of king Henry I. and in the time of king Henry II. couldlawfully offer for payment coins of any kind of money providedthey were of silver and did not differ from the lawful weight;because indeed, by ancient custom, -not themselves having moneyers,they sought their coins from on all sides; such are Northumberlandand Cumberland. Coins thus received, moreover, although they camefrom a farm, [27] were nevertheless set apart from the otherswith some marks placed on them. But the remaining counties wereaccustomed to bring only the usual and lawful coin of the presentmoney as well from farms as from pleas. But after the illustriousking whose renown shines the brighter in great matters, did, inhis reign, institute one weight and one money for the whole kingdom,each county began to be bound by one necessity of law and to beconstrained by the manner of payment of a general commerce. All,therefore, in whatever manner they are bounden, pay the same kindof money; but nevertheless all do not sustain the loss which comesfrom the testing by combustion. The chamberlains likewise makethe tallies of receipts, and have in common with the clerk ofthe treasurer to disburse the treasure received when requiredby writs of the king or an order of the barons; not, however,without consulting their masters. These three, all together orby turns, are sent with treasure when it is necessary. These threehave the principal care of all that is done in the lower exchequer.

D. Therefore, as I perceive, these men are allowed to disbursethe treasure received, in consequence of a royal writ or of anorder from those who preside-after consultation with their masters,however.

M. They are allowed, I say; in so far as they are entrusted withthe payment of the servants of the lower exchequer, and with buyingthe small necessaries of the exchequer, such as the wooden receptacles,and other things which will be mentioned below; but not otherwise.When any one brings a writ or order of the king for money, bycommand of their masters that sum which is expressly named inthe writ may be paid, with the understanding that, before he goout, he shall count the money received. But if anything be lacking,he who received it shall return to the exchequer and shall givean oath to this effect: that be has brought back as much as hereceived, adding this, upon his conscience, as is donein other things; and this being done the rest shall be paid him,it being first counted in the presence of all by the regular tellers.But if, the conditions being known to him, he shall have goneout of the door of the treasury, [28] whoever the person, or howevergreat the loss, no heed shall be paid to him. The offices of theknight silverer and of the melter are conjoined and belong ratherto the upper exchequer, and therefore will be explained therewith the other offices. The office of the four tellers is thefollowing: When the money is sent to the exchequer to be counted,one of them diligently mixes the whole together, so that the betterpieces may not be by themselves and the worse by themselves, butmixed, in order that they may correspond in weight ; this being,done, the chamberlain weighs in a scale as much as is necessaryto make a pound of the exchequer. But if the number shall exceed20 shillings by more than six pence in a pound, it is consideredunfit to be received; but if it shall restrict itself to six penceor less, it is received, and is counted diligently by the tellersby the hundred shillings as has been said. But if the coins arefrom a farm and are to be tested, 44 shillings from the heap,being, mixed together, are placed in a compartment by themselves,and on this the sheriff puts a mark; so that there may be afterwardsa testing, which is commonly called assaying, of them, as willbe made clear further on. It shall, moreover, be the care of thosewho preside over the Receipt by virtue of their masters-that isof the clerks of the treasurer and of the chamberlains - whenthe money is received, to put aside weights of the tested silverand coins from a farm, placing certain marks on the bags thatcontain them, so that, if the king wishes silver vessels to bemade for the uses of the house of God, or for the service of hisown palace, or perchance money for beyond seas, it may be madefrom this.


XII What is the Forest of the King, and whatthe reason of this name.

M. The forest of the king is the safe dwelling-place of wild beasts;not of every kind, but of the kinds that live in woods; not inall places, but in fixed ones, and ones suitable for the purpose; whence it is called " forestal" the "e"being changed into " o," as if it were " feresta-i.e., an abiding place for wild beasts.

D. Is there a forest of the king in each county?

M. No; but only in the wooded ones, where the wild beastscan have their lairs and ripe nourishment: nor does it matterto whom the woods belong, whether to the king, or to the noblesof the kingdom,-the wild beasts can none the less run around everywherefree and unharmed.

XIII What is an Essart, and why so called.

Essarts are commonly called what are named " occationes "in the works of Isidor; that is, when any groves or thickets inthe forest, which are fit for pasture and for lairs, are cut down;after which same cutting down and tearing up by the roots, theland is dug up and cultivated. But if groves are so cut that anyonestanding still, leaning against the remaining stump of an oak,or any other tree that has been cut down, shall, on looking round,perceive five that have been cut down, they consider this a wilderness(vastum)-that is, a place laid waste (vastatum)- so called by syncope. Such an excess, moreover, even if committedin one's own groves, is considered so grave that a man may neverbe acquitted of it by reason of his seat at the exchequer; buthe ought rather to be pecuniarily punished according to the powerof solvency of his rank. Thus far I have expounded, to some extentfiguratively, what succinct brevity has permitted, and what hasat short notice offered itself to my mind, concerning the dignitiesof those sitting at the exchequer. But in these matters I haveconstituted for the munificence of the kings no bounds of whichthey may not overstep ; they are all inclined, moreover, on accountof the grace entrusted to them to [76] the glory of their prerogative,especially those who are truly wise. But he most of mundane princes,the very great and illustrious king of the English, Henry theSecond, strives always to increase the dignities of those servingunder him; knowing for certain that benefits bestowed on his followerspurchase, with titles of immortal fame, the glory of his name.Now then, let us turn our flowing, pen to other things.

D. It is in order, if I mistake not, as I seem to havegathered from the foregoing, that thou should'st proceed concerningthe 'king's seal and the doomsday book, of which the first, ifI remember aright, is kept in the treasury and not allowed toleave it.

M. Nay, both of them, and also very many other things.

XV. What use is made of the Royal Seal whichis in the Treasury.

What ought to be the use of the royal seal is clear from the foregoing:for with it are sealed the summonses that are made out, and theother mandates which pertain solely to the exchequer of the king;nor is it carried elsewhere; but, as has been said above, is guardedby the chancellor through a representative. It has, moreover,stamped upon it, exactly the same image and inscription as thedeambulatory seal of the court, so that both- may be known tohave the same authority of commanding, and that he who acts countermay be similarly judged guilty according to the one or the other.Then that book about which thou dost ask is the inseparable companionof the royal seal in the treasury. From Henry, formerly bishopof Winchester, I have heard as follows the cause of this institution.

XVI. What is the Doomsday Book, and for whatpurpose composed.

When that distinguished conqueror of England, a relative by bloodof this same prelate, had -subdued the utmost limits of the islandto his rule, and had tamed the minds of the rebels by examplesof terrible things,- he decreed, lest a free opportunity of erringshould again be given, that the people subject to him, shouldsubmit to written custom and laws. The English laws, therefore,being laid before him according to their triple distinction, thatis, Mercian law, Dane law, and West- Saxon law, some he rejected;others, moreover, approving, be added to them the transmarinelaws of Neustria which seemed most efficacious for protectingthe peace of the kingdom. At length, lest anything should seemto be wanting to the sum of all his forethought, having takencounsel, he despatched from his side the most discreet men incircuit, throughout the kingdom. By these men, in this way, a[77] diligent description of the whole land was made with regardto its woods as well as its pastures and meadows, agriculture;and this description having been noted down in common words, itwas collected into a book; in order, namely, that each one, contentwith his own right, should not with impunity usurp that of another.Moreover the survey is made by counties, by hundreds and by hides,- the name of the king being marked at the very head, and then,in turn, the names of the other lords according to the dignityof their standing; that is to say those who are tenants in chiefof the king. Moreover against the separate names thus arrangedin order are p aced numbers by means of which, below, in the courseof the book itself, whatever concerns these persons is more easilyfound. This book is called by the natives Domesday; that is, bymetaphor, the day of judgment; ,for just as a sentence of thatstrict and terrible last trial cannot possibly be eluded by anyart of tergiversation: so when in the kingdom, contention shallarise concerning things that are there noted,- when the book isappealed to its sentence can not be scorned or avoided with impunity.On this account we have named this book the book of dooms; notthat, in it, a sentence is given concerning any doubtful mattersthat come up, but that from it, as from a judgment that has beengiven, it is not allowed in any way to depart.

D. If it please thee, explain what is a county, what a hundred,what a hide; otherwise the things that have been said will notbe clear.

XVII. What is a Hide, what a Hundred, whata County, according to the common opinion.

M. The country people know this better; but, as we have heardfrom them, a hide, from its primitive institution, consists ofa hundred acres: but a hundred, of several hundred hides-the numbernot being a fixed one, however; for one consists of many, anotherof fewer hides. Hence thou wilt frequently find that, in the oldprivileges of the Anglo-Saxon kings, a hundred (hundredus)is frequently called a centuriate (centuriata). The county,[78] moreover, consists in like manner of hundreds that is, someof more, some of less, according as the land has been dividedby discreet men. The county, then, is called from the count, orthe count from the county. It is the count, moreover, who receivesthe third portion of what comes from the pleas in each county.For that sum, which, under the name of a farm, is required fromthe sheriff, does not all arise from the revenues of estates,but in great part from pleas; and of these the count (comes)receives the third part; he is therefore said to be so calledbecause he shares with the fisc, and is a companion (comes)in receiving. Then the sheriff (vice-comes) is so calledbecause he supplies the place of the count in those pleas in whichthe count shares by reason of his dignity.

D. Do the counts receive those payments from each and. all thecounties?

M. By no means: those alone receive them whom the munificenceof the kings, in view of service rendered, or of distinguishedprobity, has made counts, and on whom this same munificence hasdecided, by reason of this dignity, to confer them; on some ashereditary, on others for their own persons only.