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Home arrow History arrow Officers and accountability in medieval England : 1170-1300


The English shrievalty was not a static office and consideration of it alone could constitute a monograph.1 The sheriff can be defined crisply: ‘a royal official who held his position at the king’s pleasure and fulfilled a range of duties, primarily judicial and administrative. He presided over the county court and was responsible for the annual payment that each shire made to the king’ at the Exchequer, as well as other debts owed to the king.2 The sheriff was the most senior local officer in England’s thirty-nine-odd counties,3 could hold more than

  • 1 I am very grateful to David Carpenter for discussion of this subject. For lists, List of Sheriffs for England and Wales: From the Earliest Times to A.D. 1831, Public Record Office, Lists and Indexes 9, repr. (New York, 1963). W. A. Morris, The Medieval English Sheriff to 1300 (Manchester, 1927) remains valuable. For the earlier period see Judith A. Green, The Government of England under Henry I (Cambridge, 1986), 194—214, and English Sheriffs to 1154, Public Record Office Handbooks 24 (London, 1990), 9—19. For the later period see Richard Gorski, The Fourteenth-Century Sheriff: English Local Administration in the Late Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2003), esp. ch. 4. There are valuable comments throughout Frederique Lachaud, Ethique du pouvoir au Moyen Age: UOffice dans la culture politique (Angleterre, vers 1150—vers 1330), Bibliotheque dhistoire medievale 3 (Paris, 2010): her focus is complementary to mine. See also Robert Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075—1225 (Oxford, 2000), 149—51, 159—77; Flower, Introduction to the Curia Regis Rolls, 1199— 1230, SS 62 (London, 1944), esp. 419—33. The New Oxford Dictionary of Biography now includes many studies of individual sheriffs. For two recent studies elsewhere see Hugh Doherty, ‘Robert de Vaux and Roger de Stuteville, Sheriffs of Cumberland and Northumberland 1170—1185’, Anglo-Norman Studies 28 (2006), 65—102; Nicholas Karn, ‘Secular Power and its Rewards in Dorset in the Late Eleventh and Early Twelfth Centuries’, Historical Research 82 (2009), 2—16. Studies with wider implications include Emilie Amt, ‘The Reputation of the Sheriff, 1100—1216’, Haskins Society Journal 8 (1996), 91—8, and for Henry II, Julia Boorman, ‘The Sheriffs of Henry II and the Significance of 1170’, in George Garnett and John Hudson (eds.), Law and Government in Medieval England and Normandy: Essays in Honour of Sir James Holt (Cambridge, 1994), 255—75. For Richard I: Richard Heiser, ‘The Sheriffs of Richard I: Trends of Management as Seen in the Shrieval Appointments from 1189 to 1194’, Haskins Society Journal 4 (1993), 109—22; Heiser, ‘Richard I and His Appointments to English Shrievalties’, EHR 112 (1997), 1—19. For John and Henry III: J. C. Holt, ‘Philip Mark and the Shrievalty of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in the Early Thirteenth Century’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire 56 (1952), 8—24; D. A. Carpenter, ‘The Decline of the Curial Sheriff in England 1194—1258’, EHR 91 (1976). For the Barons’ War: H. W Ridgeway, ‘Mid Thirteenth-Century Reformers and the Localities: The Sheriffs of the Baronial Regime, 1258—1261’, in P. F. Fleming, A. Gross, and J. R. Lander (eds.), Regionalism and Revision: The Crown and its Provinces in England, 1200—1650 (London, 1998); Richard Cassidy, ‘Adventus Vicecomitum and the Financial Crisis of Henry III’s Reign, 1250—1272’, EHR 126 (2011), 614—27, and ‘Bad Sheriffs, Custodial Sheriffs, and Control of the Counties’, TCE 15 (forthcoming 2015). For Edward see J. R Maddicott, ‘Edward I and the Lessons of Baronial Reform: Local Government, 1258—80’, TCE 1 (1986).
  • 2 Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 149; also John Hudson, The Oxford History of the Laws of England, ii. 871—1216 (Oxford, 2012), 265—6, 506—7 with 37M0.
  • 3 The number of counties fluctuated in the twelfth century (Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 147—9). The model of sheriff/Exchequer/county was also used in colonial government in Ireland and Wales.

one shrievalty4 and could hold it in tandem with another.5 He could be a cleric.6 He could hold the job over successive block terms.7 He had deputies.8 ‘He’ was occasionally ‘she’.9 The post could be held by successive members of the same family, although—excepting Stephen’s reign—it did not ossify into a hereditary sinecure.10 By 1130, the date of the first extant annual Exchequer audit, the sheriffs answered for ‘county farms’—the bundle of money due from the royal estates, individual debts due to the king, payments due from towns, proceeds from cases in the county and hundred courts, and other land payments, such as wardpenny.11 The sheriff also collected the geld, the Anglo-Saxon de facto annual land tax liable on freely owned (‘demesne’) land.12 The shrievalty allowed for a rentier system—aspirant sheriffs could offer money to the crown in exchange for holding a county farm over a given period of time. Equally it allowed sheriffs to buy themselves out of the burden of office.13

Shrieval judicial and administrative activities were broad. The sheriff generally carried out the King’s orders, with an armed county posse if necessary.14 Equally he could be the object of violence.15 The sheriff attended the county court with other local worthies and was probably often the greatest figure actually present.16 He could

  • 4 In 1110 Hugh of Buckland was sheriff of eight counties, including Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, and London and Middlesex. See Henry Bradley, ‘Buckland, Hugh of (d. 1116 x 19)’, rev. John Hudson, ODNB.
  • 5 So Richard Basset and Aubrey de Vere jointly held Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Surrey, and Lincolnshire between 1129 and 1130. See List of Sheriffs for England and Wales', Green, Government of England, 65—6 and their entries in her biographical appendix.
  • 6 e.g. Hilary, Bishop of Chichester, sheriff of Sussex in 1154—5, The Red Book of the Exchequer, ed. Hubert Hall, RS, 3 vols. (London, 1896), ii. 654.
  • 7 e.g. Osbert the Sheriff held Yorkshire from 1100 to c.1115, Green, English Sheriffs, 89.
  • 8 For the earlier period see e.g. Cartularium monasterii de Rameseia, ed. William Henry Hart and Ponsonby A. Lyons, 3 vols., RS (London, 1884—93), i. ##61, 81. In general, Robert C. Palmer, The County Courts of Medieval England 1150—1350 (Princeton, NJ, 1982), 40—55; M. L. Holford, ‘Under-sheriffs, the State, and Local Society, c. 1300—1340: A Preliminary Survey’, in Chris Given-Wilson, Ann Kettle, and Len Scales (eds.), War, Government, and Aristocracy in the British Isles, c.1150—1500: Essays in Honour of Michael Prestwich (Woodbridge, 2008), 55—68.
  • 9 Louise J. Wilkinson, ‘Women as Sheriffs in Early Thirteenth Century England’, in Adrian Jobson (ed.), English Government in the Thirteenth Century (Woodbridge, 2004), 111—24.
  • 10 e.g. Sweyn succeeded his father Robert FitzWymarc at Essex at some point after the Conquest and is addressed as sheriff at points between 1066 and 1085 (Green, English Sheriffs, 39). One should not necessarily presume that the reissuing of the office to a member of the same family implied royal indifference to competence. For (e.g.) John’s 1205 grant of Rutland to Radulf of Normanvilla see Rotuli chartarum in Turri londinensi asservati, ed. T. D. Hardy (London, 1837), i.1. 149a.
  • 11 Green, English Sheriffs, 10—11, and Government of England, 63—6.
  • 12 The gelds origin as an anti-Viking military levy is claimed by the Peterborough Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (‘E’) for 1012: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, trans. Michael Swanton, rev. edn. (London, 2000), 142—3. The tax lapsed 1162—94, re-emerged as ‘carucage’, and came under attack again in 1220. See Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 165—6; J. C. Holt, Magna Carta, 2nd edn. (Cambridge, 1992), 399^00; J. R. Maddicott, The Origins of the English Parliament, 924— 1327 (Oxford, 2010), 150.
  • 13 Early and later examples: PR 1130, 117 (new edn. Judith Green); eight instances in May 1253 in CPR 1247—1258, a decade when it was a particular problem (J. R. Maddicott, ‘Magna Carta and the Local Community’, P&P 102 (1984), 45).
  • 14 e.g. CPR 1247—1258, 223^, a 1253 order for Dorset and Somerset.
  • 15 e.g. CPR 1247—1258, 225, about the beating of those shires’ sheriff, Walter de Burges (1253).
  • 16 LHP, cap. 7.2; Green, English Sheriffs, 10; Morris, Medieval English Sheriff, 88—94.

be ordered to carry out particular investigations.17 His precise judicial competence early on is not wholly clear. He presided over the county courts, but was not per se judge.18 The Leges Henrici Primi implies that the sheriff was a justice of the King, but this role was dwindling, the general eyre partly supplanting it.19 His jurisdiction was cut back in 1274, following a series of inquiries (the ‘hundred rolls’ inquiries) into royal rights and local wrongs on Edward I’s return to England.20 There were already formal limits. The Leges specifies the crown pleas in which the sheriff needs an explicit dispensation to act with sufficient stress for us to infer sheriffs’ intrusion into them.21 It was the sheriff too who summoned the monthly hundred courts, the administrative tier below many counties.22 Here he took his ‘tourn’, the biannual ‘view of frankpledge’ at which he checked that all adult free men were in ‘tithings’, the ten-strong groups that bound members as liable sureties for one another should they break the law.23 He was also instrumental in disseminating important political statements locally, such as reissues of Magna Carta.24

The English sheriff has his equivalents elsewhere in Western Christendom. Appointed regional officials of a central delegating authority who combined administrative and judicial functions existed elsewhere: bailli andprevot in France, vicarius or baiulus in Catalonia, dapifer, senescalus, and prepositus in Flanders, names that may be found more generally and generically.25 As with bailiffs, these are not exact matches but they broadly embrace the same type of agent. It is as ‘public’ officials that this chapter examines shrieval officers (the adjective is therefore used generically). Ministerialis may be used more generally, but German ministeriales are less comparable, remaining a clear Dienstadel or aristocracy of service.26 Comparators can also be found earlier, as with Carolingian missi dominici27 or fiscalinif8 while the sheriff himself grew clearly out of an Anglo-Saxon stem.29 [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

It is uncontroversial that English sheriffs were accountable. In the context of Henry II’s ad hoc 1170 investigation into shrieval behaviour which left 26 per cent of sheriffs in post, Robert Bartlett argues the sheriffs ‘remained dismissable and accountable’.[14] Describing the Exchequer, Judith Green argues cogently that it functioned more as an ‘aid to accountability, than as a help for the illiterate’.[15] Michael Clanchy concludes that the Chancery (the King’s writing office) and the Exchequer ‘contributed to the theory of kingship and the philosophy of government by making royal orders accountable, repeatable and widespread’.[16]

What was the quality of this accountability? Sheriffs were, in principle, highly accountable, in two broad ways. The first was through the Easter and Michaelmas audit of sheriffs’ expenses and income at the Exchequer at Westminster—an institution that attracted both attention and some opprobrium in the later twelfth century. The records of these audits (which summoned other debtors beyond the sheriff) survive in the Pipe Rolls unbroken from 1156, one of the earliest continuous sets of administrative sources in European history.[17]

The second way was through a wide range of irregular, but not infrequent, central governmental inquiries. One of these, the itinerant late twelfth- to late thirteenth-century ‘general eyre’ of royal justices heard civil and criminal county pleas, including complaints against sheriffs.[18] In addition the crown commissioned specific inquiries into the conduct in office of sheriffs and other officials during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The sheriff was in this period therefore the target of both ad hoc and routine modes of accountability. The question here is what was the quality of accountability in either of these two broad fora; what was their relationship, and how did ideas of accountability change and differ from one to the other—especially in relation to comparable Continental practices?

The question is usefully approached by noting the broad separation of enquiries into shrieval fiscality on the one hand and wider conduct on the other, and its parallel with two interesting European frameworks developed separately by Thomas Bisson and Jean Glenisson.35

Glenisson’s schema was developed on the basis of his work on Louis IX’s France-wide enquiries into baillis’ and prevots’ behaviour before and after the 1248—54 Crusade.36 Glenisson described his interest as ‘administrative inquiries’, although wary of its potentially anachronistic formulation. He defined that type of inquiry as ‘all information summarily required by a power in a matter and focusing on an object which concerns either the rights and duties of the sovereign and the state, or the manner in which delegated authorities exercise their functions’.37 Hence, Glenisson sees two families with different goals but both nevertheless arising from the state’s ‘permanent need for control’. ‘The first has as its goal the investigation of information useful to the good administration of the state’s domanial and fiscal business. The second aspires to correcting and reforming abuses.’38 (Chesterfield, 2000); The Oxfordshire Eyre, 1241, ed. Janet Cooper, Oxfordshire Record Society 56 (Oxford, 1989); Crown Pleas of the Devon Eyre of1238, ed. Henry Summerson, Devon and Cornwall Record Society ns 28 (Torquay, 1985); The Eyre of Northamptonshire: 3—4 Edward III, A.D. 1329— 1330, ed. Donald W Sutherland, SS 97—8, (1983). For the forest eyre, Jane Frances Winters, ‘The Forest Eyre, 1154—1368’ (University of London Ph.D. thesis, 1999).

  • 35 I expand here on Sabapathy, ‘Accountable rectores in comparative perspective: the theory and practice of holding podesta and bishops to account (late twelfth to thirteenth centuries)’, in Agnes Berenger and Frederique Lachaud (eds.), Hierarchie des pouvoirs, delegation de pouvoir et responsa- bilite des administrateurs dans lAntiquite et au Moyen Age, Centre de Recherche Universitaire Lorrain d’Histoire, Universite de Lorraine—Site de Metz 46 (Metz, 2012), 220-4.
  • 36 Jean Glenisson, ‘Les Enquetes administratives en Europe occidentale aux XIII e et XIV e siecles’, in Werner Paravicini and Karl Ferdinand Werner (eds.), Histoire comparee de Padministration (IVе— XVIIеsiecles), Beihefte der Francia 9 (Munich, 1980), 17-25. Glenisson’s plan to extend and apply this framework more generally never materialized. The earlier work is summarized in Jean Glenisson, ‘Les Enqueteurs-reformateurs de 1270 a 1328’, in Positions des theses soutenues par les eleves de la promotion de 1946pour obtenir le diplome d’archivistepaleographe, Ecole nationale des chartes (1946), 81-8. For discussion and/or application see e.g. Anne Mailloux, ‘Pratiques administratives, definition des droits et fixation territoriale d’apres l’enquete ordonnee par Robert sur les droits de l’eveque de Gap entre 1305 et 1309’, in Jean-Paul Boyer, Anne Mailloux and Laure Verdon (eds.), La Justice temporelle dans les territoires angevins aux XIII e et XIVе siecles: Theories et pratiques, Collection de l’Ecole fran^aise de Rome 354 (Rome, 2005), 249-62; Marie Dejoux, ‘Mener une enquete generale, pratiques et meth- odes: l’exemple de la tournee ordonnee par Louis IX en Languedoc a l’hiver 1247^8’, in Thierry Pecout (ed.), Quand gouverner Pest enqueter: Les Pratiques politiques de Penquete princiere (Occident, XIIIe-XIVe siecles) (Paris, 2010), 133-55. I have been unable to consult Jean-Paul Boyer, ‘Construire l’etat en Provence. Les “Enquetes administratives” (mi-XIII e-mi-XIV e siecle)’, in Bernard Demotz (ed.), Desprincipautes aux regions dans Pespace europeen (Lyons, 1994), 1-26.
  • 37 Glenisson, ‘Enquetes administratives’, 18-19.
  • 38 Glenisson, ‘Enquetes administratives’, 19. Different original dynamics for ecclesiastical and secular inquisitions are suggested in Theodor Buhler-Reimann, ‘'EnqueteInquesta—Inquisitw, ZRG Kan. Abt. 61 (1975), 53-62. More useful is R. I. Moore’s stress on transference between secular and ecclesiastical practices. See his The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe (London,

Glenisson worried about the risk of anachronism in his schema. Can Louis’s enquetes really be thought of as ‘administrative’?39 An unanachronistic distinction between ‘useful administration’ and ‘correction and reform’ is available through the actual classical and medieval distinction between acting advantageously (utile) and acting with integrity (honeste)4 Glenisson’s two categories of inquisitiones stress the supposedly different social function of each. In practice though, his understandable stress on inquisitiones’ juridical form and etymological roots would underplay this aspect.41 A preoccupation with etymological parallels risks paying insufficient attention to functional similarities when such parallels are lacking. One reason for the lack of sustained comparisons between eyres (English judges itinerating on their ex officio judicial tourns with wide-ranging and variable mandates) and Continental inquisitiones such as that specified in the Constitutions of Melfi (judges and administrators ex officio investigating behaviour of various types)42 is perhaps the lack of a shared etymological link.43 Lastly, Glenisson’s two-family model risks an unhelpful 2012), 171—2 (Philip of Alsace’s 1163 code for Arras), 193 (cap. 21 of the 1166 Assize of Clarendon), 205—6 (Ad abolendam, 1184), 299—302 (1236 Montauban inquisitions) and his The First European Revolution, c.970-1215 (Oxford, 2000), 171-3.

  • 39 Glenisson, ‘Enquetes administratives’, 19-20. Cf. the October 1259 Provisions of Westminster in England, also described by their editors as ‘administrative and political resolutions’, which stipulated that there should be investigations into sheriffs and baronial and royal bailiffs (DBM #12, caps. 5-6).
  • 40 The Pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herrenium placed utilitas as the criterion of action, of which security (tuta) and integrity (honestas) were the two subtypes. Cicero himself sought to integrate the utile with the honestum, arguing that the action expressing both should be chosen, and in De officiis arguing that any contradiction between the two was apparent rather than real. On this see Matthew Kempshall, Rhetoric and the Writing of History, 400—1500 (Manchester, 2011), 229-34, and 234-42 for later usages.
  • 41 The juridical form he emphasizes is that of testimony and witnessing, Glenisson, ‘Enquetes administratives’, 17-18. Sandra Raban, ‘Edward I’s Other Inquiries’, TCE 9 (2003), 43-57 at 44, commented that this was too generic a form to be a useful distinguishing characteristic. Cf. Buhler-Reimann, ‘EnqueteInquesta—Inquisitw and see the many interesting papers in Claude Gauvard (ed.), LEnquete au Moyen Age, Collection Ecole fran^aise de Rome 399 (Rome, 2008).
  • 42 e.g. Die Konstitutionen Friedrichs II. fur das Konigreich sizilien, ed. Wolfgang Sturner, MGH Leges, Const. Suppl. 2 (Hannover, 1996), caps. 1.17, 1.28, and (in 1246) 1.62.2.
  • 43 The question of Continental influences on English inquisitiones has been, at times, obstructed by a tedious possessive chauvinism about wishing to demonstrate that it is ‘really’ English or ‘really’ Frankish. Helpful contributions are: R. Besnier, ‘«Inquisitiones» et «Recognitiones». Le Nouveau Systeme des preuves a l’epoque des Coutumiers normands’, Revue historique de droit fran^ais et etranger 28 (1950), 183-212; R. C. van Caenegem, ‘Public Prosecution of Crime in Twelfth-Century England’, Legal History: A European Perspective (London, 1991), 1-36; Sandra Raban, A Second Domesday? The Hundred Rolls of1279—80 (Oxford, 2004), 26-36. Alan Harding, Medieval Law and the Foundations of the State (Oxford, 2002), esp. 33-7, 118-23, 134—5, 147-60; Lachaud, Ethique du pouvoir, 404-16. A recent discussion rejecting Continental sworn inquests as parallels for the Domesday descriptio is David Roffe, Domesday: The Inquest and the Book (Oxford, 2000), ch. 3, esp. 54-5. There are differences of scale and intent but the approach and mentality are comparable. On this see R. H. C. Davis, ‘Domesday Book: Continental Parallels’, in Domesday Studies: Papers Read at the Novocentenary Conference of the Royal Historical Society and the Institute of British Geographers, Winchester 1986, ed. J. C. Holt (Woodbridge, 1987), 15-39. For Carolingian practices see e.g. the c.809-12 Lyons church survey in Alexandre Coville, Recherches sur lhistoire de Lyon du Vme siecle au IXme siecle, 450—800 (Paris, 1928), 283-8; Capitulare de villis in MGH Leges, Capitularia regum Francorum, ed. Alfred Boretius and Victor Krause, 2 vols. (Hannover, 1883-7), i. #32; the possibly 807 Capitula de causis diversis 4 (Capitularia regum Francorum, i. #49); the 811-13 capitulary on justice (Capitularia regum Francorum, i. #80); the possible template for inventories Brevium exem- pla (Capitularia regum Francorum, i. #128); and the commissioned survey into Holy Land churches

either/or approach to different modes of accountability.44 If the apparently principled purge of English sheriffs in 1170 is reformist it cannot be fiscal or utile. It is unhelpful to be obliged to make such choices, and there is no reason why ‘1170’ cannot pertain to both.

Thomas Bisson’s key distinction is determined by the quality of the relationship between servant and superior. In a series of important publications Bisson has argued for a ‘revival of office’ across many parts of Europe over the twelfth century. During this period, a ‘failing system of fidelitarian management’ was replaced by a ‘concept of accountable functional competence’, the ‘most nearly revolutionary change of the twelfth century’.45 Techniques (such as dynamic accounting and auditing)46 are both a cause and effect of the generally fiscal, functional competence that ties officer and superior by a quite different knot from that of a tie of fidelity. That latter accountability of fidelity dominates European polities before the later twelfth century and Bisson argues that in the eleventh and twelfth centuries

Sheriffs, viscounts (notably in Normandy) and (lay) vicars were entrusted with public powers of command and demand [. . .] If the form of such service remained administrative or official, its essence had become proprietary or personal. The men sent out to collect and command were not so much agents as companions in lordship [. . .] Of official appointment or election there is very little evidence before the later twelfth century; and of stipulated accountability on the part of bailiffs and provosts, none at all [. . .]

c. 801—10 in Michael McCormick, Charlemagne's Survey of the Holy Land: Wealth, Personnel, and Buildings of a Mediterranean Church between Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Washington DC, 2011), esp. 148—9, 155—159, 200—217. For older comparisons of different aspects of accountability/bureau- cracy see e.g. Charles Petit-Dutaillis, La Monarchie feodale en France et Angleterre, Xe—XHIe siecle (Paris, 1933); and Heinrich Mitteis, The State in the Middle Ages: A Comparative Constitutional History of Feudal Europe, trans. H. F. Orton (Amsterdam, 1975). Adriaan Verhulst and Bryce Lyon, Medieval Finance, is valuable but can be unclear. See also the works cited by W C. Jordan, T. N. Bisson, and R. I. Moore. Stubbs’s stress on admixture remains strikingly sane: William Stubbs, The Constitutional History of England in its Origin and Development, 3rd edn. 3 vols. (Oxford, 1880), i. 275—6, 434—9.

  • 44 For criticism within the French enquetes context see Dejoux, ‘Mener une enquete generale’, and Olivier Canteaut, ‘Le Juge et le financier: Les Enqueteurs-reformateurs des derniers Capetiens (1314— 1328)’, in Gauvard (ed.) LEnquete au Moyen Age, 269—318. For editions of post-Louis IX enquetes see the Enquetes menees sous les derniers Capetiens, ed. Xavier Helary and Elisabeth Lalou, ffidilis, Publications scientifiques 4 (Orleans, 2006—9), online only at, accessed February 2014. From an English perspective, Sally Harvey’s forthcoming Domesday: Book of Judgement (Oxford, 2014) would argue Domesday entailed an ‘inquest of sheriffs’ that was interested in both shrieval conduct and royal fiscality.
  • 45 Bisson reviewing Moore, First European Revolution, c.970—1215 (Oxford, 2000), in Speculum 77 (2002), 1366—8 at 1367. More widely, see T. N. Bisson, Fiscal Accounts of Catalonia under the Early Count-Kings (1151—1213), 2 vols. (Berkeley, Calif., 1984), i. Introduction; ‘Les Comptes des domaines au temps du Philippe Auguste: essai comparatif’, in his Medieval France and her Pyrenean Neighbours: Studies in Early Institutional History (London, 1989); the P&P ‘ “Feudal Revolution” debate’ (references at p. 18 n.92); ‘Medieval Lordship’, Speculum 70 (1995); Tormented Voices: Power, Crisis and Humanity in Rural Catalonia, 1140—1200 (Cambridge Mass., 1998); The Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the Origins of European Government (Princeton, NJ, 2009).
  • 46 Bisson, Crisis of the Twelfth Century, 326^9. By ‘dynamic’ Bisson means that the demands made and so the accounts offered are not fixed and ideal (‘prescriptive’) but based on fresh assessments of value that are regularly reviewed. Cf. my comments about Tidenham and the Rectitudines, pp. 56—8.

accountancy was a matter of lordly or courtly sociability: [. . .] it was informal, remedial,

and occasional.[19]

These two currents (fidelity/office) flow in contrary directions because they are premised on different relationships between officer and superior. Bisson’s general argument is that the ‘accountability of fidelity’ runs out and is gradually displaced by ‘the accountability of office’ from the late twelfth century. The two types have been taken as mutually exclusive, although Bisson argues that they are rather sliding scales—and this is a more useful way of understanding the contrast he draws.[20] On Bisson’s interpretation holding officers to account for their managerial competence is a sign of office; office is sign of government; and government is the premise for real politics. Shrieval accountability at the Exchequer would therefore be a sign of functional, fiscal, official competence. Shrieval liability at eyres and shrieval-specific ad hoc inquiries by contrast might be a sign of what Bisson elsewhere calls moral or remedial accountability. How these elements actually combine in the figure of the sheriff is problematic as will become clear, but Bisson is surely right overall about the increasing stress given to office-holding and accountability (it is, after all, the subject of this study).

Bisson’s and Glenisson’s schemas appear to complement and correlate with forms of shrieval accountability. Sheriffs are subject to one sort of fiscal audit focusing on competence and money-management. Sheriffs are also subject to inquiries attentive to more equitable aspects of their conduct.[21] Money and fiscal competence in one arena; ethics, conduct, lawbreaking in another is the apparent division of labour.

One way to assess the quality of shrieval accountability—and to see how far these models work—is to see how people thought Exchequer accountability worked. Rather than looking at a particular sheriff in the first instance, since there are numerous individual studies, and since it provides important insights and merits a rereading, I will focus on an important Exchequer insider’s view: that of Richard of Ely,

Treasurer at the Exchequer (1158 x 1160—c.1196) and author of a treatise about it. To gauge his perspective I need to look first at some critics of the Exchequer.

  • [1] e.g. CPR 1247—1258, 197, sheriff of York’s inquisition into a homicide.
  • [2] e.g. Hugh of Buckland presided over the Berkshire county court, see Morris, Medieval EnglishSheriff, 89; Palmer, County Courts, 28, 35—7.
  • [3] LHP, cap. 53.1 refers to the summoner of the county court—a shrieval function—as iusticia regis.
  • [4] Palmer, County Courts, 228—9; Maddicott, ‘Edward I and the Lessons of Baronial Reform’.
  • [5] LHP, caps. 10.1, 10.4, 19.1. 22 LHP, cap. 51.
  • [6] 23 LHP, caps. 8.1, 8.2. In general W. A. Morris, The Frankpledge System (Cambridge, Mass., 1910);
  • [7] Hudson, Oxford History of the Laws of England, 555—6. Not all counties had a tourn.
  • [8] CPR 1247-1258, 281 (24 March 1254, regarding the 1253 reissue).
  • [9] On regional terms, W C. Jordan, Louis IX and the Challenge of the Crusade: A Study in Rulership(Princeton, NJ, 1979), 46; Pascale Bourgain and Marie-Clotilde Hubert, Le Latin medieval, L’Atelierdu medieviste 10 (Turnhout, 2005), 100 and examples at 254—5, 315—18.
  • [10] 26 For introductions to specialized literature, Benjamin Arnold, ‘Instruments of Power: The Profileand Profession of Ministeriales within German Aristocratic Society (1050—1225)’, in Thomas Bisson(ed.), Cultures of Power: Lordship, Status and Process in Twelfth-Century Europe (Philadelphia, 1995), 36—55; Arnold, German Knighthood, 1050-1300 (Oxford, 1985), and Karl Leyser, ‘The German Aristocracyfrom the Ninth to the Early Twelfth Century: A Historical and Cultural Sketch’, P&P41 (1968), 25—53.
  • [11] Nelson, ‘Kingship and Royal Government’, esp. 411—14; McKitterick, Charlemagne, passim; deJong, Penitential State, passim.
  • [12] Stuart Airlie, ‘Bonds of Power and Bonds of Association in the Court Circle of Louis the Pious’,in Peter Godman and Roger Collins (eds.), Charlemagne's Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis thePious (814-840) (Oxford, 1990), 191—204, arguing that fiscalini did not uphold an ideal of dispassionateservice for some sort of public good (193—4). They were answerable for their conduct, though (198—200).
  • [13] Scir-gerefa, or shire-reeve in Old English, vicecomes, in Latin; the comes was a military rank introduced by Constantine. Vicarius was also a Roman title of the provincial governors, technically thedeputies of praetorian prefects.
  • [14] Bartlett, England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 150. For example, the 21 July 1253power given to Eleanor and Richard of Cornwall to remove sheriffs who ‘fall short in their offices’while Henry III is on the Continent, CPR 1247—1258, 214.
  • [15] 31 Green, Government of England, 40.
  • [16] M. T. Clanchy, England and its Rulers, 1066-1307, 3rd edn. (Oxford, 2006), 58.
  • [17] A fragment of an earlier roll has been found by Mark Hagger in a St Albans cartulary, see ‘A PipeRoll for 25 Henry I’, EHR 122 (2007), 133-40. Judith Green argues that the 1130 roll reflects ‘fundamentally the same department of government as that described in the Dialogus, but at a slightly earlierstage of development’, ‘Praeclarum et Magnificum Antiquitatis Monumentum: The Earliest SurvivingPipe Roll’ [Bulletin of the Institute of] Historical Research 55 (1982), 1-17 at 2. See now her new edn.The Great Roll of the Pipe for the Thirty First Year of the Reign of Henry I, Michaelmas 1130 (Pipe Roll 1),ed. Judith A. Green, Pipe Roll Society ns 57 (95) (Loughborough, 2012). For a thirteenth-centuryoverview, Richard Cassidy,
  • [18] David Crook, Records of the General Eyre, Public Record Office Handbooks 20 (London, 1982),47-52; Hudson, Oxford History of the Laws of England, 544-8. In general see C. A. F. Meekings’introductions to his Crown Pleas of the Wiltshire Eyre, 1249, Wiltshire Archaeological and NaturalHistory Society 16 (Devizes, 1961) and The 1235 Surrey Eyre, ed. C. A. F. Meekings, completed byDavid Crook, 3 vols., Surrey Record Society 31, 32, 37 (Guildford, 1979-2002), i. A general synthesis, building on the many individual analyses, is now needed. Eyre records edited since 1982 includeAdrian Jobson, ‘The Oxfordshire Eyre Roll of 1261’, 3 vols. (University of London Ph.D. thesis,2006), The Civil Pleas of the Suffolk Eyre of 1240, ed. Eric James Gallagher, Suffolk Record Society52 (Woodbridge, 2009); The Earliest English Law Reports, vols. iii-iv, ed. Paul A. Brand, SS 122-3(London, 2005-7); The Worcester Eyre of1275, ed. Jens Rohrkasten, Worcestershire Historical SocietyNS, 22 (Trowbridge, 2008); The Northumberland Eyre Roll for 1293, ed. Constance M. Fraser, SurteesSociety 211 (Woodbridge, 2009); The 1263 Surrey Eyre, ed. Susan Stewart, Surrey Record Society 40(Woking, 2006); The Buckinghamshire Eyre of 1286, ed. Lesley Boatwright, Buckinghamshire RecordSociety 34 (Aylesbury, 2006); The 1258-9 Special Eyre of Surrey and Kent, ed. Andrew H. Hershey,Surrey Record Society 38 (Woking, 2004); 1235 Surrey Eyre, ed. Meekings with Crook; The Rollsof the 1281 Derbyshire Eyre, ed. Aileen M. Hopkinson, intr. Crook, Derbyshire Record Society 27
  • [19] Bisson, ‘Medieval Lordship’, 752—3, and developed in Fiscal Accounts of Catalonia, i, TormentedVoices, and Crisis.
  • [20] 48 I am grateful to Professor Bisson for discussion and comment. I take his types in a Weberianrather than a Platonic spirit—i.e. rather than proving them by demonstrating their absolute manifestation in history one uses such ideal types as guides for ‘things to look for’ a la Wickham (see pp. 6,20—1, and John Sabapathy, A Medieval Officer and a Modern Mentality: Podesta and the Quality ofAccountability’, Mediaeval Journal 1.2 (2011), 76—9). The point is first whether ideal types are helpfulrather than whether they are right, although with any ideal type its basic premises may turn out to besufficiently wrong as to be no longer helpful (as many would argue is the case with Weber on towns).For interesting reviews of Bisson’s Crisis see that by Theo Riches, Reviews in History (2009), togetherwith Bisson’s response ( and, both accessed February 2014); Robert Bartlett, ‘Lords of “Pride andPlunder” ’, New York Review of Books 57/11 (24 June 2010), 47—50, with Bisson’s response by letteron 11 November 2010; Judith Green, English Historical Review, 125 (2010), 680—2; and R. I. Moore,American Historical Review 115 (2010), 172—4.
  • [21] Cf. Bernard Williams, ‘Professional Morality and its Dispositions’, in his Making Sense ofHumanity and Other Philosophical Papers 1982—1993 (Cambridge, 1995), 200. For the existenceof substantive rather than formal standards in thirteenth-century England, see Paul Brand, ‘EthicalStandards for Royal Justices in England, c.1175—1307’, University of Chicago Law School Roundtable8 (2001), 239-79.
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