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The Dialogue of the Exchequer. ‘That edifies, this enables’

Richard of Ely was keen to make powerfully clear the direct, practical value of the Exchequer to Henry II. The ‘observances necessary at your Exchequer’ enabled the King to be, in practice, king, ‘since a glut or lack of portable wealth exalts or humbles princes’ powers’.72 This is what made the Exchequer such a remarkable system and why its Treasurer was keen to explain and extol its—and concurrently his—virtues. Richard’s encomium to his own institution was so great he could compare his father, restoring the lost laws of the Exchequer following the civil war, to Ezra, the great restorer of Jewish law.73 The Dialogue itself, as a practical manual, is taken widely and rightly as exceptional.74 It is not at all clear what its next or nearest equivalents are.75 Such is its value that historians have devoutly wished equivalents existed for other Angevin institutions.76 That is why dedicating such an exceptional treatise to it, and

  • 71 On the problems of reading texts such as this see J. C. Holt, The Northerners: A Study in the Reign of King John, rev. edn. (Oxford, 1992), 189—90. On the distinct matter of technical Exchequer practice the Dialogus should not be taken as necessarily accurate beyond the late twelfth century. See Cassidy, ‘Recorda splendidissima 3, 6.
  • 72 DS, Dedication, 1. 73 DS, I.viii at 50.
  • 74 R. W. Southern grouped the Dialogus with John of Salisbury’s Policraticus and the legal treatise and collection of legal writ forms called Glanvill and argued that ‘they were not simply manuals or text-books for office use [. . .]: they aspired [. . .] to invest the routine of government with an intellectual generality’, ‘The Place of England in the Twelfth Century Renaissance’, in Southern, Medieval Humanism and Other Studies (Oxford, 1970), 158—80 at 176. Similar comments: Frederick Pollock and Frederic William Maitland, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, reissued edn. by S. F. C. Milsom, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1968), i. 161—2; C. H. Haskins ‘Henry II as a Patron of Literature’, in A. G. Little and F. M. Powicke (eds.), Essays in Medieval History Presented to Thomas Frederick Tout (Manchester, 1925), 71—7 at 77 (paired again with Glanvill); Richardson and Sayles, Governance of Mediaeval England, 242—3 (expressed negatively); M. T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England 1066—1307, 3rd edn. (Chichester, 2013), 69 (twinned with Glanvill)'; Bisson, ‘Medieval Lordship’, 757; Moore, First European Revolution, 144.
  • 75 On Byzantium see Pierre Toubert, ‘Byzantium and the Mediterranean Agrarian Civilization’, in The Economic History of Byzantium from the Seventh through the Fifteenth Century, gen. ed. Angeliki E. Laiou, 3 vols. (Washington DC, 2002), i. 377—91, with brief discussion (389—91) of the parallel between the vil- licus of the Capitulare de villis and the epitropos of the Geoponika. Nicolas Oikonomides, ‘The Role of the Byzantine State in the Economy (Economic History of Byzantium, iii. 973—1058), suggests many lines of enquiry, including (994—5) the appearance of the central and provincial accountants (logariastai) in 1012 and Alexios Komnemoss two new auditing institutions from 1094. Hugh Kennedy suggests the Buyid administrator/historian Miskawayh (c.932—?1030) as a potential Islamic comparator given his Tajarib al-umam (Experiences of the Nations) and Tahdhib al-akhlaq (Health of the Soul) (personal communication). Parts trans. in The Eclipse of the Abbasid Caliphate: Original Chronicles of the Fourth Islamic Century, ed. H. F. Amedroz and D. S. Margoliouth, 7 vols. (Oxford, 1920—1), and The Refinement of Character: A Translation from the Arabic of Ahmad ibn-Muha mmad Miskawayh's Tahdhib al-Akhlaq, trans. Constantine K. Zurayk (Beirut, 1968). See M. Arkoun’s entry on Miskawayh in The Encyclopaedia of Islam ed. H. A R. Gibb et al., 12 vols. (Leiden, 1960-2009).
  • 76 Nicholas Vincent, ‘Why 1199? Bureaucracy and Enrolment under John and his Contemporaries’, Adrian Jobson (ed.), English Government in the Thirteenth Century (Woodbridge, 2004), 17—48 at 17 (on chancery).

Henry II, would have marked out the forty-something Exchequer clerk from any run-of-the-mill accountant.[1] It must have seemed a good career move to a man who was then running the Ely diocese in the shadow of his sick father, still yet to attain any significant senior ecclesiastical post.[2] It seems unlikely that Richard of Ely did not have hopes for the effect the Dialogus might have on his prospects.[3]

Given the critiques of Exchequer culture, it is striking that the Dialogue of the Exchequer offers a explicitly pragmatic, fiscal justification of ‘Exchequer rules’. It does not assert its own integrity by appealing to the sorts of conventional ethical justifications that would please a Walter Map or a Gerald of Wales. The political thinking it offers is unusual and its own.[4] Clanchy has argued that the Dialogue, ‘with its emphasis on the efficacy of money rather than virtue, looks like the first work by a British empiricist’.[5] It is not a flippant comparison.

The heart of Richard’s pragmatic, instrumental picture of government is set out in the Dialogus’s dedication to Henry II. The dedication is short, but worth analysing in detail since the sheriff’s accountability flows from the Exchequer’s approach here.

The opening of Richard’s dedication is conventional enough, echoing St Paul’s de facto justification of political power from Romans 13: ‘To the powers ordained by God it is necessary to be both subject and subservient in all fear. For every power is from the Lord God.’[6] Henry’s virtues as a king follow as a demonstration of that scriptural proof. But the core of Richard’s praise of Henry is of a notably material cast. When Richard calls Henry ‘greatest of worldly princes’ the stress falls on ‘worldly’.[7] The King had much money to spend. What he spent it on varied: castles and wages in war, churches, the poor, and charity in peace.[8] And the more money he spent the more of a king he was.[9] Richard’s point is that the Exchequer enabled this. More interestingly, Henry’s gloriousness is visible because he spends money well, ‘in places, at times, on persons on the basis of legitimate reasons’.86 Regal largesse had obviously mattered before Henry II and before even Beowulf, but Richard’s praise of right spending tastes distinctive. It is as a guide to getting and managing money so that the King can spend it that the Dialogue is dedicated to Henry. So concerned was Henry about Exchequer procedure, says Richard, that, ‘having sent discreet men from your side you [Henry] summoned the then Lord of Ely’, Nigel, the magister's/Richard’s own father.87 ‘Nor’, adds Richard, ‘was it ridiculous for [you], a man of such enormous insight, a prince of such singular power, to attend to this amongst other, greater things.’88

Richard’s implication is that there was little of greater importance. Yet denying its ridiculousness also signals Richard’s concern that others might think just that. One can see why by looking at more conventional measures of praise for Henry in, say, Jordan Fantosme’s romance Chronicle (c.1174—5) about the 1173 rebellion of Henry’s sons.89 Here Henry vows to attack the rebels no matter how much gold he should be offered (l. 143).90 Henry’s views about the just seisin of estates (ll. 217—18) are equally some distance from Richard’s pragmatic defence of Henry’s properties, irrespective of how they were obtained. The style of regality is quite different from Richard’s. Given Fantosme’s genre this is no surprise, but the point is that Fantosme’s criteria of regality were more common, Richard’s more unusual.

A more comparably ‘practical’ treatise, also dedicated to Henry II, is the very nearly contemporaneous English legal treatise Glanvill (completed 1187—9) and with which the Dialogue is often paired.91 Glanvills dedication is far more conventional. Where Richard stresses what money can resolve, Glanvill stresses how fitting and decorative is the law to kingship, a more usual theme, and one expressed in a less hard-nosed or assertive manner.92 But for Richard, ‘In either [war or peace] the glory of princes lies in vigorous action, but it excels in those where, for a worldly outlay, they obtain a happy bargain which lasts.’93

When Richard does acknowledge the place of the cardinal virtues in ruling, his concession sounds rather perfunctory. We know ‘indeed how kingdoms are ruled and laws upheld, principally through prudence, fortitude, temperance or jus ti ce and other virtues’.[10] But, he goes on, ‘it sometimes turns out that what is proposed by admirable counsel or excellent insight takes root more quickly through the intercession of money, and that what seemed difficult then turns out to be easy, as in any type of business’.[11] Ruling a kingdom is just like any other sort of business.[12] By their own admission, Walter Map’s ‘businessmen’ are at work in the Exchequer for the king. ‘It is proper to serve them [kings and other powers] not only by protecting the dignities through which the glory of the king’s power shines out, but [by protecting] the wealth of worldly means which pertains to them by reason of their status. For that edifies, but this enables.’[13] Richard is interested in what works, and money works. In book 2 the magister discusses offerings (de oblatis) made to the king, including those made in spem, ‘in hope’ of some future conduct by the king. The magister is very quick however to say that this is not offered ‘so that justice may be done—lest you flare up and say he puts justice up for sale—but rather so it may be done without delay’ (my stress).[14] The magisters—Richard’s—sensitivity belies just how credible such suspicions must have seemed (it also shows a mastery of subtlety, Exchequer style). It was neither very far nor long from this suspicion to cap. 40 of Magna Carta proscribing the selling, denying, and delaying of justice.[15] In less sensitive areas Richard’s hardnosed pragmatism was more assertive, willing to countenance support for possibly unlawful, and certainly questionable, royal actions.

Those who lack [wealth] become the spoils of their enemies, while those who have it take their enemies as spoils. Clearly much of this wealth comes to kings, not according to the strict letter of the law, but sometimes because of the laws of countries, sometimes because of the hidden counsels of [kings’] hearts, and sometimes even because of the licence of their will [sue uoluntatis arbitrio]. However their deeds cannot be either discussed or condemned by their inferiors.[16]

Richard seems reasonably content to accept a king’s arbitrary will. If we presume these views reflect a wider Exchequer ‘culture’ they are important because they set both the tone and limits for officials’ conduct, a culture whose influence should not be underestimated.[17]

This justification of royal arbitrium seems distinct from the Roman law tag, ‘what pleases the prince has the force of law’, a mechanism for legitimating the prince’s desires.[18] For Richard the answer to ‘Kto kogo? is clear and clearly different between this world and the next. All officers are accountable here to the king, and no subject or subordinate has the power (given Romans 13: 1) to hold the king to account.

Therefore, whatever may appear to be the basis or nature of such [regal] acquisitions, for those who are appointed their official guards there should be no let-up in care, but a solicitous love in collecting, conserving and distributing these things—as if an account of the kingdom’s status will be required—[and] by which its integrity endures [cf. Hebrews 13: 17].[19]

In Hebrews 13: 17 obedience follows from leaders’ liability to account for the souls in their keeping.[20] In Richard’s version officials’ accountability pertains not to souls but to the liquidity of the status regni.[21] This view is to be internalized by Exchequer officials the better to uphold it. The preservation and the perpetuation of king and kingdom is Richard’s goal, obtained by that worldly wealth that sticks to the king because of his status, and to whose protection his officials are bound.[22] That is the purpose of acceding to any apparent royal impropriety. Any royal accountability is deferred to God.

For their [kings’] hearts and the movements of their hearts are in the hands of God; and those who have been entrusted with the care of their subjects by God Himself will on that account stand or fall by divine not human judgement. For no one, however so rich he is should deceive himself that he will flout expectations unpunished, since it is written thus, ‘the powerful will suffer powerful torments’.[23]

The political thinking Richard endorses is not completely idiosyncratic. Other Norman and Anglo-Norman texts express a confident association between measurement, judgement, and ruling which complement Richard’s picture of shrieval accountability at the Exchequer.

Hugo Falcandus presented the Norman Roger II of Sicily (1130—1154), as preoccupied with saving rather than spending, as did Romuald of Salerno (in contrast to the English stress on spending).[24] Wace’s portrait of Henry’s Norman ancestor, Richard II Duke of Normandy (d. 1026) is of direct interest since Wace was another member of Henry’s court, and the Roman de Rou (c.1170-82) was commissioned by the King. Wace has this Richard auditing in a counting house of his own.[25] A learned Lombard, Master Bernard, travels all the way to Rouen having heard of Richard’s excellence and goodness. Upon arrival though Richard is too busy and his host tells Bernard:

You will not be able to speak to him at all for a week. He remains in that high tower and does not leave it night or day; no one can enter the tower unless he is summoned by name. He has brought together all the provosts, bailiffs, tax-collectors and vicomtes in this land; he is doing his reckoning and accounts. After dinner, when he is tired he leans out of a window which overlooks the Seine and sits there for a good long time, gazing at the woods and the people crossing the bridge.[26]

The monastic historian Orderic Vitalis described William Rufus’s ministerial exactor Ranulf Flambard who measured the country with a rope to revise its tax burden.[27] Such practice was arguably all of a piece with the overall set of inquiries and evaluations that produced the Domesday records.[28] In Naples, Roger II was described pacing the city walls by night, working out they were 2,363 paces long, duly amazing its inhabitants with this datum and his wisdom.[29] Roger indeed looks like the Norman calculator par excellence. The Sicilian or North African scholar al-Idrisi explicitly correlates his political and arithmetical skill,[30] and describes how Roger wanted to know the ‘condition of his state’, commissioning new maps and measurements of his territories, seas, and harbours which he then personally checked with an iron compass.[31] If it was ‘always school’ under Henry II that may have been a kindergarten compared with Alexander of Telese’s workaholic Roger.[32]

[Roger] hardly ever gave way to idleness or relaxation, so much so that if and when it should happen that he was not involved with some more profitable [utilioribus] occupation, then either he supervised the public exactions or checked what had been, or ought to have been given, or ought to be received, with the result that through studying the accounts he always understood better the revenues which had to be paid to his treasury, and from where they ought to be drawn.[33]

One is reminded of the connection suggested between estate management, accountability, accounting, and rulership discussed earlier (pp. 76—82 and 78 n. 283).

These parallels illustrate the stream of twelfth-century thinking, some specifically Angevin, which praised royal fiscal and administrative skill, and with which the Dialogue flows. But the tenor of Richard’s description of Exchequer political thinking is subtler. It is not just that Richard takes money seriously. The criticisms of Walter Map, Gerald of Wales, and Stephen Langton show the unoriginality of doing that. Like Wace or Alexander, but far more systematically, Richard’s originality is his willingness to offer fiscality as an explicit, considered programme for government—without embarrassment, adornment, or hypocrisy. Government is like any other business. Regality is filtered unapologetically through the lens of fiscality. The perspective is a notable one for a twelfth-century clerical administrator to articu- late.[34] It was doubtless more novel in expression than fact, but it is a reflection of the Exchequer’s standing—and Richard’s gimlet-eye—that it could find expression at all.

  • [1] On Richard’s abilities and achievements, see Richardson’s comments, ‘Richard fitz Neal and theDialogus de Scaccario', 166.
  • [2] 78 In terms of his secular office as Treasurer at the Exchequer, Richard is keen to emphasize boththe importance of this office and the fact that it is not one of the most senior: ‘Officium thesaurariiuel cura uel sollicitudo ipsius uix explicari posset uerbis etiam si esset mihi “calamus scribe uelociterscribentis” ’ and ‘Numquid a thesaurio compotus suscipitur cum illic multi sint qui ratione potestatismaiores uideantur?’, respectively DS I.v and I.i at 28, 7.
  • [3] If the treatise was finished by the end of the 1170s (notwithstanding later amendments) something shifted soon afterwards in Richard’s fortunes: he was made Dean of Lincoln in 1183 and (eventually) Bishop of London in 1189—under Richard—and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s stand-induring his crusading absence in 1190. Wace and Gerald of Wales are good comparators of Angevinliteracy, ambition, and disappointment entangled.
  • [4] 8° The Dialogue, because of its great importance as a source for the functioning of the Exchequer,has been underestimated and not infrequently despised as a text in its own right. This is most manifestin historians’ willingness to take literally the obviously contradictory statement by the discipulus thatthe magister will write ‘not subtly but usefully’. I hope to discuss the Dialogues subtlety more generally elsewhere, focusing here only on its account of Exchequer political thinking and accountability.
  • [5] 81 Clanchy, England and its Rulers, 59.
  • [6] DS, Dedication, 1. 83 DS, Dedication, 2. 84 DS, Dedication, 2.
  • [7] 85 Cf. John Gillingham and Robert Bartlett’s comments that it was a sign of regal success not to
  • [8] be in England, but (spending money) abroad fighting: respectively, The Angevin Empire, 2nd edn.
  • [9] (London, 2001), 1, 73, 115, and England under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 13.
  • [10] DS, Dedication, 2. On virtues see Istvan P. Bejczy, The Cardinal Virtues in the Middle Ages: A Studyin Moral Thought from the Fourth to the Fourteenth Century (Leiden, 2011).
  • [11] DS, Dedication, 2.
  • [12] 96 Richard must have known how provocative this would be. Cf. the far more conventional rejection of justice as negotiationis species in The Letters of John of Salisbury, i. The Early Letters, ed. W J.Millor and H. E. Butler, rev. C. N. L. Brooke, NMT (London, 1955), #100 at 160. By the latethirteenth century this view was less shocking, but still indicative of a particular political pragmatism.Cf. the c.1297 Dispute between the Priest and the Knight, ed. Norma N. Erickson, Proceedings of theAmerican Philosophical Society 111 (1967), 288—309 at 299—300. The knight argues in favour of theview that money (and therefore taxes) contribute to the public good: ‘Clara enim racione concediturut respublica reipublice sumptibus defendatur. . .’ (299).
  • [13] 97 DS, Dedication, 1.
  • [14] 98 DS, II.xxiii at 120. Comment on the wider political manipulability of writs in AndrewH. Hershey, ‘Justice and Bureaucracy: The English Royal Writ and “1258”’, EHR 113 (1998), 829—51, esp. 834-5, 840 n. 2.
  • [15] Holt, Magna Carta, App. 6, cap. 40.
  • [16] DS, Dedication, 1. David Carpenter argues that the Dialogue seems embarrassed about theking’s arbitrary will (Struggle for Mastery, 295). I think that Richard would not have mentioned it ifhe did feel embarassed, especially not in the Dedication. I take it rather as a further sign of Richard’sdesire to describe how he understands power actually working. I do think he wishes to show that theExchequer has a powerful degree of discretion (see here pp. 103-10). I am grateful to him for discussion. Arbitrium in the later thirteenth century ius commune tradition could be a complex nuancedterm: Massimo Vallerani, Medieval Public Justice, trans. Sarah Rubin Blanshei, Studies in Medievaland Early Modern Canon Law 9 (Washington, 2012), 60-5, 72.
  • [17] Cf. Thomas Nagel’s observation that ‘the degree to which ruthlessness is acceptable in publiclife—the ways in which public actors may have to get their hands dirty—depends on moral features ofthe institutions through which public action is carried out’, ‘Ruthlessness in Public Life’, in his MortalQuestions (Cambridge, 1979), 74—90 at 82—3.
  • [18] Institutes 1.2.6; Digest 1.4.1. This tag is used in Glanvill, 2. For Roman law in Glanvill, see vanCaenegem, Royal Writs in England, 379—86. For discussion of the principle see Pennington, Prince andthe Law, 28, and the index of Roman law citations for Digest 1.4.1. On tags see Paul Hyams in ‘DueProcess versus the Maintenance of Order in European Law: The Contribution of the ius commune’, inPeter Coss (ed.), The Moral World of the Law (Cambridge, 2000), 62—90 at 86—90.
  • [19] DS, Dedication, 1—2.
  • [20] ‘Oboedite praepositis vestris et subiacete eis, ipsi enim pervigilant quasi rationem pro animabusvestris reddituri ut cum gaudio hoc faciant et non gementes, hoc enim non expedit vobis.’
  • [21] DS, Dedication, 1.
  • [22] 106 Gaines Post’s argument that the Dialogus provides important evidence of Romanizing ratio status seems somewhat over-egged to me. See Studies in Medieval Legal Thought: Public Law and the State,1100—1322 (Princeton, NJ, 1964), passim and esp. ‘Ratio publicae utilitatis, ratio status, and “reasonof state”, 1100—1300’, 241—309. Post also overlooks the relevant context for Richard: his family’serstwhile tormentor, Stephen, had banned Roman law, thereby sweetening whatever romanesque allusions Richard cared to make. See R. W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe,ii. The Heroic Age (Oxford, 2001), 156—8.
  • [23] 107 DS, Dedication, 1, drawing on Proverbs 21: 1, Romans 14: 4, and Wisdom of Solomon 6: 7.
  • [24] ‘Ingentes etiam thesauros ad regni tuitionem posteritati consulens preparavit ac Panormi repo-suit’, La historia o liber de regno Sicilie e la epistola ad Petrum Panormitane urbis thesaurium di UgoFalcando, ed. G. B. Siragusa, FSI 22 (Rome, 1897), 6; also Romualdi Salernitani Chronicon, ed. C. A.Garufi, RIS2 7.1 (1914—35), 237: In acquirenda pecunia multum sollicitus, in expendenda non pluri-mum largus.’
  • [25] Given the connection with Henry II, the relative chronology, and the image of a ‘Richard’ whois counting or associated with counting in a high tower that looks out over a river it seems to me likelythat Wace’s image of Richard II is the principal source for the famous opening image of the Dialogueproper: ‘In the twenty-third year of King Henry II when I was sitting at a tower window next to theflowing Thames a man called urgently to me’ (DS, Prologue, 5). I hope to address these textual aspectsof the Dialogue elsewhere. Richard II was Henry II’s great-great-great-grandfather.
  • [26] no The History of the Norman People: Waces Roman de Rou, trans. Glyn S. Burgess, notes withElisabeth van Houts (Woodbridge, 2004), 113—14.
  • [27] in Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, iv. 172 (VIII.8), discussion in R. W. Southern, ‘RanulfFlambard’, Medieval Humanism, 183—205 at 190, 194. Exactor was a technical term for the king’sshire reeve responsible for revenue collection. See Sally Harvey, ‘Domesday Book and Anglo-NormanGovernance’, TRHS 5th ser. 25 (1975), 175-93 at 180.
  • [28] Harvey, ‘Domesday Book and Anglo-Norman Governance, 188-93, arguing for Domesday asan synthesis of both more recent and longer-established administrative practices, and building on her‘Domesday Book and its Predecessors’, EHR 86 (1971), 753-73.
  • [29] Falcone di Benevento, Chronicon Beneventanum: citta e feudi nelLItalia dei Normanni, ed.Edoardo D’Angelo (Florence, 1998), 236 (for 1140 at 5.9-11); discussion, Hubert Houben, RogerII of Sicily: A Ruler between East and West, trans. Graham A. Loud and Diane Milburn (Cambridge,2002), 105.
  • [30] Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula, ed. and trans. Michele Amari, 2 vols. (Turin, 1880), i. 35. The encomium starts at 33.
  • [31] Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula, 36—40. See the discussion in Houben, Roger II, 103—4, and further inRoger IIand the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily, trans. Graham A. Loud (Manchester, 2012), 355—63.
  • [32] The boast made by Peter of Blois to the Archbishop of Palermo, c.1177, PL 207, Ep. 66 atcol. 198. It is frustratingly impossible to reconstruct the Sicilian—English administrative connection.
  • [33] Alexandri Telesini abbatis Ystoria Rogerii regis Sicilie Calabrie atque Apulie, ed. Ludovica DeNava and Dione Clementi, FSI 112 (Rome, 1991), IV.3—4 at 82—3, trans. drawing on Houben, RogerII, 157. Alexander is also keen to point out that Roger ‘was not headlong, but before he did anythinghe was careful always to study it with the eye of prudence [providentie oculo]’ and when on militaryexpeditions ‘wherever possible he overcame without bloodshed and thus always tried to avoid risk [dis-crimen] to his army’ (IV. 4). Further, Loud, Roger II and the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily, 121—2.
  • [34] Further comparison with Hugo Falcandus’s unillusioned, moral pragmatism would be interesting (e.g. Historia o liber de regno Sicilie, 6).
 
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