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The Purpose of Shrieval Accountability: Utility, the Fisc, and the Kingdom’s Good

Richard’s political pragmatism does not, however, lack scruples, ethics, or a sense of equity. The question (Who, whom?) is rather who defines the purpose of Ezra-like reformed Exchequer accountability—a central issue in the great crises of 1213—15 and 1258—66. For Richard the re-establishment of a solvent, stable kingdom justifies the administrative and fiscal means to get to it. Fiscality enables regality. Mammon produces mercy.[1] For Richard the end justifies the means, and the end is equity and utility of king and kingdom. Michael Clanchy suggested that the Dialogue can be seen as the first work of British empiricism. It can also be seen, literally but not trivially, as the first work of British political utilitarianism.

While, says Richard, the offices of those who sit at the upper Exchequer ‘seem to have distinct properties, all the offices have the one intention, to attend to the utility of the king—reserving equity of course—according to the ordained rules of the Exchequer’.[2] Elsewhere we are told that the head of the Exchequer, the Chief Justiciar, manages the Exchequer so that everything ‘rightly promotes the utility of the lord King’.[3] This utility has its summary definition at the very end of the Dialogue's dedication.

Clearly the Exchequer operates following its own laws, not blindly but following the deliberations of great men, and if this logic is served in all things, individuals will get their rights [poterunt singulis sua iura servari][4] and what is owed to your fisc will flow fully to you, which your administering hand can disburse as your most noble mind

sees fit.[5]

The King’s interest is the primary point of reference for justifying officers’ accountability (Exchequer or shrieval), presented within a context of the regni statum.[6] Richard explicitly justified the business of accountability (shrieval and otherwise) at the Exchequer as a matter of public concern, not purely regal concern.[7]

That Richard could distinguish the two is clear in his discussion of the assay (the spot-checking of the quality of a sheriff’s coin by melting a portion). Richard tells us his great-uncle, Roger, Bishop of Salisbury ‘ordered that there should be a burning or testing of the farm [. . .], having consulted with the king himself, so as to provide simultaneously for the utility of the king and the public’. This specifically regal/pub- lic distinction is then stressed by the discipulus who asks, ‘How so “for the public”?’ The magister/‘Richard’ explains this is because a sheriff who has lost out by having light money discounted will then ensure that moneyers coin at the right percentage of silver to copper and bronze.126 Shrieval accountability was justifiable on both royal and public grounds. How did the Dialogue analyse that accountability?

  • [1] ‘Et ceteris operibus misericordie insistendo mammona distribuitur’, DS, Dedication, 2. Theallusion is probably to Matthew 6: 24 (non potestis Deo servire et mamonae); Richard will also alludeto Matthew 6: 21: DS, I.v at 16; I.xiv, at 61—2. Editions of the Dialogue have identified this as an allusion to the parable of the unjust steward. At the end of the parable the finagling, embezzling, fraudulent steward has falsified his masters’ debtors’ receipts and bills, attempting to ingratiate himself withthem before being fired, and is actually re-employed by his master, in full awareness of what he hasdone. And the lord praised the unjust steward because he had acted prudently, because the sons of thisage are the more prudent’ (Et laudavit dominus vilicum iniquitatis quia prudenter fecisset, quia filiihuius saeculi prudentiores filiis lucis in generatione sua sunt, Luke 16: 8). Cryptically Christ endorsesthis behaviour: ‘Make for yourselves friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you fail they willreceive you the eternal tabernacles’ (Facite vobis amicos de mamona iniquitatis ut cum defeceritisrecipiant vos in aeterna tabernacula, Luke 16: 9). Both readings of this passage in the Dialogue arepossible, but taking this as an allusion to Matthew 6: 24 seems simpler.
  • [2] DS, I.iv at 13.
  • [3] DS, I.v at 16. I find thirteen discussions of utilitasiutilis etc. in total: Prologue, 5 (the contrastwith subtilis is made several times); I.iv, at 13; I.v, at 16, 27;, at 34;, at 38; I.vii, at 43; I.xviii,at 65; II.vii, at 88; II.xiii, at 109 (the word is commodis but the sense is the same); II.xiv, 111 (the wordis necessitate but the sense is the same); II.xvi, at 113; II.xxiii, at 119.
  • [4] Cf. the Roman legal idea of justice as rendering to each his due: ‘suum cuique tribuere’. SeeInstitutes 1.1.3; Digest 1.1.10. See also DS, I.xvi at 63.
  • [5] 123 DS, Dedication, 3. The Dedication overall is Richards definition of utility. The word is notused in the Dedication but then appears immediately and throughout the treatise proper.
  • [6] 124 The ‘state of the kingdom’ is cited in the Dedication, 2, and II.ii, at 77. For reform in the context of status regni see Harding, Medieval Law and the Foundations of the State, 158—60.
  • [7] Part of the impetus behind this ‘public’ stress may have been the Angevin tendency to treat theirimperium precisely as dynastic estate, not state. See Gillingham, Angevin Empire, 32, 116, and Richard
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