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Delegation and Access

This is already to raise the question of how direct were lines of accountability between officers and their ultimate lords. If anyone could complain about a podesta, it was also true that, at sindacatio, podesta were accountable directly to the franchise that had elected them. In this they are somewhat at variance with other forms of accountability analysed here. In many cases the line between mediocrem officer and ultimate lord is indirect and somewhat attenuated. Sometimes a delegated judge (lay or ecclesiastical) may have been granted summary powers of judgement. But that does not reduce the levels between the accountable officer and his ultimate superior. The fantasy of access regarding Philip Augustus’s finagling prevot from Ralph of Coggeshall is partly a fantasy because in it all intermediaries between abusing officer and his final judging superior are triumphantly elided. Indeed, the insinuation of that exemplum was that middling points of appeal between abused, abuser, and ultimate judge are simply spaces where the abuser can stretch the insolence of office a little further. Such hierarchical simplicity is heavily qualified in many of the cases here, wherein the person exacting accountability from mediocres officers is not the person to whom they are ultimately liable. It is seigneurial auditor, Exchequer official, itinerant judge, papally delegated investigator, internal collegial auditors. It is often not lord, king, pope, or visitor. Sometimes the latters’ involvement is a sign that the officers’ lack of accountability has got out of hand (e.g. Geoffrey of York, at least as his chapter saw it; Pecham at Merton). In others it is because an accountable official has a form of appeal against a holding to account he himself thinks abusive (John de Valle at the Exchequer of Pleas). In others it is because the ultimate superior of the official wishes to reserve final judgement to himself (Walter Langton). One might [1] [2]

think about this feature of these methods in terms of ‘mesne’—intermediary— judgement in English common law.[3] The mesne nature of these accountable judgements is sometimes strictly a judgement provisional on a later, final one. For bailiffs, monstravit de compoto allows for mesne judgement once ex parte is in operation since it is a way of appealing seigneurial auditors’ judgements out into a royal court. It would also be the case for canonical inquisitions where final judgements may be reserved to the pope but a preliminary inquisition is delegated out. In the case of sheriffs the idea of mesne judgement may be applied more loosely. Exchequer accountability could be seen as a curious rolling form of mesne judgement, since debts may roll over from year to year. Any ultimate reckoning is only reached when ‘and he is quit’ appears in the pipe roll’s ledger. It is true too that the king could forgive debts as he pleased, a further sign of the potential of the process to be personally politicized, and of the ongoing potential for Exchequer’s judgement to be shown as merely mesne.[4] (Henry III’s problems with wardrobe financing operating outside the Exchequer’s purview could be seen in this context.)

The reason for such intermediary accountability is a function of the increasing complexity of the institutions that were trying to regulate themselves. Battle Abbey had at least temporarily lost track of what was going on at Wye. John de Valle had been delegated significant responsibilities, dealing with long-distance merchants and moving around a great deal. Sheriffs operated at a distance across the whole kingdom through the writ system, and bishops not dissimilarly across the whole of Christendom where papal letters provided for delegated direction. Tiny Merton College had pockets of land from Elham in Kent to Embleton in Northumberland.[5] The attenuated nature of accountable control was a consequence of institutional complexity across distant spaces. It is unsurprising that alongside them arose parallel attempts to achieve in fact the fantasy of access. With respect to royal officers and injustice, plaints and querelae seeking justice on complaint to the king were an attempt to shortcut the bureaucracy of accountability, as Brittons Edward I knew.[6] Sometimes the delegated means of holding to account may have been sufficiently flexible to allow for this within its own terms—if one had the money and time. It is arguable that canonical inquisitions could in effect be initiated directly like this, ‘on plaint’ to the pope. This is in part how John de Lovetot seems to act at the Curia in relation to Walter Langton. If there was variation in how lords exacted accountability from those beneath them there was also variation in how those subject to their officials could seek to access those ultimate superiors from whom they hoped for redress.

Parallels, Differences, Similarities

  • [1] 1258—1259 Special Eyre of Surrey and Kent; RHF, xxiv.
  • [2] Cf. Udo Wolter, ‘Verwaltung, Amt, Beamter, V—VI’, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, andReinhart Koselleck (eds.), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikonzur politisch-sozialenSprache in Deutschland, 8 vols. in 9 (Stuttgart, 1972—97), vii. 32.
  • [3] See John Hudson, The Oxford History of the Laws of England, ii. 871—1216 (Oxford, 2012),78-9, 317-18.
  • [4] Cf. Olivier Matteoni, ‘Verifier, corriger, juger: Les Chambres des comptes et le controle desofficiers en France a la fin du Moyen Age’, Revue historique 641 (2007), 64-5.
  • [5] 28 See the map of 1274 holdings in P. D. A. Harvey, A Medieval Oxfordshire Village: Cuxham,1240-1400 (Oxford, 1965), 88.
  • [6] Alan Harding, Medieval Law and the Foundations of the State (Oxford, 2002), 160-70, 178-86,and ‘Plaints and Bills in the History of English Law, Mainly in the Period 1250-1350’, in DafyddJenkins (ed.), Legal History Studies 1972 (Cardiff, 1975).
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