Desktop version

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

Effects and Their Problems

What did these forms of accountability achieve? One end has already been touched on: that rectores holding their officials to account should demonstrate their own probity to those watching. Historians’ judgements differ regarding the effectiveness of these methods for securing officials’ accountability. Some have worried that historiographical specialization in the field of high politics and governmental records may itself compromise historical judgement—historians could become unwitting apologists and the state’s or the ‘king’s friends’.[1] In terms of wider efficacy some have tended to side with the Dunstable Annalist’s well-known judgement on England’s 1274—5 Hundred Roll enquiries: ‘Nothing useful came of it.’[2] Extensive bureaucratic accountability could certainly perpetuate itself with little substantive impact on what it was supposed to improve or inform. In the Hundred Rolls case it is possible that the crown’s intention was not to do anything with the retrospective indictments, but to restrict henceforth sheriffs’ jurisdictions and licence for abusive behaviour, as happened.[3] That possibility is instructive since it begs the question of what one might expect the function of such practices to be at all. In fact the existence of extracts from the 1274—5 rolls, made 1280—94, and including the De ministris roll that comprised officers’ abuses alone, does imply that something more was intended than occurred.[4] Other historians have made more positive arguments for the sorts of administrative practices analysed here. ‘Familiarity with the innumerable records produced by the government during this period may lead to the conclusion that this was an unnecessarily bureaucratic age, and that there could have been easier and quicker ways of doing things. The overriding impression, however, is of men who were doing their best and working very hard.’[5] There are inherent difficulties however in correlating administrative sophistication with standards of official conduct, procedural effectiveness, and equity in medieval government.[6] One is the question of what officials’ hard work is taken to indicate governmentally speaking. In the Regno Charles I integrated a highly routinized and literate administration with high expectations of probity on the part of his officials (or at least a tendency to blame them when things went wrong). That these men were working very hard may have been of little comfort to the taxable population of the Regno—if we follow Saba Malaspinas account of Charles’s oppression through officials and their excessus.[7] Unjust exactions were justified by invoking the utilitas fisco.[8] (One might be reminded of Richard of Ely.) Notwithstanding Malaspinas antipathy to Charles, it is hard to dismiss the inference he drew between the Capetian’s compulsion to extract and his compulsion for accountability. Effectiveness of administration here goes hand in hand with extractive rule. Many histories of English local government in the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries entail at least a partially similar narrative.[9] ‘The king’s eye is ever fresh there’, Walter Map wrote of the twelfth-century English Exchequer. Ostensibly this therefore indicated equity’s consequent presence, just as Khusro I had also assumed. Thomas Bisson has argued recently that, by the early thirteenth century, partly as a function of officers’ accountability, there are signs that lordly European government was becoming less ‘intrusive’

(meaning sporadic and unsystematic).[10] There is much in this. The practices analysed here certainly point to a greater systematization of government (not only royal government). But it is not clear that government became less intrusive in the more usual sense, as an important strand of British historiography suggests.[11] High historiographical expectations of government may be better established in relation to French than English government (or at least in relation to some French kings, notably Louis IX). In France, judgements on Louis IX’s ‘moralisation de l’administration’, his ‘equitable justice’ in holding his bailiffs to account, have tended to the positive.[12] [13] More recent judgements have also tempered older views by additionally stressing the public propaganda value of Louis’ enquetes as well as finding room for an admixture of both self-interest and altruism in later Capetian enquetes.122 Something of the same can be said for Edward I and his supposed masterfulness.[14] For Italy there is a sense that the pursuit of the accountable letter of the law could well strip it of its spirit.[15]

The problem of judging the effects of accountability is related to the problem of the documentary base. Better documented government does not mean better government.[16] Here, since the holding of officials to account often produces evidence of problems, there is an irony that a greater interest in holding officials to account may produce an optical illusion of increased official wrongdoing. The lens sharpens and the clouds gather. Cadoc of Pont-Audemer may well be a bad bailli

of Normandy under Philip Augustus, revealed through Louis IX’s enquetes, but it is hard to quantify how the enquetes consequently improved local government. Still, in themselves Louis IX’s 1247 enquetes in Maine and Anjou ‘do not make reassuring reading about the quality of thirteenth century administration’.[17]

Medieval advocates of administration and accountability expressed their own reservations. Richard of Ely admits that Richard of Ilchester, his great predecessor, had overreached himself in his craze for recording writs in duplicate.[18] The system could become self-defeating. Charles of Anjou said that ‘On account of the multitude of officials the performance of duties to the crown and the movements of the crown’s servants are often delayed’.[19] Effort was needed to investigate whether officials had done as instructed.[20] In matters where accountability was a function of collecting and collating information there was the overwhelming effort of processing and acting on it.[21]

But as institutions became more extensive and extended, those in charge of them were faced with the need to elaborate institutional procedures further, irrespective of the measurable costs and limitations of so doing. Just as oaths were unreliable but indispensible devices for securing officials’ conduct, so too had accounts, inquests, and audits become.[22] Medieval perceptions that these practices had limits is clear from the adoption then abandonment of some sophisticated devices for accountability. Accounting had always been and would continue to be an expensive way of controlling servants and officials.[23] In England, ‘for-profit’ experiments with royal ‘in-land’ demesne management, custodian sheriffs, and ‘phase two’ accounting were all temporary measures of some complexity taken up and then abandoned.[24] Some of these games turned out not to be worth the candle.

Profit however might be only one purpose of such mechanisms.[25] Strict supervision, as embodied in intrusive accountability might also be undertaken pour encour- ager les autres. Even from the later fourteenth century it was unclear whether the point of supervising seigneurial officials was to improve productivity or discourage peculation.[26] It is not clear in many cases whether the ‘cost’ of such encouragement was ‘worth’ the initial outlay. For seigneurial lords it was principally an issue of fiscal accountability. Where the accountability of office or the conduct of officers was a value in and of itself it is easier to say that the effort embodied in these mechanisms was ‘worth it’. This would be the case with prelates. A more pragmatic reason for this affirmative answer though is that the costs of holding prelates to account lay principally on the communities and promotores who wished to see such prelates brought to book through canonical inquisition. The costs to the Curia were in terms of its time and stationery.

This leads on to the broader effects of these technical practices on an ethics of office.[27] The period saw the officialization of power, but with limits.[28] Furthermore, while accountability may be a sign that some office is held, the argument regarding sheriffs sought to show that this might imply relatively little with respect to any especially equitable concept of that office. Conversely, liability did not only arise from formal office. The ‘action of account’ created legal bailiffs where no actual ‘bailiffship’ was held. In 1289 the trials of the king’s ministers included a debate whether the lesser fish at several removes from the king were actually his ministers. With bailiffs and monstravit de compoto one could be a ‘bailiff’ less because of specific tasks one discharged and more because the pattern of one’s relationship to a superior. Similarly in 1289 responsibilities could arise from actions taken that implied some involvement in some task, and therefore some wider responsibility to the king because of it.[29] Accountability here was not so much a sign of office as a means of constructing it.

This bears on arguments related to the supposed increased rationality of formalized procedures, compared with more personal methods of dispute resolution. These forms however could continue to act as very personal ways of resolving disputes—as the Walter Langton case showed.[30] The assumption that an increase in formal regulation reflected the inherent progress and superiority of those forms over older ones is related to the presumption that more administration is better government. But a kind of capillary attraction invariably drew petitioners and plaintiffs towards the highest point of legal, administrative, and political appeal—be it papal or regal—thus tending towards institutional convergence in those fields.[31] This shift towards more routinized inquisitions, audits, scrutinies, and accounting is a sign of changed attitudes towards due process, rather than any clearer sign of ‘progress’.[32] Inquisitions, after all, determined not only officials’ wrongdoing, but also sanctity and heresy.

Such practices were more rational, in the limited but important sense that they were more regularized and the basis and conditions for disputes about officers’ conduct more explicit. Whether they were proportionately more just is less clear. In ecclesiastical inquisitions or monstravit de compoto—where law was more, not less, involved—the procedural regulation did not lead to more predictable outcomes, as noted. Legal reasoning could take on a life of its own. An increase in legalized formality often meant an increase in expensive claim and counter-claim, rather than the swift delivery of personal justice by a king at ease in an apple orchard.[33] It might seem that having procedures for regulating the conduct of officials was more important than the effects of those procedures. The threshold for triggering an inquisition into a prelate was, for instance, cynical or pragmatic depending on your perspective. Devices for accountability may most sensibly be seen as pertaining to procedural aspects of justice—they created a space for more substantive disagreements about con- duct.[34] In their modest and limited character many of the above procedures attempted to provide the terms for that disagreement. How, and by whom the question was asked, however, made an obvious difference. Nevertheless, the ability of provisions such as Qualiter et quando to establish measures for the evaluation of conduct should not be underestimated. Rules like this, or like college statutes, by establishing the definition of official misbehaviour, created one important measure of the contents of office. Even if the quality of outcomes varied, a space for debate—and for conflict—regarding determined measures of official conduct stood established.

  • [1] 115 K. B. McFarlane, The Nobility of Later Medieval England: The Ford Lectures for 1953 and RelatedStudies (Oxford, 1973), 2; see also Rees Davies, ‘The State: The Tyranny of a Concept?’, Journal ofHistorical Sociology 16 (2003), 280—300 at 288—9.
  • [2] Annales Monastici, iii. 263. Cf. the more neutral Hagnaby Chronicle’s notice on Edwardscountry-wide sworn inquiries into the basis of tenures (BL Cotton MS Vespasian B XI, fo. 27); SandraRaban, A Second Domesday? The Hundred Rolls of1279—80 (Oxford, 2004), 24 and to 36. On (e.g.)the use made of John’s 1212 feudal tenure inquiries see Holt, Magna Carta, 212.
  • [3] Robert C. Palmer, The County Courts of Medieval England 1150—1350 (Princeton, NJ, 1982), 228-9.
  • [4] TNA SC 5/8/4, Northumbrian part published in H. H. E. Craster, ‘An UnpublishedNorthumbrian Hundred Roll’, Archaeologia Aeliana, 3rd ser. 3 (1907), 187-90; Tunstead hundred(Norfolk) published in A Formula Book of English Official Historical Documents, ed. Hubert Hall,2 vols. (Cambridge, 1908-9), ii. 146; comment in Raban, A Second Domesday?, 24-5. I hope to discuss the De ministris roll properly elsewhere.
  • [5] 119 Prestwich, Plantagenet England, 77. Similar perspectives, M. L. Holford, ‘Under-sheriffs theState, and Local Society, c.1300-1340: A Preliminary Survey’, in Chris Given-Wilson, Ann Kettle, andLen Scales (eds.), War, Government, and Aristocracy in the British Isles, c.1150—1500: Essays in Honour ofMichael Prestwich (Woodbridge, 2008), 68; Palmer, County Courts, 38. A quite positive assessment ofFrench royal officers’ held to account c.1254-c.1380 is Telliez, «Perpotentiam officii», 684-5.
  • [6] 120 Cf. Reynolds, ‘How Different was England?’, 4-7, 14—16.
  • [7] Die Chronik des Saba Malaspina, ed. Walter Koller and August Nitschke, MGH, SS 35(Hannover, 1999), 179-80 (§4.2), 241 (§6.1), 282-3 (§7.13), 331 (§9.22).
  • [8] Chronik des Saba Malaspina, 251 (§6.7).
  • [9] 123 The works cited by Barratt, Carpenter, Holt, Maddicott, and Waugh are relevant.
  • [10] Bisson, Crisis of the Twelfth Century, 522. See also 412 and his sect. V, ‘Resolution: Intrusionsof Government (1150—1215)’.
  • [11] John Gillingham, The Angevin Empire, 2nd edn. (London, 2001), 56—2; M. T. Clanchy,‘Law, Government and Society in Medieval England’, History 59 (1924); Bartlett, ‘Impact of RoyalGovernment’, esp. 89—92, 95—6, and ‘Lords of Pride and Plunder’, New York Review of Books 52/11(24 June 2010), 48, ‘bureaucratic government does not necessarily mean less violent, or even less arbitrary, government’ (reviewing Bisson’s Crisis of the Twelfth Century)'; Dunbabin on historians’ tendencyto elide advanced government with more bureaucratic government, French in the Kingdom of Sicily,250; and Paul A. Brand, ‘Edward I and the Judges: The “State Trials” of 1289—93’, TCE 1 (1986) at34, suggesting the purpose of the 1289 ‘state trials’ was raising money, not justice. A recent general sedcontra is Burt, Edward I, e.g. 15—16, 141—2, 236—41.
  • [12] Le Goff, Saint Louis, 218 (and more generally 658—62, 201^). See W C. Jordan, Louis IK andthe Challenge of the Crusade: A Study in Rulership (Princeton, NJ, 1929), e.g. 42 for the situation beforeLouis takes charge, and for his success, 61—3, 158, 162—8, 120—1, 181. Use of Le Goff’s phrase in e.g.Laure Verdon, ‘Le Roi, la loi, l’enquete et l’officier: procedure et enqueteurs en Provence sous le regnede Charles II (1285—1309)’, in C. Gauvard (ed.), LEnquete au Moyen Age, Ecole fran^aise de Rome(Rome, 2008), 328—9, and cf. Lachaud, Ethique dupouvoir, 412—13.
  • [13] Respectively, Marie Dejoux, ‘Mener une enquete generale, pratiques et methodes: L’Exemplede la tournee ordonnee par Louis IX en Languedoc a l’hiver 1242^8’, in Thierry Pecout (ed.), Quandgouverner cest enqueter: Les Pratiquespolitiques de Tenqueteprinciere (Occident, ХШе—К1Уе siecles) (Paris,2010), and Canteaut, ‘Le Juge et le financier: Les Enqueteurs-reformateurs des derniers Capetiens(1314—1328)’, in Gauvard (ed.) LEnquete au Moyen Age, 269—318.
  • [14] Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain (London, 2008),119—22; Maddicott, Origins of the English Parliament, 448; Raban, A Second Domesday?, 25.
  • [15] 129 Philip Jones, The Italian City-State: From Commune to Signoria (Oxford, 1992), 632—8, 621—4.
  • [16] 13° The issue was a bone of contention between Timothy Reuter and Thomas Bisson in the Past & Present ‘Feudal Revolution’ debate in relation to levels of violence (full references, p. 18 n. 92). See further Reuter’s comments in ‘Modern Mentalities and Medieval Polities’, Medieval Polities and ModernMentalities, ed. Janet L. Nelson (Cambridge, 2006), 13—14. See also Susan Reynolds’s overarchingargument in Fiefs and Vassals that ‘feudalism’ is a product less of actual historical change but more oflate twelfth- and thirteenth-century lawyers reifying and standardizing older, far more varied practices.
  • [17] Dunbabin, Charles I of Anjou, 29. Robert Bartlett commented that the 1247 Ardennes enquetesdemonstrate that ‘royal government often made its impact in these upland villages in the form of theseizure of property and the imprisonment of the inhabitants’, Bartlett, ‘Impact of Royal Government’,89-90.
  • [18] DS, II.ii at 74-5.
  • [19] Dunbabins trans. (with comment, Charles I of Anjou, 76) on RCA, xxi. Reg. lxxxvii #108,quote at 29.
  • [20] In England e.g. 1279 distraint of knighthood, CPR 1272—1281, 342-3. In the Regno e.g. theinquiry into whether Urso Rufolo, secretus of the Regno, had followed provisioning orders in 1270,RCA, vi. Reg. xxii #965; comment Dunbabin, Charles I of Anjou, 75; see also Serena Morelli, Per con-servare la pace: I giustizieri del regno di Sicilia da Carlo I a Carlo II dAngio (Naples, 2012), 253, 273.
  • [21] Prestwich, Edward I, 96-8; Raban, A Second Domesday?, 36, 181, both on the 1274-5 HundredRoll inquiries. On the arguable use of information collected on knights not performing their duties,Scott L. Waugh, ‘Reluctant Knights and Jurors: Respites, Exemptions, and Public Obligations in theReign of Henry III’, Speculum 58 (1983), 937-86 at 953.
  • [22] 136 The twelfth-century attempts by various bishops and supervising archbishops and popes toregulate the behaviour of the canon-prevots of Chartres through oaths variously exacted and arrangedis a case in point: E. de Lepinois and Lucien Merlet (eds.), Cartulaire de Notre-Dame de Chartres,3 vols. (Chartres, 1862-5), i. ##33-4 at 119-22 (1114); ##57-8 at 155-9 (1149-55); #86 at 188-90(8 April 1171/2).
  • [23] For comments up to 1200 see Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages, 245-9, 265-72esp. 270. For the later period, e.g. McFarlane, ‘Continuity of Great Estates’, Nobility of Later MedievalEngland, 139.
  • [24] 138 See pp. 79, 117-9, and 72-6.
  • [25] See Wickham’s helpful comments on variety of accounting/supervisory purposes in an earlymedieval estate management context, Framing the Early Middle Ages, 264—71.
  • [26] 140 Stressing the latter, McFarlane, ‘Landlord versus Minister and Tenant’, Nobility of LaterMedieval England, 213—14 (on valores).
  • [27] See also here Lachaud, Ethique du pouvoir, Bisson, Crisis of the Twelfth Century, both passim.
  • [28] See e.g. Karn, ‘Secular Power and its Rewards in Dorset in the Late Eleventh and Early TwelfthCenturies’, Historical Research 82 (2009) on informal/formal officials.
  • [29] See the debates about whether William of Alevent is liable as bailiff of the hundred ofLothingland (TNA JUST 1/541A m. 22d), Richard le Draper as mayor of Bristol (m. 38), John ofLouthis as mayor of Wallingford (m. 22d), John of Olivestede as a royal bailiff of Essex (m. 22d),Robert le Blaunchas clerk of the hundred of Pershore (m. 31), edited in T. F. Tout and Hilda Johnston(eds.), State Trials of Edward the First, 1289—1293, CS, 3rd ser. 9 (1906), xxvii—xxviii.
  • [30] It seems feasible that the complex of inquisitorial-type procedures were used in resolving ecclesiastical disputes in a way that accusatorial process functioned in lay contexts such as communalBologna. On the latter, see Blanshei, ‘Crime and Law Enforcement’, 124—5.
  • [31] See e.g. Frederic L. Cheyette on the thirteenth-century emergence of French legal practicesin ‘“Suum cuique tribuere”’, French Historical Studies 6 (1970), 289—90, 297—8; Jean Dunbabinon Charles I of Anjou’s Great Court at Naples, Charles I of Anjou, 123. Cf. Raoul van Caenegem,‘L’Histoire du droit et la chronologie. Reflexions sur la formation du “Common Law” et la procedureromano-canonique’, Etudes d’histoire du droit canonique dediees a GabrielLe Bras, 2 vols. (Paris, 1965).
  • [32] I would see a direct parallelism between this shift and the shift of belief in terms of the shape ofproof in relation to medieval ordeals. For the latter shift see Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water.
  • [33] Cf. M. T. Clanchy, ‘Law and Love in the Middle Ages’, in John Bossy (ed.), Disputes andSettlements: Law and Human Relations in the West (Cambridge 1983), 53.
  • [34] See John Sabapathy, ‘A Medieval Officer and a Modern Mentality: Podesta and the Quality ofAccountability’, Mediaeval Journal 1.2 (2011) 68—76.
 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics