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How Well Did The English Exchequer Function In The Twelfth Century?
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How Well Did the English Exchequer Function in the Twelfth Century?
The English exchequer was the central board responsible for all in
comings and out goings into the royal treasury. It arrived with the Normans and
was the first system of centralized revenue extraction to appear that although
crude was a direct predecessor to the modern one.
The information on how the Exchequer functioned as a method of
institutionalised revenue extraction is from the `The course of the Exchequer'
written by Richard son of Nigel. The text provides a one sided argument into
the merits of the Exchequer as Richard himself is the treasurer. The text is
written in a typically classical dialogue style with a `master' dictating to his
`scholar'. Richard also presents himself as a well educated and intelligent man
through his grasp of Latin and his quotations from Biblical and classical texts
as well as alluding to philosophy through his talk of logic.
The interesting proposition therefore is who was interested in such a
complicated text and why was it produced. The system of the Exchequer was a
complex one that would have been understood by few at the time. By attempting
to describe this system in a way that presents it as equitable, it could have
convinced the Barons and others paying taxes of the validity and fairness of a
system of which they would have had little comprehension. This would also be
helped by Richards apparently good grasp of the area.
The Exchequer board was the highest office that could be obtained in the
royal circle and was the most powerful and prestigious as it presided over all
financial matters. It allowed records to be formed and general standards to be
maintained. The ultimate power of the exchequer is aptly put in the text..."
where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.˛
The Exchequer had a greater role than just recording revenue as it
provided a forum where judgments could be made and disputes about financial
matters could be settled. It also saw commands depersonalized through the use
of writs which can be described as the Śroutinization of charisma' (Clanchy,
1979). The King no longer had to have any direct influence over a command and
some form of general standard could be applied.
In command of the Exchequer was the Kings Chief Justiciar who was
effectively second in command from the King. He presided over the whole board
and was the only one besides the king himself who could reverse decisions once
they had been made. Any writs from the treasury for payment and expenditure had
to be authorized by him.
The exchequer was structured into a lower and higher board which
contained various officials, Kings dignitaries, clerks and scribes to ensure
that any decisions that were reached were recorded accurately. The members who
played an active role in the exchequer were the tallies clerk who held all the
counter tallies of receipt, an accountant who used the actual exchequer board
and counters to record all financial in comings and out goings and the treasure...
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