Ecclesiastical benefactions by English barons have provided topics for a number of scholars, but the professional civil servants, proto-bureaucrats, who first appeared in the twelfth century, are another group whose gifts to the Church deserve more study. In England, such men appear as early as Henry I's time, but they become more numerous in the reign of his grandson, Henry II. At first, such royal servants were men of all work, doing whatever the king assigned to them at the curia regis, in the counties, and abroad. By the last years of Henry II and in the reigns of his sons, however, some specialization was taking place, and this becomes easier to see in Henry III's early years.
It is next to impossible to probe these royal administrators' minds. They left few letters, no personal recollections, and they earned only a few anecdotes—mainly hostile—in the chronicles. For a number of years, I have been studying a group of fifty-two of these men, whose careers span the last third of the twelfth and the first third of the thirteenth centuries, chosen first chiefly because of their connection with the work of royal justice. They form a representative sample, ranging in rank from the justiciar to knights of the counties, from archbishops to men in minor orders, including roughly equal numbers of clergy and laity. They range from close associates of the king to largely local officials (see Appendix I).