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Silver coins, wooden tallies and parchment rolls in Henry III's Exchequer

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 December 2021

Abstract

In the mid thirteenth century, England used only a single coin, the silver penny. The flow of coins into and out of the government's treasury was recorded in the rolls of the Exchequer of Receipt. These receipt and issue rolls have been largely ignored, compared to the pipe rolls, which were records of audit. Some more obscure records, the memoranda of issue, help to show how the daily operations of government finance worked, when cash was the only medium available. They indicate something surprising: the receipt and issue rolls do not necessarily record transactions which took place during the periods they nominally cover. They also show that the Exchequer was experimenting with other forms of payment, using tally sticks, several decades earlier than was previously known. The rolls and the tallies indicate that the objectives of the Exchequer were not, as we would now expect, concerned with balancing income and expenditure, drawing up a budget, or even recording cash flows within a particular year. These concepts were as yet unknown. Instead, the Exchequer's aim was to ensure the accountability of officials, its own and those in other branches of government, by allocating financial responsibility to individuals rather than institutions.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the European Association for Banking and Financial History

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Footnotes

I would like to record my gratitude to several people. Andy Ford invited me to deliver a talk at a Reading University workshop during a pandemic, when I could not visit libraries or archives; I then had to look more carefully at photos of rolls which I had taken many years previously, and found the material used in this article. Tony Moore was both prompt and helpful with ideas and encouragement. Not least, the editor and two reviewers made me think harder and write more clearly.

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