Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Henry III Fine Roll (C 60/30) - The Enduring Nature of Norman Tools of Bureaucracy

King Henry III’s Fine Rolls are some of the most well preserved continuous sets of post-Norman English bureaucratic records in existence.  The Roll in question (C 60/30) records the period from 28 October 1230 – 27 October 1231, placing it on the tail end of Henry III’s disastrous invasion of Brittany and failed attempt at conquering France.   The practice of recording Rolls, as you will remember, began with the Norman King Henry I (1100-1135). The Rolls were utilized to keep track of the amounts of money owed to the King in “fines,” and from whom.  Fines were, in essence, a promise for the payment of a sum in exchange for a royal concession, favor, or grant.  Some examples of fines are: “(1) payment by barons and knights for the right to their inheritances through the death of their immediate ancestors, or (2) payment for the right to marry heiresses and widows, and by widows to control the lands and marriages of their children, and to be allowed themselves to stay single or marry whom they wished” (Henry III Fine Rolls Project Online) In addition to fines, the rolls also held detailed information regarding the purchase of writs for the right to bring legal suit, making the documents integral components of the crystallization of English Common Law.  Other noteworthy types of information recorded in the rolls include fines for the right to set up a new market or fair (indicative of the trend of commercialization), and the structure of the gentry, peasants, and knights.
King Henry III’s Rolls are evidence of the continuing trends of power centralization and the bureaucratization of the kingdom present in post-Norman England.  Beginning with William the Conqueror in the mid-late eleventh century, the Norman kings initiated a process for preserving their kingdom’s integrity in terms of (1) recording its loyal vassals and subjects; (2) ensuring the payment of monies owed to the king; (3) documenting the breadth of the kingdom; and (4) maintaining a continuous legal tradition.  William commissioned the first broad-based survey of his kingdom, its inhabitants, and records of land ownership in 1086.  The result was the Domesday Book, a manuscript compiled during a tumultuous stretch of time for Norman England and designed to track shifting figures of land-worth and titles of ownership.  Though on the surface the Domesday Book appears a dry and practical document, its significance during Norman rule was more symbolic.  The catalogue of the kingdom’s landholders and their property represented a projection of the king’s power across the countryside, serving as a testament to his absolute authority.  At the same time, the fact that the Domesday is written in Latin yet printed in Anglo-Saxon script displays the syncretistic qualities of the bureaucratic tools deployed by the Norman’s during their conquest of England. 
During his reign, King Henry I established the use of Pipe Rolls (the format of the Fine Rolls), creating a repository of sorts for royal charters, edicts, writs, etc., though the earliest Fine Rolls that have been found date back only to King John (1199-1216), Henry III’s father.  The design of the document allowed for new entries to be pasted on, end-to-end, in a continuous fashion.  The use of legal precedent and common law, along with written documentation, were emphasized more and more as the Rolls moved from Henry I to Henry II.  The ruling house used existing church networks as organs for their own bureaucracy, eventually bringing Henry II into intense conflict with the church.  

            The Fine Rolls are written in Latin on parchment in a relatively messy, inconsistent, and heavily abbreviated English Cursive documentary script.  All of these characteristics mark it as a bureaucratic piece of text in a way similar to Roman Cursive almost 1,000 years prior.  The subject matter of the Rolls correlates to the general themes outlined by the Henry III Fine Rolls Project.  For example, on Membrane 9, some entries include:

(1) Memorandum.  For Stephen of Seagrave.  Stephen of Seagrave has made fine with the king by 100 pounds for having the marriage of Emma de Caux, who was the wife of John of Seagrave, in order to marry her to whoever he and his heirs or assigns will wish without disparagement, and for having custody of Emma’s lands for as long as she ought to be in custody according to the law of the land. 
(An example of a marriage Fine)

(2) For Gilbert of Preston.  Gilbert, son and heir of Walter of Preston, has made fine with the king by 100s.  for his relief for having his lands which Walter, his father, held from t he king in chief and which fall to him by hereditary right, and the king has taken his homage herein. Order to the sheriff of Northamptonshire that, having accepted security from Gilbert for the aforesaid 100s, he is to cause him to have full seisin of all aforesaid lands.  By S. of Seagrave. 
(Rights of inheritance and immediate family)

(3) Westminster.  Ireland.  For Walter de Lacy.  The king has granted to Walter de Lacy that, of the debts he owes him, for which he made fine with him to render 400 m. per annum at the Exchequer of Dublin, he may render 200 m. to the king at the Exchequer in England, namely 100 m. at Easter in the fifteenth year, 100 m. at Michaelmas in the same year, and thus from year to year.
(The management of outstanding debt).  

In conclusion, Henry III’s Fine Rolls were a bureaucratic tool utilized first by the Normans, and adopted by later English kings in an effort to adequately catalogue the kingdom’s land, its owners, and the crown’s sources of revenue in written form and in a single location.  The Rolls speak to the Norman goal of state centralization that began under the rule of William the Conqueror with his Domesday Book.  The persistence of the Roll system past the end of Norman rule speaks to the desirability of such an orderly system of record to rulers who found themselves challenged by invasion and civil war, the barons’ Magna Carta and church backlash against state control of ecclesiastical members and institutions. 

- Dorney


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I am very interested by the concept of using rolls post the creation of books. After reading Clemens and Graham's, "Rolls and Scrolls," the idea that rolls were used in most circumstances for symbolic cultural significance directly correlates with the reason why King Henry III used rolls. King Henry III, going along with his predecessors rationales for using rolls, was able to create a clear and concise record of bills, among other things. I also became interested by the idea that rolls were a more productive option when it comes to keeping records. Clemens and Graham's mention that "for records that would be expanded on a regular basis, such as court records or collections of monastic prayers for the dead, the roll allowed for economical accumulation of material over time with additional membrane added only as need." It makes sense that the king would use roll because records needed to be added to at a frequent basis, and a roll was the best way to go about that.