Henry III’s Fine Rolls
Hello fellow manuscript enthusiasts. Today I will be telling you about the fine rolls of King Henry III of England. Fine rolls were records of offers of money made to the king in exchange for concessions or favours. For example, if a lord wished to expand his holdings, he would have to seek the permission of the current monarch, and make a payment which could vary from gold to goods or even political hostages. These fine rolls are an important source for historians because they tell us what types of transactions were common amongst the nobility in the Middle Ages and also show what sorts of services the nobility were willing to request from the king.
The fine rolls of Henry III provide an invaluable insight into the reign of this medieval monarch, which lasted from 1216 to 1272. At first these fine rolls do not look like much. Unlike other manuscripts we have worked with, the fine scrolls are very plain, being little more that light brown parchment pages with a messy insular hand in red-brown ink. The manuscripts were clearly meant for function, rather than display, which makes sense as they were used to record financial transactions and would probably not be seen frequently by anyone outside of the royal Exchequer.
The fines scrolls provided an exacting record of the services rendered by the king and the compensation he received in exchange, which could be quite varied, as the following examples amply demonstrate:
[No Date] (1216). Kent. Robert Arsic has made fine with the king by 100 m. for his delivery from the king’s prison, and he is to serve the king with three knights (se quarto militum) for a year, namely by Robert himself, Hasculph de Soligny, and two of Hasculph’s nephews, and he gave hostages for rendering that fine at the set terms and for performing faithful service to the king.
[No Date] (1217) Bedfordshire. Buckinghamshire. Northamptonshire. Kent. Robert de Lisle and Rose of Tattershall, his wife, and Robert of Bassingham and Angnes of Bassingham, sisters of John of Odell, have made fine with the king by £200 for their relief and for having the lands formerly of John wich fall to them by inheritance, of which they are to render £100 at Hilary in the second year and the other £100 at Easter next following in the same year. Order to the sheriff of Bedfordshire that, having accepted security from Rose and Agnes for rendering the aforesaid £200 at the aforesaid terms, he is to cause them to have full seisin of the lands formerly of John which fall to them by inheritance. Order to the sheriffs of Buckinghamshire, Norhthamptonshire, and Kent that once the sheriff of Bedfordshire has sent to them by his letters that he has taken security from Rose and Agnes for rendering that fine to the king, they are to cause them to have full seisin of all lands formerly of John in their bailiwicks without delay.
17 June (1242) Saintes. For H. earl of Essex and Hereford. To the barons of the Exchequer. The king, for himself and his heirs, has granted to H. de Bohun, earl of Essex and Hereford, that he may henceforth render £40 10s. at the Exchequer for the remainder of the whole debt he owes him of the 20000 m. by which Geoffrey de Mandeville, formerly earl of Essex, his uncle, made fine with King J., the king’s father, for having Isabella, formerly countess of Gloucester, to wife, and for all other debts which the same earl owes the king at the Exchequer, for which he previously made fine with the hing to render £50 at the aforesaid Exchequer, and that the king and his heirs, by the hand of the sheriff of Essex who will be, will take those £40 10s. that the same earl was accustomed to take each year from the county of Essex in the name of the Earl. And the king and his heirs will retain them in their hand in part payment of the aforesaid debts and will cause this to be allowed to him and his heirs each year until the king will be satisfied for all of the aforesaid debts. In the meantime, the hing or his heirs will not distrain the same earl or his heirs by their lands, chattel, or tenements for the aforesaid debts, or casue them to be distrained. Once the aforesaid £40 10s. and thereafter will not claim, or be able to claim, anything when the earl and his heir shall take the aforesaid rent as fully and freely as the same earl was accustomed to take before that grant from the aforesaid county. Order to cause this to be done and enrolled thus.
These passages reveal not only the medieval fondness for repetition, but also the great care that was taken by officials within the exchequer to ensure that not a single shilling in a transaction with the crown would be misplaced. The fine rolls also serve the purpose of identifying who owned what in medieval England for later historians, and allowed an intricate view of the politics, economy, and governance of English society during the Middle Ages. Henry III’s fine rolls also included some rather strange entries which served to illustrate that even the high nobility and chancellery could have a sense of humor, such as an offer from the wife of Hugh de Neville of 200 chickens for the honor of spending one night with her lord, Hugh de Neville. All of these insights are provided by the scrolls, which are invaluable to anyone who wishes to know more about the society of Medieval England.