Henry III Fine Rolls Project almost complete

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 A unique project between scholars at three institutions, to translate and digitalise documents drawn up in the thirteenth century for Henry III, is nearing completion.

The three year project by Canterbury Christ Church University, King’s College London, and the National Archives has brought to life remarkable material, which for the first time, is now freely available to everyone.

The rolls, which were written to record money and favours owed to the King, contains two million words in 40,000 separate entries. They have been translated from Latin into English and encoded electronically, creating indexes and search facilitates for the website: www.finerollshenry3.org.uk.

The website also has digitized images of all the rolls and it is possible to look through them membrane by membrane and zoom in on a particular entry.

With funding of £1 million from the Arts & Humanities Research Council, the project, formally known as ‘From Magna Carta to the Parliamentary State: The Fine Rolls of King Henry 1216-1272’, has also benefitted from pioneering technical work carried out by the Centre for the Computing in the Humanities at King’s.

Leading this project is David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London, who comments: “The project is a perfect example of a collaborative enterprise that develops and exploits the latest technology in order to open up a major a historical source to a wide community of users, public as well as academic.”

Dr Louise Wilkinson, a Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church University, is one of the project’s co-directors and has been closely involved in managing it since its inception in 2005. She said: “One of the most rewarding things about working on this project is the way in which it has not only greatly enriched our understanding of thirteenth century politics and society, but also yielded valuable information for local communities who are interested in uncovering information about their past.”

The Fine Rolls of Henry III (1216-1272) are preserved in the National Archives at Kew, and, as well as recording ‘fines’ – which are essentially an agreement to pay money for a concession – they contain a wealth of other material. Examples include the taxation of towns, the seizure of lands into the King’s hands because of rebellion, and even Henry III’s sense of humour.

One element of the website is the ‘Fine of the Month’ feature which offers regular comment on discoveries in the rolls. This began in December 2005 so there are now 60 of them.

Professor Carpenter explains: ”Fines of the Month have been about places across the country,– from Nunney in Somerset to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, and have furthered the impact of the project, enabling it to establish contact with local communities. They deal with the development of general taxation and the emergence of the parliamentary state.”

The latest for November is an entirely new exposition of Archbishop Langton’s role in creating the Magna Carta. Others deal with the persecution of the Jews, peasant uprisings and the position of women after Magna Carta.

To celebrate the completion of this work a reception was held earlier this week in the Maughan Library of King’s College London, which is a most appropriate setting as it has links with Henry III. The building is on the site of the house for converted Jews which he founded in 1232, and his statue is above the gateway. In addition, the present building was home to the Public Record Office where the rolls were held for over a century before their move in the 1990s to their new home in the National Archives at Kew.

Sources: Canterbury Christ Church University, King’s College London

Sharan Newman