Recorda splendidissima: the use of pipe rolls in the thirteenth century

Recorda splendidissima: the use of pipe rolls in the thirteenth century

Cassidy, Richard  (King’s College London)

Historical Research, Volume 85, Issue 227 (2012)


The thirteenth-century English exchequer carefully retained pipe rolls and referred to them over many decades. Most writers have concentrated on the annual audit function of the rolls, but they had a much longer-term significance for the exchequer’s key task, collecting cash for the government. This article examines how the rolls were used to collect debts, and the procedures which made them manageable. It is based almost entirely on examples from pipe and memoranda rolls, mainly unpublished. It also demonstrates that use of the rolls is simpler than has recently been claimed.

Thomas Madox, the great eighteenth-century authority on the Exchequer, thought that its pipe rolls were, next to Domesday Book, ‘recorda, omnium quae in archivis Regiis usquam vidisse me memini, splendidissima’. Some more recent historians have been less positive. Nicholas Vincent suggested that ‘the pipe rolls were more or less useless as a means of calculating overall income and expenditure’. Mark Hagger studied the compilation of twelfth-century pipe rolls, and pointed out the difficulties in their use. Nick Barratt has written about the ossification of procedure after 1225 and the gradual decline of the pipe rolls as an indicator of royal finance.4 On the other hand, David Carpenter has defended the value of pipe rolls as records of outstanding debts and their repayment.

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