Function of the English Exchequer in the 12th century


How and how well did the English Exchequer function in the twelfth century?

The English exchequer was the central board responsible for all in comings and out goings into the royal treasury. It arrived with the Normans and was the first system of centralized revenue extraction to appear that although crude was a direct predecessor to the modern one.
The information on how the Exchequer functioned as a method of institutionalised revenue extraction is from the ŒThe course of the Exchequer¹ written by Richard son of Nigel. The text provides a one sided argument into the merits of the Exchequer as Richard himself is the treasurer. The text is written in a typically classical dialogue style with a Œmaster¹ dictating to his Œscholar¹. Richard also presents himself as a well educated and intelligent man through his grasp of Latin and his quotations from Biblical and classical texts as well as alluding to philosophy through his talk of logic.
The interesting proposition therefore is who was interested in such a complicated text and why was it produced. The system of the Exchequer was a complex one that would have been understood by few at the time. By attempting to describe this system in a way that presents it as equitable, it could have convinced the Barons and others paying taxes of the validity and fairness of a system of which they would have had little comprehension. This would also be helped by Richards apparently good grasp of the area.
The Exchequer board was the highest office that could be obtained in the royal circle and was the most powerful and prestigious as it presided over all financial matters. It allowed records to be formed and general standards to be maintained. The ultimate power of the exchequer is aptly put in the text...¹where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.²
The Exchequer had a greater role than just recording revenue as it provided a forum where judgments could be made and disputes about financial matters could be settled. It also saw commands depersonalized through the use of writs which can be described as the Œroutinization of charisma¹ (Clanchy, 1979). The King no longer had to have any direct influence over a command and some form of general standard could be applied.
In command of the Exchequer was the Kings Chief Justiciar who was effectively second in command from the King. He presided over the whole board and was the only one besides the king himself who could reverse decisions once they had been made. Any writs from the treasury for payment and expenditure had to be authorized by him.
The exchequer was structured into a lower and higher board which contained various officials, Kings dignitaries, clerks and scribes to ensure that any decisions that were reached were recorded accurately. The members who played an active role in the exchequer were the tallies clerk who held all the counter tallies of receipt, an accountant who used the actual exchequer board and counters to record all financial in comings and out goings and the treasurer who recorded all goings on. Above all these men were scribes who recorded again precisely what was written down and to ensure that this was correct they checked it against each other at the conclusion of the session.
Other important officials that sat on the exchequer board were the chancellor who was the keeper of the kings official signature, his seal. Another was the constable who had to witness all writs as well as sort out payment to the kings various mercenaries and wage earners. Chamberlains performed the task of collating the account into a forel and then presenting them to the treasury on behalf of the sheriff of a particular county. There was a Marshall responsible for arresting any debtor who had failed to pay.
A significant part of the system were the tally sticks that were given as receipts for any payment. The sticks were notched in different ways according to the amount being recorded. This stick was then split in two with the debtor receiving half and the other portion tied together to form totals. Receipts were probably given in this way as they were more likely to survive