The Lancashire Pipe Rolls give a snapshot of some of the consequences of falling foul of medieval law or Kings, the creative approaches some Kings used to raise money, and the tricks employed by their subjects trying to recoup their losses. A particularly interesting set of records cover 1194 – 1196, the two years following the payment of the 100,000 pounds of silver, required to ransom Richard I. England having paid two-thirds, he was freed in February 1194. He then returned to England, put down a rebellion by his brother John, paid the outstanding balance and had set off to campaign in Normandy by mid May. So how did he raise the outstanding 33,333 pounds of silver if England had been bled dry by his ransom as is often claimed?
Richard’s justices travelled England imposing fines for rebellion, imposing fines for seisin of property and infringments of Common and Forest Law. His sheriffs were equally busy collecting them along with a new tax, the carucage, the replacement for the cumbersome Danegeld. A payment of one mark for each carucate or hide of land a man held was levied, each carucate being approximately 120 acres,,the area a plough team of eight oxen could work in a season. Variations in soil type and climate across the country, were taken into account, with smaller plots being located in areas of heavy soil or high rainfall. Richard also removed sheriffs from their posts, and then sold the position to the highest bidder, a risk considering their important role. Sheriffs maintained the peace in their county, disseminated the King’s orders, called up men for the Royal army and provisioned them, collected fines and taxes, tried minor criminal and civil cases, and imprisoned felons awaiting trial by the King’s Justices. At the end of a year he had to give an account of himself to the Exchequer, paying in monies or tally sticks owing to the Crown.
Theobald Walter purchased the role of Sheriff of Lancaster at Easter 1194, a county particularly lucrative for Richard, as his rebellious brother had been Lord in Chief, compelling those who owed him knight’s service to rebel with him or forfeit their property. Now these men faced fines, forfeiture or outlawry, depending on their value to the King or the best approach to guarantee payment of a large fine, to regain seisin or to return within the protection of the law. Theobald fell foul of another of Richard’s schemes, the granting of Royal lands in return for payment, whilst not permitting the Sheriff to claim relief on the half year’s rent of the fee farm, thus placing him in debt to the Exchequer1. However it is possible that Theobald came up with his own scheme to recoup his losses, appealing to the King for a grant of £97 to restock the Royal demense, as Count John had requisitioned most of the livestock prior his rebellion to provide food in case of a siege and increase the supply of horses to his men.
A breakdown in the Pipe Roll gives the overall costs and number of animals required, and the commentary provides the cost per head, as summarised:
5 plough teams to till 15 carucates of the Royal Estate, each ox costs 4s,as does a harrow and 40 oxen and 5 harrows were needed2 £15
Annual produce from 15 vaccaries, each requiring 16 cows and 1 bull, for a total of 140 cows, 16 bulls at 4s a beast £15
Annual produce of 4 score (80) brood mares, at 4s per head £4
Annual produce of a long hundred (120) of breeding ewes, at 6d per head2 £1
However there is no evidence that Theobald spent this money on livestock, or anything else for the benefit of the King’s demense. When John became King, he removed Theobald from office and the Lancashire Pipe Roll for the third year of his reign records that John had ensured he had repaid the £97:
“Theobaldus Walteri reddit compotum de quater xx et xvijl quas ipse recepit ad instaurandas terras in honore de Lancastra quando habuit balliam sicut annotatur in Rotulo Regis Ricardi viij. In thesauro liberavit. Et quietus est.”
Theobald Walter gives account of four lots of £20 and £17 (£97) which was received to restore the lands of the Honour of Lancaster, when he had office as noted in the Roll of 8 King Richard. He had paid it. He is discharged. (my translation).
1. An annual rent payable to property owner, but without an obligation for feudal service
2. Oxen were bred on special farms called vaccaries, each vaccary had 16 cows and 1 bull, the aim was to keep a plentiful supply of fit animals to replace any that were worn out, old or sick, to maintain the efficiency of plough teams, each comprising 8 oxen. A village was valued on the number of plough teams it supported, and if there were insufficent teams or lack of supply to meet demand, its prosperity and value to its Lord declined or ceased. Each plough team yielded a profit of 20s
3. It is difficult to determine the value of wool produced in 1189 due to lack of extant records, so the prices quoted below are a century later, but give an idea of the profitability of sheep farming. By 1194, English wool was in high demand as damp English pastures produce sheep with a long, strong, soft, fine and springy wool. Flemish merchants were paying in advance, exporting the raw wool for processing and weaving in Flanders, the finished cloth then being exported across Europe. Each sack comprised of 240 fleece, weighing approximately 364lb. In 1299 30 adult sheep produced 20s of wool, so a flock of 120 would yield 80s. (Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages, Christopher Dyer, Cambridge University Press, 1989 )
References and Bibliography
Farrer W (1902) The Lancashire Pipe Rolls and the Early Lancashire Charters Henry Young and Sons Liverpool. [online] https://archive.org/details/lancashirepiper00exchgoog