Exchequer of Pleas, Eyres, and ad hoc Inquiries

The Dialogue of the Exchequer gives only a partial picture of Exchequer practice since it stresses the audit and accounting side of the Exchequer’s work, at the expense of its court side as the Exchequer of Pleas. Some of its records (though not regarding a sheriff) have already been discussed since the Valle case was heard there.[1] Walter Langton, who will be discussed as a bishop in the next chapter, fell foul of the Exchequer court as Treasurer.[2] Exchequer pleas certainly included complaints about shrieval abuses. One such, from the end of the period, was Eda of Bolton’s 1299 complaint against the sheriff of Cumberland, William of Molecastre, and his men for trespass and novel disseisin ‘under the pretext of office’.[3] Edas complaint was successful, if only for a quarter of the 20 marks damages she claimed. The Exchequer as a court was an important potential means of redress even if its interests were especially concerned with fiscal abuses.

A second way to put sheriffs on the spot, this time in situ, was through the periodic itineration of justices ‘on eyre’, a practice flourishing from the 1170s to 1294.[4] The eyre was a real means of constraining sheriffs. Its jurisdiction included all civil pleas and crown pleas since the last eyre. If the Exchequer was centripetal, the eyre was centrifugal. Local juries responded to set articles of the eyre (capitula itineris), by mid-century ‘a somewhat shapeless code of enquiry into the assumption of franchises and the misdeeds of local officials’.[5] One gains a sense however of the central administration’s awareness of shrieval conduct as an issue from changes made to the capitula itineris. So, additions (caps. 39—54) made under Justice William of York’s influence c.1245—6 included a significant number addressing shrieval and other officials’ misconduct (caps. 40, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, possibly 52-4).[6] Explicit concern with royal officials’ conduct was added to the 1254 eyre articles, perhaps connected with the difficult Hilary parliament that year.[7] Hugh Bigod’s Surrey and Kent eyre of 1258-9 produced numerous accusations of sheriffs’ ‘raising’ new, more profitable ‘customs’, especially relating to the tourn, but also abuse of power through extortion and double-counting.[8] From Edward’s reign, concern with shrieval conduct became more emphatic. It is evident in numerous capitula of the 1274 Hundred Roll inquiries[9] as well as the Statute of Westminster I (1275).[10] The 1275 Statutes of the Exchequer confirmed three surveyors for reviewing crown wards and escheats to whom sheriffs were answerable. It also made explicit provision for dealing with abusive sheriffs and false accounting, and gave, in 1276, the surveyors licence to hear complaints against sheriffs.[11] The Statute of Rhuddlan (1284) provided for local inquiries into the state of debts, bypassing sole reliance on the sheriffs’ affidavit.[12]

In Glenisson’s terms such a complex of provisions were both administrative and reformist. General eyres were as interested in the raising of judicial fines for the king as in the wrongs against counties. It was the capacity of pleas to produce royal fines that made them legitimate eyre pleas. Eyres could therefore contribute to the governmental oppressiveness that petitioners wished to use them to resolve. Again, Walter Map’s testimony is easy to discount since it is clear satire. But as a sometime itinerant judge himself, Map cast a trained eye on late-twelfth-century justices in eyre—his ‘creatures of the night’:

These are commissioned to go round about, to seek out diligently and to report accurately what of good happens that may concern Jupiter [i.e. the King] [. . .] their first concern is to follow up the odour of carrion. This they devour in secrecy, or conceal, and upon their return lay any accusations they please, besides what they gain for themselves in private by robbery.[13]

In 1198 Roger Howden argued that Richard’s general and forest eyres ‘had reduced the whole of England from sea to sea to poverty’.[14] Paris said of the 1240 eyre that its correction of the excessus of many was a pretext for gathering endless amounts of money for the king.[15] In 1242 the barons’ own record of their complaints at the January parliament stressed the impoverishment produced by the eyre.[16] Indeed during the 1240s revenue from the eyre did nearly double.[17] If gathering royal judicial profits could coincide with disciplining errant officials so much the better. But it was the former which seems particularly to have impressed contemporaries.

Some sense of the wider accountabilities that sheriffs were subject to can be seen by a brief example. In 1255, Robert le Vavasur, sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire since 1246, sometime custodian of Bolsover, Nottingham, and Harstan castles, the honour of Peverel, the manor of Melleburne, a man free from onerous judicial obligations, ‘lost his bailiwick, and, being accused by many, finished by owing the King 200 marks’.[18] In May 1254 the Barons of the Exchequer had been ordered to investigate how much Robert and others had siphoned off in relation to the Tickhill honour.[19] On 29 March 1255 the Abbot of Pershore was instructed to investigate Maud of Stratlegs complaints that Robert had run her off her land unjustly, a particular offence since Robert as sheriff is ‘specially bound to keep the peace’, meaning his ‘trespasses shall not go unpunished’.[20] The contradictory state whereby the sheriff of Nottingham summoned himself to appear for this was over by 11 May when Roger de Lovetot was made sheriff. From 22 May the abbot and rising justice William de Wilton were commissioned to investigate further ‘various rumours’ (presumably made by plaint) that Robert, his son, and others of his household had misappropriated assets due to Nottingham’s castle, as well as royal mill, fish, and hay rights; further commissions followed.[21] On 24 January 1256 they were pardoned the 200 marks fine resulting from the trespasses against the King, but held liable for judgement in court by others who wished to complain against them.[22] In January 1257, having confessed his debts, Henry III ordered the new sheriff of Nottingham to take Robert’s goods into royal protection until he should make satisfaction.[23] By June 1258 Robert was dead and his son William struggling to negotiate his debts at the Exchequer and in court cases there.[24] Only on 18 October 1270 were Robert’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren pardoned ‘all accounts, arrears and reckonings’ Robert owed, for having paid 60/. and ‘in consideration of [his] service’ (his accomplices were pardoned too).[25] This must have been insufficient to prevent further claims since Robert’s granddaughters Elizabeth and Annora sought repetition of the pardon as late as 1285—thirty years after Robert’s dismissal as Sheriff of Nottingham and Derbyshire.[26] It is a minor story of petty abuses—less extravagant than others—but it illustrates the complex web of courts, plaints, ad hoc inquiries and pursuits that augmented the routine accountability of sheriffs at the Exchequer.[27] Equity undoubtedly had a voice in these proceedings but not the only one.

Nevertheless, as this makes clear, alongside shrieval accountability to the king and Exchequer barons went some sort of shrieval accountability to sheriffs’ county communities. The persistent pulse of grievances against sheriffs makes clear the long-term nature of the problem. The ongoing tinkering with the eyre’s capitu/a itineris indicates some governmental sensitivity to the problem. Rather than a solution to a problem, though, this pattern implies a structural tension between sheriffs’ accountability to crown fiscality and their accountability to their local communities.

  • [1] The first extant plea record is 1236—7 (TNA E 13/1a). For a sampling see Select Cases in theExchequer of Pleas.
  • [2] Records of the Trial of Walter Langeton, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, 1307—1312, ed. AliceBeardwood, CS 4th ser. 6 (1969).
  • [3] Select Cases in the Exchequer ofPleas, #213. See e.g. also ##84, 167, 188, 205, 208.
  • [4] See Crook, Records of the General Eyre; Meekings, Crown Pleas of the Wiltshire Eyre, 1—16;Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, ii. 520—1, 644—56. For the case that the eyre was obsolete not overburdened by 1294, see Caroline Burt, ‘The Demise of the General Eyre in the Reign ofEdward I’, EHR 120 (2005), 1-14.
  • [5] Meekings, Crown Pleas of the Wiltshire Eyre, 6-7.
  • [6] Helen M. Cam, Studies in the Hundred Rolls: Some Aspects of Thirteenth-Century Administration,Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History 6 (Oxford, 1921), 22-5, Apps. 1-2, corr. by Meekings,Crown Pleas of the Wiltshire Eyre, 27-33; Roll of the Shropshire Eyre of1256, xxii-xxiv. On William ofYork, see C. A. F. Meekings and David Crook, King's Bench and Common Bench in the Reign of HenryIII, SS Suppl. Ser. 17 (London, 2010), 75-6.
  • [7] Articles for 1254 eyres in Staffordshire (Annales monastici, ed. H. R. Luard, RS, 5 vols. (London,1864-9), i. 329-33 from Burton) and Gloucestershire (Historia et cartularium monasterii Sancti PetriGloucestriae, ii. 276-80. The parliament: Cam, Studies in the Hundred Rolls, 25; Maddicott, Origins ofthe English Parliament, 210-18.
  • [8] 1258—9 Special Eyre, ed. Hershey, e.g. ##54-6, 80, 152, 295, 322, 385 (tourn abuses); ##363,364 (extortion and double-counting).
  • [9] 183 Helen, M. Cam, The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls: An Outline of Local Government inMedieval England (London, 1930), App. 1 where the following caps. make explicit reference or implyconcern with shrieval or royal officers’ conduct: 12-13, 15-38, 42; also Foedera, i.2. 517-18; YorkshireHundred and Quo Warranto Rolls, ed. Barbara English, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record Series,151 (Leeds, 1996), 23-6.
  • [10] 184 SR, i. 27-33, e.g. sheriffs’ retinues in cap. 1, and caps. 2 (shrieval judgement), 4 (handling ofwrecks), 9 (handling of felonies), 15 (replevin), 18-19 (amercements, quittances, complaints), 25-6(champerty, extortion). Further: Maddicott, ‘Edward I and the Lessons’, 14-15.
  • [11] SR, i. 197b—198, caps. 13, 17, 18. Discussion in Maddicott, ‘Edward I and the Lessons’, 21-3;Michael Prestwich, Edward I (London, 1988), 102-3.
  • [12] 186 SR, i. 70. On Rhuddlans wider fiscal purpose see Prestwich, Edward I, 242-3.
  • [13] 187 De nugis curialium, 12-13 (§1.10), eds.’ trans.
  • [14] Howden, Chronica iv. 62—3, 84, for unflattering epitaphs of Richard.
  • [15] Paris, Chronica majora, iv. 34. For justice as royal profit see Cam, Studies in the Hundred Rolls,190—2, and Paul A. Brand, ‘Edward I and the Judges: The “State Trials” of 1289—93’, TCE 1 (1986),31-40 at 34.
  • [16] 19° Paris, Chronica majora, iv. 185—7 at 186—7; further, Maddicott, Origins of the English Parliament,229.
  • [17] Cassidy, ‘Bad Sheriffs’.
  • [18] List of Sheriffs for England and Wales, 102; CPR1247—1258, 22, 39, 121, 240, 410; CPR1266—1272, 465; Annales monastici, iii. 199 (Dunstable).
  • [19] CR 1253-1254, 60-1. m CPR 1247-1258, 430-1.
  • [20] 195 CPR 1247-1258, 432; Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, i. 1219-1307, 74. For plaintsand querelae see Alan Harding, ‘Plaints and Bills in the History of English Law, Mainly in the Period
  • [21] 1250-1350’, in Dafydd Jenkins (ed.), Legal History Studies 1972 (Cardiff, 1975), 65-86.
  • [22] CPR 1247-1258, 459. Vavasur had accepted the royal case in November 1255 (507).
  • [23] CR 1256-1259, 115-16.
  • [24] CR 1256-1259, 313-14, 487; Select Cases in the Exchequer of Pleas, #100 (Michaelmas 1260).
  • [25] CPR1266-1272, 465. 2 CR1279-1288, 315.
  • [26] 201 For some more extravagant examples see Holt, ‘Philip Mark’, 18—22; for Girard d’Athee andEngelard de Cigogne see P/eas of the Crown for the County of Gloucester, A.D. 1221, ed. F. W. Maitland(London, 1884), ##92, 93, 100, 108, 126, 130, 144, 154, 156, 217, 227, 245, 246, 250, 325, 327,362, 364, 374, 378, 380, 402, 407, 439, 441, 444, 482, 505, and pp. 118, 119, 121, 129, 131, andRolls of the Justices in Eyre: Being the Rolls of Pleas and Assizes for Gloucestershire, Warwickshire andStaffordshire, 1221, 1222, ed. Doris Mary Stenton, SS 59 (London, 1940), #232; Holt, Northerners,229; Richard Cassidy, ‘William Heron, “Hammer of the Poor, Persecutor of the Religious”, Sheriffof Northumberland, 1246—1258’, Northern History 50 (2013), 9—19; for William de l’Lisle see Paris,Chronica majora, v. 577—81, 715—16, CR 1256-1259, 174—5, 293-4, Andrew H. Hershey, ‘AnIntroduction to and Edition of the Hugh Bigod Eyre Rolls June 1258-February 1259: P.R.O. Just
  • [27] 1/1187 & Just 1/873’, 2 vols. (Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1991), i. 413-14; and with Hughde Manneby see Jacob, Studies in the Period of Baronial Reform and Rebellion, 10-12, and Hershey,‘Introduction to and Edition of the Hugh Bigod Eyre’, i. 49; for Thomas Corbet see Roll of theShropshire Eyre, xxi-xxv and references.
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