Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

Medieval Exchequer
Highlights: The Records of the Exchequer

The medieval Irish exchequer was a busy place, which wrote and kept a variety of records for different financial purposes. Each type of record contributed to the exchequer’s work in managing cash payments, checking and recording spending both in Dublin and across the lordship of Ireland, and resolving disputes relating to the financial management of Ireland.  These highlights from the Gold Seam provide an overview of the types of documents and how they fitted together in the accounting process which crossed the Irish Sea between Dublin and London.

1.  Writs

Every payment into and out of the exchequer had some form of individual documentation. This was typically a ‘writ’ — a small slip of parchment with the king’s seal attached making an order to royal officials to undertake a vast range of business. A writ might be sent to the exchequer clerks ordering them to pay someone for a horse and cart, for work done on a castle, or other expenses. After that person had been paid, they would give the exchequer a receipt to confirm the payment. These writs and receipts were gathered into files and kept for audit. (The National Archives (UK) E 101/230/23)

2. Issue Roll

Individual payments out of the exchequer were also recorded day by day in ledgers known as journals, listing all transactions. The original journals do not survive, but summaries of them were created at the time. These summaries, known as the issue rolls, gathered payments by term [insert pop-out: the year was divided into four legal terms: Hilary Term (January to April), Easter Term (April to May), Trinity Term (June to July) and Michaelmas Term (October to December). August was a holiday month.] These issue rolls were edited by Dr Philomena Connolly for the Irish Manuscript Commission in 1998. (The National Archives (UK) E 101/237/5)

3. Receipt Roll

Receipt rolls list all the payments received in the Irish exchequer. They are usually listed by day, and give the details of who paid money in and why. Payments often are related to the law courts, with regular payments from people who had not turned up in court when expected, or from people launching legal cases. Other payments were for rights, such as when women paid for the right to remarry (or not). Like the issue rolls, the receipt rolls were written up regularly from the working journals. (The National Archives (UK) E 101/232/16)

4. P ipe Roll

Both the issue and receipt rolls only deal with payments made in Dublin into and out of the exchequer. Lots of other money was collected and spent by royal officials in the counties of Ireland. Their accounts were checked and corrected at the Dublin exchequer and summaries were copied onto the annual pipe rolls. The pipe rolls provided the most complete record of the finances of the Lordship of Ireland, but unfortunately almost all the originals have been lost. (British Library Add Ch 26515)

5. Memoranda Roll

Memoranda rolls were the working records of the exchequer audit process, where clerks noted details that they would need to find again. For example, they might note partial payments, make copies of documents that they would need to refer back to, and record details of legal cases concerning finance heard in the exchequer when it was acting as a court. They are the least formulaic of the exchequer’s records, and we are fortunate that two memoranda rolls survived the Four Courts fire and are now held in the National Archives in Dublin. (National Archives of Ireland EX 1/1)

6. English Pipe Roll

After 1293, the English kings thought the audit process in Dublin was not sufficient, and so ordered copies of the issue and receipt rolls, as well as supporting documents like writs, to be brought to Westminster to be checked by clerks of the English exchequer. These records were retained, which is why we have such a rich Gold Seam of medieval Irish original documents from the exchequer at The National Archives (UK). Additionally, summaries were copied onto the English pipe rolls and foreign account rolls, among the various other records of the English government in Ireland, England and France. (The National Archives (UK) E 372/171 rot. 31)

 7. Antiquarian Copies

Later copies are also highly important sources, particularly for the Irish pipe and memoranda rolls. In the nineteenth century, the Irish Record Commission, and others interested in medieval local history, made extracts or full transcriptions of medieval exchequer rolls stored in Dublin Castle, and after 1867, in the PROI. These extracts and calendars allow us to reconstruct the medieval collections of the PROI when it burned in 1922, and also show how important these records could be for local historians. (Ferns Diocesan Archive Hore MS FDa/1/8)