Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

About the Medieval Exchequer

850 years ago, in the winter of 1171, King Henry II (1154–89) of England arrived in Ireland at the head of a large army, and took the island into his possession as a dominion of the English crown. Soon, various English governing institutions were established in Ireland, including the financial department known as the exchequer. The exchequer was responsible for collecting and spending the king’s money in Ireland. This included rents from land, payments and fines, customs on goods, court fees, and taxes.

The Medieval Exchequer Gold Seam provides access to one of the most significant and underused sources for the history of late-medieval Ireland and its connections with Britain and the wider world—the records of the medieval Irish exchequer. Dating back to the thirteenth century and continuing for nearly 200 years, these records are a treasure trove of information about Irish society, economy and politics in the centuries after Ireland was conquered. They offer fresh insights into many aspects of everyday life across most of the island: wealth and power, war and diplomacy, trade and economic activity, law and landholding, religion and political culture. The records reveal how royal government was financed and how Ireland was administered by—and for—the English crown.

This Gold Seam draws together an extraordinary series of documents created at the Irish and English exchequers between 1250 and 1450. Many of these parchment records [insert pop-out definition: Parchment was specially prepared animal skin—usually sheep or goat—used for writing before paper was commonly available.], created by clerks working in the Irish exchequer, were written up in triplicate. One copy remained in Ireland, while the others were sent to the English exchequer in Westminster for audit. There they remained for centuries, first at Westminster and later the Tower of London. They are now held at The National Archives (UK), London.

What can I find here? 

Original Parchment Documents with Translations

At the heart of this Gold Seam is the largest collection of original parchment documents concerning medieval Ireland to survive anywhere in the world. These documents are now held at The National Archives (UK). The collection comprises 400 files, containing around 1,000 individual archival items with approximately 25,000 entries. The documents were mostly written in Ireland by Irish exchequer clerks between 1270 and 1446. 

  • There are three main categories of original records represented here:
  • Receipt rolls containing details of incoming payments to the Irish exchequer
  • Issue rolls (also known as payment rolls) recording outgoing payments made by the Irish exchequer

Enrolled accounts (1293 and 1446), created by the English exchequer at Westminster, which provide summaries of audited Irish revenue and payments

The Gold Seam includes a new digital edition in TEI-XML by the project team of the receipt rolls from 1270 to 1315 when English power reached its greatest extent across two-thirds of Ireland. This period is documented by the most consistent and continuous run of receipt rolls to survive. The records cover dramatic political and economic changes in Ireland and the wider world to which the island and its peoples were connected. These translations from the original Latin are interlinked with images of the original manuscript receipt rolls. 

The Gold Seam also includes Irish Exchequer Payments, an English-language calendar of the Irish issue rolls edited by Dr Philomena Connolly and published by Irish Manuscripts Commission. This publication is fully text-searchable and interlinked with images of the original payment rolls.

Select Nineteenth-Century Copies from the Lost Memoranda Rolls

All except two of the memoranda rolls of the Irish exchequer were destroyed in 1922. These two original rolls survive (EX 1/1 and EX 1/2) and have been conserved by the National Archives of Ireland. You can see a video of the conservation process here

Fortunately, the contents of the medieval memoranda rolls were summarised before their destruction. The greatest collection of transcriptions from the memoranda rolls survives in the National Archives (Ireland). This work was undertaken by the Irish Record Commission and covers 43 volumes comprising over 25,000 individual pages. These documents are in Latin. They represent another Gold Seam for future development by the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland.  

Although the Irish Record Commission calendar is not yet available here, the Gold Seam now includes some other nineteenth-century transcriptions and summaries from the destroyed memoranda rolls. Highlights from these nineteenth-century copies include: 

  • Abstracts by William Lynch from the memoranda rolls from Edward III to the reign of Henry VIII now in the College of Arms in London: catalogue only.
  • They include transcriptions of Philip Hore, which survive in Ferns Diocesan Archives, on the memoranda rolls for Wexford. These are fully digitized, catalogued and text-searchable following machine transcription

Tales from the Medieval Exchequer