Saturday, December 29, 2012

Today's Research snippet: The Exchequer and a money box

Today's research snippet. This comes from The Course of the Exchequer, a work written in the 2nd half of the 12th century to explain England's financial set up. It takes the form of a dialogue between a master and his student.  I'll be posting other excerpts from this on occasion.

"Scholar: What is the Exchequer?
Master: The exchequer (chess board) is an oblong board measuring about 10 feet by five feet, used as a table by those who sit at it, and with a rim around it about 4 fingerbreadths in height, to prevent anything set on it from falling off. Over the Exchequer is spread a cloth bought at Easter term, of a special pattern, black, ruled with lines a foot, or a full span, apart. In the spaces between them are placed the counters, in their ranks, as will be explained in another place. But though such a board is called 'exchequer' the name is transferred to the court in session at it; so that if a litigant wins his case, or a decision on any point is taken by common consent, it is said to have happened 'at the exchequer' of such a year. But where we now say 'at the exchequer', they used to say 'at the tallies.'
Scholar why is the court so-called?
Master. I can think, for the moment of no better reason than that it resembles a chessboard.
Scholar. Was its shaped the only reason why our wise forefathers gave it that name? For they might equally well have called it a draught board.
Master. I was justified in calling you precise. There is another less obvious reason. For as on the chessboard the men are arranged in ranks, and move or stand by definite rules and restrictions, some pieces in the foremost rank and others in the foremost position; here, too, the barons preside, others assist ex-office; and nobody is free to overstep the appointed laws, as will appear later. Again, just as on a chessboard, battle is joined between the Kings; here too the struggle takes place, and battle is joined, mainly between two persons, to wit, the treasurer and the Sheriff who sits at his account, while the rest sit by as judges to see and decide."

Today's research picture.  A Medieval money box circa 1300 - Museum of London.  You'd have to break the box to get the money out!
click to enlarge

1 comment:

Tea norman said...

I had no idea. Fascinating. I need to read LADY OF THE ENGLISH too.