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21.03.22 Stacy (ed.), Cartae Baronum

The Medieval Review

21.03.22 Stacy (ed.), Cartae Baronum


In 1166, the government of King Henry II sought information from tenants-in-chief about the numbers of knights' fees they held, including how many of these had been granted before Henry I's death in 1135, how many had been granted afterward, and whether the total number that had been granted out fell short of the number of knights owed the king. In addition, lords were required to list the names of those holding the fees. Two of the replies, or cartae, survive as originals and 247 as copies incorporated, along with summaries of other responses and additional notes, in two manuscripts, the Black Book of the Exchequer and the Red Book of the Exchequer. These were first published by Thomas Hearne in his eighteenth-century edition of the Black Book of the Exchequer and then by Hubert Hall in his late nineteenth-century edition of the Red Book of the Exchequer in the Rolls Series. Scholars have thus long had relatively easy access to these texts, but even so a new edition is most welcome. Neil Stacy, who has also edited surveys of the estates of Glastonbury and Shaftesbury, has produced a much-improved version, relying on the two originals and on the copies found in the Black Book of the Exchequerrather than the Red Book, which was made later and in fact relied on the Black Book. He also notes variations in the Red Book version, corrects mistakes, and sorts out the new material added when the returns were copied into the two Exchequer manuscripts.

In addition to the edited text, Stacy provides a useful introduction and helpful notes to the individual cartae. In the introduction, he delves into the process by which this survey of knights' fees was conducted, considers why replies were never received in some cases or were only summarized in the Black Book in others, and investigates how the cartae were produced. He also addresses the purposes of the survey. One obvious purpose was for the royal government to increase the return on feudal dues and Stacy discusses the political negotiations that followed. More interestingly, Stacy suggests another purpose of the survey was to identify disputes dating to the civil war of Stephen's reign, and he argues that a desire to establish their claim to disputed fees may have given tenants-in-chief an incentive to participate. Though Stacy does not say so, there are intriguing parallels to the role of Domesday Book in identifying disputes after the Norman Conquest. At the end of the introduction, Stacy discusses the process of copying the returns into the two manuscripts. The content of the notes on the individual cartaeunderstandably varies, but they tend to include a summary of the honor's lands at the time of Domesday Book and a brief overview of the descent of the honor, with the French origins of the holders' surname included where appropriate. In addition, the notes provide information on how the exchequer used the information they received in individual cartae, along with discussions of errors or confusion in the records.

One quibble is that I wish Stacy had provided more systematic summaries, ideally in tables at the end, of the numbers and breakdown of knights' fees in the individual cartae. Where confusion might arise due to errors or for other reasons, he gives totals in the notes to individual cartae but nowhere does he provide easily accessible information on this for the scholar who might not want to read the whole text. Admittedly, others have done this from previous editions, but it would still have been useful here. That said, Stacy is to be thanked both for the improved edition and for his introduction and notes. Any scholar studying the workings of Henry II's government will find this edition extremely helpful. I was particularly struck, based on Stacy's careful commentary, by the problems the government had in systematically gathering and recording information. This was to be expected in a time when royal bureaucracy was still in the early stages of development, but the royal bureaucrats, as Stacy makes clear, did not help themselves by framing their questions in a form that left some recipients baffled. Though studies of feudalism and feudal quotas are currently out of fashion, this edition will be crucial for any such work in the future. The records themselves are very helpful for prosopographical work on English barons and knights, and Stacy's own notes are useful for the baronial ranks. Of course, scholars have been using the cartae for generation to study politics, bureaucracy, and genealogy or prosopography, but an improved, modern edition greatly facilitates such tasks.