Assessors and Collectors of Taxation

Representation in Parliament involved the counties in communication upwards to the king. The outcome of parliament entailed communication back downwards to the county court. In many cases such communication was merely a form of administrative liaison, Edward Ist's way of informing the country of his policies in the interests of welding national unity. The flow of information would include the reporting of Statutes and Ordinances, and political propaganda where it suited the king. In other cases, where the outcome of the parliament was a tax, downward communication would entail executive action in the counties, through the appointment of knights, and others, to assess and collect the tax. The concept of Lay Subsidies, general taxes levied on the whole tax liable population and not just the feudal classes, was something relatively new for which Edward considered popular assent to be, at least, expedient. Whilst the Exchequer experimented with various procedures to find the most efficient means of levying Lay Subsidies Edward's lawyers struggled to so frame the writs of summons that the assent of those who were elected to parliaments would be binding on those they represented. The consistency and precision with which the development of the plena potestas clause was implemented in the early writs of summons testifies to the primary function of representatives in the early Parliaments which was to assent, rather than consent, to taxes on moveable property. The history of the development of parliamentary taxation is not immediately relevant to this study, and has been extensively worked out elsewhere. [151] What is important is the reciprocity of representation in parliament and the collection of national taxes. Whilst the knights were acquiring the potential to attend the king's Great Councils, the king was acquiring the right to enter the land of every man, and to tax his moveable property. [152]

We have already seen that early historians of parliament, and some later ones, considered that the presentation of petitions was the primary function of representatives. Riess believed that the knights who attended parliament became involved in local government through the return of petitions and the collection of taxation, the collectors being appointed from amongst the representatives present in the tax granting parliament but he chose his examples carelessly so that Pasquet had little difficulty in showing that assessors and collectors were rarely representatives in the parliament at which the tax was granted. [153]Nevertheless, it was both expedient and prudent to persuade the community of the shire to assess and collect its own taxes, and the local gentry, as the principal operators of local government, were the obvious agents for this. Inevitably some of those who collected taxes also went to parliament, but in Essex this practice was certainly unusual. Out of a total of sixteen knights appointed to collect taxes in Essex in the period between 1275 and 1306 only four certainly attended parliament during that period, and only two attended the parliament at which the tax which they were commissioned to collected was granted. [154]In both of the latter cases the collectors appointed were associated with others who did not attend the granting parliament, and most of the rest were not in fact Essex knights.

The appointment of the assessors and collectors is not at all well defined. Willard examines in some detail the appointing bodies, [155]but he has very little to say about how the assessors and collectors were selected. The writs commissioning the collection of the taxes generally state that the assessors and collectors have been 'assigned', and, with the exception of 1301, there is not suggestion that they were elected., Indeed it is rather difficult to see how they could be elected because the commissioning writs were usually issued during, or very shortly after, the granting parliaments which could not leave time for an election to be organised in the county courts. The only exception to this rule was the commission issued for the collection of the fifteenth in November 1301, roughly ten months after the granting parliament, [156]but the linked parliaments of 1300-1301 were idiosyncratic even by the general standards of Edward's protean assemblies.

Variations in the numbers of assessors and collectors assigned to the counties doubtless reflect experiments in procedure as the Exchequer groped it way towards a viable standard format. The general practice was to appoint two assessors and a collectors in each county with a clerk to do the writing, but there were exceptions. For example in 1295, when only one collector was appointed in association with a clerk, in July 1297 when the knights appointed in Essex were assigned to collect the tax in Suffolk, and vice versa, but this grant of an eight was later superseded by a grant of a ninth and the assessors were then ordered to associate with the sheriff. [157] . The other principal anomaly was the arrangements made for the collection of the tax arising from the granting of the fifteenth in 1301, which was conditional on a demonstration of good behaviour by the king. It may well be significant that identifiably different procedures were adopted in 1297 and 1301, both of which related to contentious parliaments in which the barons had put pressure on Edward to confirm the Charters. These were intensely political parliaments in which the administrative machine which Edward had created to serve his own interests was beginning to demonstrate its potential to bite back. In 1301 the grant of a tax was conditional on the king's implementation of his promises on disafforestation, and the magnates had specifically requested that the tax should be collected by knights 'chosen', ie., elected, in each county. [158]This was feasible in this case only because of the enforced delay between the granting and the collection of the tax.

Beyond these two anomalies there is very little evidence of the means by which the assessors were appointed, but there is some reason to believe that by 1306 the appointing authorities, principally the Exchequer, held lists of suitable candidates, [159]and it seems likely that similar lists had already been in use for previous lay subsidies, possibly based on information provided to the Exchequer by the knights attending the granting parliament. This function is not suggested anywhere in the writs of summons but it would be entirely logical for the Exchequer officials to enquire about potential tax collectors in the counties, perhaps when the representative knights turned up to collect their expenses writs, and to establish lists of those available for such service which might be amended and revised at subsequent parliaments. If this is so it adds another dimension to the provisions by which the representatives were empowered to bind their communities to whatever might be agreed in parliament as the writs say, by common consent.

Unlike the elected representatives the assessors and collectors were not required to appoint securities or mainpernors. However the tax collectors, like the sheriffs who watched over them, were directly accountable to the Exchequer which probably regarded direct distraint on the property of its local officials as the best guarantee of good behaviour. Whilst there is no known evidence that the mainpernors of the knights returned to parliament were ever distrained for failing to get their principals to parliament, there is certainly evidence of direct distrainbt against asessors and collectors who were tardy in rendering their accounts. For example, in 1303, the sheriff of Essex was ordered to levy 127 on the lands of Hugh le Blount, William le Gros and John de Bassingbourn, collectors of the fifteenth of 1301, [160] and he returned that their lands were in the king's hands by order of the king's writ. Apparently default on this occasion did not prevent Blount and Gros from acting again as Collectors in Essex in 1309. [161]Gros also collected the thirtieth and twentieth of 1306, in association with Thomas de Twinstead, and both rendered their accounts without question in 1307. [162]

The sanctions applied to Blount and Gros in 1303 appeared to act retrospectively, and this suggests that the sheriff probably exercised some form of nominal distraint on the lands of assessors and collectors at the time of their appointment as an earnest of their future good behaviour in office. This hypothesis is supported by the procedure adopted in 1290, where the sheriff of Essex was ordered to distrain on the lands of Ralph de Arderne and William de Lambourn, and to have them before the barons of the Exchequer to receive the form of the taxation for the fifteenth, and, if this failed, he was to amerce them by 40. [163]Here the knights appointed as Assessors were under pressure even before the collecting began and this procedure of preemptive distraint may help to clarify the means by which the Assessors were appointed. It is conceivable that the appointments were made by election in the County court, and were then distrained to appear at the Exchequer to receive their commission and instructions on the procedure for assessing and collecting the taxes. As has already been suggested the virtually concurrent dates of the end of the tax granting parliament and the commissioning of assessors makes it very unlikely that the appointments were made at a local level and confirms the view that the central government either held a list of suitable names, or was informally advised of suitable candidates by the knights of the shire attending the parliament. Those nominated would then be summoned to the Exchequer to be commissioned under penalty of distraint or amercement. The wording of the writs notifying the counties of the appointment of assessors generally speaks of them as being assigned rather than elected, as in the commission of two Essex knights to assess and collect in Suffolk in 1297:

If this was the case there would obviously be an interval between appointment of the Assessors and the actual commencement of the collection and if the distraint of the Essex collectors in 1303 was at all typical there might be an even longer interval between the commencement of collection and the final rendering of accounts. Such an interval would probably account for the break in Blount's parliamentary career. Collecting taxes was obviously a long and arduous tax which entailed an strong element of covert coercion by the crown, not least of the collectors themselves. Like the shrievalty the office of collector carried with it serious financial risks without too many obvious benefits. Under these circumstances it might be assumed that local knights might be reluctant to accept such duties.

Re-appointment of Assessors and Collectors.

The incidence of re-appointment of the Essex Assessors is roughly comparable to the re-election of the knights to parliament. The majority were commissioned only once. There were six taxes granted between 1275 and 1297 which were all collected in Essex by men with no previous experience, and, with one exception, none of the eleven collectors appointed during this period were appointed thereafter. For most then, one tour as an Assessor and Collector was obviously more than enough. It is, perhaps, significant that whereas we do not have the names of the knights elected to parliaments before 1290, we do have the names of tax collectors. In the period after 1297 the task of assessing and collecting seems to have become more focussed on a small group of knights who were reappointed, usually in association with others who were appointed once only. Thomas de Twinstead, for example, held three such commissions, one of which was carried from the eighth initially granted in 1297 to the subsequent ninth, Gros held four such appointments, Baud and Blount held two. In the period between 1297 and 1309 these men collected a total of five taxes in Essex, and, as with the parliamentary representatives, they disappear after the first few years of the reign of Edward IInd, to be replaced by new and 'unfamiliar' names. Collecting taxes was evidently one the most exacting jobs likely to befall the knights in local government, certainly much more demanding than the prospect of attending parliament on behalf of the county. It may well be that the Assessors could only be appointed, and not elected since those who apparently went voluntarily to parliament might have been less enthusiastic if parliamentary representation had carried with it a commitment to several years as a tax collector. Nevertheless some knights were re-appointed regularly, including Blount who was also active in attending parliament and other government duties, and must have found either profit

Assessors and Collectors of Taxation Appointed in Essex in the Reign of Edward Ist
Date Tax Name  Reference
1275  1/15  B. de Brianzon  P.W., I. p.3, no.12
J. de St. Victor 
1283  1/30  W. de Essex  P.W., I. p.13, no.14
R. le Brun
1290  1/15  R. de Arderne  PRO, Exchequer E.368, no.62.m.34d.
W. de Lambourne
1294  1/10  R. de St. Clare  P.W., I. p.27, no.4
J. de Duresme
1295  1/11  J. de Wascoil  P.W., I. p.45, no.34
R. de Munviron [Clerk]
1296  1/12 & 1/8  Not known.  P.W., I. p.51, no.1.
1297  1/8 & 1/5  T. de Twinstead  P.W., I. p.53, no.8.
R. de Coggeshall [in Suffolk]
1297  1/9  T. de Twinstead  P.W., I. p.64, no.43.
H. Grapinel
1301  1/15  W. Baud  P.W., I. p.107, no.50.
J. de Bassingbourne
H. le Blount
W. le Gros
1306  1/30  T. de Twinstead  P.W., I. p.179, no.48
1307  1/20  W. le Gros  P.W., II.ii. p.14, no.33.
1309  1/25  H. le Blount  P.W., II.ii. p.38, no.4.
W. de Haningfield
W. le Gros
W. le Baud.

or power in the post, or else they were merely unfortunate nominees on a central government shortlist.

The stringency of the penalties for default in office suggests that the men appointed as Assessors were expected to be men of substance, comparable with the Parliamentary Knights and Sheriffs. Even here the evidence conflicts. Walter le Baud, Assessor and Collector in Essex in 1301 and 1309 had been replaced as coroner in 1298 on the grounds that he was insufficiently qualified. [165] Should this be cynically interpreted as meaning that the office of Coroner was altogether less attractive, and more avoidable, than that of tax collector, or perhaps Baud had advanced in wealth and status between 1298 and 1301. In general, however, the parliamentary knights and the assessors and collectors overlapped to a great extent, and most clearly belonged to the county caucus. The two most active Essex collectors in the overlap of the two reigns were Twinstead and Gros, neither of whom attended parliament, and they appear to have devoted most of the administrative energies to collecting taxes. Gros was fairly active in other aspects of local government and held a variety of judicial commissions, but Twinstead appears to have confined himself entirely to tax collecting.

Several other knights in the sample were also involved in tax collecting, though not in Essex. The non resident Group D knight Alan de Goldingham collected the twentieth and the fifteenth of 1307 in Suffolk, which was probably his real home county. [166]John le Breton may have collected the fifteenth of 1301 in Norfolk, and the aid of forty shillings per knight's fee of 1302 in the same county. [167] Both Breton and Goldingham rendered at least part of their account directly into the Wardrobe rather than the Exchequer, and Breton was also empowered to make payments directly to the king's Italian bankers, the Frescobaldi. [168]During the reign of Edward IInd the procedure used for collecting Lay Subsidies was applied also the collection of retrospective scutages, [169]and in 1314-15 two of the Essex parliamentary knights, John de Tany and William de Wauton, were employed to levy suctages still oustanding from the 28th, 31st and 34th years of the reign of Edward Ist. [170]Similarly the non resident knight William de Haningfield, who had been a collector in 1309, was employed in 1312 to tallage the king's borough's in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Essex and Hertfordshire. [171]

The collection of lay subsidies and other aids was thus an important duty assigned to the local gentry, and a corollary of their representation in parliament. Even if the knights of the shire were only occasionally appointed as Assessors themselves, it may have been an unwritten part of their duties to keep the Exchequer informed of those who might be prepared to accept such onerous duties.

Knights employed in the Royal Household.

Parliamentary representation, and the collection of parliamentary and other taxes brought the local knights into the orbit of the central government as its agents in the counties. As we have seen most of the administrative duties willing or unwillingly accepted the knights were, at least, in principle, occasional burdens which need not be considered burdensome. Although they may have been rewarded for their troubles with expenses and other perks, the administrative status of the local gentry was clearly very different from that of full time officials appointed by, and employed and paid, by some branch of the central government. The only knight in the sample who might fall into the latter category would be John le Breton who has many of the characteristics of a full time justice. There is, however, some slight evidence of other Essex knights whose relationship with the king's immediate government offices was more direct and personal, either because they received direct payments {disbursements} out of the royal Wardrobe as Household officials, or because they received gifts or benevolences from the king as acts of royal grace or rewards for services rendered.

The first category of Household disbursements subdivides into those who received regular wages in the Household, and those who received occasional disbursements for, presumably, occasional service. So far as Essex is concerned the evidence suggests that the knights whose names were familiar in local government and parliamentary representation had little or nothing to do with the Household, and were rarely involved with it in any formal or permanent capacity. Only four of the forty or so knights in sample ever received anything approaching regular wages from the Household, and each of these had special characteristics which distinguished them both from the 'average' knights in the county, and also from the buzones. John de Merk [D], technically non resident in Essex , was a royal falconer, and held his estates in Essex by the serjeancy of keeping two falcons and a hound at the king's expense. [172] Although John may have been based in Essex he received regular payments out of the wardrobe for fees, robes, and other expenses. In 1289 he received a falconer's wages of 8.3s.6d, and in 1290, 58s. 9d, for the custody of two greyhounds and a beagle. [173]He also had two 'esquires' whom he paid out of his expenses. [174]His horse was replaced at royal expense in 1294, and again in 1298, [175] and his imprests for the year 1296-7 exceed 17. [176]In 1300 he was allowed 15 due to him from the wardrobe, to be paid to him by the sheriff of Essex out of local revenues. [177]He was, in fact, continuously salaried on a yearly basis from 1289 to 1305 [178] and was clearly a permanent member of the royal Household. As we shall see he also served, when required, as a Household knight, attending most of the military campaigns of the latter part of Edward's reign. Tenurially Merk was not a knight, and did not hold his lands by knight service, yet he was treated as a knight both in the Sea Defence Ordinance of 1295, where he is described as non resident, not, presumably, because he had other lands in other counties but because he was resident in the Household, and in the muster rolls, for the military campaigns in which he served as a household knight. These will be considered in the next chapter.

Similarly Bartholomew de Brianzon, Asssessor and Collector in Essex in 1275. made various imprests for robes and fees in 1285, [179]though it is not clear from this that he was anything other than a temporary member of the Household. His younger son, John de Brianzon, made an imprest for 10 in 1299 as a Household Knight, though it is unlikely that he was more than fifteen years old at this date.. [180]

The two remaining examples from the sample were both retained in the Household as fighting knights. Anold de Monteny played little or no part in Essex local government, and appears to have devoted himself almost exclusively to a professional military career. Under the title of knight, or simple knight, he received regular fees for robes and wages over the period 1285 to 1306. [181] His status outside the Household is difficult to determine. He inherited from his father fairly considerable lands in Essex, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Hertfordshire, but only a portion of these lands was actually held in chief, and that for a fractional service of one quarter and one eight of a knight's fee. The rest were held of a variety of lords, including the Earl of Gloucester, Robert Fitzwalter, and William de Montchensey and in 1302 he was described as the joint holder, with others, of seven fees in Essex and Cambridgeshire. [182]He also had tenants holding fairly considerable acreages both by fractional knight service and by serjeanty. [183]All of this tends to suggest that he was a man of some considerable standing but perhaps not quite wealthy enough to indulge a taste for full time military knighthood without resorting to the honourable expedient of serving in the royal Household. Like John de Merk he would qualify as a non resident in 1295 because resident in the Household.

The last regular member of the Household is less ambiguous in status. John de la Mare was undoubtedly a baron, but only by virtue of his wife's barony of Castle Combe in Wiltshire. He appears first in the Wardrobe records in 1285, when he was allowed 66s 8d for fees and robes, but in 1290 he was allowed the much grander sum of 12 for fees and robes appropriate to a banneret, tanquam banerettus, and in 1298 he received no less than 88 for the replacement of his horses, and for wages and robes. [184]Here again was a man of considerable status, distinct from the other local knights, eschewing the more mundane duties of local government in favour of a more glamorous, and dangerous, style of life.

Those few Essex knights who were employed regularly in the royal Household point to a social and military elite in the county apparently quite distinct from the buzones who formed the administrative elite. They were all men whose status directed them more towards direct service in the king's court and household, rather in the county court or, as we suspect of Wascoil and Bouser, in the courts of local magnates.

Other Essex knights received occasional payments out of the Wardrobe, but do not appear to have been regularly employed by it. The Wardrobe, of course, employed and paid all manner of people, so receiving fees from the Wardrobe need not necessarily tell us anything about status, other than that the recipient had dealings with it. Here, also, there is the problem of proper or corroborated identity since there a great risk of confusing different men with the same names. Only two names from the sample can be identified with any confidence in the Wardrobe Books. The is William le Gros, recently sheriff of Essex, who received 9.12.10d due to him from the Wardrobe in 1294 for unspecified services [185]The other was the very familiar Hugh le Blount, also recently sheriff of Essex, who received 15 for the expenses of Stephen le Blount and John Buckingham, living in London by order of the king. [186] The case of Gros does not suggest any significant connection with the Wardrobe, but the Blounts are more confused because the connection between Hugh le Blount and Stephen is not clear. There was a Stephen Blount acting as a clerk of the Exchequer in 1304 and escheator in Cheshire in 1308. He may well have been a younger son of Hugh who chose a career in the royal service. [187]Another Hugh le Blount appears in the Household in 1305 as an esquire of the Prince Edward. [188]Whilst there is no corroborative evidence to connect this Blount with the Hugh le Blount of Essex, who would have been approaching fifty years of age in 1305, it is possible that Stephen and Hugh the esquire belonged to either the Essex or the London branches of the Blount family. The most that can be said, then, is that High le Blount , who was evidently one of the most 'strenuous' of the Essex buzones, may also have had relatives serving professionally within the central government.

Other familiar names do appear in the Wardrobe books, either receiving or paying in money. Nicholas Barrington [C] in 1289 [189]John Fillol [A] in 1314 received a winter fee of 5 marks, which suggests that he may have been semi permanent in the Household though his name does not recur in subsequent Books. [190] The John de Fillol who first went to Parliament in 1290 would have been sixty seven year old in 1314. John Heron [D] was paid 46.6s.8d. in 1303 for a warhorse sold to one of the Princes, Thomas de Mandeville [C] received in 1303 a debt of 54.15s. due from 1285, and John de Wateville made an imprest for 20 marks in 1307. [191]Lastly William de Wauton [A] received unspecified wages from the Household in 1392-3. [192] None of these names can be reliably linked to members of the Essex sample.

There is, then, almost no reliable evidence of the Essex buzones taking a regular and active part in the functions of the central government, although there is a suspicion that Hugh le Blount, or his family, were more closely connected with the Household and the government than most of the other administrative knights.

The second major link with the central government and the king came through the distribution of gifts and benevolences made by the king to individual knights. These subdivide into the following categories:

All references for the following section may be found in Appendix G,unless otherwise stated.

At first sight the administrative and parliamentary knights appear to be the most prominent recipients of benevolences. Out of a total of seventeen knights in the sample receiving royal favours during the reign of Edward Ist, ten were either Parliamentary Knights or Assessors and Collectors. These were, Bigod, Blount, Breton, Brianzon {already in the Household}, Duresme, Fillol, Grapinel, John de Tany, Wascoil, and Wauton. Twomore were either Parliamentary Knights or Assessors and Collectors in the following reign,namely Ralph de Coggeshall and William de Haningfield, and of the five remaining, John de la Mare and John de Merk, like Brianzon, were either employed by the king or were close to him, and therefore more likely to receive gifts. Heron and Pratellis were not active administrators, though both may have been more significant on tenurial or military grounds, and Richard de Tany, whilst certainly active in local government was, as we shall see, more disposed towards military rather than civilian administration. The administrative knights thus seem to have taken the lion's share of the king's gifts.

However, the maximum number of gifts received by administrative knights was four, in the cases of Fillol and Wauton, whereas John de la Mare who was a baron, or at least a banneret, received over eighteen benevolences from the king, though the majority of these were actual fro the respite of debts owed by John. Mare's case is exceptional.. If he is disregarded there might be some grounds for arguing that the predominance of the administrative knights in the receipt of gifts followed from royal recognition and reward for their services in the counties. Such a view is probably altogether too altruistic. In the first, place only Hugh le Blount received a royal grant after attending a parliament, there being no necessary connection between the two phenomena, and in most cases the distribution of grants was apparently unrelated to the performance of service./ It ,may be that gifts were awarded for accumulated merit, so that there would be no direct connection between any one service and a reward, though, as will be seen, there is some correlation between performance of military service and the respite of debts. In the second place the great majority of grants, something like twenty out of thirty three were in fact for respite of debts, or grants of warren, or hunting rights, or fairs, whereas only five were gifts of pure grace, and two of these went to men who had real connections at court.

Three possible conclusions follow from this. Firstly, grants of respite of debt, and of warren, hunting and fairs, had to be asked for and rarely proceeded from royal grace alone. In these cases the knights would have to take the initiative and might well have to pay for them, either for the privilege of the grant itself or for the services of the officials who enrolled it. Secondly, the administrative activities of these knights automatically brought them into contact with the central government, as has been shown, and would in many cases involve them in debts to the Exchequer, for which they might seek respite, quite apart from the debts which they might have incurred as a consequence of their feudal tenures. In practice virtually all instances of respite of debts were made on the grounds of personal military service, and consisted more often than not of repites from taxes or scutages. Thirdly, the administrative knights as a group constituted the most active and articulate members of the county, who were aware of, and familiar with, the correct channels of communication within the royal government. They were therefore inherently more likely to take advantage of their position, in this as in other respects, to seek favours from the king, and also, perhaps, more likely to succeed by trading on their contribution to local government. This did not, however, mean that they were the most important knights in the county since there was clearly another echelon, just below the baronage, which appeared to conform more closely to the criteria of military and chivalric knighthood which was to prevail in the fourteenth century. There remains, then, the question of the role of the local knights in Edward Ist's military campaigns and their relative status in his armies.