Records of the Exchequer of Chester
Records of the Exchequer of Chester mainly relating to its judicial, financial and secretarial duties.
- Common law pleas and returns to writs of certiorari, CHES 7
- Exhibits, CHES 11
- Entry books and minute books of decrees and orders, and rule book, CHES 14
- Fee books, CHES 6
- Insolvency, bankruptcy and other papers, CHES 10
- Mainprise rolls, CHES 5
- Original decrees and orders, CHES 13
- Papers in causes, CHES 9
- Pleadings, CHES 15 and CHES 16
- Records of proceedings in the Pentice and Portmote Courts of the City of Chester, CHES 8
- Sacrament certificates, CHES 4
- Unpublished depositions, CHES 12
- Warrants, general liveries and miscellanea, CHES 1
- Enrolments, CHES 2
- Inquisitions, CHES 3
For chamberlain's accounts, see DL 29
Before 1237 the Earldom of Chester enjoyed an unusual degree of financial independence of the crown. Its accounts, drawn up by the Chamberlain, were audited by the royal Exchequer and enrolled on the pipe rolls only during vacancies. After the transfer of the earldom into royal hands its financial institutions were further strengthened. The Cheshire accounts were again audited at Westminster when the king was earl, but in the years 1254-1272, when the Lord Edward held Cheshire, the county's finances were administered and audited at the Exchequer of Chester.
The same was true after 1301, when the Chamberlain and his deputies gained full responsibilities for the collection, audit and disbursement of money.
In the Middle Ages the ordinary receipts of Chester included the profits of the demesne lands; fines and amercements; fees of the seal; forest dues; and customs. The reorganisation of government finances and the creation of the new revenue courts in the 1530s stripped away some of these sources. By 1547 the Court of Augmentations had assumed full responsibility for the financial administration of crown lands, and those functions passed to the Exchequer in 1554. In 1559 customs revenues were also lost. The Exchequer of Chester retained only resources such as judicial receipts and fees of the seal, and its importance as a financial institution declined rapidly.
The Exchequer of Chester also had local responsibility for collecting national taxes. Until 1540 Cheshire had no parliamentary representation and did not have to pay aids and subsidies; after 1540 these were levied in the palatinate as elsewhere in the kingdom. The consent of the county community was required for raising the mize, a local extraordinary tax. On several occasions the county's charter of liberties was confirmed by the crown in return for the tax, which came to be viewed as the cornerstone of palatine independence. However, it was also disliked for its uneven distribution, being levied on the basis of assessments fixed in or before the fourteenth century.
The Exchequer of Chester exercised secretarial functions analogous to those of the English Chancery. The Chamberlain and his deputies had custody of the palatine seal and were responsible for the writing and sealing of writs and charters. All letters patent, charters, fines, deeds, wills and other matters of importance relating to the palatinate were enrolled on the 'recognizance' rolls, so called because recognizances for debt usually appeared on the first membrane.
In the last years of the palatinate, the Exchequer lost to the English Chancery its competence over the issue of many important categories of letters, such as those concerning the officials of the Court of Great Sessions. The number of documents enrolled fell considerably, and their subjects were restricted largely to records of appointment and the admission of attorneys at the Exchequer of Chester. A few deeds and pleas were also included.
The judicial activities of the Exchequer of Chester were supervised by the Vice-Chamberlain. As with the Westminster Exchequer, the primary business of the Exchequer of Chester as a court of law was to call the king's debtors to account and to recover any lands, goods or other profits belonging to the Crown. Entries on the thirteenth century county court rolls suggest that by the thirteenth century there was already a well-established revenue tribunal in operation. By the fifteenth century, recognizances to keep the peace, enrolled on the 'recognizance' rolls, appear to have formed a substantial part of the court's business.
In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century its officials claimed that it had heard cases in equity from the foundation of the earldom, but no records of any such jurisdiction have survived from before 1500. The procedures for equity cases in the Exchequer of Chester were similar to those of Chancery and it also exercised powers of review over local courts such as the Pentice and Portmote courts of the city of Chester. However, most of its cases were minor and local, frequently involving the settlement of debts.
In the later sixteenth century William Glasiour, a Vice-Chamberlain of the Exchequer, gained important judicial privileges for it at the expense of the Council in the Marches of Wales and the Chester City Corporation. But the intemperance of his behaviour provoked strong reaction, and in the years 1574-1584 the government introduced a more stringent control over the operations of the Exchequer court. Its sessions were limited in duration and were to coincide with those of the Court of Great Sessions. Assistants learned in the law, often common lawyers, had to be present to help the vice-chamberlain.
The Exchequer maintained its position as a court of equity well into the eighteenth century and remained popular for the settlement of claims for small debts. Its business fell off dramatically thereafter, and in 1816 its few remaining officials were either infirm or ignorant of its procedures.
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