On the abolition of the Court of Augmentations in 1554 most of its functions and some of its central and local offices were absorbed, complete with their methods of accountancy, into a new sub-department of the Exchequer for the audit of land revenue: that of the Office of the Auditors of Land Revenue.
In spite of an initial plan to return to the sheriffs the responsibility lately exercised by the receivers of augmentations, the network of receiverships in fact survived as did the audit circuits albeit rationalised and reduced in number no doubt to take account of the reduction in the workload consequent upon the heavy sales of crown lands under Edward VI. Mary reduced the auditorships to seven, an eighth post being added later for a very short period, and the circuits thereafter remained largely unaltered until the end of the 17th century.
Records of the work and allegiances of the auditors in the Civil War and Interregnum remain to be studied in detail. It is clear, however, that during the 1640s the annual audits were frequently postponed or abandoned and that, perhaps with the heavy sales of royal land and fee farm rents in the 1650s the declaration of accounts fell considerably in arrears. This was slowly remedied after the Restoration in 1660 when the old rents charged up to 1642 were reinstated as the basis of the accounts, the proclamation of audits resumed as before, and some of the Interregnum appointments cancelled.
At the Restoration, with the need to recover and redeploy the royal lands, a suggestion was made that the old Court of Augmentations be restored, but this came to nothing and the administrative burden fell on the seven auditors working closely with the Surveyor General of Crown Lands. Heavy sales of fee farm rents between 1670 and 1673, and then again under William and Mary in the 1690s, once again reduced the auditors' workload and it became possible to merge circuits as the incumbents died or retired, until by early in the reign of Anne there were only three auditorships of land revenue. This remained the position for the rest of the 18th century.
In 1799, an act (39 Geo III, c83) laid it down that upon the deaths of the then auditors their offices should cease, that all the official books, papers and accounts remaining in any of their said offices should be deemed public property and that the future enrolment of all leases and grants within their respective audits should be made by the commissioners for auditing the public accounts. No steps, however, appear to have been taken to carry out these provisions until the Crown Lands Act of 1832 (2 and 3 Will IV c1) by which the one remaining office of Auditor of Land Revenue was abolished, the duties of auditing the accounts of the land revenue were again transferred to the audit commissioners, and a new office to be called the Office of Land Revenue Records and Enrolments, was erected for the custody of the existing records and the enrolment of all future deeds, leases, etc, entered into by the Commissioners of HM Woods, Forests and Land Revenues.
The records of the queen's consort were usually deposited in the Exchequer on the termination of jointure.
Appointments and Offices:
Auditors were appointed by letters patent and by at least the early 17th century it had become customary to specify the circuit they were to serve, although it was increasingly common also for aspiring candidates to enter the waiting lists for offices by procuring patents in reversion, and sometimes by serving as deputy to one or more of the existing auditors
Whilst the Augmentation Office of the Exchequer continued to serve as a central records repository for the non current records of the land revenue, and increasing numbers of official records such as ministers and receivers accounts came to be retained by the individual auditors. Until he early 18th century each auditor operated from his own chambers or lodgings, usually in the Inns of Court, in or near the Strand, or in Westminster, and this no doubt accounts for many of the lacunae in the memoranda and correspondence. With the steady decline in land revenue after 1660 the auditors' posts ceased to be a full-time concern and the holders tended to acquire other part-time secretarial and administrative responsibilities. In the early 18th century, as the posts were reduced in number, it became possible to provide a central auditors' office in New Palace Yard, Westminster, although the report to the public record commissioners in 1732 shows that their combined records were too bulky to be accommodated in one place.
The procedure for audit of land revenues inherited from the Court of Augmentations in 1554 remained largely unchanged after the abolition of that court save that draft accounts were now declared before the Lord Treasurer or Chancellor of the Exchequer and the final parchment exemplification before a Baron of the Exchequer. The auditors were regarded first and foremost as general auditors of the Exchequer and only secondarily in their more specialised capacity as auditors of land revenue. They were therefore called upon to audit many other accounts coming before the Exchequer, including those of sheriffs, escheators, subsidy collectors, customers (transferred under James I to the auditors of the prests), revenue farmers, the cofferer of the household and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the land and assessed taxes. Such accounts were declared before a Baron of the Exchequer and entered by both remembancers among their states of account. As long as there were seven auditors it was not customary for the same man to audit any one type of account for two consecutive years, and duty rosters were drawn up to ensure circulation. In land revenue matters, however, each auditor stuck to his own circuit.
Matters requiring expert advice (and sometimes extended research in the records), including petitions and bills concerning revenue matters, were frequently referred for an auditor opinion by the Lord Treasurer and the barons and remembrancers of the Exchequer.
The auditors also enrolled all grants and leases affecting the crown in their circuits.
The auditors circuits from 1554 to the early eighteenth century were as follows:
- Circuit 1: London, Midd, Essex, Herts, Hunts, Cambs, Norf, Suff
- Circuit 2: Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Oxon, Beds, Berks, Bucks
- Circuit 3: Northants, Rutland, Warw, Leics, Staff, Heref, Worcs, Salop, Lancs, Westm, Cumb
- Circuit 4: Yorks, Richmond, Durh, Northumb
- Circuit 5: Hants, Wilts, Dors, Som, Glos, Devon, Corn
- Circuit 6: Lincs, Notts, Derb, Ches
- Circuit 7: Wales
The circuits remained unchanged until the early eighteenth century when they were reduced to three with the first 5 circuits being combined.