The core of this series was reconstructed from the Ancient Miscellanea of the Exchequer. It consists of inventories, taken by the commissioners appointed to make inquiry respecting church goods and ornaments in 1552, of all manner of 'goodes, plate, juells, vestyments, bells and other ornyments within every paryshe belonging or in any wyse apperteying to any churche, chapell, brotherhed, gylde or fraternytye within this our realme of Englond'.
The declared intention of this commission was to stop all private embezzlement of church goods in the wake of the dissolution of the monasteries and to ensure their preservation for church use. The following year, however, another commission directed the seizure of these valuables, 'for as muche as the King's Majestie had neede presently of a masse of mooney', with only the barest essentials being left for the use of each parish church. All plate was to be sent to the Jewel House in the Tower of London to be melted down, and jewels were likewise to be delivered there. Any money arising from goods sold locally was to be sent to Sir Edmund Peckham, the treasurer of the Mint.
This process was reversed by Mary (1553-58) who ordered the return of most of the plate to the churches and appointed a commission to review the disposal of all church and chantry goods taken and inventoried since 1545 and of all property and goods belonging to religious houses which had fallen to the Crown since 1536. Exchanges of land and sales of wood were also to be investigated.
Most of the records now in this series are the product of these conflicting orders. The returns cover not only England and Wales but also Calais and Ireland. The records include inventories and abridgements of inventories; letters patent and instructions for commissioners to take inventories within particular counties or cities 1549-1553; documents subsidiary to the inventory process, including the cost of weighing bells (for which expert advice was sought); county totals; an account, sub-divided by county, of broken plate delivered into the Jewel House 1553-1554; accounts of church plate delivered into the Jewel House and partly redelivered under Mary, and indentures concerning the same; accounts of sales, particularly of lead and bells seized from religious houses under Henry VIII; and proceedings, letters and other documents relating to the commission exercised by Thomas Mildmay, William Berners and John Wiseman as Commissioners for Church Goods under Mary.
The inventories are not necessarily a full record of pre-Reformation church goods. The abridgements usually mention only plate and bells, articles whose metal content could be melted down and used for secular profit. Original inventories may list also vestments, books, linen, and other ecclesiastical furniture, and some include the contents of armouries and habiliments of war kept within the church. The amount of detail, and the range of goods valued, shows considerable variation.