Catalogue description Exchequer: Pipe Office: Pipe Rolls

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Details of E 372
Reference: E 372
Title: Exchequer: Pipe Office: Pipe Rolls

This series contains the Exchequer Pipe Office, Pipe Rolls.

Until the late thirteenth century, the basis of the Pipe Rolls was accounts of the farm of the county, the fixed sum that the sheriff paid to the King for the income from the King's lands and other rights in the county, also known as the corpus comitatus (the body of the county). From 1311 the corpus comitatus was removed to a separate roll. Details are given of charges allowed against the farm for crown lands which had been assigned to individuals or annual sums given to religious orders as alms. There are also records of expenses which could be set against the farm. Details are also recorded of other small farms, such as those of cities, towns and manors, or woods and fisheries, which were held and accounted for separately.

There are also details of debts still owing, but old and unpaid debts were removed from the rolls from 1270. There are also 'Nova Oblata' (new offerings), financial offerings for the King's favour. The latter parts of the early accounts often also include the records of financial penalties imposed by the King's justices in eyre, or assizes. The other significant amounts of new material near the ends of the accounts are records of taxes, such as tallages, scutages and aids, which the sheriff was responsible for collecting.

The early Pipe Rolls contained a large numbers of foreign accounts, the name given to accounts 'foreign' to the ordinary county accounts. They included such accounts as those for temporalities of vacant bishoprics, abbeys or honours in the king's hands, and they occurred in the Pipe Rolls in the later twelfth century. They became far more numerous, and generally lengthier, during the early thirteenth century, and from 10 Henry III they came to form a separate 'rotulus compotorum' section at the end of the roll. In addition to the types of account already mentioned, they included among other things accounts of the King's household, for expenditure on the king's troops, ships, castles, houses and horses, and accounts of profits from the forests, forfeited goods, escheats and mints.

During the later thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries some categories of enrolled accounts were removed from the Pipe Rolls to separate rolls, and in 1368 all the foreign accounts which remained in the Pipe Rolls were removed to a separate series of rolls of foreign accounts.

New kinds of material continued to appear in the accounts with the continuing development of government and justice, including fines imposed by new tribunals like the Court of Star Chamber. During the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there are frequent entries of payments made by sheriffs to the justices under the authority of the statute to the justices for their attendance at Quarter Sesions. The eleven rolls for the period from 1581 to 1591 include the accounts of fines and forfeitures of lands collected under the recusancy acts. From 1592 they were transferred to a separate series of recusant rolls. In the seventeenth century, the Pipe Rolls list those in arrears for Ship Money.

The granting of county status to some large provincial cities created some additional sheriffs' accounts for inclusion in the rolls. In the reign of Henry VIII Monmouthshire was added to the list of counties whose sheriff rendered account at the Exchequer, and was treated like an English county, but the sheriffs of the other Welsh counties appear only in a 'Wales' account which appears in some rolls, with marginal references to the individual counties.

The development of a new system of auditing by declared accounts from 1560 led to a decline in the number of accounts which were recorded in the Pipe Rolls, and by the eighteenth century there were sometimes no entries under 'New Matters' other than the judicial penalties imposed by the courts.

Digital images of some of the records in this series are available through the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website. Please note that The National Archives is not responsible for this website or its content.

Date: 1129-1832
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See also

Duplicates of the Pipe Rolls in E 352

Enrollments of accounts of subsidies and aids in E 359

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English and Latin
Physical description: 676 roll(s)
Publication note:

Rolls for 1129/30-1222, 1229/30 and are 1241/42 printed, mainly by the Pipe Roll Society

Administrative / biographical background:

The Pipe Rolls are the oldest series of English governmental documents, and were created by the most ancient department of the English government, the Exchequer, which existed by 1110. The earliest survivor dates from the reign of Henry I, and is second only to Domesday Book itself in its antiquity as a public record. They were created principally to record the accounts of the sheriffs of the counties of England, which they made annually before the barons of the Exchequer, but came also to include the accounts of other officials.

A pipe roll consists of the accounts of a single year, each written on large rotuli consisting of two parchment membranes filed together head to tail, which at the end of the year were filed together at their heads 'Exchequer fashion'. An early account of how they were drawn up is given in the Dialogue concerning the Exchequer, a treatise written about 1177/78, and we are told that it was written by the treasurer's scribe. By 1235 the same official was known as the treasurer's clerk, by 1290 also as ingrosser of the great roll and, by 1547 at latest, Clerk of the Pipe. The Dialogue calls it 'the roll of the year' (annalis rotulus) or 'great roll of the year' (magnus annalis rotulus), and official references to the roll for the year normally refer to it as 'the great roll', the term which was still habitually used by Thomas Madox, himself an Exchequer official, in his history of the department published in 1711.

The significance of the term 'pipe roll' seems to be that it described the tubular, pipe-like shape of the rolls when rolled up. The notion that it resulted from a more conceptual idea of the King's revenue flowing through pipes to a central pool, which was mentioned in Sir Nicholas Bacon's Office of Alienations in 1598 and seems to have been in general circulation in the early seventeenth century, seems to be a fanciful way of trying to account for a term whose true origin had long been forgotten; it had been in use for over three hundred years by then. One writer noted that the most commonly accepted opinion was that the Exchequer was planned like an aqueduct, with water directed from many springs to a pipe, 'and by that carried into the cesterne of a great house or pallace, where it is to bee expended accordinge to the necessitie and use of every office'.

The term 'pipe' was certainly in use within a few years of 1300. By the early fourteenth century there are references which describe an individual county account as a 'pipe' (pipa), and the sheriffs' summonses, a few of which survive from that period, are headed 'extracted from the pipe' (de pipa). In the Cowick ordinance of 1323, which dealt in detail with the organisation of the Exchequer, it was made even clearer that the pipes are the individual rolls, each composed of two membranes sewn head to foot, which were put together to make the great roll for the year: 'soient desore annuelement tutes les pipes de tutz les accomptes renduz en lan bien et pleynement examines avant qe eles soient mises ensemble et roul fait de eles a la fyn del an' (let all the pipes and all the accounts rendered in the year be henceforth well and fully examined before they are put together and a roll made of them at the end of the year). The development seems therefore to have been to 'roll of pipes' and thence to 'pipe roll'.

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