16th October 1216. King John and Taxation.

There is a close correlation between war and taxation particularly notable in the reign of King John who died Today in 1216.

John aged 50, on one of his many journeys died in Newark, and few would have mourned, as he was a rapacious collector of revenue especially when the Duchy of Normandy, and its income, were lost. 

The King was ‘hard-up’ and his reign is noted for an innovative widening of taxation assessment and associated meticulous record-keeping of income receipts. What’s new!

Thus the arrival on the scene of money raiser Hubert Walter as Chancellor.

John's tomb at Worcester cathedral.

John’s effigy on his tomb at Worcester Cathedral.

However lacking  wise counsel after his death in 1205, the King’s avaricious attempts to raise money led to 1215 and Magna Carta.

The Great Charter has 61 clauses referring to fiscal grievances and 10 tor the way revenue was levied, revealing a demand, in this case from the barons, for control of, and consent to, taxation; the cry down the centuries.

John’s reign was to prove a watershed, gradually moving from feudal exaction to some kind of national taxation system-from domain based- to a tax-based state.

Under the Angevin monarchs, state departments, under clerics, were developing out of the Royal Household, (united in a common bond to the Crown), into major financial and administrative offices.

We see a burgeoning civil-service already apparent in the establishment of the Exchequer under Bishop Roger of Salisbury in the  reign of John’s (and Richard I), father Henry II, keeping close supervision over the Exchequer Board, with officials holding inquests into money owed, and receipts given using Tally Sticks, all recorded on Pipe-Rolls.(1)

Display of Tally Sticks

Display of Tally Sticks.


The sticks were made from hazel wood.

Today Chequers, the official residence of the Prime Minister, stands near the site of the Department of John’s Treasury, one of whose officials had acquired the Manor which acquired the name ‘de Scaccariis’ or ‘of the Exchequer’.  

The Pipe Roll Series didn’t end until 1834 when the Pipe-Office was abolished, the year of the burning of parliament caused by incinerating old tally sticks.

Pipe Rolls 1213.

Pipe Rolls 1213-15.

(1) The earliest Pipe-Rolls, on vellum, date from 1130 and detail the working of an early Exchequer and were the responsibility of Clerk of the Treasury, Clerk of the Pipe-Rolls or of The Pells.


The Dialogus de Scaccario (Dialogue on the Exchequer), was written by Richard fitz Nigel, Treasurer for Henry I and II and was an extensive dialogue concerning the Exchequer written c1178.(see below).

oro.open.ac/Frecknal Hughes.2007. King John and Taxation.

Magna Carta and Kingship. British Library. Dan Jones.

wikipedia.org/tomb_of_john/Pic of effigy.


bl.uk/voices-of-science/tally sticks and other pics.

Richard fitz Nigel (d1198) wrote in modern language: ‘let me briefly explain how tallies are made. The length of a lawful tally is from the tip of the index finger to the tip of the outstretched thumb. A Pound is represented by a notch the size of a swollen barleycorn, and a Penny, a single cut without removing any wood.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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