Originally posted 4th November 2022

The Exchequer is now an alternative name for the Department of the Treasury, but it was originally a physical place, and specifically a physical object: a large rectangular table covered with a special cloth divided into stripes that could be used as an abacus for totalling up accounts. The first records of it appear during the reign of Henry I and according to official records it took in £23,000 for him in 1129-30, though he almost certainly had income from other sources that have not been recorded.

The Norman kings had to develop departments like the Exchequer because, unlike Anglo-Saxon kings, they were often abroad. The Exchequer allowed a constant written record of debts owed to the king as these became too complicated for one man to keep track of. Because of its importance the man who ran the Exchequer was a leading royal minister; Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, was one of the first men to emerge as holding an identifiable position of power below the king. He was in charge of the Exchequer when it first appears in records in around 1110, when Henry I had an unusual income: he was taking in a special tax known as a gracious aid to pay for a dowry for his daughter. It’s possible that the Exchequer was created especially to deal with this situation, but it’s also possible it existed before and simply hadn’t been recorded.

Sheriffs came to the Exchequer every year to render accounts and pay the king the agreed “farm” for their shires, together with any required uplifts. The sessions were held twice a year, at Easter and Michaelmas; Easter was an initial audit when the sheriff could make a downpayment on whatever the final amount would be and then the final amount was paid at Michaelmas, once the sheriff had run a gauntlet of officials and barons questioning him about the ordinary payments and also any special payments the king had asked him to collect. According to the Dialogue Concerning the Exchequer - a handbook of Exchequer procedure compiled in about 1179 - the striped cloth was named either for its physical resemblance to a chessboard or for the fact that the entire business was like a game of chess: the sheriff versus the treasurer.

Originally posted 11th November 2022

Edith-Matilda, also known as Edytha or Matilda of Scotland, married Henry I of England on 11th November 1100. She was the daughter of King Malcom and Saint Margaret of Scotland but, like many noble women at the time, she had been raised in a nunnery. In Edith-Matilda’s case this was apparently because it would protect her from the attentions of the Normans; this was a sufficiently common practice that the Bishop of Rochester had to seek advice from the Archbishop of Canterbury on what to do about women who had been sent to convents but now wished to marry and one of the categories listed in the response is “those who … fled to a monastery not for love of the religious life but for fear of the French”.

Edith-Matilda’s marriage was especially important because she had Saxon royal blood in her veins through her mother. This meant that by marrying her Henry could shore up a rather shaky claim to the throne and also promise some reconciliation between the Normans and Saxons. According to the Chronicle of the Kings of England by William of Malmesbury (commissioned by Edith-Matilda), Edward the Confessor had prophesied on his deathbed that a green tree would be cut, grafted to another tree, and produce fruit; William interpreted this as a metaphor for the joining of the Saxon and Norman royal lines and used the fruit of the grafted tree as a metaphor when describing Edith-Matilda’s son William. Henry himself would go on to emphasise Edith-Matilda’s Saxon descent when demanding his barons swear an oath to support their daughter Matilda’s claim to the throne. However, the possibility that Edith-Matilda had been a nun and therefore her marriage was invalid would come back to haunt Matilda; in arguments before the pope it was put forward as a reason she could not be queen.

Edith-Matilda was an extremely religious woman, though she was always very clear on the fact that she had never taken vows. She was also highly educated and a great patron of the arts; as well as William of Malmesbury’s chronicle, she commissioned a biography of her mother and a translation of The Voyage of Saint Brendan - a story centering on an early Irish saint - into Norman French. She was also said to have lavished money on musicians. Furthermore, she was in charge of her children’s education and acted as Henry’s regent while he was away in Normandy. Slightly less conventionally, she was said to habitually wash and handle the sores of lepers. Henry’s revulsion at this may have been the reason they had no more children after their son William, but the reason could also have been Edith-Matilda’s religious devotion inclining her more towards chastity once she had done her duty and produced an heir.

Originally posted 17th November 2022

One of the sources of income for a landowner under feudal law was “incidents” from his tenants. There were a variety of these, but many of them arose when the tenant died. For example, when the tenant died and his heir wanted to inherit, the lord was entitled to a fee known as a relief. In some cases the lord might even be allowed to take and profit from the land until the heir paid up. The amount to be paid was set at 100 shillings during the reign of Henry I. This was a significant amount of money, but before that the lord could set a relief as high as he wanted, including effectively barring the heir from inheritance by setting a relief that would financially ruin him. Other incidents that could apply when a tenant died included wardship - the lord taking over the lands if the tenant’s heir was underage - and marriage - the lord being allowed to determine who an underage heir or a widow would marry.

When a tenant granted land to a corporation such as a monastery, this damaged the lord’s income; the monastery never died and had no widow or heir, so the incidents that became payable on a tenant’s death no longer applied. This “alienation in mortmain”, as it was known, could then be abused to avoid feudal incidents: a tenant would transfer the land to a monastery and then the monastery would lease it back to them. This was enough of a problem for powerful lords that it was addressed in Magna Carta: if land was granted to a religious institution and then received back from that same institution, it was immediately forfeited back to the original lord.

Originally posted 24th November 2022

As the idea of Purgatory - a part of the afterlife were the dead were painfully purged of their sins before they could enter heaven - gained in popularity, it became more common for people to endow chantries: chapels where a priest would pray for the donor’s soul forever. The idea was that this would shorten the donor’s (and usually other members of their family) time in purgatory. This increased the amount of land being genuinely donated to the church, with the accompanying effects on lords’ income, including that of the king. This in turn led to the Statute of Mortmain in 1279, which banned alienations in mortmain without a royal licence. Such a licence could be bought, but they were granted grudgingly. The last remains of the Statute of Mortmain remained on the books until 1960.

The Lichfield Angel is a stone carving found buried under the floor of Lichfield Cathedral in 2003. It shows an angel - believed to be Gabriel - and may have been part of a destroyed shrine.It has been dated to about 800 AD and appears to have been deliberately broken up and buried, possibly in the late 900s because a coin from that era was found nearby.

As well as being considered an especially fine example of Anglo-Saxon sculpture, the Angel is unusual because it retains traces of the original painted decoration. The artist used a combination of iron oxide for red and yellow, calcium carbonate and lead for white and carbon for black and used a great deal of care for effects such as shading each of the Angel’s wing feathers from red through yellow to white at the tips. He appears to have had pink skin, blond hair, and a yellow robe with details in red and white, and his halo may have been gilded.

The Angel was probably half of an Annunciation scene which would also have included the Virgin Mary and may have been the end of a shrine to St Chad; such a shrine is known to have originally been in the cathedral and it was originally dedicated to St Mary and St Chad.

Assuming the date of the Angel is correct, it would have been carved and installed at the cathedral near the end of or shortly after Lichfield’s brief time as the seat of an archbishop. King Offa of Mercia had needed an archbishop to consecrate his son as his successor. Lichfield was well within Mercia and Offa may have preferred a Mercian archbishop to relying on one from Canterbury in Kent, so he persuaded the Pope to name one.