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Before anyone complaints, let me just say some of my best friends work on accounts. Despite their dry and dusty reputation, there’s plenty to be had from them – the accounts, that is; obviously, friends don’t need justifying! I refer you, for example, to an extremely interesting paper recently published by Benjamin Wild drawing on the Wardrobe accounts of Henry III during his captivity (1264–65); and another, by Lars Kjær, drawing on the household accounts of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, in approximately the same period. These papers show us how accounts can reveal much, much more than the spending habits of ‘the accounted’, and the anal retentiveness of accountants themselves (although, on reflection, I even find that interesting… I mean, after all, as I have said before and will no doubt say again, much of my work is administrative history, and I spend a lot of my life mining for socially-meaningful gold in what most people would regard as the medieval precursor to the form letter, so who am I to talk…?!) Properly read, accounts can actually tell us about ideals and mindsets. I’m presuming that, for those reading, this is hardly news.

What has today drawn my attention to how one reads accounts was my own annual tax return. The taxation year in Australia ends on 30 June, and returns are due in within a couple of months of this date, so I have been filling in my expenses spreadsheet (the one I began several months ago with every intention of being a conscientious and regular recorder, in solidarity with the medieval maintainers of the close or fine rolls).[1] When I established this record I decided, because that’s the kind of gal I am, to include every expense, and not merely those relevant for taxation purposes. So I’ve been going through the giant undifferentiated mass of receipts in my ‘receipts in’ folder. You know the one:

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My attention tends to wander when I spend too many days in a row reading the Close Rolls. Try it. I’m sure you’ll feel the same. Hence, I was pleased to be shaken from my reverie when I came upon several entries relating to wine in the Roll for 1274; after all, this is a subject dear to my heart, as a regular visitor of several fine wineries in the greater Melbourne area, and proud owner/drinker of a cellar that’s not too bad, thank you very much, even if I do say so myself. I have a vague notion of writing the book on wine in the thirteenth century one day.[1] For now, here are some tastings.

Obviously I’m not the only one who likes to mix my -OH groups with medieval amusement…

The king had a special right to prise, in other words, a tax, on imports of wine, and it seems to me from the implications of several notes on the Rolls that this was sometimes taken in kind. There is mention, for example, of a tun of wine “of the right prise” being given “of the king’s gift” to the archbishop of Rages.[2] As the wording of this writ suggests, gifts of wine potentially represented patronage of both symbolic and functional significance.[3] Gifts of wine from the royal prise frequently seem to have been directed at religious houses, sometimes for the express purpose of celebrating the divine office. On January 27, 1275, the monks of King’s Beaulieu, where the king was staying, took the opportunity to press their rights to an annual tun for this purpose which they claimed to have been granted by a charter of Henry III. Edward ordered three tuns – one for the present year and two in arrears – to be granted to them “until he shall cause it to be ordained otherwise”, presumably involving a search of the chancery records for the aforementioned charter.[4] As a chivalrous and gracious monarch, one imagines he could hardly fail to meet the monks’ demands while he was their guest, even if he should later discover the claim to be groundless.[5]  Read the rest of this entry »

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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