From Magna Carta to the Parliamentary State: the fine rolls of King Henry III (1216-1272)

Submitting Institution

King's College London

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

The project is inspired by an impact agenda, its aim being to benefit many constituencies by making its research freely available on its website. The research is making a major contribution to public understanding of Magna Carta and helping to shape the agenda for the celebrations of its 800th anniversary in 2015. The resource encourages active involvement in history by many beneficiaries — local communities, family historians, the heritage industry, university students, and schools (where the reform of the history curricula re-emphasies this period of history) — allowing them to connect with their past in meaningful and hitherto impossible ways.

Underpinning research

Key findings: Fines, recorded on chancery rolls called fine rolls, were offers of money to the king for a wide variety of concessions and favours. The key finding related to the impact of Magna Carta and the emergence of the parliamentary state. Under King John (1199-1216) fines were worth £25,000 a year, which represented a large slice of his annual income. Under Henry III (1216-1272), they were worth below £5000 a year. This reflected the way Magna Carta (1215) had limited the arbitrary exactions of the king. He now became dependent on the taxation which only parliament could grant, hence the emergence of the parliamentary state. Other important findings related to the widening of the political community to embrace gentry and peasants, the impact of Magna Carta on women, and the persecution of the Jews, preparing the way for their expulsion from England in 1290.

Underpinning research: Before the research, historians had no alternative but to trawl through the original Latin rolls in The National Archives, a hugely time consuming task. For other than a few professionals, they were a closed book. To remedy this situation, the project translated into English all fifty-six fine rolls of the reign of Henry III. Given the palaeographical challenges and the technical nature of the material, this required great research expertise. The rolls run to around 2 million words, and mention some 30,000 places and 35,000 people, 16% of them female. The rolls were marked up in XML and made electronically searchable on the website so that they could be subject to multiple forms of analysis. Research which would before have taken weeks could now be done in a few minutes. The translations were also linked to digitised images of the original rolls. With the resource unlocked in this pioneering way (for these were the first medieval rolls to be so treated), the project team carried out the research which revealed the stunning decline in the value of fines under Henry III, and thus the impact of Magna Carta, and the need for a tax based parliamentary state. Its research also illuminated the other themes mentioned in section 2 above, as well as democratising the fine rolls generally and making them interactively usable by all interested in the medieval past.

Dates of project: The first phase covering the rolls from 1216 to 1248, ran from April 2005 to March 2008. The second phase, which addressed the research issues outlined above, and covered the rolls between 1248 and 1272, ran from April 2008 to December 2011.

Names of key researchers:
The project was conceived by Dr Louise Wilkinson of Christ Church Canterbury, a former doctoral student at King's, who became a Co-investigator with Dr David Crook of The National Archives. The Principal Investigator was David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History at King's, 2003-present. Carpenter drove the project forward and had overall responsibility for its output and impact. He prepared the agenda for and chaired 68 minuted meetings of the project team. The two full time research fellows, Drs Paul Dryburgh and Beth Hartland, were based at King's and answered to him. In equal share with Wilkinson and Crook, Carpenter checked their translations.

The technical work, making the translations electronically searchable, was done at King's' Centre for Computing in the Humanities (now DDH) by a team under its director, Professor Harold Short, who was a Co-investigator. Carpenter conceived the `Fine of the Month', writing 24 of the 85 in the series and energetically encouraging outside contributions. Carpenter gave numerous talks about the project, and wrote Henry III's weekly blog in 2011 and 2012 (for the fine rolls of 1261 and 1257).

References to the research

The key output of the research is found on the Project's website: This has

1. Translations by Dryburgh and Hartland (with identifiable place names given in modern forms) of the 56 fine rolls between 1216 and 1272, containing around 2 million words, the rolls being marked up structurally in XML and made electronically searchable.

2. Digitised images of the original rolls between 1216 and 1272.

3. The findings of the project team's research and of others engaging with the project set out in 85 `Fines of the Month' running from December 2005, and totalling some 350,000 words. Of these 24 were written by Carpenter as PI (some republished in journals and books) and ten by Wilkinson, Crook, Dryburgh and Hartland. Carpenter's own `Fines of the Month' deal with the impact of Magna Carta, taxation by parliament, the politicisation of the peasantry, the position of women, the persecution of the Jews, and many other themes related to 13th-century government and society.

4. A blog by Carpenter which, between March-December 2011, followed the fine rolls week by week for March to December 1261, and then in 2012 followed them week by week for 1257.

5. A podcast of the fine roll conference held in June 2011. The talk here by Carpenter set out the main findings of the project: The papers will be published by Boydell.

6. The translations of the rolls between 1216 and 1242 in hard copy, with figures by Dryburgh and Hartland, for the value of fines compared to those in John's reign: Calendar of Fine Rolls 1216-1242, 3 vols., ed. Dryburgh and Hartland, technical editors A. Ciula and J.M. Vieira (Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, The National Archives, 2007-9). More volumes are to follow.

Recipient of award: King's College London with David Carpenter as Principal Investigator.
Grant title: `The fine rolls of King Henry III 1216-1248' (2005-2008); `Between Magna Carta and the parliamentary state: the fine rolls of King Henry III 1248-1272' (2008-2011).
Sponsor The Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Value of grant: £311,000 (2005-8); c.£625,000 (2008-11).

Details of the impact

The AHRC policy document Leading the world: the economic impact of UK Arts and Humanities research (2009) cites the Project as an example of how Arts and Humanities research can be `a driver of the culture ecosystem'. Counselled by a Knowledge Transfer Advisory group, the project has been guided throughout by an impact agenda. Carpenter and the project team have given numerous talks, often in effect training sessions, in how to use the rolls, including Carpenter's special session for schools at the Chalke Valley History Festival (June 2013): Podcasts by Carpenter for both the BBC History Magazine and The National Archives are at and People are drawn into the site through interactive tweets and blogs, and, above all, by `the Fine of the Month' feature, with its monthly comment on material in the rolls, and an annual prize for the best Fine of the Month by an outside contributor. The series has continued beyond the end of the project in December 2011, and contributions sent in during 2012 and 2013 have filled up all the slots for 2012. More are in the pipe line and will be published under the month in which they appear.

Google analytics show that between June 2012 and June 2013, 22,931 visits were made to the website by external users and the webpage was viewed 102,191 times. 8,992 visits were made by returning users. Users accessed the site from the UK (11,669), the US (5,796), Australia (1,092), Canada (844), France (431), Germany (360), New Zealand (205), Ireland (155), and Spain (145). The project, a key source for re-interpreting the importance of Magna Carta, has had a major impact on preparations for the 800th anniversary in 2015. Carpenter is the historian on the Speaker's Committee advising about parliament about its celebrations, and is also on the committee for the great exhibition at the British Library. Carpenter has brought the new research before a large public on such Radio 4 programmes as `In our Time' (Melvyn Bragg) in 2009, `The Long View' (Jonathan Freedland) and `Things we forgot to remember' (Michael Portillo), both in 2012, thus helping to change public perceptions of the Charter:;;

The project has impacted on a wide variety of constituencies, as can be seen from the Fine of the Month's success as an interactive feature and forum.
Local communities: These have re-connected with their 13th-century past. The villagers of Nunney (Dorset), in August 2010 used the rolls to date their market charter to 1260 (winning the Fine of the Year competition). Carpenter's Fine of the Month (April 2009) about the peasants of Rothley in Leicestershire led to a one day conference in the village on its history. Huw Ridgeway (Sherborne School) illuminated local history by showing the state of Sherborne and Corfe castles in 1260 and the roll of Dorset knights at the battle of Lewes (December 2010, January 2012). Archives: Linked to a major feature in the local press, John Alban, county archivist for Norfolk, in October 2008 showed the high prices paid by Norwich and Lynn for royal charters in Norfolk archives. At The National Archives, the project is linked to its palaeography practice page:

Heritage: In July 2011, Jeremy Ashbee, Head Properties Curator at English Heritage, redated the history of Corfe castle, showing how the fine rolls have the first mention of the royal apartments called `La Gloriette'. A Fine of the Month by Carpenter (March 2011), re-interpreting the early history of Salisbury cathedral, aroused wide local interest and was republished in Wiltshire Historical Magazine.

Jewish history: Evyatar Marienberg's Fine of the Month in December 2011 threw new light on ritual in Jewish synagogues by identifying `the apple of Eve' mentioned in the fine rolls with the ekrog. This inspired over a 1000 visits to the site in just a few days (many from the US). Marcus Roberts, founder of the Anglo-Jewish heritage organization, J. Trails, responded in the blog:

Civil Service: Amanda Roper, while senior policy adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wrote a Fine of the Month (April 2008) assessing the Project's website, and drawing lessons transferable to other websites about it.

Other projects: The Fine of the Month inspired the Paradox of Medieval Scotland project's `Feature of the Month' (as it says on its website, and the planned `Feature of the Month' of the AHRC funded Magna Carta project.

Television: Carpenter's Fine of the Month on the peasant, `Wodard of Kibworth' (September 2010) was dramatised in an episode of Michael Wood's BBC 4 series `A story of England'. In The New Statesman, Wood wrote that `Among new online publications is the fabulous Henry III Fine Rolls Project, scrutinising documents from the 13th century, where hugely detailed social history shows that the English peasantry, often literate, were well aware of their circumstances and in constant confrontation and negotiation with their lords'. Carpenter's Fine of the Month (Nov. 2011) on Henry III's sense of humour prompted Greg Jenner, Historical Consultant to CBBC's multi-award winning sketch show Horrible Histories, to tweet `ooh, lovely'.

In the field of Education, an example of how the project is being exploited by schools is seen in the blog of March 2013 sent in by Pete Morgan of Beverley Grammar School
( explaining how he had set up a project on his school VLE for year 7 students enabling them to use the website to research Beverley and its surrounding area. The fine rolls are used by BA, MA and doctoral students at Universities, for example in the `Perspectives in Medieval History II' module at York University. The Fine of the Month for October 2010, by Josey Cullen was based on work for his Queen Mary and Royal Holloway MA in Crusader Studies.

Sources to corroborate the impact

5.1. The `Events' section of the website, which details talks and outreach activities by Carpenter and other members of the Project team:

5.2. The outside contributions to the Fines of the Month (so not by Carpenter, Wilkinson, Crook, Dryburgh and Hartland), totalling 50, thus showing widespread engagement with the project:; also the blog:

5.3. The AHRC policy document — Leading the world: the economic impact of UK Arts and Humanities research (2009), p.10 — — for the quotation cited above.

5.4. Google Analytics for the figures cited above.

5.5. Reviews include Dr Hugh Doherty, `Review of Henry III Fine Rolls Project', Reviews in History, review no. 1064, 2009

5.6. For local impact, see the republication of Carpenter's Fine of the Month on Salisbury cathedral in The Wiltshire Historical and Natural History Magazine, 106 (2013), 204-9.

5.7. Independent citations to the Project in the popular history media. Examples include:

i. Kathryn Hadley, History Today blog (30 November 2012),

ii.J. J. Cohen, 'Henry III Fine Rolls Project', A medieval studies group blog (12 March 2010),

iii.Michael Wood,

5.8. Individual users/beneficiaries:

i. Senior Parliamentary Campaign Manager 2015 Anniversaries, for project's value for celebrations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and 750th anniversary of the parliament of 1265.

ii. Media historian and CEO of Sticks Research Agency for the project's value to popular history media, family and local historians.

iii. Secondary school teacher and author, for the project's value to schools.

iv. Senior archivist, East Sussex Records Office, for the project's value to the general public, especially to archive users, family and historians, and local communities.

v. Head of publications, Institute of Historical Research, for the project's value to the general public and wider historical community.