From Magna Carta to the Parliamentary State: the fine rolls of King Henry III (1216-1272)
Submitting InstitutionKing's College London
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
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.
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
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: http://mykcl.info/ikings/index.php?id=591.
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): www.cvhf.org.uk.
Podcasts by Carpenter for both the BBC History Magazine and The National
Archives are at http://www.historyextra.com/podcast-page
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
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: http://blog.frh3.org.uk/?m=201201//comments.
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
and the planned `Feature of the Month' of the AHRC funded Magna Carta
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
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: http://www.finerollshenry3.org.uk/content/month/fine_of_the_month.html;
also the blog:
5.3. The AHRC policy document — Leading the world: the economic
impact of UK Arts and Humanities research (2009), p.10 — http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-Events/Publications/Documents/Leading-the-World.pdf
— 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 http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1064
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.
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, http://www.newstatesman.com/non-fiction/2011/09/england-history-english.
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
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.