The detailed records of the assessment (known as a taxatio) of English and Welsh ecclesiastical wealth undertaken in 1291-2 on the orders of Pope Nicholas IV have long been recognised as an essential source for the study of the late medieval Church. The assessment bears comparison with Domesday Book, and no comprehensive survey of its kind has survived for other countries of western Europe. Yet scholars have not been well served by the only edition of the basic text, published by the Record Commission in 1802: Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae Auctoritate P. Nicholai IV.
The aim of the Taxatio project is to provide a comprehensive new edition of the listing and valuation of the ecclesiastical benefices (mostly parish churches) of England and Wales which comprise the ‘spiritualities’ sections of the assessment. For each of the twenty-one dioceses all the contemporary or near-contemporary versions of the assessment, generally comprising a dozen or so different copies, are being analysed and their contents brought together on a database, which has been refined over a period of fifteen years to cope with every aspect of the extant evidence. The result is a new text for each diocese, with variant readings from all manuscripts, variant spellings of place-names, and indications of the early recensions brought about, notably, by the addition of taxable items in the years immediately following 1291. For some dioceses the listing of churches is complete, including, that is, even those that were excluded from actual taxation, mainly because of very low value. In addition to detailed textual analysis of the manuscript sources, full editorial information is entered on several tables of the database, providing, for example:
- identification of all named places (using six-digit grid references with a view to future mapping) and wherever possible of unnamed ‘chapels’
- information on church dedications, with reference, here as elsewhere, to sources
- identification of the owners of portions and pensions attached to churches
- identification of the patrons of churches, with special attention given to monastic appropriation.
Thus, in addition to providing a new text of the taxatio, the database constitutes, in effect, a medieval ecclesiastical gazetteer for the whole of England and Wales. Some of the tables of the database can be accessed on the internet at hrionline. A list of publications concerning the data can also be found on this website. All the necessary research and data-entry is now complete or virtually complete for the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester, London, Lincoln, Norwich, Chichester, Exeter, Hereford, Salisbury, Bath and Wells, Winchester, Worcester, Ely and Llandaff, and, with the continuing help of a small group of voluntary researchers, work continues on the remaining dioceses, for which all the preparatory entry of material is also complete.
The work has been supported in the past by grants from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust. The plan for the future is to publish the a new edition of the Taxatio both on-line and in hard copy. This will require the appointment of a research assistant to work in The Digital Humanities Institute, for which funding will be sought. The best method of electronic publication has yet to be determined, but it is clear that this should go hand-in-glove with a hard-copy edition, so that the full benefits of both presentation methods will be available for future generations of scholars.
The project Director, Jeff Denton, died on 15 October 2009. A Steering Committee, established before Jeff’s death, is taking forward work on the project. The first phase will be to make available a fully functional online edition of material pertaining to the dioceses for which work is complete or virtually complete. This work is currently in progress and will be made available during 2012.
Additional funding has been made available to finish the late Jeff Denton’s digital edition of Taxatio thanks to a generous donation by Prof. David Shepherd.
- Prof. Jeff H Denton (Director)
- Dr Philippa Hoskin (University of Lincoln)
- Jamie McLaughlin (Developer – The Digital Humanities Institute)