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The Taxatio Database: Basic Principles

The following text is a lightly edited version of a document written by Professor Jeffrey Denton, shortly before his death in 2009, as guidance for those who would finish off his almost-complete work on the dioceses of the Canterbury province. It therefore represents the final thoughts of the instigator and director of the Taxatio database project, and is included among the documentation as a respectful tribute to him.

On 18 March 1291, Pope Nicholas IV granted to King Edward I of England a papal tax towards the funding of his planned crusade. This tax would be one-tenth of all ecclesiastical income from England and Wales. In order to collect the tenth the pope ordered the bishops of Winchester and Lincoln to assess the true value of all this income, both temporalities and spiritualities.

The valuations of the spiritualities have long been available to scholars through the Record Commission edition published in 1802. This however is essentially a transcript only of the Exchequer copy of the assessment, which survives in two books, one for the province of Canterbury from the fifteenth-century and one for the Province of York from the fourteenth century. As such it lacks currently accepted editorial interventions, such as modern place names.

In addition, although the editors were aware of the many other surviving copies of the assessment, some full and some for individual dioceses, they collated their texts only with one other manuscript, from the Cotton collection in the British Library (Cotton ms Tiberius C.x). This is an important, early manuscript of the taxatio, but the collation was carried out somewhat erratically, and as the Cotton manuscript had been partly damaged by fire in 1731, it was not perfectly legible. The printed edition therefore fails to provide a clear and accurate edition of the original assessment.

We began with the straightforward aim of re-editing the ‘spiritualities’ sections of the assessment (as distinct from the ‘temporalities’ sections): that is, in essence, the listing of churches, sometimes with and sometimes without vicarages. Note that in the context of the assessment ‘ecclesia’ routinely refers to the assessed rectoral income (either the income of the individual rector or the rectoral income appropriated to a religious house or annexed to a different benefice-holder, like a prebendary of a cathedral church) and ‘vicaria’ refers to the assessed income of an individual vicar, always attached to a specific if not always itself listed ‘ecclesia’. (Portions and pensions are usually items of income separated from rectoral, or sometimes vicarial, income.) Both individual rectors and individual vicars were thus benefice-holders.

This brings me immediately to an important observation. Ecclesiastical benefice-holders must be understood as a hierarchy: from bishops, cathedral (and other) dignities, including archdeacons, and prebendaries, down to the rectors and vicars. The database has become a re-editing of all the assessed items of income for all the ecclesiastical benefices for which it provides evidence, some of these items of income, for the upper reaches of the hierarchy, being among the ‘temporalities’. Adding all the data has been a complicated process: to mention here just the bishops (since each diocese must surely begin with a statement of the assessed income of the bishop himself), episcopal income has had to be gleaned from scattered items and extra records created to hold the information. Since, therefore, the re-editing process has become rather more than just the ‘spiritualities’, a suggested title (or subtitle) for the work might be something like: The assessment for taxation of spiritual income and the income of ecclesiastical benefice-holders of England and Wales on the orders of Pope Nicholas IV in 1291. We nevertheless have to continue to talk about ‘spiritual income’, since so much of that income, mainly from tithes, went to the religious houses (either as appropriated churches or as portions and pensions) not just to benefice-holders.

We recognised from the beginning that the project was a large one, but we certainly did not foresee all the complications. These arise, first, from the fact that the assessors in each diocese, or part diocese, worked in very different ways and their listings often followed different principles, whereas, of course, the database demands a standardised system of entering the data. Secondly, many MS versions are extant for each diocese, frequently relating to changes and adaptations made in the years immediately following the initial work of 1291-2 (some, for example, relating to the king’s astonishing tax of a half – the ‘moiety’ – in 1294, when the taxation threshold was raised from more than 6 marks, i.e. £4, to more than 10 marks, i.e. £6.13s.4d.). All the variants and changes in the MSS have had to be included in the data.

Eleven full manuscripts have been identified (detailed within the Prose Introductions to the dioceses). A new core manuscript has also been identified: the early copy of c1300 held at Lincoln Archives and probably made for the diocese there (Lincoln Archives Dean and Chapter A1/1/11). This is the most accurate version of the assessment and now forms the basis of most of the database.

The data at its most basic relates to taxable items of spiritual income as listed for each archdeaconry and rural deanery (or equivalents to a rural deanery). These listings we refer to often as the ‘main’ lists, and they form the central body of data, separable from all other items (such as benefice-holders' items gleaned from the sections concerning temporalities) by the use of an internal database code. From these items, totals are provided for each rural deanery or equivalent and these totals always correspond to the actual database totals. Relatively little attention has been paid to erroneous totals in the MSS, and scarcely any attention at all to the plethora of variant and corrected totals for archdeaconries and dioceses. We will need totals for the archdeaconries and dioceses, of course, but the best way to produce them is not via the MSS but automatically via the existing totals on the database for each rural deanery or equivalent.

Copyright Jeffrey Denton 2009.

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