Kings need information. By 1166 Domesday was getting a bit out of date. It was eighty years old after all and we had had a civil war since then.
The Cartae Baronum
So Henry II sent out a command to all his tenants in chief. Could they let him have, by sealed letters, details of:
- The sub tenancies which they had created on their land before the death of Henry I, and
- The amount of Knight service owed by them and
- The names of the tenants.
The returns still survive in two transcripts made in the Exchequer (known as Cartae Baronum) and give a snapshop of tenure in the King’s demesne that year.
A snapshot of the Kings demesne
Replies were received not only from the great barons but also from the smaller knights and nobles who held their land direct from the King.
There is a wide variety of style of response ranging from the formal:
This is the result of the enquiry which the Abbott of Ramsay made into the holdlings of his knights at the Kings command …
To the personal:
To his dear Lord Henry, King of the English, Hugh de Bayeux sends greetings. The old enfeoffments on my fief, namely on the day when King Henry your grandfather was alive and dead, are as follows …
To the pathetic:
To his dearest Lord Henry King of the English, WIlliam son of Robert sends greeting. You should know that I hold of you the fief of one poor Knight ; and I have not enfoeffed anyone on it since it is barely enough for me, and thus my father held it. Farewell
A royal marriage
Two years later the reason for this request was made clear when Henry levied an aid on the marriage of his daughter Matilda. This is one of the ‘feudal incidents’ which allows a lord to demand a levy on specific occasions, one of which was the marriage of his eldest daughter.
Not only that, Henry attempted to levy on the basis not just of the number of Knights fees held from the King, but on the total number of Knights fees including those the tenant had created on his land.
Needless to say, many refused to pay on this basis. Ever the pragmatist, Henry often accepted this, but the full amount claimed was nonetheless still recorded in the Exchequer records.
The royal elephant
The Cartae also was carefully kept, and indeed it was copied out twice in the thirteenth century.
The reason being of course that at some stage the land was likely to fall into the hands of the crown, for example during the wardship of the heir. Then the Exchequer could collect. And the Cartae gave them the information to do this.
The government never forgets.