Follow the Money

Power and Bureaucracy: these two words explain how we are able to reconstruct so much of the record evidence concerning Ireland from over seven centuries ago.

This visual story explores the remarkably rich records of the medieval Irish exchequer—the financial office of the kings of England in Ireland. It opens with a unique drawing of the medieval Irish exchequer in session. A sheriff is rendering his annual account before the barons of the exchequer. There is a dispute concerning the sums that are owed to the king. At the top, the exchequer clerks busily draw up records on behalf of the king. On the exchequer table lies a leather pouch containing parchment rolls—one of the most familiar documentary formats from the medieval English administration.

The story follows the trail of exchequer records from Dublin to Westminster, tracing the paths of the Treasurers and Chamberlains who crossed the Irish Sea carrying their parchment rolls and files in leather pouches, presenting the evidence before the English exchequer for audit. At Westminster, important records concerning Ireland are listed in an early archival ‘catalogue’ in which a cartoon of an Irish axeman symbolizes ‘Ireland’. The axeman is a visual aid for exchequer clerks helping them locate records concerning Irish affairs.