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Kingdom of England Exchequer note, 5 Pounds, dated 6 August 1697

The Exchequer is a government department of the United Kingdom responsible for the management and collection of taxation and other government revenues. The historical Exchequer developed judicial roles. A similar office existed in Ireland during British rule from 1299 to 1877.

History of the Exchequer in England and Wales

At an early stage in England (certainly by 1176, the 23rd year of the Reign of Henry II which is the date of the Dialogue concerning the Exchequer[1]), the Exchequer was split into two components: the purely administrative Exchequer of Receipt, which collected revenue, and the judicial Exchequer of Pleas, a court concerned with the King's revenue. Following the proclamation of the Magna Charta, legislation was enacted whereby the Exchequer was charged with maintaining the realm's prototypes for the yard and pound. These nominal standards were, however, only infrequently enforced on the localities around the kingdom.

According to the Dialogue concerning the Exchequer,[1] an early medieval work describing the practice of the Exchequer, the Exchequer itself referred to the cloth laid across a large table, 10 feet by 5 feet (with a lip around the edge "4 fingers high"), upon which counters were placed representing various values. The name referred to the resemblance of the table to a chess board (French: échiquier).

The term "Exchequer" then came to refer to the twice yearly meetings held at Easter and Michaelmas, at which government financial business was transacted and an audit held of sheriffs' returns.

Under Henry I, the procedure adopted for the audit involved the Treasurer drawing up a summons to be sent to each Sheriff, which he was required to answer. The Treasurer called on each Sheriff to give an account of the income in his shire due from royal demesne lands and from the county farm. The Chancellor of the Exchequer then questioned him concerning debts owed by private individuals. The results of the audit were recorded in a series of records known as the Pipe Rolls.[2]

Until the 19th century, the records of the Exchequer were kept in the "Pell Office", adjacent to Westminster Hall. The office was so named after the skins (i.e., pelts) from which the rolls were made.[3]

After the Union

The Exchequer became unnecessary as a revenue collecting department as a result of William Pitt's reforms. It was abolished in 1834. Those government departments collecting revenue paid it directly to the Bank of England. Its metrological responsibilities were devolved to the Standards Department of the Board of Trade in 1866.

By extension, "exchequer" has come to mean the Treasury and, colloquially, pecuniary possessions in general; as in "the company's exchequer is low".

History of the Exchequer in Scotland

The Scottish Exchequer dates back to around 1200 and had a similar role of auditing and deciding on royal revenues as in England. The Scottish Exchequer was slower to develop a separate judicial role; and it was not until 1584 that it became a Court of Law, separate from the King's council. Even then, the judicial and the administrative roles never became completely separated into two bodies, as with the English Exchequer.

The term Court of the Exchequer was used of the Exchequer department only during the Scottish administration of Oliver Cromwell, between 1655 and 1659.

In 1707, the Exchequer Court (Scotland) Act 1707 (6 Ann. c. 53) reconstituted the Exchequer into a court on the English model with a Lord Chief Baron and four Barons. The court adopted English forms of procedure and had further powers added to it.

From 1832, no new Barons were appointed; and their role was increasingly taken over by judges of the Court of Session. By the Exchequer Court (Scotland) Act 1856 (19 & 20 Vict. c. 56), the Exchequer became a part of the Court of Session. A Lord Ordinary acts as a judge in Exchequer causes. The English forms of process ceased to be used in 1947.


The Exchequer was named after a table used to perform calculations for taxes and goods in the medieval period. The table was ten feet by five feet and had a raised edge or lip on all sides of about the height of four fingers to ensure that nothing fell off it. It was covered by a black cloth bearing green stripes of about the breadth of a human hand, in a chequer-pattern. The spaces represented pounds, shillings and pence.[1]

Exchequer of Ireland

The Court of Exchequer (Ireland) existed from about 1299 to 1877. It was abolished under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Ireland) 1877 and was merged, along with the Court of King's Bench (Ireland), the Court of Chancery (Ireland) and the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland), into the new High Court of Justice in Ireland (now replaced by the High Court).

See also


  1. ^ a b c Dialogue concerning the Exchequer
  2. ^ Warren Governance pp. 73–74
  3. ^ Gentleman's Magazine, vol.5, 1836, pp.18-22

Further reading

External links

9 Annotations

David Quidnunc  •  Link

More Exchequer Employees

Charles Cervington ("Servington")
appears once in the diary -- 30 December 1661

Edward Fauconberg ("Falconbridge")
deputy chamberlain of the receipt in the E.

"Servington" SEE Charles Cervington

Thomas Shadwell
appears once in the diary -- 30 December 1661

John Taylor
appears once in the diary -- 30 December 1661

John Todd
vice-chamberlain of the receipt in the E. (in April '60 succeeded Scipio le Squire, d. '59)

Woodroofe, Edmund (Pepys spells it "Woodruff")
appears twice in the diary -- first on 30 December 1661

Pauline  •  Link

Tally at the Exchequer
[The practice of striking tallies at the Exchequer was a curious survival of an ancient method of keeping accounts. The method adopted is described in Hubert Hall's "Antiquities and Curiosities of the Exchequer," 1891. The following account of the use of tallies, so frequently alluded to in the Diary, was supplied by Lord Braybrooke. Formerly accounts were kept, and large sums of money paid and received, by the King's Exchequer, with little other form than the exchange or delivery of tallies, pieces of wood notched or scored, corresponding blocks being kept by the parties to the account; and from this usage one of the head officers of the Exchequer was called the tallier, or teller. These tallies were often negotiable; Adam Smith, in his "Wealth of Nations," book ii., ch. xi., says that "in 1696 tallies had been at forty, and fifty, and sixty per cent. discount, and bank-notes at twenty per cent." The system of tallies was discontinued in 1824; and the destruction of the old Houses of Parliament, in the night of October 16th, 1834, is thought to have been occasioned by the overheating of the flues, when the furnaces were employed to consume the tallies rendered useless by the alteration in the mode of keeping the Exchequer accounts.]

Simon  •  Link

The Court of the Exchequer was one of the main law courts of Britain, and had since at least the mid 13th century been housed in a building adjoining Westminster Hall, as part of the Old Palace of Westminster. By the time of Pepys diary, the court still occupied the same building which was at right angles to the main north front of the Hall in New Palace Yard. The buildings on the east side of New Palace Yard (along the river side) contained the Receipt of the Exchequer and various other offices of the Exchequer, such as the Tally office.

Pedro  •  Link

Clerk of the Cheque

Also a post in the dockyards. From Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, J.D.Davies…

“Promotion for Pursers could take the form of appointment to a higer rate, to appropriate dockyard posts such as clerk of the cheque (responsible for mustering the men of the yard and the ordinary)

Bill  •  Link

Exchequer, Court of, one of the oldest offices under the Crown, and usually attached to the palace of the Sovereign, was the Court for the receipt of monies due to the Crown, and for issuing all processes relating thereto. The chief officers were the Chancellor (a Cabinet minister), a Chief Baron, and a Comptroller General.

"The Exchequer is a four-cornered board, about ten foot long and five foot broad, fitted in manner of a table for men to sit about; on every side whereof is a standing ledge, or border, four fingers broad. Upon this board is laid a cloth bought in Easter Term, which is of black colour, rowed with strekes, distant about a foot or a span. . . . That this Court then had its name from the Board whereat they sate, there is no doubt to be made; considering that the Cloth which covered it was thus party-coloured; which the French call Chequy." - Dugdale, Origines Jurid., ed. 1680, p. 49.

---London, Past and Present. H.B. Wheatley, 1891.

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