The Economic History Review

Royal finance under King Henry III, 1216–72: the wardrobe evidence1

Volume 65 Issue 4
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Pages: 1380-1402Authors: Benjamin L. Wild
Published online: February 24, 2012DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2011.00641.x

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Existing studies have shown how the royal wardrobe, the king’s personal administrative office, regularly handled between a quarter and a half of the Crown’s annual cash income. Despite this, the financial contribution of the wardrobe to royal finance under Henry III is not fully understood. For a reign in which debates about royal fiscal strategies are so notable a feature, this represents a significant gap. This article will supplement existing studies of wardrobe finance under Henry III by collectively analysing all 15 of the king’s wardrobe accounts that are enrolled on the exchequer pipe rolls. The article makes two important findings. Firstly, the wardrobe was financially strong when the period of baronial reform began in 1258. Secondly, the wardrobe’s financial strength was the result of a new, and deliberate, approach to acquiring revenue beyond the treasury that targeted sources of income that could generate cash quickly. During Henry’s final years, this included greater reliance on credit. These findings suggest Henry III was not incapable of making adroit financial decisions. They also reveal that the foundations for the financial system developed by the three Edwards, which was more reliant on credit and sources of ready cash, were laid under Henry III.