1. ‘Coram’ as authorization in the Henry III Fine Rolls 1216–1224

In the fine of the month for August Beth Hartland, in advance of the publication of the first volume of the Henry III Fine Rolls by Boydell and Brewer in the autumn, examines one aspect of the enrolment of the fines (and other chancery documents), revealing the need for further research in thirteenth-century chancery practice; a need which the project aims to help supply.

⁋1The editing process draws one’s attention to details – editing the Fine Rolls is no exception. Indeed, in editing the roll for 3 Henry III (1218–9), one is struck by the sudden occurrence of what appear to be multiple forms of authorization following the witness clause of the fines – in particular the use of both ‘per’ and ‘coram’ in fines which have also been attested (‘teste’) by one or more witnesses. The structure and form of the entries on the Henry III Fine Rolls has been described in the Editorial Conventions. These conventions note that ‘significant numbers of writs on the rolls, after the witness, place and date clause, have a note indicating, in various combinations, on whose authority and in whose presence, they were issued … In these clauses “per” and “coram” are standard and we have translated them as “by” and “in the presence of”’. Whilst these terms are standard their meaning is not fully understood. David Carpenter has noted that ‘Letters in the fine rolls, as in other chancery rolls, are intermittently said to be “per” the king himself, the council, a minister or group of ministers. Per in this context presumably means in some way authorized by. The authorizer can also be the witness of the letter. Letters can also be authorized in the presence of coram one or more minister. The whole subject of these notes needs further study’. 1 The purpose of this article is to explore the particular use of one of these terms in the Fine Rolls for the first eight years of the reign of Henry III (1216–1224), to see what light, if any, can be shed on the scribal use of this term. 2

⁋2Historians have long been interested in the witness lists of charters 3 for these can be used as a guide to the attendance of nobles and others on the king, at least until 1292 when the Chancery became physically separated from the royal household. 4 The consensus of opinion, in the case of witnesses to charters, is that the witnesses so named were actually present to witness the charter. The alternative opinion, that witnesses might only represent a ‘constructive presence’, has lost the fight. 5 This debate over the true presence of witnesses at the making of a charter should alert us to the possibility that use of the term ‘coram’ in the authorization clauses of fines and other chancery instruments may not indicate the actual presence of the men apparently said to be present. Historians have, however, assumed that men said to be ‘coram’ were present. A similar assumption is made with respect to ‘per’ when the manner of authorization is not qualified in some way, such as ‘per litteras’, which indicates that the instruction to make the chancery instrument was communicated in some way other than by direct word of mouth. Indeed, important analyses of the shifting balance of political power within the government during the minority of Henry III have rested upon these assumptions. 6 Table 2 (below) goes some way to demonstrate the accuracy of this interpretation – as it shows, the combined use of ‘teste’, ‘per’ and ‘coram’ by the chancery clerks tended to group around particular dates, dates which were in fact major occasions such as meetings of the king’s council and the opening of Exchequer sessions. Nevertheless, lacking the equivalent of the Dialogus de Scaccario for the Exchequer to guide us, historians of the Chancery must keep in mind that the authorization notes to chancery instruments still remain among the mysteries taken by chancery clerks to their graves. 7

⁋3As stated earlier, ‘coram’ is conspicuous by its presence in a good number of the authorization notes of the fines for 3 Henry III. The use of ‘coram’ was not an invention of the chancery clerks of the minority, however: the formula had certainly been used in the Chancery of King John (see Table 1, below). 8 This is to be expected as the death of a king in the midst of civil war would hardly have been the occasion for changes in chancery personnel or practice, not that chancery practice was fossilized at this early stage in the development of enrolment. 9 Indeed, as the footnotes to the table indicate, three instances from John’s patent rolls which have been included in this table are actually instances of ‘presente’ or ‘presentibus’ rather than ‘coram’. These instances, deriving as they do from a period when chancery practice was still evolving, have been included here on the presumption that the meaning conveyed by ‘presente’ is the same as that conveyed by ‘coram’.

⁋1As the table shows, ‘coram’ typically occurs in the authorization notes in one of four ways

  • (i) where there is no attestation clause, and the authorization note merely reads ‘coram X’ 10
  • (ii) where there is no attestation clause, and the authorization note reads ‘per X and coram Y’, typically (but not exclusively) in this order 11
  • (iii) where there is an attestation clause, and the authorization note reads ‘per X and coram Y’, typically (but not exclusively) in this order, 12 and
  • (iv) where there is an attestation clause, and the authorization note reads ‘coram X’ only. 13

Type of Rolls Occurences of ‘coram 7J 8J 9J 10J 14J 15J 17J 1HIII 2HIII 3HIII 4HIII 5HIII 6HIII 7HIII 8HIII
Close Rolls (CR) Coram only   1           1              
CR With Per         8 14                    
CR With Teste and Per   1 2   2       3 70 9        
CR With Teste   2 3   9 1   1   13          
CR Total   4 5   19 1   2 3 83 9        
Fine Rolls (FR) Coram only   13                         37
FR With Teste and Per           20       23 1 3 1 1  
FR With Teste                   6         8
FR Total   13       20       29 1 3 1 1 45
Patent Rolls (PR) Coram only                             2
PR With Per               1   20 1   2 1 2
PR With Teste and Per       1                      
PR With Teste 10 15 1   1     2 16     8         121 17
PR Total 10 1   2     2 1   28 1   2 1 125
Total: CR, FR, PR Coram only   14           1             39
Total: CR, FR, PR With Per         8     1   20 1   2 1 2
Total: CR, FR, PR With Teste and Per   1 2 1 22 20     3 92 10 3 1    
Total: CR, FR, PR With Teste 10 3 3 1 9 1 2 1   28         129
Total: CR, FR, PR Total of Totals 10 18 5 2 19 21 2 3 3 140 11 3 3 2 170

⁋1Pleasing as it may be to tabulate the occurrence of ‘coram’ in this way, can these figures be used to tell us anything about chancery practice, the process of making fine, or the jostling for position of those at the helm of government during the minority? We must be clear that these figures cannot be taken as definitive. Not all original letters and writs produced by the Chancery were enrolled, and neither were all the details, including notes of authorization, on originals always transcribed by the enrolling clerks. 18 These figures do, however, demonstrate that ‘coram’ was used in combinations with ‘teste’ and ‘per’ prior to the minority of Henry III. Striking as the ‘sudden’ occurrence of such notes in 3 Henry III may be in the context of the reign of Henry III, they were not an invention of the minority government. Is it, then, going too far to use them as a guide to the vying for power between the regent, William Marshal, the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, and the king’s tutor, Peter des Roches, in 1218-19, for example?

⁋2The answer to such questions, of course, depends on what we believe the various terms to represent. David Carpenter has noted that authorization notes were more commonly recorded by chancery clerks at times of ‘political uncertainty’. 19 Sadly we lack chancery rolls for the Interdict during John’s reign, a period during which the practice of chancery clerks might well have been instructive. Nevertheless, the unbroken series of chancery rolls for the period 1216-1224 are probably a more reliable guide to chancery practice.

Occurrence of coram
Occurrence of coram

⁋3We must always bear in mind, however, that chancery practice in the enrolment of fines and other instruments was not guided by any rigid pro forma at this stage; and even if it were, the practice of employing non-Chancery clerks on chancery business as the court itinerated around the country could have led to anomalies in the rolls. 20 In fact, however, it does not appear that particular combinations of attestation/authorization notes are associated with particular centres and thus, potentially, with particular clerks. Neither does there appear to be a correlation between the type of business recorded in particular fines, letters close or letters patent, nor indeed with their import, and the use of authorization notes: a writ of protection was likely to be witnessed by the king in the presence of his ministers as was a grant made to the advantage of the king’s brother. What does appear to be the case, for ‘coram’ at least, is that particular combinations of attestation and authorization notes congregate around certain dates – in other words, on a given day, and days consecutive to it, the same formula tends to be employed, reinforcing the notion that the notes describe a process that was actually occurring before the chancery clerks. Let us return to 3 Henry III and the combination of ‘teste’, ‘per’ and ‘coram’ shown on the graph. As Table 2 demonstrates, this combination achieved its peak occurrence in early November 1218 – there were thirteen instances on 9 November alone. This was no chance occurrence. This was the day on which the king’s new seal was inaugurated and, as David Carpenter has noted, the sense of responsibility for it felt by its new keeper, Ralph de Neville, led to ‘the large numbers of notes which suddenly appear in the chancery rolls recording on whose authority royal letters were issued.’ 21 These notes were ‘“chancery up”, designed to protect the Chancellor and the Chancery staff by indicating on whose orders they had acted.’ 22

1.4. Table 2: Combination of ‘coram’ with ‘per’ and ‘teste’ in the close, fine and patent rolls of 3 Henry III

⁋1Key: WM=William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, regent; PR=Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, king’s tutor; RM=Richard Marsh, bishop of Durham; WE=William de Sainte Mere Eglise, bishop of London; WB=William Brewer; HB=Hubert de Burgh, justiciar; WC=William of Cornhill, bishop of Coventry; L=Papal Legate; SL=Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury; KC=king’s council.

Date Location Frequency Teste Per Coram
2 Nov Westminster 3 WM WM PR, RM
2 Nov Westminster 1 WM WM PR
7-9 Nov Westminster 19 WM WM WE, PR
9 Nov Westminster 1 WM PR WM, PR, WE, WB
10 Nov Westminster 1 WM WM, PR WE, WB
10 Nov Westminster 1 WM WM, PR WE
10 Nov Westminster 1 WM PR WM, PR
12 Nov Westminster 3 WM WM PR, WB
6 Dec St Paul’s, London 1 WM PR PR, WE
7 Dec Westminster 1 PR PR WE
8 Dec Tower of London 1 WM WM WE, PR
12 Dec Tower of London 1 WM WM PR
6 Jan Marlborough 4 WM WM PR
10 Jan Reading 1 WM WM PR
16 Jan Westminster 1 WM WM PR
16 Jan Westminster 1 WM WM PR, HB
17-19 Jan Westminster 5 WM WM PR
20 Jan Westminster 1 WM WM PR, HB
20 Jan Westminster 1 WM WM PR
22 Jan Westminster 1 WM PR, HB WB
23 Jan Westminster 1 WM WM PR, HB
24 Jan Westminster 1 WM WM PR, WB
9 Feb Westminster 1 WM WM PR, WE, WC, WB
10-11 Feb Westminster 3 WM WM PR
16 Feb Westminster 1 WM WM PR, HB
18 Feb Westminster 1 PR PR HB
18 Feb Westminster 2 WM WM HB, ? 23
24 Mar Caversham 1 WM WM PR
4 Apr Caversham 1 WM WM PR
12 Apr Reading 3 PR PR L
21 Apr Oxford 1 PR PR HB
19-20 Jun Westminster 3 HB HB PR
26 Jun-2 Jul Hereford 7 HB HB PR
4-5 Jul Gloucester 3 HB HB PR
6 Jul Cirencester 1 HB HB PR
7 Jul Witen’ 2 HB HB PR
8 Jul Oxford 2 HB HB PR
9 Jul Reading 1 HB HB PR
12 Jul Westminster 1 HB HB PR
16-20 Jul Westminster 6 HB HB PR
22 Jul Westminster 3 HB HB PR
24-25 Jul Westminster 3 HB HB PR
10 Aug Lambeth 1 HB HB PR
21 Aug Lincoln 1 HB HB PR
24 Aug Lincoln 1 HB HB PR
24 Aug Grantham 2 HB HB PR
24 Aug Grantham 1 HB HB L
18 Sep New Temple 2 HB HB L
19 Sep New Temple 1 HB HB L
18 Oct Westminster 1 HB HB, PR SL, KC
23 Oct Westminster 1 HB HB, PR L
24 Oct Westminster 1 HB KC L
27 Oct Westminster 1 HB HB, KC L
28 Oct 24 Westminster 1 HB HB, KC L

⁋1It seems clear that attestation clauses and authorization notes such as those mapped out in Table 2 give us a window onto who the men at the heart of government during the minority of Henry III were. But do they give us a window onto what these men were doing? It is generally held that the most important of these actions was the act of witnessing. To quote again from the Historical Introduction, ‘the job of witnessing the letters … meant acting as their ultimate authority’. 25 If to witness a letter was to take the main responsibility for the content of a letter or a fine, did it follow that those men who authorized a letter ‘per’ bore a different level of responsibility for it than those who authorized ‘coram’, when both formulae were employed? This question is not directly addressed in the analyses of the minority examining the shift in attestation and authorization patterns following the death of the Marshal in April 1219. We read that Peter des Roches ‘lost ground within the central administration’ because he attested and authorized fewer letters on his own than his rival Hubert de Burgh, not because when they jointly authorized letters ‘the most usual formula’ was ‘per’ Hubert and ‘coram’ Peter. 26 Nevertheless, unless these terms describe distinct actions, the notion that they conveyed different levels of responsibility is hard to shift – it was possible for a letter or fine to be authorized ‘per’ more than one individual (see, for example, 10 Nov, Table 2), so why otherwise invent two terms to describe what may have been essentially the same role? The increased use of ‘coram’ following the decision to allow the king control of his own seal (see Graph, 8 Henry III), may also offer support to this view. The new dominant formula was ‘teste me ipso/Rege, coram Hubert de Burgh, the bishop of Bath and the bishop of Salisbury’: possibly it was necessary to suggest that de Burgh’s control over government had lessened in the aftermath of his unpopular policy to resume the royal castles? 27 It is one thing, however, to suggest that ‘per’ and ‘coram’ had different weight, and quite another to suggest that the individual who authorized a letter or fine ‘per’ carried more weight than the man who authorized it ‘coram’. If this were so, it would be difficult to explain how two letters close were authorized ‘per justiciarium, coram rege’ in March 1234. 28

⁋2But did ‘per’ and ‘coram’ describe the same action? ‘Per’ was not always followed by the name(s) of an individual(s); authorization ‘per’ did not have to be personal or even in person. It could be ‘per breve/litteras Regis de parvo sigillo’, 29 per consilium’, and so on. The assumption, however, is that when letters were authorized ‘per X’ the authorization, and/or instructions, were given directly. 30 In other words, when a chancery instrument was authorized ‘per Hubertum de Burgo’, Hubert was physically present. But if the instrument was authorized ‘per Hubertum de Burgo, coram episcopo Wintoniensi’ where was Peter des Roches, the bishop of Winchester, and what was his role? David Carpenter has suggested that this formula ‘implies Peter’s watchful presence at Hubert’s elbow’. 31 Does it imply more than physical presence though? Are some of the documents in this table authorized ‘coram’ by more than one individual simply as a reflection of the number of men present? Maybe so; certainly in the early fourteenth century deeds made ‘coram’ could mean just this. 32 And, in this scenario, does the distinction made between ‘per’ and ‘coram’ indicate that the men who authorized ‘per’ were not present at the actual making of the chancery instrument? 33 What is clear is that the exact meanings of the authorization notes are as much a mystery now as they were when T.D. Hardy edited the rolls of John’s reign in the early nineteenth century. Nevertheless, we can be clear that rather than necessarily indicating competition within the government, the combined use of ‘per’ and ‘coram’ in the authorization notes of chancery instruments points to the power-sharing and sharing of responsibility that was critical to the successful navigation of points of heightened political uncertainty during the minority of Henry III.


David Carpenter, ‘Historical Introduction’. Back to context...
It should be noted from the outset that ‘per’ is the more common term. Back to context...
For an early interest see Thomas Madox, Formulare Anglicanum (London, 1702), ‘A Dissertation concerning Ancient Charters and Instruments’, pp. i–xxxiv. Back to context...
Marc Morris ed., The Royal Charter Witness Lists of Henry III (1226-1272) From the Charter Rolls in the Public Record Office. Volume One’ (Kew: List and Index Society 291, 2001), p. viii. Back to context...
See, for example, the writings of Josiah Cox Russell, ‘Social Status at the Court of King John’, Speculum 12 (1937), pp. 319–29; ‘Charter Witness Lists Again’, Speculum 14 (1939), pp. 108–09; ‘Attestation of Charters in the Reign of John’, Speculum 15 (1940), pp. 480–98. George L. Haskins, ‘Charter Witness Lists in the Reign of King John’, Speculum 13 (1938), pp. 319–25 was skeptical of Russell’s conclusion that all witnesses named were present. Back to context...
See the relevant sections of David Carpenter, The Minority of Henry III (London, 1990); and Nicholas Vincent, Peter des Roches: An Alien in English Politics 1205–1238 (Cambridge, 1996). Back to context...
See, for example, A.E. Stamp, ‘Some notes on the Court and Chancery of Henry III’ in J.G. Edwards, V.H. Galbraith and E.F. Jacob ed. Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait (Manchester, 1933), p. 305; Nicholas Vincent, ‘Why 1199? Bureaucracy and Enrolment under John and his Contemporaries’ in Adrian Jobson ed. English Government in the Thirteenth Century (Woodbridge, 2004), p. 17. The Dialogus stipulated, for example, that writs of liberate and computate required two witnesses: Dialogus de Scaccario The Course of the Exchequer by Richard, FitzNigel and Constitutio Domus Regis The establishment of the king’s household ed. and trans. Charles Johnson (Oxford, 1983), pp. 19–20. Back to context...
Coram’ may have been used earlier. In researching this Fine of the Month, I have examined only the following volumes: Rotuli Litterarum Clausarum in Turri Londoniensi Asservatii 1204–1224 [hereafter RLC], ed. T.D. Hardy (Record Commission, 1833); Rotuli Litterarum Patentium in Turri Londoniensi Asservati, ed. T.D. Hardy (Record Commission, 1835); Rotuli de Oblatis et Finibus in Turri Londoniensi Asservati Tempore Regis Johannes, ed. T.D. Hardy (1835); PR 1216–25; PR 1225–32; CR 1227–31; CR 1231–34 and CFR, 1216–24. Back to context...
Hardy, ‘Attestations’, RLC. Back to context...
For example, CFR 1223–24, no. 67. Back to context...
For example, RLC, i, p. 126a. This combination does not occur in the Henry III Fine Rolls until 9 Henry III. Back to context...
For example, CFR 1218–19, no. 14, the first instance of this combination in the Henry III Fine Rolls. Back to context...
For example, PR 1216–25, p. 417. It is possible that in this scenario ‘teste’ represented not only the ultimate authority for the chancery instrument issued (see below), but also the immediate authority – ‘teste’ in effect being shorthand for ‘Teste. Per eundem’. Back to context...
Of these eight instances, four occur in the context of a single letter close ordering the chancellor and treasurer to make payments from the king’s treasure to a number of individuals. The letter close itself bears an attestation clause, but within the text of the letter (which is essentially a list of payments to be made) the combination ‘per x, coram y’ occurs at four intervals (RLC, I, pp. 125b–126a). Back to context...
Of these ten instances, two are actually ‘presente/presentibus’. Back to context...
Of these two instances, one is actually ‘presentibus’. Back to context...
In the majority of these instances the witness (‘teste’) was Henry III. Back to context...
Vincent, ‘Why 1199?’, p. 43; Hardy, ‘Attestations’, RLC. One of the suggested reasons for these discrepancies is that the clerks may have been working from drafts of the originals (Vincent, ‘Why 1199?’, p. 44; David Carpenter, ‘The English Royal Chancery in the Thirteenth Century’ in Jobson ed. English Government, p. 66). The fine of Baldwin Filliol (CFR 1217–18, no. 23), where the scribe notes that he does not know the amount of fine pledged, may support this theory. Back to context...
Carpenter, ‘English Royal Chancery’, p. 67. Back to context...
Vincent, ‘Why 1199?’, p. 30. Back to context...
Carpenter, Minority, pp. 94-5. Back to context...
Carpenter, ‘English royal Chancery’, p. 67. Back to context...
It is not always clear who the scribes intended authorization notes to refer to. In this case (RLC, i, p. 388b) the clerk has noted ‘Teste Com’ ut supra. Per eundem. Coram eisdem.’ The witness clause for the entry directly above, however, reads ‘Teste dno P. Winton…per eundem, coram H. de Burgo, justic’’. Back to context...
This entry is in 4 Henry III but forms part of this run of authorization notes. Back to context...
Carpenter, ‘Historical Introduction’, p. xii. See also F.M. Powicke, ‘The Chancery during the Minority of Henry III’, EHR 23 (1908), p. 222. Cf. Dialogus de Scaccario, pp. 15–16 where the duty of the ‘most eminent member of the court’ includes witnessing writs in either the king’s or his own name. Back to context...
Carpenter, Minority, p. 182. Back to context...
ibid., pp. 314–22. Back to context...
CR 1231–34, pp. 394, 398. Admittedly these letters had been witnessed by the king. There is also the possibility that the scribe inversed the names of the justiciar and the king, as these letters occur in what is otherwise a run of letters witnessed and authorized ‘per’ the king, and ‘coram’ the justiciar and others. Back to context...
T.F. Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Medieval England: The Wardrobe, The Chamber and the Small Seals vol 1 (Manchester, 1937), p. 156. Back to context...
See Stamp, ‘Notes on the Court and Chancery of Henry III’, p. 308. Back to context...
Carpenter, Minority, p. 182. Back to context...
See National Library of Ireland, D.1959 which was made ‘in the presence of Sir Stephen de la Mora then seneschal of Kilkenny, Sir Simon Dunynes then treasurer there, Robert Deneys then sheriff of the same place, William Alexander and other faithful men of the aforesaid lord earl [Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke] then there.’ Back to context...
This may be the implication in RLC, ‘Attestations’ where Hardy states that ‘at the close of many of the documents are memoranda, such as per Radulphum Clericum, per Petrum de Rupibus etc. and meaning that those persons had given the instructions to the Chancellor, who thereupon issued precepts, whether Close or Patent, as the case required’. It certainly is the implication given in H.G. Richardson, ‘The origin of the Fine Rolls’ in The Memoranda Roll for the Michaelmas Term of the First Year of the Reign of King John (1199–1200) (London, Pipe Roll Society, 1943), p. xxviii where he states that ‘the presumption is that, where they refer to arrangements made by the chancellor or the justiciar, these officers were absent from court’. Back to context...