RECORDS, ADMINISTRATIVE (Medieval Ireland)

No administrative records survive from any of the native lordships of medieval Ireland. The only records that do survive come from the English lordship of Ireland, which was administered partly from England and partly from within the lordship itself. This system of dual control produced three distinct but related categories of administrative records: records created by the Irish administration that remained in Ireland; records created by the Irish administration that were sent to England for administrative reasons and retained there; and records of the English administration relating to Ireland that were produced in England and kept there.

Irish Administrative Records as Originally Produced

The main constituent parts of the Irish administrative machinery to produce and keep records were the Irish chancery and the Irish (or Dublin) exchequer. Both were modeled on the corresponding English institutions and produced some of the same record series. The English chancery produced and kept multiple series of rolls on which were recorded (in slightly abbreviated form) some of the voluminous writs and other documents issued by chancery in the king’s name. Each roll took the form of multiple individual membranes of parchment written on both sides and sewn together, with the bottom of one membrane attached to the top of the next. The earliest material was on the inside or top of the roll and the latest on the outside or bottom in roughly chronological order. In most series of rolls there was a separate roll for each regnal year. The Irish chancery seems to have followed this general model from some time in the thirteenth century but to have produced and kept only two main series of rolls, the Close Rolls and Patent Rolls. On the Close Rolls were recorded many, but certainly not all, of the letters close issued by the Irish chancery. These were documents issued in the king’s name with a wax impression of the king’s seal attached in such a way as to damage the wax when they were opened to be read. They generally took the form of instructions or authorizations to particular individuals or groups to take specific actions. These included writs of liberate, which authorized the Irish exchequer to make payments to particular individuals, whose counterparts were enrolled on a separate series of Liberate Rolls in England, but that were an important constituent element of the Irish Close Roll. As in England, the Close Rolls were also used for recording private acknowledgments of debt and private deeds. On the Patent Rolls were recorded letters patent issued in the king’s name, to which an impression of the king’s seal had been attached in such a way as to allow the document to be read on multiple occasions without damage to the wax. Appointments to offices, grants of land or privileges, pardons, and protections all took this general form. Both sets of rolls were kept in Ireland. The Irish chancery probably also, like its English counterpart, from the thirteenth century onward kept files of the writs that it had sent out with instructions to take action or collect certain information once these had been returned with a report on the action taken or the information required. It also kept on file other written warrants for other action that it took. All these record series were retained in Ireland.


The English exchequer also compiled and kept various series of rolls relating to Ireland. The oldest of these were the Pipe Rolls, annual rolls recording the accounting of local sheriffs (and later, others as well) at the exchequer for the sums of money they and others owed the king. These rolls took the form of multiple membranes of parchment mainly sewn together at the top (although some individual membranes were lengthened by adding membranes at the bottom). There were also from the thirteenth century two overlapping (but not identical) annual series of Memoranda Rolls, whose membranes were sewn together at the top, that recorded a variety of different materials relating to the exchequer’s functions in collecting money due to the king and disbursing moneys as required. From the early thirteenth century onward the Irish exchequer produced Pipe Rolls and by the end of the thirteenth century, if not before, what seems to have been a single series of Memoranda Rolls that resembled their English counterparts. Both series of rolls were retained in Ireland. The Irish exchequer, like its English counterpart, also produced three copies of its annual Receipt Rolls, recording on a daily basis moneys paid into the treasury of the exchequer, and of its annual Issue Rolls, recording moneys paid out of the treasury of the exchequer. Two copies of both series of rolls were taken to England when the treasurer of Ireland was required to present his accounts at the Westminster exchequer and they were then retained there permanently. The treasurer also took with him to Westminster proof of proper authorization of payments he had made in the form of writs of liberate and receipts for those payments. These too were retained among the records of the English exchequer.


The accounts of the treasurer of Ireland rendered at the English exchequer and enrolled on the English Pipe Roll (and later on the related roll of Foreign Accounts) are among the more important of the records relating to Ireland produced in England. Treasurers of Ireland were required to account at Westminster from 1293 onward, although the practice died out in the mid-fifteenth century, and there was also a period in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries when it seems to have been in suspension. There also survive some slightly earlier enrolled accounts that were audited at Westminster because of allegations of misconduct made against specific treasurers and a justiciar of Ireland. A considerable quantity of material relating to Ireland is also enrolled on the rolls of the English chancery, reflecting the ultimate control of the Irish administration by the king in England. There was no separate set of rolls for Irish material like the series of Gascon, Welsh, and Scotch Rolls. Instead, Irish enrolments are to be found interspersed with material of purely English relevance in the main English series of enrollments. Most judicial and administrative appointments in Ireland (including appointments of the justiciar and chancellor) are recorded on the Patent and Close Rolls. Various kinds of license (including most licenses to grant land "in mortmain" to the church prior to 1380) are recorded on the Patent Rolls. Some grants and confirmations of lands in Ireland are to be found on the Charter Rolls. The files of the English chancery also include relevant material. This includes copies of returned inquisitions post mortem relating to lands in Ireland held by tenants-in-chief of the crown and copies of inquisitions ad quod damnum into proposed mortmain alienations of property in Ireland.

Surviving Irish Administrative Records

Irish administrative records retained in Ireland have suffered badly from neglect and destruction over the centuries. By the early nineteenth century the earliest Irish chancery rolls to survive were a Patent Roll for 1302-1303 and a Close Roll for 1308-1309. The Irish Record Commission set to work to produce a calendar (in Latin) of the medieval rolls then surviving, which was published under the editorship of Edward Tresham in 1828. Transcripts of some entries on those rolls were also made by individual scholars both in the nineteenth century and earlier and survive in manuscript. All the surviving original rolls, however, were subsequently destroyed in the fire at the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922 during the Civil War. Fate had been kinder to the Pipe Rolls of the Irish Exchequer, at least prior to their wholesale destruction. Many more of these survived, the earliest being for 14 John (1211-1212). Before their wholesale destruction in 1922, a full transcript had been made of the earliest Pipe Roll (although this was not published till 1941), and a full transcript of the Pipe Roll for 45 Henry III (1260-1261) and of much the Roll for the following year survives in the Royal Irish Academy. Later rolls down to 1348 survive only in the form of the summaries printed in appendices to the Reports of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland published between 1903 and 1927. There is a further unpublished calendar of the Pipe Roll for 1356-1357 in the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin. Transcripts and calendars of other material from the Pipe Rolls survive in other manuscript collections. By the early nineteenth century the earliest surviving memoranda roll belonged to 22 Edward I (12931294), but they survived thereafter in relatively large quantity. In 1922, all but two of them were destroyed, the sole survivors being the rolls for 3 Edward II (1309-1310) and 13-14 Edward II (1319-1320). The destroyed rolls are, however, calendared at some length in forty-three Record Commission calendars made prior to their destruction, now available in the National Archives of Ireland. There are also other transcripts and calendars made by private scholars. None of the series of Receipt and Issue Rolls of the Irish Exchequer retained in Ireland survives.

The records produced in Ireland by the Irish exchequer but sent to England for administrative purposes have fared much better. Irish Receipt and Issue Rolls survive with a few gaps for most of the period during which treasurers of Ireland found themselves accounting at the English exchequer and are now available at The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) at Kew in London. They are an essential source for Irish medieval administrative and political historians. The British National Archives is also the location for the surviving records of the English exchequer and chancery. The latter are also mainly available in calendared form as well.

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