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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Appendix 5: The Finances of the Realm


The King's own

A Medieval King was expected to "live of his own". This expression meant that he should maintain himself and his household in a suitably generous style and should pay the expenses of Government out of the Royal Revenues which came to him by right. He should not look to his subjects for anything extra by way of taxation, however pressing his needs may have been. This, being a general principle, was always to the forefront of people's minds. Like all general principles, it was more honoured in the breach than the observance. The usual reason for summoning Parliament was that the King needed money, and had to ask his subjects for a grant of taxation, often referred to as a "subsidy". He was seldom refused outright.

This work would serve the reader ill if it sought to burden him with figures at frequent intervals, but some explanations of the countries finances must be given.It is suggested that this purpose will be adequately served by showing, in the briefest possible detail, how two Kings, Henry IV and Henry V, handled the delicate balance of England's finances. The first was a careful and conscientious administrator who had inherited a chaotic situation from his predecessor, King Richard II, and so turned things round that the country was once again living within its means by the time of his death in 1413. The second was one of the most charismatic Kings who has ever sat upon the English Throne, but who engaged the country upon an impossible course, the Conquest of France, for which it could never hope to pay. The figures for the first reign will show that, only with the most careful husbandry, could the expense of running England ever be met from 'the King's own', or the Royal Revenues. There was nothing left over for any extravagance, let alone a foreign war. Some direct taxation would always be necessary.

One other thing the reader is asked to bear in mind. There was not so much reliance upon money in the 15th-century as there is today. The amounts will appear to be ludicrously small to the modern eye, but money was worth far more than it is today. There is something absurd in trying to equate, by mathematical formulae, the value of money in the 15th-century to that of the Second Millennium as it draws to its close. A very rough guide would be a multiplication of 1, 000, so that 1, 000 then would be 1 million today.

Not everybody will agree that the fairest way to raise the necessary money to pay the Nation's expenses is a graduated form of tax on income. There were undoubtedly some very rich people in England in the 15th-century and a great number of others who, while not so rich, were still in a position to make a substantial annual contribution to the National Revenue without being impoverished in the process.

There were serious drawbacks to any proposal to tax income however. Income tax is a difficult tax to administer, and needs a considerable, experienced and expensive bureaucracy to collect it. It is only since the middle of the 19th century that the country has enjoyed a bureaucracy of incorruptible officials who can be trusted to collect the National Revenue without taking advantage of the many opportunities for peculation and graft which naturally present themselves. The establishment of such a bureaucracy, with the necessary supervision and discipline of the tax collectors, was well beyond the resources of the 15th century; quite apart from the question whether Parliament would agree to such a tax, it would not have been a practical proposition to attempt to levy it. It was nonetheless attempted at times, and usually ended in failure.

The Royal Revenues - 'the King's Own'

Where did the Royal Revenues come from? Here we are greatly indebted to Sir James Ramsey who conducted an exhaustive search of the Royal finances during the reigns of Kings Henry IV and Henry V. To our eyes the accounts were in a chaotic state, and owed little to what is today known as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Many accounts are, not surprisingly after this length of time, simply missing. Whilst the accounts of subordinate officials were audited and balanced, those of the Treasurer were not, and this adds to the difficulty of understanding them. "Cancelled tallies", namely drafts which had been dishonoured, were not written off as irrecoverable debts, which is in fact what they were, but were simply shown on each side of the page, thus swelling the totals in an unrealistic fashion. Clerical tenths payable on a future date gave rise to immediate loans from those who were liable to pay them (no doubt at a discounted rate), with drafts drawn upon the lenders and payable at the due date. In the Old Crown Revenues, old debts and arrears owing to the Crown, sometimes dating from The time of Edward III or even King Edward II, were simply carried forward from year to year instead of being written off as irrecoverable."Foreign Receipts"were supposed to record once-off payments which were unlikely to re-occur. Yet it was not unusual to find in them moneys returned as unspent when cash had been advanced to finance a foreign journey on Royal business. At the beginning of Henry IV's reign, vast estates had been forfeited to the Crown, yet the Crown obtained only minuscule income from them. No immediate explanation is forthcoming. Perhaps the King had to give prompt rewards to those who had supported his rebellion and thus the Crown received only small benefit from them. Perhaps also they had been charged by the extravagant King Richard II so that there was little income for the Royal coffers. Sheriffs complained loudly that the amounts allowed them as expenses for collection were insufficient, and were not above helping themselves to make up the balance between what the Crown thought they were worth and their own estimation of the value of their services. Particularly vocal were the Sheriffs of Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Yorkshire, Devon and Shropshire.

All in all, the whole national accounting system was crying out for reform. Yet reform was probably beyond the resources of the King and His Council, and any attempt to stamp hard upon the many abuses to which the system was subject in an age where public morality was not a highly prized virtue, would have risked the alienation of many people on whom the Crown was dependent. Again it was something which should have been done, but as a practical possibility, reform was simply not attainable.

Since it is unlikely that any further research will yield any more exact results, which would need an army of accountants to achieve if it could be done at all, we should accept Sir James's figures, whilst noting the reserves that he has been at pains to make, as the most precise figures that are possible to reach. It is beyond doubt that the Crown was always financially stretched, and had difficulty in making ends meet.

1. The Old Crown Revenues

These were the revenues form lands owned by the Crown, and included the Duchy of Cornwall, the Earldom of Chester, Wales, and the Lancaster Estates. Strictly speaking, the Lancaster Estates were the private property of the House of Lancaster. The Lancastrian Kings did however include them as part of The Old Crown Revenues.

2. Customs Duties

Customs Duties have always been an easy tax to collect as compared with income tax, and only required a King's Officer, backed by a suitable staff, in each port. It was, and still is, a form of taxation, because the duties levied on the merchant would be reflected in his eventual price to the consumer. Everybody used wool and leather, and there was a measure of unfairness to the poor man who paid the same as his wealthier neighbour. Smuggling undoubtedly went on, but judging by the Crown's receipts, it does not seem to have been as big a problem as it subsequently became in later centuries.

The calculation of Customs duties has always been complicated, and the 15th century was no better in this respect than any other age. There were four main headings of Customs duty:-

(1). The Antiqua or Magna Custuma.

These were granted by Parliament in 1275.

(2). The Parva or Nova Custuma.

These too were granted by Parliament in 1303.

(3). The Tonnage and Poundage Subsidy.

This was granted from time to time by Parliament.

(4). The Wool and Leather Subsidy.

This too was granted from time to time by Parliament.

The first two duties were regarded as hereditary, and there never seems to have been any question that the King was always entitled to charge them. The last two depended upon Parliaments consent for the King to charge them at all so that it could be argued that they were not part of 'the King's own'; it would appear that Parliament could always be persuaded of the King's necessity, because the yield was so constant as the following tables will show.

The rates were, for the times,  extremely heavy. A sack of wool or a last of leather attracted Antiqua Custuma of 6/8d on the sack and 13/4d on the last. If the merchant was a foreigner, then Parva Custuma required him to pay a further 3/4d on the sack and another 6/8d on the last. The Wool and Leather Subsidy obliged native Englishmen to pay a further 33/4d, and a foreigner a further 43/4d, on the sack, whereas all paid a further 86/8d on the last. The net result (which is not totally compatible with these figures) is:-

Wool Englishmen




Leather Englishmen




The Tonnage and Poundage Subsidy required 3/= on a tun of wine from Englishmen, and a further 3/= from foreigners. There was a heavy duty of 12/= in the Pound on tin which seems to have been paid by foreigners only. A duty of 2d in the Pound was payable on general merchandise, with a further 3d from foreigners. Some merchants, particularly the Hansa merchants, paid lower rates of duty. The purpose of setting out these details is to demonstrate that the Customs Duties themselves played by far the most important part in the Royal Revenues, even if some of these depended upon Parliament's consent. To take this point one step further, the yield of the Customs duties appears, from what records are available, to have been:-

* 1st year - 1399 - 1400 41, 483
9th   " - 1407 - 1408 49, 949
10th " - 1408 - 1409 57, 680
11th " - 1409 - 1410 51, 146
12th " - 1410 - 1411 41, 940
13th " - 1411 - 1412 40, 322

* excluding Newcastle

Undoubtedly there is some variation in the yield of Revenue from one year to the next, but not so great that we cannot say that the source was a remarkably consistent, and therefore dependable, one. 

3. Subsidies, lay and clerical.

The clerical subsidies were a proportion of Church income voted by the Convocations of Canterbury and York. More could have been expected from York, but it must be borne in mind that the northern clergy were very ill-disposed towards King Henry IV. Under this heading comes special grants which were payable on land, that of 1404 being 1/= in the pound on the value of land, and that of 1411 being 6/8d on 20.

4. Hanaper

This was the ancient equivalent of the modern stamp duty which is payable on legal documents, such as conveyances of land. In the 15th century, many patents required re-sealing and this attracted tax. 

5. Tower Mint and Exchange

Sir James Ramsey includes this in his average income for each year of the reign, but it seems questionable if this is right. In any case, the yearly average is only 275, and it would seem more correct to leave the total of this once-off source of revenue out of our calculations. It arose in this way.

Since 1351, 300 pennies had been struck from the lb. Tower of silver, and 45 nobles of 6/8d each from the lb. Tower of gold. From 1411 the rate were to be 360 pennies and 50 nobles respectively. This debasement of the coinage meant that old coins had to be brought in to be converted, so that a penny contained only 15 grains of silver instead of 19 1/2 grains with a similar reduction for nobles. This brought in a gross profit to the Crown of 4359-10-7, although the net profit was only 2833-6-4. 

6. Loans and sundry amounts.

Henry IV, like all medieval Kings, was obliged to borrow from time to time, and in his first year borrowed the considerable amount of 15, 562. This can be regarded as cash to get him started before Parliament had granted him a subsidy. He subsequently repaid all of this except for an amount of 1172, although it is not clear why a King who was so careful of his money, or so meticulous about his debts, did not discharge this sum. Later in his reign, Henry IV was very averse to any borrowing. In his 13th year, there is no record of any loan at all. In his 9th year, the total loans amounted to a mere 1591-7-9d, of which only 14-16-0d was not repaid. A bonus which comes under this heading was Richard II's hoard of 14, 600, and Sir James has averaged this over the whole reign.

The annual average Crown Revenues over Henry IV's reign can be estimated as follows:-

Gross Net
1 Old Crown Revenues

Sheriffs and Echeators

Duchy of Cornwall

Earldom of Chester approx.


Lancaster estates


20, 000

3, 900

1, 000


2, 400


17, 000

3, 000



2, 000

27, 300 22, 600
2. Customs duties  47, 400 45, 000
3. Subsidies

Lay Fifteenth approx.

Canterbury Tenth

York Tenth


23, 000

11, 000



23, 000

11, 000


4. Hanaper 2, 800 2, 400
5. Unrepaid loans and sundry approx. 1, 500     1, 500    
TOTALS 113,600 106, 100

The costs of collecting the Revenue seem to have been very modest except in the case of the Old Crown Revenues, where the difference between the gross and net receipts amounts to a substantial one sixth of the whole. It can be surmised that some of the pensions which the Crown had granted were charged on the income of its lands and this may in part account for the low net receipt. Nevertheless,  the size of this difference seems to indicate some substantial degree of embezzlement by the King's officers which it seems he was unable to prevent, or to which he was forced to turn a blind eye.

The costs of running the Country

Turning now to the expenses which the King had to pay out of this Revenue, these can be divided into Civil and Military expenditure. Again there was great difficulty in interpreting the figures, and what follows is proffered as the best estimates that it is possible to reach.

Civil expenditure

1.Wardrobe of the Household

This was the expense of maintaining the Court. Richard II had maintained a lavish lifestyle with much extravagance, and , as always in such cases, it took some time to reduce it to more economical levels. In the 4th year of Henry IV's reign, these expenses totalled 27, 500, but in the 10th and 11th years, they were reduced to 22, 478 and 19, 861 respectively.

2. Great Wardrobe

This arose from the furniture and clothing kept at the King's palaces. It varied greatly depending on such events as coronations and Royal Weddings when the King was expected to show some extravagance. In the 4th year of Henry IV's reign, when the King married his second wife, Johanna of Navarre, the amount spent was 10, 340, whereas in the 8th year it amounted to the more modest figure of 2, 200.

3. Private Wardrobe at the Tower

Even in time of peace, arms had to be kept at the Tower, and needed expensive repairs and replacement. Sir James Ramsey seems to have had more than usual difficulty in adducing figures for this item, but seems to have accepted a figure of approximately 6, 000.

4. Civil Service.

This can be said to exclude the cost of the Kings Officer's who raised the Revenue, whose salaries and expenses were deducted from the receipts. It did include the salaries paid to the Judges, and the expenses of foreign embassies.

5. Public Works.

This figure is very modest because the King undertook little or no building during his reign. He rather encouraged private citizens to undertake this, and a prime example is Sir Richard Whittington's open-handedness with the City's Guildhall.

6. Dockyard.

This included the maintenance of the King's ships. The figure is so small that it is reasonable to suppose that much of the cost of these ships is included in the military expenditure rather than under this head.

7. Pensions or Annuities.

Henry IV had taken over a bad system from Richard II, whose generosity had no doubt been intended to buy men's loyalty. In the first year of Henry IV's reign, they had amounted to the enormous figure of 24, 000. It took some years to reduce them sufficiently to justify the average figure over the whole reign of 6, 000.

Military and Naval expenditure

8. The Calais Garrison.

The cost of the Calais garrison seems to have been fairly constant throughout the reign, and the average can be given with some confidence. From its size compared with the costs of the other garrisons, the question arises whether it included not only the wages of the garrison, but also some of the costs of maintaining the King's ships which were stationed there to deal with pirates, who were always a nuisance along the French coast, and with raids on the English coast mounted by the French themselves.

9. Berwick and the East March of Scotland

This was calculated to cost 12, 000 in wartime, and 3, 000 in peacetime. The average of 6, 000 seems to be approximately correct.

10. Carlisle and the West March of Scotland.

This was calculated to cost 6, 000 in wartime and 1, 500 in peacetime. Again the average of 4, 000 seems to be approximately correct.

11. Wales.

The Prince of Wales was promised 8, 400 annually. He did not always get it.

12. Ireland.

Thomas, Duke of Clarence was similarly promised 6, 000 annually, although in 1408 this was reduced to 4, 666. The average works out to 4, 800.

The average annual expenditure throughout the reign can therefore be estimated as follows:-

1. Wardrobe of the Household 24, 000
2. Great Wardrobe at the Tower 6, 400
3. Private Wardrobe at the Tower 6, 000
4. Civil Service 8, 000
5. Public Works 900
6. Dockyards 420
7. Pensions or annuities 6, 000   
8. Calais 29, 000
9. Berwick 6, 000
10. Carlisle 4, 000
11. Wales 8, 400
12. Ireland 4, 800    

Like all averages, this does not tell the full story. The financial year began at Michaelmas, and was divided into two "terms". The highest annual expenditure took place in 1402/03 and reached a figure of 135, 000, whereas the lowest annual expenditure was in 1410/11 at 80, 000. There were no expensive foreign wars, but Henry IV did not have a peaceful reign. He had to contend with wars with the Scots and the Welsh, and also had to put down several rebellions, the worst of which was that of the Percies in 1403. Nevertheless, the picture emerges of a King determined to live within his means, and achieving some success in doing so in circumstances which, to say the least, were difficult. The lesson is that the Revenues of England were barely sufficient to pay all the costs of government in times of comparative peace; there was no way they could finance a foreign war.

A foreign war was however what his successor, King Henry V,  engaged in, and the costs that it incurred were ruinous. The King had no cause for complaint that his countrymen were not generous, but there were limits beyond which they could not go. In 1415 an attempt was made to impose an extra 10/= customs duty on a sack of wool where foreigners were concerned. The burden could not be borne and had to be remitted. The amusing picture that is painted by Shakespeare in the play "Henry V"of the Archbishop of Canterbury promising vast sums of money, whilst the Bishop of Ely stands by looking very unhappy, seems to have be borne out in fact, because the two Convocations were generous in a way that they never were with his father. There was even a Supplementary Grant from Stipendiary Priests of 6/8d in the Pound, an enormous burden for them. Even so, war is a very expensive business, and there are ample indications that Henry V had to borrow money on a large scale.

It has turned out to be very difficult to get an exact picture of the loans that were made to Henry V,  and an indirect approach has to be adopted. A start can be made by describing the estimated annual average Revenue, drawn up in a similar way and including the same items, as 137, 500 gross and 115, 299 net. Again there is a striking difference between the gross and net figures of 22, 301, and it can only be supposed that some of the debts incurred by the King were serviced or repaid by charges on the Royal Revenues. Yet if the King had in the field a force of 2000 horsemen and 6000 archers, as is not improbable throughout his campaign in France, their wages alone, at 1/= a day for horsemen and 6d for archers, amounted to 91, 250 a year. This does not take into account all the other expenses for things which an army would normally need. It is known that the Bishop of Winchester advanced substantial sums to the King, and at the time of the King's death the sum of 35, 000 was still owing to him. No doubt there were others similarly placed. The Earl of Huntingdon was owed 8157-14-9d in wages alone to say nothing of prize money to which he was entitled for his part in the capture of the Genoese carracks. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Bauge 1421,  and was unable to ransom himself for want of this money. At Henry's death in 1422, the costs of the Agincourt campaign in 1415 had still not been paid in full. [NICOLAS "Proceedings" iii 124/7.] There is some evidence that Henry V intended that the war in France should pay for itself. Rouen was ransomed for 300, 000 ecus, or 50, 000, and another ransom is known to have been imposed on Meaux.

It is also noticeable throughout the accounts that no allowance seems to have been made for the devaluation of the currency in 1411 which is noted above. This, at the substantial figures of 20% for pennies and 11% for nobles, may have brought in a temporary profit, but, as devaluation's always do, it had a lasting effect on the currency by making its purchasing power less than it was before. What is noticeable is that debts were paid when there was the money to pay them, otherwise they were simply left to wait their turn in an ever lengthening list. Moreover, without a formal balance sheet, the King can have had little idea of the extent of his indebtedness at any one time.

Perhaps if Henry V had lived longer than he did (he was only 35 at the time of his death in 1422), he would have used the time of peace which should eventually have come to pay off his debts and get the Royal Finances into the same healthy state which he had inherited from his Father. This was not an unreasonable hope, because with nearly all of France north of the River Loire in English possession, the tax yield had increased during his lifetime, even if the lands had been ravaged, and would obviously grow considerably with a long period of peace. His presence on the stage of affairs would itself have discouraged the French from renewing hostilities. As things were however, he left a dreadful legacy of debt, which bedevilled the reign of his son and successor, King Henry VI. The financial plight of the Crown, which his Grand-Father had tried to improve during his reign, not without success, but which King Henry V had made much worse, played an important part in the troubles which plagued England throughout the 15th century, and in the succession of tragedies which were to overtake King Henry VI.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003