XVI.—Exchequer Tallies

Hilary Jenkinson
1911 Archaeologia  
THE hoard of several hundred thirteenth-century Exchequer tallies, here brought to the notice of the Society, was found by the Office of Works during the recent repairs to the Chapel of the Pyx at Westminster, and transferred to the Public Record Office. A great deal of dust accompanied the tallies, and in this were found portions of some contemporary white leather bags of curious workmanship and a good many fragments of documents. 1 Some of these fragments were of widely different dates and
more » ... ferent dates and classes, and it seems probable that the whole constituted a collection of the sweepings, as it were, of the many series which at different times found a home in that important repository of records. The meaning of the word tally is sufficiently well known: starting with the idea of a stick notched for purposes of calculation, it early develops its full sense, used here-that of a stick notched and split through the notches, so that both parties to a transaction may have a part of the record. As Madox -says, 'the origin of this was to prevent fraud'; but the device of the tally, split or unsplit, is so obvious and simple a one, and is found in so many parts of the world, that there seems to be no need to follow the suggestion put forward by Pollock and Maitland a that the English tally is a rationalization of the Prankish festuca, the ceremonial wand or verge: this in spite of the undoubtedly Prankish origin of the constitution of the English king's household, which is itself the origin of the Court of the King's Exchequer. It may be added that the derivation usually given for the English tally and French faille-from the verb tailler, to cut-is incorrect. English Record Latin often spells the word tallia, but the proper form is talea; and this is good Latin for the slip inserted in a stock in grafting, and, further, for any long slip of wood. Tailler is derived from the verb taliare, itself probably derived from the substantive talea. EXCHEQUER TALLIES The tally-stick, split or unsplit, is widely used: instances of it have been noted all over England and Europe, indeed all over the world, and in all kinds of trades. Illustrated here (plate X L VIII, fig. i ) are some tallies quite recently in use, no. i being an unsplit faggot-cutter's tally, and nos. 2, 3, and 4 split tallies from the Kentish hop-fields; and they are still in comparatively common use, to take only one instance, amongst bakers in France. It would seem, however, that only England systematized the tally into an official instrument cut strictly according to certain rules-we have, as a nation, a genius for systematizing customary things: upon which account the writer inclines to refuse the theory that the official tally was a Norman importation. 'Tallies,' says Madox, 'were of great and constant use in the Exchequer, coeval for aught that I know with the Exchequer itself in England.' This is to speak rather loosely of the history of that office. Tallies, in some form, are undoubtedly older than the Scaccarhun, the squared table-cloth, just as receipt is older than audit. 'What we now call the squared cloth of such-and-such a year,' says the Dialogus, 'was formerly called the Tallies of such-and-such a year.' It is not out of place to note here that the highly important, though somewhat neglected, Receipt Roll is, in origin, no more than a register of tallies issued: and the same form of words is invariably used in both. At the same time there is no doubt that the development of the tally into a highly organized instrument went with, and was conditioned by, the organization and growth of the Exchequer system. Once discovered, it is not surprising that the use of the tally in its most perfected form should have been rapidly popularized. As a financial instrument and evidence it was at once adaptable, light in weight and small in size, easy to understand and practically incapable of fraud. Doubtless the ' profer' system, under which the sheriffs, the chief accounting officers, paid in at Easter sums on an account which was not audited till Michaelmas, gave additional popularity to this handy and durable form of receipt: and the process could be continued lower down the scale in private tallies between the sheriff and minor accountants. At any rate, by the time that the Dialogus de Scaccavio^ was written,that is to say by the middle of the twelfth century, there was a well-organized and well-understood system of tally cutting at the Exchequer. So far as form was concerned, there was now very little to be added, and the conventions remained unaltered and in continuous use from that time down to the nineteenth century. By statute of 23 George III (1783) the use of tallies was abolished, an indented cheque receipt being substituted for them (there is little doubt, by the way, that the form of the 2 i.e. in 1783. ;! Dialogus, ed. cit. p. 65.
doi:10.1017/s0261340900008213 fatcat:cd4vr55xtzh4tdfqtbeuc4draa