No-one likes tax, right? It’s a subject I struggle to find in any way interesting (luckily Inland Revenue informed me last year that my fiscal affairs are so straightforward that there’s no reason for me to complete a self assessment form), save for one important exception. Medieval taxation returns and other records fascinate me, providing a quantitative insight into relative personal and communal wealth at points in time from the Domesday Survey on.
I’m sure there’s sites dedicated to the detailed lay assessments of the fourteenth century (in Surrey, the lay subsidies of 1332 and 1334 have been published by the Surrey Record Society, to which Carolyn Fenwick’s edition of the surviving records from the 1381 Poll Tax levy form an interesting post-plague counterpoint), and I will make a search for relevant online resources in the coming days – a hint of the richness of the material available online is given here. For now I would like to draw attention to The Taxatio Database, an easily searchable electronic version of the 1291 Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae Auctoritate Papae Nicholai IV previously only available in a scarce print edition published in 1802. As an ecclesiastical tax it can only go so far in reflecting the wider wealth (or poverty) of a community, but does give a unique insight into the value of properties held by monasteries and other ecclesiastical institutions. As far as I am aware (and I must concede my knowledge in this field is limited) it also provides the first general overview of the extents of the sub-diocesan deaneries.
The website’s search function allows the user to find specific places by modern or (dare I say it less usefully) 1291 place-name forms. Thus searching Puttenham yields three results: two for Puttenham in Huntingdonshire (now Hertfordshire) and one for its Puttenham namesake. The database is (for the time being at least) limited to parish churches and prebends, and so misses out the illuminating extents of ecclesiastically-held properties that precede these in the Taxatio itself. As a result, there is no record of the moiety of the manor of Puttenham – the Surrey one that is – held by Newark Priory (valued at £1 5s 6d) nor the Selborne Priory ‘grangiam‘ of Shoelands (£1 exactly). The absence of such historical/topographical tidbits aside, the website is well worth a look, and fills a valuable gap for anyone researching local church history who doesn’t have access to an extensive academic reference library (or someone willing to send them photocopies of the information they need – thanks Peter).