The twelfth and thirteenth centuries: York as centre of administration

A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.

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'The twelfth and thirteenth centuries: York as centre of administration', in A History of the County of York: the City of York, (London, 1961) pp. 29-30. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]

York as a Centre of Administration

The relative infrequency with which the kings of England found themselves in York in the 12th and 13th centuries is attested by the comparatively small number of serjeanties created in the city and its environs. (fn. 1) Only the Lardiner serjeanty is directly related to the presence of the king in the city. (fn. 2) If the king seldom ruled from York, the city was far more important as a centre of local and provincial administration. In addition to being the capital of the northern province of the Church, it was also the headquarters of the Sheriff of Yorkshire. (fn. 3) Royal justices, too, frequently held their sessions in the city. (fn. 4) Sometimes they sat in the Old Baile, sometimes in houses specially designated in the city and sometimes again in the castle. (fn. 5) Closely associated with the castle was the king's fishpond which in 1280, though not always, was in the charge of a man who was also keeper of the castle gaol and gate. (fn. 6) At the same time, while the castle was being developed as an administrative building, it was also being strengthened as a fortress. (fn. 7)

One further institution of regional importance situated in York calls for mention. The city continued to be the seat of minting operations under the control both of the king and the archbishop. The latter's claim to have two mints in York finds a place in a statement of his privileges dating from c. 1080; and in 1101 Henry I granted him jurisdiction over his own moneyers and power to enforce the new 'statutes' against false coiners. (fn. 8) Both archiepiscopal and royal mints were active during the first half of the 12th century, and most of the minters continued to have Anglo-Scandinavian names, (fn. 9) probably because the office was hereditary. Certainly Thurstan the moneyer (the 'Turstin' of the coins) was followed in his profession by his son John. (fn. 10)

The activity of the York mints was perhaps most notable in Stephen's reign when, isolated owing to the disordered state of the country, they produced distinctive and attractive issues in considerable quantity. On the other hand, the anarchy left its mark in issues in the names of others than the king or archbishop: of Eustace Fitzjohn, Robert de Stuteville II, and of 'Bishop Henry'—presumably of Winchester, at a time when he was furthering Stephen's cause in the north. (fn. 11) Such eccentricities disappeared under Henry II; and the minters came to have less archaic names, either because the hereditary principle declined or because fashions in personal nomenclature changed. (fn. 12)

It is also at this time that the organization of the royal mint emerges from obscurity. Early in Henry II's reign there were eight royal moneyers under the control of the sheriff, who owed 8 marks yearly on their behalf, (fn. 13) although individual moneyers sometimes paid additional sums to have the office or for the right to retire from it. (fn. 14) This system of management, however, was superseded in the 1170's. In 1176 the sheriff received an allowance for the 'default' of 3 moneyers, of 4 in 1177, 5 in 1178, and 8 in 1180 and thereafter. In 1182 he also accounted for 1 mark for the site of the old mint. (fn. 15) The royal mint continued to operate, however, for it took part in the recoinage of 1180, (fn. 16) and in 1201 its keepers found pledges that they would answer for their ill custody of it. (fn. 17) An exchange was associated with the king's mint, for Hugh son of Lefwin and others were advanced £300 from Henry II's treasury 'to make their profit of the exchange of York'; most of this sum had still not been repaid at the beginning of Henry III's reign. (fn. 18) In John's reign, however, local men like William Fairfax took the exchange at farm from the Exchequer. (fn. 19) In 1217, perhaps after a period of closure in John's last troubled years, dies were issued to 4 keepers, 4 moneyers, and an assayer at the king's mint, and to 2 keepers, 2 moneyers, and an assayer at the archbishop's. The sheriff was also ordered to have keepers for the exchange chosen in the city. (fn. 20) In general, the impression is that the mints of York, like those elsewhere, were coming under closer central control.

This tendency continued in the 13th century. Both the king's and the archbishop's mints continued to operate for some time after 1217, (fn. 21) but were probably closed for a while before they took part in the recoinage of 1247. Again, after further intervals of inactivity, they took part in the recoinages of 1279–81 and 1300. This intermittent activity displays their dependence upon a centralized minting policy. Increasing royal control is also indicated by the fact that the archbishop's mint was allowed to open in 1247 only after his right to it had been tested by inquest, and similar questioning preceded its activity in 1279 and 1300. (fn. 22) Further, although the city chose both royal and archiepiscopal moneyers in 1247 and Archbishop Corbridge let his mint to Italians in 1300, (fn. 23) at least the royal mint worked generally under close control. Peter Gannoc was associated with it in 1248 'on the king's behalf', and in 1280 it was under the general supervision of William de Turnham as master of the king's money. (fn. 24) At the same time a number of prominent citizens were connected with the mint of York. John Selby and Alan Sampson were two of the royal moneyers in 1248; (fn. 25) and in 1280 John Sampson, John le Specer, and Adam Verdennel were keepers of the exchange which continued to be associated with the king's mint during its periods of activity. (fn. 26)


  • 1. E.Y.C. ii, p. vi.
  • 2. See pp. 494–6.
  • 3. See p. 523.
  • 4. Mem. of Ripon, i (Sur. Soc. 74), 58 and many later references in the Pipe Rolls.
  • 5. Chron. St. Mary's, 12; Healaugh Park Charty. (Y.A.S. Rec. Ser. 92), 187–8; E 372/126, m. 3d.
  • 6. Cal. Pat. 1272–81, 369; see p. 509.
  • 7. See p. 509.
  • 8. Y.A.J. xviii. 412 sqq.; Regesta, ii, no. 518.
  • 9. G. C. Brooke, Eng. Coins, 90, 98: the names appearing on York coins in the period 1100–54 are Autgrim, Coc (or Toc), Forn, Laising, Martin, Odbern, Raulf, Thomas son of Ulf, Turstin, Withsgne(?o)ta, and Ulf. See also F. M. Stenton in York Min. Hist. Tracts; see pp. 335–6.
  • 10. E.Y.C. i. 253–4; B.M. Cott. MS. Nero, D. iii, f. 120.
  • 11. Brooke, Eng. Coins 93–94; E.Y.C. ix. 5; G. V. Scammel, Hugh de Puiset, 7 sqq.
  • 12. Coins preserve the names of Cudberht, Godwine, Griffin, Herbert, Jordan, Norman, William, and Wulfsi to which charters add Citell, Edward, Hugh, and John: Brooke, Eng. Coins, 113; E.Y.C. i. 251, 253–4; ii. 92–93.
  • 13. e.g. Pipe R. 1161 (P.R.S. iv), 37.
  • 14. Ibid. 1166 (P.R.S. ix), 49; 1171 (P.R.S. xvi), 73.
  • 15. Ibid. 1176 (P.R.S. xxv), 99; 1177 (P.R.S. xxvi), 68; 1178 (P.R.S. xxvii), 64; 1180 (P.R.S. xxix), 62; 1182 (P.R.S. xxxi), 36.
  • 16. Ibid. 1180, 62.
  • 17. Ibid. 1201, 161.
  • 18. Ibid. 1208 (P.R.S. N.S. xxiii), 158; E 368/2, m. 3d.
  • 19. Pipe R. 1208, 150.
  • 20. E 159/1, m. 3; /2, m. 5.
  • 21. Pat. R. 1216–25, 138; E 368/4, m. 4d; and in general for what follows, Brooke, Eng. Coins, 117 sqq.
  • 22. Close R. 1247–51, 67; Cal. Close, 1279–88, 32; Reg. Corbridge, ii, no. 912.
  • 23. J. Craig, The Mint, 33 sqq.; Reg. Corbridge, ii, no. 815.
  • 24. John of Oxenedes, Chronicle (Rolls Ser.), 297; Red. Bk. Exch. (Rolls Ser.), 985.
  • 25. John of Oxenedes, Chron. 297.
  • 26. E 368/24, m. 6d; Cal. Pat. 1272–81, 396, 402, 425, 461.