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Henry III documents brought to life

25 November 2010

A unique project between scholars at three institutions, to translate and digitalise documents drawn up in the thirteenth century for Henry III, is nearing completion.


Henry III of England
Henry III of England.

The three year project by Canterbury Christ Church University, King’s College London, and the National Archives has brought to life remarkable material, which for the first time, is now freely available to everyone.

The rolls, which were written to record money and favours owed to the King, contains two million words in 40,000 separate entries. They have been translated from Latin into English and encoded electronically, creating indexes and search facilities for the website:

The website also has digitised images of all the rolls and it is possible to look through them membrane by membrane and zoom in on a particular entry.

With funding of £1 million from the Arts & Humanities Research Council, the project, formally known as ‘From Magna Carta to the Parliamentary State: The Fine Rolls of King Henry 1216-1272’, has also benefitted from pioneering technical work carried out by the Centre for the Computing in the Humanities at King’s.

Dr Louise Wilkinson, a Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church University, is one of the project’s co-directors and has been closely involved in managing it since its inception in 2005. She said: “One of the most rewarding things about working on this project is the way in which it has not only greatly enriched our understanding of thirteenth century politics and society, but also yielded valuable information for local communities who are interested in uncovering information about their past.”

Leading the project is David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London. He said: “The project is a perfect example of a collaborative enterprise that develops and exploits the latest technology in order to open up a major a historical source to a wide community of users, public as well as academic.”

The ‘Fine Rolls’ of Henry III are written in Latin on parchment, with one for every year of his 56 year reign; some contain more than 35,000 words, and measure up to three metres in length.

The Fine Rolls of Henry III (1216-1272) are preserved in the National Archives at Kew, and as well as recording ‘fines’ - which are essentially an agreement to pay money for a concession - they contain a wealth of other material. Examples include the taxation of towns, the seizure of lands into the King’s hands because of rebellion, and even Henry III’s sense of humour.

One element of the website is the ‘Fine of the Month’ feature which offers regular comment on discoveries in the rolls. This began in December 2005 and there are now 60 of them.

Professor Carpenter explained: “Fines of the Month have been about places across the country, from Nunney in Somerset to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, and have furthered the impact of the project, enabling it to establish contact with local communities. They deal with the development of general taxation and the emergence of the parliamentary state.”

The latest Fine for November is an entirely new exposition of Archbishop Langton’s role in creating the Magna Carta. Others deal with the persecution of the Jews, peasant uprisings and the position of women after Magna Carta.

To celebrate the completion of this work a reception was held on Wednesday 24 November in the Maughan Library of King’s College London; a most appropriate setting as it has links with Henry III. The building is on the site of the house for converted Jews which he founded in 1232, and his statue is above the gateway. In addition, the present building was home to the Public Record Office where the rolls were held for over a century before their move in the 1990s to their new home in the National Archives at Kew.

Guests included Lord Douro, Chairman of King’s College London, Professor Rick Trainor, Principal of King’s College London, Professor Sir Alan Wilson, AHRC Chairman, Professor Rick Rylance, AHRC Chief Executive and Professor Jan Druker, Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University.  




Notes to Editor

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University has, since its foundation by the Church of England as a teacher training college in 1962, developed a wide range of taught programmes, research and educational services.

It continues to be the largest centre of higher education in Kent for the major public services. The University has around 18,000 students based in five Faculties: Arts and Humanities, Business and Management, Education, Health and Social Care, Social and Applied Sciences.  Our 1,500 staff also contribute to the University's life and work at our five campuses: Canterbury, Broadstairs, Folkestone (in partnership with the Creative Foundation), Medway (in partnership with the Universities of Greenwich and Kent with Mid-Kent College) and Tunbridge Wells.

Kings College London

King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (2010 QS international world rankings), The Sunday Times 'University of the Year 2010/11' and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has nearly 23,000 students (of whom more than 8,600 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 5,500 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.


The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) supports world-class research that furthers our understanding of human culture and creativity. Each year the AHRC provides approximately £112 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts.

In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,350 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

National Archives at Kew

The National Archives is the UK government's official archive, containing over 1,000 years of history. They give detailed guidance to government departments and the public sector on information management and advise others about the care of historical archives.

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