A medieval ‘debt ceiling’? Extraordinary fiscal measures during the reign of Henry III

This interdisciplinary research placement will explore a medieval analogy to the financial pressures facing governments today. It will reconstruct the money fees that Henry III, king of England 1216-72, promised to royal supporters and officials, collate the annual payments that he made (or did not make) towards these fees, and examine the political consequences that resulted from his inability to honour all his obligations.

Department: None

Supervised by: Tony Moore

The Placement Project

In 2011, 2013 and 2015, the United States teetered on the brink of default as Congress refused to suspend the debt ceiling and allow the treasury to borrow in order to fund government expenditure. This would have forced them to choose between paying interest on the national debt, wages to state officials or social benefits. Ultimately, a last-minute compromise was reached on all three occasions. Henry III, king of England 1216-72, was less fortunate. Like modern governments, Henry granted money fees (annual payments) to his officials, members of his family and his political supporters at home and abroad. Over time, the number and value of fees promised increased faster than royal revenues, again like governments today, but Henry was unable to meet the shortfall by borrowing on the medieval capital markets. As a result, he had to make decisions about which promises to honour and on which to default. This led to competition between royal creditors, exacerbating factional conflicts at court, and contributing to the rebellion and subsequent civil war of 1258-67. The placement will compile the first full dataset of money fees owed, payments made, and arrears outstanding over the reign. This will allow us to reconstruct a more comprehensive picture of Henry’s financial position. Further, analysing which fees were paid at different times will shed light on his changing political priorities. This is a stand-alone project that will produce independent outputs but will also contribute to a wider research agenda investigating the early history of sovereign debt.


The student will assist in compiling a dataset of money fees granted by Henry III and the payments made (or not) each year towards those fees (60%). The historical sources are available in English translation; however, extracting the relevant data is not a merely mechanical process but requires the student to use their own judgement when interpreting the records, with guidance from the PI. The individual fee and payment data will be aggregated to show the payments owed and made each financial year, and to chart the accumulation of arrears over the reign (20%). The student and PI will then prepare a working paper and seminar presentation reconstructing the chronology of Henry’s finances and, by looking at which fees he chose to pay, his political priorities. These findings and their relevance today will be disseminated to a non-specialist audience through a post on the ICMA Centre blog (20%).

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Essential – good reading comprehension skills Essential –interest in medieval history AND/OR financial history Desirable – experience of using Microsoft Access or Excel

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will gain valuable experience in how to identify and extract relevant data from a mostly-qualitative source and convert it to a quantitative dataset. They will also develop skills in the practical use of Access and Excel to store and analyse historical data. The student will acquire wider research, writing and presentational skills, as well as an insight into academic practice, by co-authoring a working paper and contributing to the preparation and delivery of a research seminar presentation. They will also learn how to communicate academic ideas to a wider audience by writing a blog post – for all of which they will receive authorship credit.

Place of Work

ICMA Centre/University library

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 20 June 2016 - Friday 29 July 2016

How to Apply

CV and covering letter followed by interview

Return to Placements List

Page navigation