Dialogue concerning the Exchequer (c. 1178 CE)
THE DIALOGUE CONCERNING THE EXCHEQUER.
Reign of King Henry II
(Stubbs’ ” Charters,” p. 168.)
It is necessary to subject one’s self in all fear to the powers ordained by God, and likewise to serve them. For every power is from God the Lord. Nor does it therefore seem absurd or foreign to ecclesiastics, by serving kings who are, as it were, pre-eminent, and other powers, to uphold their rights; especially in matters which are not contrary to divine Truth or honesty. But one should serve them not alone in preserving those dignities through which the glory of the royal majesty shines forth, but also in preserving the abundance of worldly wealth which pertains to them by reason of their station: for the former cast a halo round them, the latter aid them. For indeed abundance of means, or the lack of them, exalts or humbles the power of princes. For those who lack them will be a prey to their enemies, to those who have them their enemies will fall a prey.
But although it may come about that these accrue to kings for the most part, not by some right that has been thoroughly examined into, but at times through paternal customs, at times through the secret designs of their own hearts, or occasionally through the arbitrariness of their own sole will, nevertheless their acts are not to be discussed or condemned by their subjects. For the cause of those whose hearts and the motions of whose hearts are in the hand of God, and to whom by God Himself the sole care of their subjects has been committed, stands and falls before a Divine tribunal alone, not before a human one. Let no one, therefore, no matter how rich, flatter himself that he will go unpunished if he act otherwise, for of such it is written, ” the powerful shall powerfully suffer torments.” Therefore of whatever nature the origin or manner of acquiring may be or may seem to be, those who are officially deputed to look after the revenues should be none the more remiss in caring for them. But in the matter of collecting, guarding, and distributing them, careful diligence befits those who are about to render an account, as it were, of the state of the kingdom, which, through the revenues, is preserved from harm. We know, indeed, that chiefly by prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice, and other virtues, kingdoms are ruled and laws subsist; wherefore the rulers of the world should strive after these with all their strength.
But it happens at times that what is conceived with sound counsel and excellent intent is carried through by, so to say, a routine-like method. But this is not only necessary in time of war but also in time of peace. For at the one time it displays itself in fortifying towns, in delivering to the soldiers their pay, and in very many other ways, according to the quality of the persons, for the sake of keeping up the condition of the kingdom; at the other, although the weapons are at rest, churches are built by devout princes, Christ is fed and clothed in the person of the poor, and, by persisting iu other acts of benevolence, it exhibits itself in charity. But the glory of princes consists in the mighty deeds of both seasons, but it excels in those where, instead of temporal riches, lasting ones, with their blessed reward, are attained.
Wherefore, illustrious king, greatest of earthly princes, inasmuch as we have often seen thee glorious in both seasons, not sparing indeed treasures of money, but providing for the suitable expenses according to the place, time, and persons, we have dedicated to thy Excellency this modest work, not written concerning great matters or in brilliant discourse, but in rustic style, having to do with the necessary observances of thy exchequer. We lately saw thee somewhat concerned as to these, so that, dispatching discreet men from thy side, thou didst address thyself to the then bishop of Ely in this matter. Nor was it extraordinary that a man of such surpassing genius, a prince of such singular power, should, among other greater matters, also have provided for these. For the exchequer, indeed, comes to its laws not at hap-hazard, but through the thoughtfulness of great men; and, if its rules be regarded in all things, the rights of individuals can be preserved, and what is due to the fisc will come to thee in full; which same thy hand, which ministers to thy most noble mind, can suitably distribute.