Richard fitz Nigel’s Dialogue of the Exchequer: Literary, Economic, Political, and Spiritual Approaches
It is hard to exaggerate the novelty of English Treasurer Richard fitz Nigel’s Dialogue of the Exchequer, completed c. 1179. Often considered Europe’s first administrative manual, it required the invention of a new genre, the systematic thinking-through of collected bureaucratic knowledge and its categorization and organization. Successive generations of historians have mined this text for data about England’s taxation office and common law, but it has more to offer researchers of bureaucratic and institutional culture, medieval identity formation, and intertextuality.
How might we approach the Dialogue as not just a government document, but also a personal or careerist one? Richard fitz Nigel entered England’s central bureaucracy at an exciting but contentious time for secular clergy, when luminaries like John of Salisbury and Peter of Blois were defending their right to engage in secular careers in part by insisting on their pastoral roles at court. Not a luminary or an advanced degree holder, Richard fit uneasily in England’s growing bureaucracy, and his text seems to reflect an uncertainty about his place within the Exchequer and Church hierarchies, and how and why to write an administrative text.
Some researchers have viewed the Dialogue through a stronger literary lens, such as Chris Wickham’s search for “the consciousness of lawyers and administrators”; John Hudson’s examination of fitz Nigel’s construction of administrative genealogies based on his own family; or Paul Milliman’s theories about political commentary couched within the text’s chess metaphors. Modern readers are approaching the Dialogue as a living document, and this panel wishes to encourage further work on the compositional and rhetorical strategies its author undertook and his motives for writing.
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