The Office of the Queen's Remembrancer is now the oldest judicial post to remain in continual existence since the Middle Ages - since the Lord Chancellor whose post predates that of the Remembrancer by some 60 years - has decided to renounce his judicial duties.
The Office originated in the Michaelmas Term of 1164 when King Henry II sent his senior civil servant, Richard of Ilchester who subsequently became the Bishop of Winchester, to the Court of Exchequer to help the Treasurer (now the Chancellor of Exchequer) supervise the annual collection of taxes. Richard was ordered to 'put the King in remembrance of all things owing to the King'. Thereafter the King's Remembrancer attended all the sittings of the Court of Exchequer until it was abolished in 1882.
When the revenue functions of the Court of Exchequer ceased in the 1830's the King's Remembrancer assumed all the ceremonial duties of the Court and these were enshrined in various statutes such as the Queen's Remembrancer's Act 1859, The Sheriffs' Act 1887 and the Coinage Act.
The Queen's Remembrancer as the last surviving member of the old Court of Exchequer is required to wear on top of his full bottomed wig, the black tricorn hat of the former Cursitor Baron (judge) of the Court of Exchequer and is also the Custodian of the Great Seal of Exchequer which is the seal of Office of the Chancellor of Exchequer but is placed in the care of the Remembrancer.
The Queen's Remembrancer presides over two of the oldest legal ceremonies namely the Rendering of the Quit Rents to the Crown (1211) and the Trial of the Pyx (1249).
Quit Rents Ceremony
At the Quit Rents Ceremony the Queen's Remembrancer receives the newly elected Sheriffs of the City of London and gives each of them their Warrant of Approbation from the Queen of their election by the Livery of the City of London. This is also the occasion on which the Corporation of London present to the Court of Exchequer presided over by the Remembrancer, two 'services' to go quit of paying rent for two pieces of land now in theory held by the City.
One piece of land is known as 'The Moors' and is situated south of Bridgnorth in Shropshire. For this land the City present to the Court two knives, one blunt and one sharp. These qualities are tested by the City's Comptroller trying to cut through a hazel rod one cubit in length (19 inches) and the thickness of the Remembrancer's forefinger. The rod must merely bend over the blunt knife but must be cut through by the sharp knife for the City to 'go quit of paying rent' by the satisfactory performance of this service. The other service is for a forge formerly in Twizzers Alley just south of St Clement Danes Church in the Strand, London. This service is performed by the Comptroller producing to the Remembrancer six large horseshoes and 61 nails, which he must count out in Court before the Remembrancer pronounces 'Good service'. These ceremonies are some of the oldest legal ceremonies dating as they do from 1211 and 1235. The horseshoes date from 1361 when the tenant of the Forge was permitted to pay 18 pence per year provided she had these shoes made for use each year. They are probably the oldest set of shoes in existence. At this Ceremony, the chequered cloth from which the Court took its name is laid out on the Bench at which the Remembrancer sits. The cloth was used as a means for checking what was owed by each Sheriff who collected the taxes due from his County. Counters were placed on the right hand side to show what was owed and different counters were placed on the left hand side as the monies due were paid in. At the end of the day the two columns of counters should tally.
Trial of the Pyx
The Trial of the Pyx takes place at Goldsmiths' Hall in the City. It has taken place before the Court of Exchequer since 1249 but since the nineteenth century the venue for the Trial has been moved to Goldsmiths' Hall. The Royal Mint produce the coinage of the Realm and each day samples are taken from their production run. These samples are put into envelopes and marked with details of their manufacture. At the end of the year there are about 88,000 coins selected in this fashion and these are placed in boxes or Pyxes and brought to London in February. The Queen's Remembrancer swears in a jury of some 26 goldsmiths who are members of the Goldsmiths' Company and charges them with the trial of these coins which are counted, measured, weighed and assayed.
In April or May he returns to Goldsmiths' Hall to receive the Verdict of the Jury as to whether they have found the coins to be within the very strict limits permitted by the Coinage Act.
Nomination of High Sheriffs
He is also present and supervises the Nomination of High Sheriffs where he reads the Roll of those Nominated to Her Majesty the Queen as High Sheriffs for each of the counties of England and Wales (except Cornwall where the nomination is made by the Duke of Cornwall, and those for Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Lancastershire which are made by the Queen in Her role as the Duke of Lancaster).
The Roll is a continuous sheet of paper about 7 m long bearing the three names for each county put in Nomination by the Court on 12 November each year and submitted to the Queen at a meeting of the Privy Council the following February or March to prick the name of Her choice by means of a silver bodkin. By convention she pricks the first name on the Roll for each County.
Presentation of the Lord Mayor of London
On the occasion of the Presentation of the new Lord Mayor of London to the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls and other of Her Majesty's judges at the Royal Courts of Justice on Lord Mayor's Day, the Queen's Remembrancer administers to the Lord Mayor his Declaration of Office to faithfully perform the duties of Lord Mayor and this is inscribed on an illuminated vellum document which he and the Remembrancer sign.
Royal Forest of Dean
The Royal Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire was the main source of iron, coal and timber for the King up until the Civil Wars in 1642 -1649. During the Commonwealth the stocks of these materials were much depleted and King Charles II in 1668 ordered the King's Remembrancer, Lord Fanshaw, to appoint Commissioners to supervise the planting and management of the timber in the Forest to ensure that the King had a good supply of timber in particular so as to provide an adequate supply of oak for building the ships of the Royal Navy.
The Queen's Remembrancer still appoints Commissioners (16 in number) for this purpose and presides each year at the Speech House over their deliberations when they select the parts of the Forest to be inclosed and replanted each year and those parts to be reopened where the young trees are sufficiently mature for the enclosure fences to be removed.
If you would like any further information in relation to any of the above events or other work of the Queen's Remembrancer, please contact:
The Chief Clerk to the Queen's Remembrancer
The Queen's Remembrancers' Office
Royal Courts of Justice
Tel: 020 7073 4751