1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fitz Neal, Richard

FITZ NEAL or (Fitz Nigel), RICHARD (d. 1198), treasurer of Henry II. and Richard I. of England, and bishop of London, belonged to a great administrative family whose fortunes were closely linked with those of Henry I., Henry II. and Richard I. The founder of the family was Roger, bishop of Salisbury, the great minister of Henry I. Before the death of that sovereign (1135) the care of the treasury passed from Roger to his nephew, Nigel, bishop of Ely (d. 1169), who held that office until the whole family were disgraced by Stephen (1139). Becoming a partisan of the empress, Nigel reaped his reward at the accession of her son, Henry II., who made him at first chancellor and then treasurer. Nigel’s son, Richard, who was born before his father’s elevation to the episcopate (1133), succeeded to the office of treasurer in 1158, and held it continuously for forty years. His name appears in the lists of itinerant justices for 1179 and 1194, but these are the only occasions on which he exercised that office. Before 1184 he became dean of Lincoln, and was in that year presented by the chapter of Lincoln among three select candidates for the vacant see. The king passed him over in favour of Hugh of Avalon, having resolved on this occasion to make a disinterested appointment. Richard I., however, rewarded the treasurer’s services with the see of London (1189).

Richard Fitz Neal is best remembered as an author. He lacked the broad statesmanship of his father and great-uncle; he avoided any connexion with political parties; he is only once mentioned as taking part in a debate of the Great Council (1193), and then spoke, in his character as a bishop, to support a royal demand for a special aid. But his work De necessariis observantiis Scaccarii dialogus, commonly called the Dialogus de Scaccario, is of unique interest to the historian. It is an account, in two books, of the procedure followed by the exchequer in the author’s time. Richard handles his subject with the more enthusiasm because, as he explains, the “course” of the exchequer was largely the creation of his own family. When read in connexion with the Pipe Rolls the Dialogus furnishes a most faithful and detailed picture of English fiscal arrangements under Henry II. The speakers in the dialogue are Richard himself and an anonymous pupil. The latter puts leading questions which Richard answers in elaborate fashion. The date of the conversation is given in the prologue as 1176–1177. This probably marks the date at which the book was begun; it was not completed before 1178 or 1179. Soon after the author’s death we find it already recognized as the standard manual for exchequer officials. It was frequently transcribed and has been used by English antiquarians of every period. Hence it is the more necessary to insist that the historical statements which the treatise contains are sometimes demonstrably erroneous; the author appears to have relied excessively upon oral tradition. But, as the work is only known to us through transcripts, it is possible that some of the blunders which it now contains are due to the misdirected zeal of editors. Richard Fitz Neal also compiled in his earlier years a register or chronicle of contemporary affairs, arranged in three parallel columns. This was preserved in the exchequer at the time when he wrote the Dialogus, but has since disappeared. Stubbs’ conjectural identification of this Liber tricolumnis with the first part of the Gesta Henrici (formerly attributed to Benedictus Abbas) is now abandoned as untenable.

See Madox’s edition in his History of the Exchequer (1769); and that of A. Hughes, C. G. Crump and C. Johnson (Oxford, 1902). F. Liebermann’s Einleitung in den Dialogus de Scaccario (Göttingen, 1875) contains the fullest account of the author.  (H. W. C. D.)