Funding for the Methods Network ended March 31st 2008. The website will be preserved in its current state.

The Henry III Fine Rolls Project

There is a fine roll for each of the fifty-six years of Henry III's reign and the current project aims to publish those from 1216 to 1248. (further funding will be sought to publish the rolls to the end of Henry’s reign) The fine rolls contain offers of money to the king for a multiplicity of concessions and favours, as well as a great deal of other material. They are of the first importance for the study of political, governmental, legal, social, and economic history.

The project is the result of close co-operation between the National Archives and the History Department and Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London. The rolls are held by the National Archives (series C 60).

The project was funded under the AHRC’s Resource Enhancement Scheme from 2005-2008.

This case study took the form of a recorded interview with Harold Short and David Carpenter. Contributions were also made by Paul Spence, Paul Vetch and Arianna Ciula.

The Project

Aims and Objectives

The aim of the current project is to make the fine rolls accessible by publishing this resource online and making it freely available to as wide an audience as possible. The rolls are all being translated into English and encoded so that they may be indexed and searched in the most flexible and productive way. All materials will be made available via the project’s website.

High-quality digitised images of the rolls will accompany the translated and encoded text and will allow a user to look through the rolls membrane by membrane, zoom in on a particular entry or part of an entry, and move between translation and image. It is hoped that this will also enable more detailed study of how the rolls were written and compiled.

Fig. 1. Screenshot of 'Heads and Headings' page from project website.

The rolls are also being published in book form (Boydell & Brewer). The electronic and book versions of the resource serve allied needs. Those involved in searching for many entries will make use of the electronic version, but those wishing to check a particular entry or put an entry into context may well prefer the printed volumes. The form of reference is the same whichever version is used.

Could you outline how the various standards and technologies used in the project are applied?

TEI compliant XML encoding is among the key technologies used in the project. The project also employs an ontological approach to its encoding strategy and structures, using the RDF/OWL technology that underpins the semantic web.

After the initial analysis of the project materials editorial structures are developed. These allow the materials to be interrelated and appropriate guidelines are developed as required. This type of iterative interaction in terms of how standards are applied and technologies developed continues throughout the project. Even now there are still changes and modifications being made in order to meet the needs of the project researchers.

The project began with a long period of analysis and discussion involving both the research team and the CCH technical advisory team. This proved one of the most stimulating and engaging parts of the project as all parties: the Principal Investigator; the Research Staff; and Technical Research Associates all gained from each other’s input and experience. For the historians, looking at the source materials through a completely new and comparatively rigid perspective was initially quite challenging, but the ensuing interactive and iterative method of developing a design for the project was a positive and exciting process.

As mentioned above the project aims to produce an online as well as a print publication and the project team aim to make the best use of the tools that are known to be available, or that can be constructed to meet the research demand of the research team.

What is the value of the ontological approach to the Fine Rolls data?

Ontologies are being used to develop authority tables in relation to persons, places and subjects. The key reason for doing this is that developing an authority table using such methods allows a level of independence from the source materials. The authority tables are based on the source materials and are linked to all relevant parts of these materials helping to identify people and places in common. It is of course of fundamental importance to have a very clear structure for the way in which each item is described.

Fines, in brief, were offers of money to the King for concessions and favours. An example that occurs numerous times in the rolls is that of a widow who makes an offer of money to the King in order to protect herself from being forced to marry against her will. It is important to decide exactly how such data should be encoded and how it should be described, as similar information could be phrased in many different ways in the fine rolls. A word search would not be a fully effective means of retrieval of similar examples as it would call up some fines but not others. It is therefore important to establish a fixed method by which appropriate elements, derived from each fine, would always be described in an authority list so that all fines may be indexed appropriately.

Something worth highlighting with respect to the pseudo-independent authority tables is that they could also be applied to other projects concerned with thirteenth-century history – a sort of ready-reference which could be used as a guide at the point of initiating a project. The technologies at the heart of the semantic web facilitate data interchange between projects; they could potentially support an integrated model where different project needs could be satisfied and where alternative or complementary interpretations could co-exist, enriching the current range and depth of digital resources available for the historian.

It should also be noted that this project is the first (as far as is known) example of applying an ontological approach to this type of historical material. When CCH research staff Paul Spence and Arianna Ciula gave a presentation about this work (co-written by José Miguel Vieira and Gautier Poupeau) at the 2007 Digital Humanities Conference, it attracted a great deal of interest and attention. (see: 'Expressing Complex Associations in Medieval Historical Documents: the Henry III Fine Rolls Project') An aspect that was of particular interest was the complementary relationship between the ontological data and the XML encoding.

Are you able to demonstrate how research in this field (or related fields) has been advanced or will be advanced by such an approach?

One of the key features in the way that the fine rolls are being published is that it will represent a gigantic saving of time. In the ‘old days’, before the rolls were even published in book form, research would have taken days if not weeks. When available in book form, research would still have been time consuming; there are fifty six rolls, each of which could hold up to 40,000 words.

To return to the example given earlier, a user would key the term ‘widows’ into the search facility, match this to fines and then call up all appropriate references in the fine rolls. The former work of days or weeks reduced to a matter of seconds!

History MA students at Kings have been able to carry out research that previously would have been impossible at this level, given the amount of time an MA student has available. King’s College History students are strongly encouraged to use the resource and to contribute to the ‘fine of the month’ featured on the project website. (an added incentive to take part in this is a prize for the best ‘fine of the month’)

One student has looked at a particular revision of the Magna Carta and found evidence of the practice of this revision in the fine rolls. One of the provisions of the revised Magna Carta was that the king’s judges would be accompanied in their visits to each county by four knights of the county in order to hear cases. The ‘fine of the month’ for March by MA student Julie Kanter, drawing on the patent rolls and the fine rolls, presents entirely new information about the 'Four Knight' commissions to hear petty assizes in the years between 1218 and 1232.

Research is also being advanced in other areas of historical studies and also in respect of the computational aspects. The project has attracted a great deal of interest from other projects and researchers.

Could you provide any examples of the type and depth of search etc. that might be possible?

The best examples are those showing relationships with people, as this demonstrates the strengths of the ontological approach. The diagram below, for example, represents the complex range of associations that a person, in this case ‘Christiana, the widow of Henry Luvel’, may be identified as having with other persons or subjects contained within the Fine Rolls. (the diagram was created using the interactive visualization tool Jambalaya)

Given the granularity of the concepts included in the ontological model, such a search could be refined further, in order to identify specific connections. Connections between people, such as professional or family relations may be searched for. Relationships between places, for example all the abbeys mentioned in the fine rolls that are located in a particular county, could be found. Relationships between subjects and people may also be explored, for instance 'marriage' and 'women'. In fact, any combination within the specified concepts may be explored.

The ontological approach also allows an overall perspective on the resource. For example, the distribution of specific kinds of relationships may be presented for analysis by the scholar, offering a wider view of the historical source as a whole and on its context.

Fig 2. Network of associations for 'Christiana, widow of Henry Luvel'

From the brief project outline it is apparent that this resource is of value across a range of humanities disciplines. Could you highlight any examples that demonstrate this value?

In general the fine rolls are of interest to a range of historical disciplines: legal, social, political, cultural etc. and in this sense it may be seen to be a very cross-disciplinary project. There is also a great deal of interest in the project among amateur historians. One of the groups that are particularly interested are family historians – 65% of the users of the National Archive are individuals researching family history. Obviously though, the fine rolls won’t provide much on recent family histories!

People are invited to contribute to the Fine of the Month section (which may refer to multiple fines or anything of research interest in the rolls such as for example, taxation or local government) but they also take the initiative to do this themselves. As mentioned earlier there is also an open competition for the best fine!

Would you ever consider a wiki-based approach to such commentary, or an annotational approach?

There is a comment form on the website so people can offer feedback and this works well for the project at this time. A wiki-based system would have to be moderated and there are not the resources to commit to this.

Annotation is something that may well be discussed at a future stage. At CCH we are using tools of this kind in projects such as the Online Chopin Variorum Edition. This project has developed an annotation mechanism, which allows users to access scholarly commentary on the resource. It is now beginning to explore the potential for user interaction, allowing users to organise their annotations using either supplied categories or by creating their own ‘tags’ – a mechanism which will be broadly familiar to people who read or maintain weblogs. The user/group model supporting this process allows annotations to be created which may be viewed just by the creator or which may be made available to any website visitor. Users may also annotate the scholarly critical commentary created by the project’s research team and it is hoped that such contributions will allow the project to take on a life of its own once the funded period has ended.

Annotation tools are obviously extremely useful, and this community-enabled approach possesses interesting potential for longer term sustainability, allowing web resources to foster committed user communities willing to spend time actively maintaining and working with them.

Did you apply existing tools to the development of this resource or did you modify or create new tools in order to achieve the project objectives?

Some existing tools, such as the open source tool Protégé were used. Protégé allows project researchers to edit the ontology, perform search queries and visualize the data.

xMod (The TEI-compliant web publishing module that has been developed by CCH for research projects over several years) is the basis of the XML publication.

The use of TEI-compliant XML allows information to be represented as it appears in the rolls themselves. However to express more complex relationships such as multiple references to the same person or place or variant spellings an ‘ontological’ approach, as mentioned earlier, was developed. This provides a structure that represents the entities such as people, places or subjects that are mentioned in the rolls and allows the complex relationships that exist between these entities to be explored and scholarly judgements about their interconnections to be modelled. To this end technologies more commonly associated with the semantic web (RDF/OWL) and with knowledge representation in the cultural heritage sector (CIDOC CRM) were explored.

What future technical developments might you consider?

The project would certainly consider the use of maps as navigation and search tools and aids for display. For example there are fines given where permission is sought to start a new market. It could be very interesting to look at the geographical distribution of such fines. This type of search is of course already possible to a certain extent, but mapping would allow for further refinements and possibilities.

The project also plans to refine the relationship between text and image on the website, allowing each translated entry to link directly to the corresponding section of the high quality digital facsimile.

The ontological model lends itself particularly to the visual presentation of search results, so alternative visualization of such data is also something that we would wish to explore further.

What might you have done differently with regard to the development of the project as a whole if you were beginning now?

A difficult question. Changes of mind were the most time-consuming element! It is essential to have the clearest idea possible about how indexes are to be approached and how place names should be rendered. Fundamentally very clear lines of authority and decision making are required. It is easy to consider the purpose and intention of a project of this kind in theory, but the practicalities are far more complex, especially when not all those involved are familiar with the nature of the material. To give an example, at one point in the early stages of the project, all women were listed under their Christian names or under the name of their husband. This was a simple misunderstanding, but it shows how easy it is to veer off track.

It is essential to find a practical model for effective workflow and to have strong decision points. A model project would also need to have the active involvement of the Principal Investigator in all aspects of its development. A strong and interested Advisory Committee is also essential. The Henry III Fine Rolls Project was fortunate in both of these.

What plans do you have for the long-term sustainability and maintenance of this resource?

The same framework that produces the digital resource is also used to create the print editions, allowing material for both outputs to be maintained in a single place, saving duplication of effort and minimising the effects of human error.

The electronic project is sustainable for at least the next 10 – 15 years as it has, in keeping with the policy of CCH, made use of recognised Open Source software in all areas of its technical development. Ideally the electronic resource would eventually reside with the National Archive. The book publication will provide a permanent record of the project’s work.

Materials, Tools and Methods

Source Material

The Henry III Fine Rolls, the National Archive, Kew (series C60).

Data Formats Created


Subject Domain

History Content Type Text, image.


TEI; OWL; RDF; CIDOC; xMod; Protégé.

Method Categories

Data Analysis; Data Capture; Data Publishing and Dissemination; Data Structuring and Enhancement.

Project Website

The Henry III Fine Rolls Project:

Other useful links

The National Archives:

The Centre for Computing in the Humanities:

Online Chopin Variorum Edition:

Staff and Advisors

Department of History, King’s College London

Principal Staff

  • David Carpenter, History Department, King’s College London (Project Director)
  • David Crook, The National Archives (Project co-Director)
  • Sean Cunningham, The National Archives
  • Aidan Lawes, The National Archives

Other staff members

  • Paul Dryburgh
  • Beth Hartland
  • Polly Hanchett (first year of project)
  • Jonathan Mackman (additional editorial work)
  • Ben Wild (additional editorial work)

Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London, University of London

Project Co-director

  • Harold Short

Technical Director

  • Paul Spence

Current Project Team

  • Zaneta Au (web application development)
  • Arianna Ciula (lead analysis)
  • Eleonora Litta Modignani Picozzi (web support)
  • Tamara Lopez (image processing and print-ready copy)
  • Paul Vetch (lead interface development)
  • José Miguel Vieira (lead web application development)
  • Raffaele Viglianti (web support)

Other contributors: John Bradley (general consultancy); Gerhard Brey (consultancy on image processing); Damien Doherty (visual design); Simon Mahony (image processing); Richard Palmer (server setup); Artemis Papakostouli (markup); Gautier Poupeau (consultancy on ontologies); Simon Tanner (consultancy on digitisation and quality assurance).

Additional Members of the Project co-ordination team: Dr Louise Wilkinson (Christ Church Canterbury) Aidan Lawes (TNA) Sean Cunningham (TNA)

AHDS Methods Taxonomy Terms

This item has been catalogued using a discipline and methods taxonomy. Learn more here.


  • History
  • Law


  • Data Analysis - Record linkages
  • Data Analysis - Searching/querying
  • Data publishing and dissemination - Cataloguing / indexing
  • Data publishing and dissemination - Digital aerial photography
  • Data publishing and dissemination - Website design
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Markup/text encoding - descriptive - conceptual
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Markup/text encoding - descriptive - document structure
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Markup/text encoding - descriptive - linguistic structure
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Markup/text encoding - descriptive - nominal
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Markup/text encoding - presentational
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Markup/text encoding - referential