Auditor of the imprests

Auditor of the Imprests was a profitable office of the Exchequer, responsible for auditing the accounts of officers of the English crown to whom money was issued for government expenditure, from 1559 to 1785.


Prior to 1559 this duty was carried out, sometimes by auditors specially appointed, at other times by the auditors of the land revenue, or by the auditor of the exchequer, an office established as early as 1314. But in 1559 an endeavour was made to systematize the auditing of the public accounts, by the appointment of two auditors of the imprests.[1]


Substantial sums of money had to be issued to officers such as the Treasurer of the Navy and the Paymaster-General of HM Forces. The auditors were responsible for seeing that these officers expended the money issued to them for the purposes intended.

The system operated was defective. The auditors did not audit the actual expenditure of the departments administering the army and navy. Nor was there any mechanism for ensuring that accounts were presented and passed promptly. Indeed the system actually encouraged abuses. The officers accounting frequently had large sums of money in hand, which they were able to invest until it needed to be spent. Thus a person no longer in office, but with a balance in hand had no incentive to pay it back in to the Exchequer. Furthermore, an ancient Statute (51 Henry III, c.5) required that accounts should be cleared in order. This meant that work on auditing a later officer's account could not even begin until that of his predecessor had received its acquittance (Quietus).

The result was that Henry Fox (Lord Holland from 1763), who had been Paymaster-General of Forces between 1757 and 1765 did not have his accounts audited until 1778, 23 years later, during which time he was estimated to have received £250,000 in interest.[2]

Remuneration and tenure

The auditors were paid by fees. This made the offices extremely profitable.[2] In 1703, the office had a salary of £300, but the fees were worth at least £700 more.[3] Its value is demonstrated by the need to pay £7000 compensation to John Stuart, Lord Mount Stuart when the office was abolished in 1784.[4]

Until the end of the 17th century, auditors were appointed for life by letters patent. During the 17th century reversionary grants of the office were sometimes made. However Edward Harley and most subsequent auditors only held office during pleasure, though in practice, it amounted to the same thing.


By 1745, the office was a sinecure, where all the work was undertaken by the auditor's deputies. In the 1780s, the Commissioners for Examining the Public Accounts 'able to discover ... any solid Advantage derived to the Public from the Examination given to ... [the public accounts] by the Auditor of Imprests, and, for that Reason, we have suggested the Propriety of exempting them from his Jurisdiction, and the urgent Necessity of relieving the Nation from so heavy, and, to all Appearance, so unnecessary an Expense'.[5]


During the American War of Independence, the government came under great pressure to ensure that its revenue was properly spent, particularly curbing Civil list expenditure. This led to the passing in 1782 of an Act concerning the office of Paymaster-General and a Civil Establishments Act (22 Geo. III, c.81 - The Paymaster General Act 1782 - and c.82 - The Civil List and Secret Service Money Act 1782 (also known as Burke's Civil Establishment Act)),[6] the latter abolishing 134 sinecures in the Royal Household. The following year acts required balances to be deposited in the Bank of England. These officers were paid by fee and did their work by deputy, and a further 144 sinecures abolished. This movement ended with the abolition of the auditors of the imprests in 1785 and their replacement by five Commissioners for Auditing the Public Accounts.[2]

List of auditors

DateIn reversionOneIn reversionTwo
1560 John Coddenham John Hamby
1570 William Dodington
1573 John Conyers[7]
1595 Charles Wednester
1597 Sir Francis Gofton.[8]
16041600Sir Richard Sutton
16281621Sir Ralph Freeman[9]
1632 John Worfield (to 1643)
1634 1632 George Bingley (died 1656)
16501641Bartholomew Beale (died 1674)
16601640John Wood
16701643Robert Wilde
1672 Brook Bridges
1674 May1672Francis Godolphin
1674 Sep Roger Twisden
1675 Sir Richard Langley
1677 Thomas Done
1703 Edward Harley[10]
1705 Arthur Mainwaring[11] (died 1712)
1713 Thomas Foley
17351717 William Benson[12]
1737 1720William Aislabie
1754 Lewis Watson, 1st Baron Sondes[13]
1781 1781 John Stuart, Lord Mount Stuart[4]


  1.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Audit and Auditor". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. 1 2 3 W. Funnell, 'The "Proper Trust of Liberty": economical reform, the English constitution and the protections of accounting during the American War of Independence', Accounting History, February 2008 .
  3. David W Hayton et al., The House of Commons, 1690-1715 (Cambridge University Press for History of Parliament Trust), 236.
  4. 1 2 Roland Thorne, ‘Stuart, John, first marquess of Bute (1744–1814)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008) accessed 5 May 2008
  5. Funnell, citing E. Cohen, The Growth of the British Civil Service 1780-1939 (London: Frank Cass and Co.1965), p.37
  6. Chester (1981) The English Administrative System 1780-1870 pp.125-8
  7. R. B. Outhwaite, 'The Price of Crown Land at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century', Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 20, No. 2, (Aug., 1967), p.231n. subscription required
  8. L. H. Holt, 'Ben Jonson's Volpone' Modern Language Notes, Vol. 20, No. 6, (Jun., 1905), p. 164 (citing Stow's Annales from 1604-5) subscription required.
  9. Victoria County History, Surrey III (1911)
  10. David W Hayton et al. The House of Commons, 1690-1715 (Cambridge University Press for History of Parliament Trust), pp. 236-9
  11. Theophilus Cibber, The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2008-05-03.; The Tatler, Volume 1, 1899 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-18. Retrieved 2008-05-03.
  12. D. Lysons, The Environs of London: volume 1 (1792) ; Survey of London 39
  13. North American Studies Group Archived February 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
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