Baron of the Exchequer

The Barons of the Exchequer, or barones scaccari, were the judges of the English court known as the Exchequer of Pleas. The Barons consisted of a Chief Baron of the Exchequer and several puisne (i.e. puny or junior) Barons. Together they sat as a court of common law, heard suits in the Court of equity, and settled revenue disputes. A puisne baron was styled "Mr Baron X" and the chief baron as "Lord Chief Baron X".

They were originally the same judges as those of the Court of King's Bench, only becoming independent positions after the Exchequer's separation from the curia regis.[1] In the early years of the Exchequer's existence, the Barons were the chief auditors of the accounts of England, a role passed to dedicated auditors during the reign of Edward II.[2] With the Exchequer's expansion during the Tudor era, the Barons became more important; where previously only the Chief Baron had been appointed from the Serjeants-at-Law, with the other Barons mere barristers, it became practice for all Barons of the Exchequer to be Serjeants. This further increased the Exchequer's standing, since for the first time it put the Exchequer at the same level as the Court of Common Pleas and Court of King's Bench, where all judges were already required to be Serjeants.[3]

From 1550 to 1579, there was a major distinction between the chief baron and the second, third and fourth puisne barons. The difference was in social status and education. All of the chief barons had been trained as lawyers in the inns of court. With the exception of Henry Bradshaw and Sir Clement Higham, both barristers-at-law, all of the chief barons who served Queen Elizabeth I, had attained the highest and most prestigious rank of a lawyer, serjeant-at-law.


By 1272, individuals were nominated to the office of Baron of the Exchequer from time to time. From 1278, there were three Barons, with a fourth being appointed in 1296 and a fifth in 1299. By 1308, one of the Barons was recognised as Chief Baron. From then until 1478, it was recognised that there should be four puisne Barons. One was frequently named as Second Baron and rarely appointments were named as Third Baron and Fourth Baron. From then until 1547, the three puisne Barons were always appointed to numbered offices, but in 1549, Edward Saxleby as successor to John Darnall was merely appointed as 'one of the Barons of the Exchequer'. However, he and his successors held the office of Cursitor Baron. An additional Baron was appointed in 1604. The number of puisnes generally remained at three until the 19th century, but there was a fourth from 1708 to 1725 due to John Smith having leave of absence to attend to the office of a Baron of the Scottish Exchequer. A fourth puisne Baron was appointed in 1830 and a fifth in 1868.[4]

Puisne Barons

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  1. Thomas (1848) p.3
  2. Thomas (1848) p.9
  3. Guth (2008) p.151
  4. Sir John Sainty (comp.) The Judges of England, 1272-1990: a list of the judges of the Superior courts (Selden Society: Supplementary Series 1993, 10), 103-6.
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