What was the Ragman Roll?

The Ragman Roll refers to one of two collections of documents which listed the names of the Scots men and women who promised fealty to Edward I of England;

  • the first (and smaller) of which was compiled between the meeting between Edward I and the Scottish nobility at Norham in May 1291 and the final award of the throne of Scotland to John Balliol in November 1292
  • the second and larger of which was compiled in the summer of 1296 whilst Edward I toured Scotland prior to the parliament held at Berwick-upon-Tweed in the August if that year

The term is more often than not used exclusively to referred to the second of the two. This consisted of four great rolls of parchment on which the great and the good of Scotland recorded their submission to Edward I and vowed to be faithful to the king of England. Andrew Tang the clerk of the diocese of York wrote down the names of each of the magnates who presented himself and each one fixed their seal to the document as evidence of solemn vow.

Although the original document has not survived a copy was preserved and is now kept at the Public Record Office in London. It remains of interest today as it identifies over 2,000 of the leading clerical and lay members of Scottish society at the end of the thirteenth century, a roll-call of the upper class if you will. (See http://www.rampantscotland.com/ragman/ for an alphabetical list of each individual who signed the Ragman Roll.)

Why was it called the Ragman Roll?

The derivation of the word 'ragman' is uncertain but a number of theories have been advances to explain the name.

I) The simple but obvious theory

Because each of the signatories attached their wax seals to the bottom of the document it took on a frayed or ragged appearance.

II) The taxman theory

That 'ragman' is derived from the so called Statute of Rageman or De Ragemannis named after one Rageman or Rigman, who was a papal legate of Scotland, who compiled an account of Scottish benificies so that they might all remit the correct amount of tax to Rome.

And hence the colloquial term for a tax collector became a 'ragman' and his tax list a 'ragman roll', and any document that contained a similar lsit of names was given the same name.

III) The medieval game theory

That there was a popular game current at the time, which consisted of writing a series of verses on a parchment roll each of which represented a specific character. To each verse a string was attached, with a piece of wax at the end. The players each pulled a string in turn to select a character whose persona they adopted for the evening.

The game was name after the lead character 'Rageman the Good' and the parchment roll was therefore called a 'Rageman Roll', and as the document compiled by Edward I resembled the playing equipment it took on the same name.

One thing is reasonably certain though, however it was that the 'Ragman Roll' got its name, in time the phrase 'ragman roll' developed a more general meaning and came to refer to any a complex and bureaucratic procedure and eventually mutated into the familiar word rigmarole.


Merriam-Webster online at

E. Cobham Brewer Dictionary of Phrase and Fable at

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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