bursar, or dispenser

Latin, dispensator.

The bursar, 'perhaps the forerunner of the household steward' (Mason, 'Barons and their officials', page 253), was an officer in the royal household, and later in the households of the higher nobility; the bursar was commonly of noble stock in this period.

Like most household offices, that of bursar ultimately derives from the Carolingian court; but their recorded history in England goes back only to Domesday Book. The office itself, however, was older than that since Domesday refers to one of King Edwards bursars (BRK 41,6). In Domesday Book, Robert the bursar, brother of Urso of Abetot, the notorious sheriff of Worcestershire, was an important landowner, with manors in half-a dozen counties.

The office of bursar is one of the few later medieval sergeantries whose fee can be traced back to Domesday Book. J.H. Round has shown that the holding of Robert son of Thurstan in Great Rollright, Oxfordshire (OXF 58,4), was a dispenser fee from 1086 (or earlier) down to Tudor times.

For further information, see L.M. Larson, The king's Household in England before the Norman Conquest (1904); J.H. Round, The king's sergeants and officers of state with their coronation services (1911); John F.A. Mason, 'Barons and their officials in the later eleventh century', Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 13 (1991), pages 243-62; and David Crouch, The image of aristocracy in Britain, 1000-1300 (1992).