14th January 1253.

From the 1200s certain British towns had been granted a fair, market and borough status with many sending Members to the nascent Parliament.

14th confirmation of  charter by Alexander III to Blackfriars awarded £10 from rents to Burgh of Dumbarton 21.10.1304.

 Confirmation of charter by Alexander III to Blackfriars awarded £10 from rents to Burgh of Dumbarton 21.10.1304.


Bestowed by local landowners or the monarch these medieval charters were in Latin and mainly written in a style called Chancery Hand.(1)

There were other ‘Hands’; the Charter of Henry I which confirmed land to the monks at Christ Church Canterbury, held from pre-Norman times, was written in Protogothic Book Hand, with text in Latin and English to avoid confusion.

One of the great landowning magnates was the de Ferrers Family who created many charters in Staffordshire including Uttoxeter which was created a borough in 1225 by de Ferrers 4th Earl of Derby.

The family’s territories were wide-spread as shown Today in 1253 when Bolton in Lancashire was granted a Charter by William the 5th Earl giving the right to operate a market and conferring borough status.

Whitwick in Leicestershire on the other hand was granted a market by a monarch, Edward I, in 1293.(2)

The term Charter was used with a specific or general implication and Royal Charters were the first form of legal document utilised by the Saxon kings, many of which were previously assumed by custom.

The concept particularly proliferated under the Normans with the growth of monastic institutions, and as landowners, who had come over with the Conqueror asserted their territorial rights.

Charters granted rights in perpetuity, or seemed so at the time, many confirmed grants by previous monarchs, many were forged. But what a monarch can grant he could confiscate, notably seen by the monastic dissolutions of Henry VIII.

Charter granted by King Aethelbald.

Charter granted by King Aethelbald.

The charter document began with a salutation (salutem), not unlike those found in St Paul’s Epistles in style. The part which specified the recipient and the nature of the document started with the word sciatus (let it be known). Finally we get ‘His t’(Testibus), which introduces the witnesses to the document.(3)

Charters were written on a single piece of parchment and delivered open and ratified by a seal appended by a strip of parchment. Royal seals were two-sided : on one side king and orb and sceptre; the other showed the king armed and mounted.(4)

Written in Latin, the question arises as to whether charters were read in that language or Norman French. No dates were seen on charters until the 12th century, indicating a lack of a central record keeping, in that dating is largely only useful in archiving.

(1a)  Italian Hand was so described to distinguish it from the cramped Gothic Chancery Hand. The Hand is a cursive script developed from Humanist Minuscule or Roman Hand.

(1b) Secretary Hand was developed in the early 16thc in English, Welsh and Gaelic,  at the time of Henry VII. Secretary Hand was easy to forge and Shakespeare’s will, written in that Hand, was to lead to problems of provenance.

(2a) Whitwick, Leicestershire was granted a charter on 6th June 1293.

(2b) British Library, Campbell Ch. XXI 6). Deed 36b (Pilkington Family of Lancs) refers to the Manor of Little Bolton being by right title of descent of Roger de Bolton through his son’s marriage to Ymayne daughter of Roger de Pilkington of Rovyngton.

The deed makes links between families of Bolton, of Little Bolton, and Pilkington and the family named after that town, later developed the glass industry in St. Helen’s, Lancashire.

(3) The nature of the grant was often vague [to us], beginning with expressions such as sac et soke and toll and team.

(4) Parchment tends to be a general term when using animal skin, whilst vellum came from calf or sheep skin from vitulinum, Old French velin (calf).

Ref: universityofglasgow.wordpress.com.

Ref: Pic Ref: wikipedia.org/anglo_saxon_charters_aethelbald_charter.

Ref: wikipedia.org/charters.

Ref: History of Bolton. local histories.org/bolton.

Ref: Borough Courts-medieval writing.

Ref: Royal Charters.medieval writing.

Ref:The ORB: on-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies. The-orb.net/medieval_terms.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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