Late last week I enrolled in this palaeography and medieval latin programme with Keele University and for the last four days I've been sweating like a scrivener in his dusty scriptorium. Only the classroom at Keele is not at all dusty and with all the rain pouring down every day, sweating only comes from working hours on end trying to figure out what some 700 year-old clerk wanted to express using words and scripts long fallen into disuse. What's even more puzzling, it's that ten people are sitting at a table doing script lines in turns when nobody really cares what the text says. I am one of them and I love doing it. Why? Don't ask me. It's a daunting undertaking: unless you make progress right from the first words on the first line of the text, you are doomed to stagnation. It's reassuring that Professor Jim Sutton is there to guide us through a whole world of question marks.
Every morning at 9:30 we sit around the L-shaped table jubilating about our fresh findings, either an "eidem" or a "sciant presentes". And when the whole sentence makes sense, either by having understood that this adjective goes dative and that noun ballistically ablative, we feel like in a septimus heaven, in the reign of King Edward, son of King Edward, in die Dominica. But most of the time it's freakishly difficult and the only way to make progress is to gape at the document fanatically without blinking. Eventually, either by imagination or sound reasoning (and I know whom I'm talking about when I say that), we get there, when Professor Sutton says, Game over, here's the transcription! We cling to that handout as though it were a trophy, which in many ways it is.
With all the coffee breaks at 10:45 and lunch breaks at 12:45, the text never breaks away from us. At the restaurant, which resembles a monastic refectory, the chat around the tables reverts to charters, deeds, wills, conjugations and the ablative unless Nigel, our prior, has some announcement to make.
I have translated below (and I mean translation in the latin sense of the word , which means "moved from one place to another", namely from my notebook to this post) a deed that we worked on earlier today in the "predicto modo".
You'll get a sense, whoever you are and whatever your interests, of what I'm forced to do from dawn to dusk. I'm joking. I've placed myself willfully under this yoke and I simply can't wait to do it tomorrow and the day after that.
Omnibus Christi fidelibus hoc presens scriptum visuris vel audituris Johannes Bagot dominus de Bromleye salutem in domino. Noveritis me dedisse et concessisse Willelmo filio Ade de Chapmon de Bromley totum boscum existentem in decem acris terre de bosco meo de Fenneshay videlicet stantem et Jacentem sicut mensuratis sunt et divise exceptis liberis arboribus ibidem cressentibus videlicet quercis frenis pomeriis mapeles cum liberis introitu et exitu et una porta versus Alberleye. Et etiam concessi eidem Willelmo quod possit capere turbas pro domo sua cooperiendo et terram pro furno suo faciendo in venella de Alberleye. Et etiam concessi eidem Willelmo spacium trium annorum ad predictam terram de predicto bosco de liberandam a die festi annunciationis beate Marie Anno Regni Regis Edwardi filii regis Edwardi nono. Et etiam concessi eidem Willelmo per tres annos predictos herbagium pro duobus equis in toto bosco meo de Fenneshay. Et etiam concessi eidem Willelmo quod in fine dicti termini possit capere domum quam ibidem fecerit et a dicto bosco cariare pro voluntate sua sine contradictione alicuius. In cuius rei testimonium huic scripto indentate sigillum meum apposuit. Datum die et anno supradicto.
Now here's the English translation:
To all faithful in Christ who shall see or hear this present writing John Bagot, lord of Bromley Bagotes, sends greeting in God. You will have known me to have given and to have granted to William, the son of Adam le Chapmon of Bromley all the wood (firewood) existing within ten acres of land of my wood of Fenneshay, namely standing and lying just as they are measured and defined, excepting free growing trees in the same place, namely of oak, ash, apple and maple, with free right of entry and exit and one gateway towards Alberleye, And also I have granted to the same William that he is able to take turves for thatching his house and earth for making his hearth in the lane of Alberleye, And also I have granted to the said William a span of three years to the aforesaid land with the freedom of the aforesaid wood from the feast-day of the annunciation of the blessed Mary in the ninth year of the Reign of King Edwardm son of King Edward. And also I have granted to the same William for the aforesaid three years grazing for two horses in the whole of my wood of Fenneshay, And also I have granted to the said William that at the end of the term he is able to take the house which he has built in the same place and to carry if from the said wood at his will without the objection of anyone. In witness of which thing I have placed my seal on this indented writing. Given the day and year above stated (Thursday, the 25th of March 1316)