Partial cartulary online

I’ve just uploaded half of the manuscript I wrote about a couple of days ago (Luxembourg cartulary from the 14th century). It’s not final though as it needs some editing but the essential is there and the text is highly readable.

I will try to complete the manuscript by the end of next week. In the meanwhile stay put for more information about the ongoing project.

You can find and browse the manuscript by clicking on the “Cartulary” banner tab on the homepage.

Once the manuscript is open, I recommend going into fullscreen for a better experience. You can do that by clicking on the bottom left icon on the manuscript interface. You can click on the pages to zoom in. Don’t forget to flip the page, though… 😉

Link to the manuscript

Punishment for coin forgery in 15th century France

The counterfeiter is shown being boiled in this 15th c. manuscript from Toulouse. During the 14th and the 15th centuries, French kings effortlessly tried to reduce coin counterfeiting or “faux-monnayage” as the kingdom was expanding and the royal authority was being reinforced in the provinces.

Luxembourg chartulary to be digitised

I plan to digitise at my own expense and effort one of Luxembourg’s National Archive’s 13th century chartulary. The work will most probably begin this Thursday. Please come back to the WR to learn more about this ongoing project.

I will post more about the nature of this chartulary later this week as I have my hands full with university stuff right now.

Great collection of English charters

Great tidings for you all rejoicing historians!

I’ve just discovered this: Durham University’s medieval documents compilation website.

Now this is great! A place to have access to both the charter and the transcribed text. It goes without saying that this webpage promises to be of great help to the beginner paleographer and manuscript studies student.

There are only English charters available but they are remarkable by their quality and importance. Moreover, some charters feature a commentary from a historical and paleographical point of view.

However, this is a limited selection whose purpose is educational. I’m hoping for new additions in the near future.

Durham University went out of its way to provide the cyber-community with this great tool. The charters are sorted by year so it’s easy to see an evolution from the 11th to the 15th century in terms of structure, script, seal, etc.

A great website, once again, that I will be accessing heavily.

It should be noted that this website is largely similar to Sorbonne’s Theleme. For the French-speaking, the Theleme website is awesome. It takes transcribing and understanding all sorts of manuscrips (primarily French charters) to the heart. Highly recommended.

Champagne and Clairvaux abbey seals online. Charters too.

Sigillography enthusiasts will find this online resource both fun and useful. The French archives of the Aube department propose an online flash-based tool for showcasing the most famous medieval seals of the historical region of Champagne currently preserved in the departmental archives.

Under the name “Sceaux et usages de sceaux” (Seals and the usage of seals), this tool allows you to look for seals based on a series of criteria, such as geographical location (using an interactive high-quality map of historical Champagne) or keywords contained in the seal description.

More than a searching tool, this instrument also works as a great illustrated introduction to sigillography. Enough to give you a taste of the realm, it explains a great deal of elements that define a seal and scrutinizes most types of medieval sigilla.

The “Sceaux et usages de sceaux” is entirely in French and does not supply an English translation. This might dissuade some non French-speakers from using the website. I believe however that a dictionary and some very basic French skills are all it takes to enjoy this great tool.

For something more localized, the archives also feature a searching tool for 3672 seals from the famous abbey of Clairvaux currently indexed on their website. The files are greatly detailed and most have high-quality photos of the seals. It is a valuable tool for the historian.

But as my interest lies primarily in the manuscript area, I was happy to find out that most of the digitized seals come with the charters they were attached to. This is really something.

You can access the “Sceaux et usages de sceaux” online resource here

For the Clairvaux abbey seals, please click here . You will need to look for those files that contain an “eye” icon indicating there is a photo attached, most likely with the original document.

The formal structure of a medieval charter

All paleography and manuscript studies book note  how difficult transcribing charters and diplomas are as opposed to nice, smooth calligraphic books such as Bibles, treatises, books of hours, etc. However, such an effort is swiftly rewarded by an improved ability to decode almost all sorts of texts and documents.

There are many reasons why this exercise can often be bitter and they are all related to the script. The fact that the same scribes who wrote colorful books acted as secretaries and official court scribes and therefore wrote most of the charters and diplomas can be of little help and consolation for the beginner transcriber.

To make his job somewhat easier, I will present the elements that make up a royal charter (baronial and seigneurial as well to some extent) and try to work through the lines of England’s king Stephen’s Oxford charter (1136) to illustrate the structure of medieval charter production.

I shall begin by presenting the composing elements of a charter. Not all these elements appear in all charts but the more official a document is, the more it comes closer to this canonical structure.

Initial protocol



invocatio: invocation of the Diety, either by a symbolic chrismon or cross, or in words

narratio: background of the case

subscriptio: names of principal(s), witnesses and officials

intitulatio: name of individual issuing the charter

dispositio: what is enacted by the charter

datum: date clause, stating when, where and by whom he charter was written

inscriptio: name of individual(s) to whom charter is addressed

final clauses

marks of authentication: subscriptions, signatures, seal

salutatio: greeting



I will now try to pinpoint the elements in the transcribed text of king Stephen’s charter:

[INTITULATIO->] Ego Stephanus [INVOCATIO->] Dei gratia, [INSCRIPTIO->] assensu cleri et populi in regem Anglie electus, et a Willelmo Cantuariensi archiepiscopo et sancte Romane ecclesie legato consecratus, et ab Innocentio sancte romane sedis pontifice postmodum confirmatus, [SALUTATIO->] respectu et amore Dei sanctam ecclesiam liberam esse concedo, et debitam reverentiam illi confirmo. [NARRATIO->] Nichil me in ecclesia vel rebus ecclesiasticis simoniace acturum vel permissurum esse promitto. Ecclesiasticarum personarum et omnium clericorum et rerum eorum justiciam et potestatem et distributionem bonorum ecclesiasticorum in manu episcoporum esse perhibeo et confirmo. Dignitates ecclesiarum privilegiis earum confirmatas et consuetudines earum antiquo tenore habitas inviolate manere statuo et concedo. Omnes ecclesiarum possessiones et tenuras, quas die illa habuerunt qua Willelmus rex avus meus fuit vivus et mortuus, sine omni calumpniantium reclamatione, eis liberas et absolutas esse concedo. Si quid vero de habitis vel possessis ante mortem ejusdem regis quibus modo careat, ecclesia deinceps repetierit, indulgentie et dispensationi mee vel restituendum vel discutiendum reservo. Quecunque vero post mortem ipsius regis liberalitate regum vel largitione principum, oblatione vel comparatione, vel qualibet transmutatione fidelium eis collata sunt, confirmo. Pacem et justiciam me in omnibus facturum et pro posse meo conservaturum eis promitto.

Forestas quas Willelmus avus meus et Willelmus avunculus meus instituerunt et habuerunt mihi reservo. Ceteras omnes quas rex Henricus superaddidit, ecclesiis et regno quietas reddo et concedo.

[DISPOSITIO->] Si quis episcopus vel abbas vel alia ecclesiastica persona ante mortem suam rationabiliter sua distribuerit vel distribuenda statuerit, firmum manere concedo. Si vero morte preoccupatus fuerit, pro salute anime ejus, ecclesie consilio, eadem fiat distributio. Dum vero sedes propriis pastoribus vacue fuerint, ipsas et earum possessiones omnes in manu et custodia clericorum vel proborum hominum ejusdem ecclesie committam, donec pastor canonice substituatur.

[FINAL CLAUSE->] Omnes exactiones et injusticias et mescheningas sive per vicecomites vel per alios quoslibet male inductas funditus exstirpo. Bonas leges et antiquas et justas consuetudines in murdris et placitis et aliis causis observabo et observari precipio et constituo. Hec omnia concedo et confirmo, salva regia et justa dignitate mea.

[SUBSCRIPTIO->] Testibus Willelmo Cantuariensi archiepiscopo, et Hugone Rothomagensi archiepiscopo, et Henrico Wintoniensi episcopo, et Rogero Saresberiensi episcopo, et Alexandro Lincolniensi episcopo, et Nigello Eliensi episcopo, et Evrardo Norwicensi episcopo, et Simone Wigorniensi episcopo, et Bernardo episcopo de S. Davide, et Audoeno Ebroicensi episcopo, et Ricardo Abrincensi episcopo, et Roberto Herefordiensi episcopo, et Johanne Rovecestriensi episcopo, et Athelulfo Carlolensi episcopo, et Rogero cancellario, et Henrico nepote Regis, et Roberto comite Gloecestrie, et Willelmo comite de Warenna, et Rannulfo comite Cestrie, et Rogero comite de Warewic., et Roberto de Ver., et Milone de Gloecestria, et Brientio filio Comitis, et Roberto de Oilly conestabulis, et Willelmo Martello, et Hugone Bigot, et Hunfredo de Buhun, et Simone de Belcamp dapiferis, et Willelmo de Albiniaco, et Eudone Martello pincernis, et Roberto de Ferreriis, et Willelmo Pevrello de Notingeham, et Simone de Saintliz, et Willelmo de Albamarla, et Pagano filio Johannis, et Hamone de Sancto Claro, et Ilberto de Laceio. Apud Oxeneford. [DATUM->]Anno ab incarnatione Domini M.C. XXXVI., set regni mei primo. [Following signature and seal]

At times, the invocatio may be absent, like this 14th century “lettre de rémission” delivered by the king of France, Charles V to a certain Guiot the Fair: the document reads: “Charles etcetera…”. Even the intitulatio is abridged. The seal and the signature nonetheless show the letter is royal in nature and gives impunity to the formerly convicted Guiot.

What remains constant however is the presence of the narratio and dispositio since these two elements constitute the substance of any official document.