15. CHARTERS AND WRITS

(A) Offa, king of Mercia: Grant to Worcester Cathedral (741-96)

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who reigns throughout all time! I, Offa. for the health of my soul and the souls of my relatives after my death and the soul of my son Egfrith, give to [the church of] Worcester this land at Westbury with all that lawfully pertains to it: namely, sixty hides, and in another place, at Hanbury, twenty hides. [And this land is] lawfully to remain with the same endowment of liberty in all things as when King Aethelbald earlier bestowed it on my grandfather, Eanulf.... In the name of Almighty God we command that it shall be free from all power of kings and princes, or of their subordinates, with the exception of these dues, that is to say, the rent (gafol)[1] at Westbury: two tuns of clear ale, a coomb of mild ale, a coomb of Welsh ale, seven oxen, six wethers, forty cheeses, ...[2] thirty ambers of rye corn, and four ambers of meal at the king's manor (ad regalem vicum). This, with the advice and consent of my prelates and counsellors, has accordingly been determined by firm covenant: no royal, princely, or secular official shall in the future, by demands great or small, either through force or through requisition, exact anything from them on account of [this] our inheritance, with the sole exception of what is specified in this present charter.

These are the witnesses....[3]

(Latin and Anglo-Saxon) Thorpe, Diplomatarium, pp. 39 f.

(B) Aethelred, Alderman of Mercia: Grant to the Monastery of Berkeley (883)

... Wherefore I, Aethelred, alderman, by the heartening grace of God endowed and enriched with a portion of the Mercian realm,[4 ]for love of God, for the remission of my guilt and sin, for the prayers of the abbot and the congregation [of monks] at Berkeley, and on behalf of all Mercia, free them forever of the gafol which they still have to pay into the king's hand, [namely,] from that part of the king's feorm[5] that has remained obligatory, whether in clear ale, in beer, in honey, in cattle, in swine, or in sheep. And this I have done for the sake of their godly prayers, and also because they have granted to me in perpetuity a certain portion of their land, that is to say, twelve hides at Stoke. Furthermore, they have given me 30 mancuses of gold[6] so that I shall also free the monastery from all dues (gafolum) to which the lord of the people[7] is entitled, great or small, known or unknown, except simple compensation (angilde) to others,[8] and except repair of fortresses (faestengewerce), military service (fyrdsocne), and repair of bridges (brycggeweorce).[9] And this I do with the leave and witness of King Alfred, and with [the counsel of] all the Mercian witan, both clergy and laity.

Now, moreover, I give that same land at Stoke — namely, twelve hides — to Cynulf, son of Ceoluht, for 60 mancuses of pure gold, to be free of all obligations toward king or alderman or reeve: [that is to say,] of every burden, great or small, except military service, repair of fortresses, repair of bridges, and simple compensation to others, with naught out for wite. And we enjoin that no one, either relative or stranger, shall in any way rob [Cynulf][10] of it as long as he lives, for he has deserved it of the Mercian lords through righteous submission [to them].

And we now, in the name of Almighty God, command that this immunity for the monastery of Berkeley, as described above, and also the gift of land which we grant to Cynulf for three men's lives, shall continue unimpaired on this condition, that on the death of Cynulf and his two heirs, without any controversy, the twelve hides of land at Stoke are to be given in perpetual alms to the episcopal see of Worcester on behalf of Aethelred, alderman, and of all the Mercians. Also we beg and implore in the name of the Holy Trinity that, if there should be any man who with evil intent violates aught that is written in this charter, he may know that he does so to the displeasure of God and of all His saints, as well as of all men, both clerical and lay, who can think or will anything rightful; and that he shall make amends before the throne of the Eternal Judge if he has not already [in his lifetime] done so with just reparation to God and man.

Now this munificent grant was made in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 883 ... by the consent and attestation of the witnesses whose names are here noted....[11]

This land, moreover, is bounded by the following bounds: first from Hazlewell in Hazledean, then to Woldeswell; from Woldeswell to Sweordes Stone in Ewcombe; from Ewcombe to Avon's stream; from Avon's stream again up, then to Ridgeley; from Ridgeley then to Penpau; from Penpau then to Severn's stream; from Hazlewell again, then to Leadgedelf; from Leadgedelf to Millpool; from Millpool again to Avon's stream.

(Latin and Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., pp. 129 f.

(C) Aethelred, Alderman of Mercia, and his Witan: Confirmation of a Title to Land (896)

Under the dominion of the Saviour Christ our Lord. After 896 winters had passed since His birth, then, in that year, ... Aethelred, alderman, called together all the Mercian witan at Gloucester — bishops, aldermen, and all his magnates — and this he did with the leave and witness of King Alfred. And there they took counsel how, in the sight both of God and of the world, they could most justly rule their people; and [how they] could right [the wrongs of] many men, whether clerical or lay, whether in the matter of their lands or of other things that had been withheld from them.

Then Bishop Werferth complained to the witan that he had been deprived of nearly all the woodland belonging to Woodchester, which King Aethelbald had given to [the church of] Worcester in perpetual alms, [namely,] to Bishop Wilferth for mast and wood; and he said that, so far as he could tell, some of it had been taken at Bisley, some at Avening, some at Sherston, and some at Thornbury. Then all the witan declared that right should be done to this church as well as to any other. Whereupon Aethelwald at once announced that he would not hinder justice, saying that Bishops Aldberht and Alhhun had earlier been [concerned] about the same [matter], and promising that he would do his part in giving right to every church. So, with the utmost graciousness, he yielded to the bishop and bade his geneat,[12] named Ecglaf, ride with a priest of the Worcestermen (ceastersetna), named Wulfhun. And he then led him along all the bounds, while he read them to him from the old charters,[13] as King Aethelbald had earlier bounded that [woodland] in his grant. Then Aethelwald expressed the wish that the bishop and the [episcopal] household would kindly allow him to enjoy [the use of] it while he lived and [grant the same privilege] to Alhmund, his son; [so that] they might hold it by lease (laen) of [the bishop] and his household, and neither of them, during the time that God gave them [to live], would ever deprive [the bishop] of the mast to which he was entitled at Longridge. And Aethelwald then solemnly declared that only to the displeasure of God should any one but the lord of the church have that [woodland], saving [the rights of] Alhmund; and this only on condition that the latter should hold the same friendly relation with the bishop as he [himself] now held. If, however, it should happen that Alhmund did not hold that friendly relation, or if it should be proved that he was not worthy of the land, or, thirdly, if his end should come, that then the lord of the church should take his land.

Thus the Mercian witan decided in the assembly, directing the [present] record concerning the land [to be drawn up] for him.[14 ]And this was done by the witness of Aethelred the alderman and Aethelflaed;[15] of Aethulf the alderman, Aethelferth the alderman, Alhelm the alderman, Eadnoth, Alfred, Werferth, Aethelwald the priest, and of his own kinsmen, Aethelstan and Aethelhun, as well as of his own son, Alhmund.

And thus the priest of the Worcestermen rode it,[16] and with him Aethelwald's geneat: first to Gemythley, and thence to Rodborough itself; thence to Smechcombe; thence to Sugley; thence to Hardley, [for which] there is another name, Dryganley; so to Nailsworth the smaller, and so to Aethelferth's land. Thus did Aethelwald's man show him the bounds as the old charters provided and indicated.

(Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., pp. 139 f.

(D) Edgar: Grant to the Bishop of Winchester (963)[17]

Here, in this writing, is made known how King Edgar, with the counsel of his witan, confirmed the liberties at Taunton for the Holy Trinity, St. Peter and St. Paul, and the episcopal see of Winchester, as this freedom had earlier been established by King Edward: granting that men in that vill (hame) of God, whether two-hundred or twelve-hundred,[18] should enjoy the same rights as his own men enjoyed in his own royal vills; that all causes and rights should be given into the hand of God in the same measure as when they were brought into his own; [that] the [control of] trade in the vill (tunes cyping) and the income from [all other] rights in the port[19] should go to the holy see [of Winchester] as they earlier did in the days of my ancestors, and as they were collected for Bishop Aelfeage and for each of those who possessed the land. If any one will increase this liberty, may God increase his welfare during a long life here and in eternity. If, on the contrary, any one, through insolence and the instigation of the devil or his limbs, should seek to violate this liberty or to pervert it, unless he shall make amends before his death, may he with malediction be cut off from the communion of our Lord and of all His saints, and may he suffer eternal torment in hell along with Judas, who was Christ's betrayer.

This was done at Cheddar on the holy Eastertide, in which year 968[20] years had passed since the birth of Christ, and in the tenth year of the reign [of Edgar], by the witness of the witan whose names are written below....[21]

(Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., pp. 235 f.

(E) Canute: Grant to St. Paul's, London (1036)

I, King Canute, give friendly greetings to my bishops, my earls,[22 ]and all my thegns in the shires where my priests of St. Paul's monastery hold land. And I make known to you my will that they shall enjoy their sac and soc, toll and team,[23] within tide and without tide, as fully and continuously as they best had them in any king's day, in all things, in borough and out of borough. And I will not permit any man in any way to do them wrong. And of this the witnesses are Aegelnoth, archbishop; Aelfric, archbishop; Aelwi, bishop; Aelwine, bishop; Duduc, bishop; Godwine, earl; Leofric, earl; Osgod Clapa, Thored, and many others.

May God curse him who shall pervert this [grant]!

(Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., pp. 319 f.

(F) Confirmation of a Title to Land in the Shire Court of Hereford (1036)

Here, in this writing, it is made known that a shire court sat at Aegelnoth's Stone in the time of King Canute. There sat Aethelstan, bishop; Ranig, alderman; Edwin, [son] of the alderman; Leofwine, son of Wulfsige; and Thurcil the White (Hwita). And thither came Tofig the Proud (Pruda) on the king's errand. And there were Bryning the sheriff,[24] Aegelweard of Frome, Leofwine of Frome, Godric of Stoke, and all the thegns of Herefordshire. Then came faring to the court Edwin, son of Eanwen, and there claimed as against his own mother a portion of land, namely, Wellington and Cradley. Then the bishop asked who would speak for his mother. Then Thurcil the White answered, saying that he would if he knew the defence [that she cared to make]. Since he did not know the defence, three thegns were chosen from the court [to ride to the place] where she was, and that was Fawley. These [thegns] were Leofwine of Frome, Aegelsige the Red (Reada), and Winsige Sceagthman. And when they had come to her, they asked her about the land which her son claimed. Then she said that she had no land which in aught belonged to him, and she burst into a noble rage against her son. Then she called thither her kinswoman Leoflaed, Thurcil's wife, and before those [present] thus addressed her: "Here sits Leoflaed, my kinswoman, to whom, after my day, I give both my lands and my gold, both gear and garments, and all that I possess." After which she said to the thegns: "Do nobly and well. Announce my message to the court before all the good men, telling them to whom I have given my land and all my belongings; and [that] to my own son [I have] never [given] anything. And bid them be witness of this [gift]." And they then did so, riding to the court and declaring to all the good men what she had directed them [to say]. Then Thurcil the White stood up in the court and prayed all the thegns to grant his wife a clean title to all the lands which her kinswoman had given her, and they did so. And Thurcil then rode to St. Aethelberht's monastery, with the leave and witness of all the folk, and caused this [grant] to be set forth in a Christ's book.[25]

(Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., pp. 336 f.

(G) Edward the Confessor: Grant to Westminster Abbey (1056)

I, King Edward, give friendly greeting to Bishop Wulfwig, Earl Gyrth, and all my thegns of Oxfordshire. And I make known to you that I have granted to Christ and to St. Peter of Westminster the village where I was born, by name Islip, and half a hide at Marsh, free of scot and gafol,[26] with all things thereto pertaining, in wood and in field, in meadow and in water, with the church and the church-soke,[27] as full and as complete and as free as it stood under my own hand, and as Aelfgifa Emma, my mother, gave and bequeathed it to me as a first gift on my birthday. And I grant them moreover sac and soc, toll and team, infangenețeof, blodiwte, and weardwite, hamsocn, forsteall, gryđbryce and mundbryce,[28] and all the rights which [there] belong to me. Now I greet well my beloved kinsman, Wigod, at Wallingford, and I bid thee on my behalf ride around these lands [and put them] into the possession of the saint; for I will on no account permit any man there to hold any authority, over anything or at any time, save only the abbot and the brothers for the sake of the monastery's worthy needs.

And whoever shall firmly hold this [grant in] alms, may God and God's Mother hold him in everlasting bliss. And whoever shall turn it aside, may he be turned aside from God to the bitter pains of hell's inmates, unless he the more painfully shall make amends on this earth.

May God and St. Peter keep you!

(Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., pp. 368 f.


[1] See above, p. 7, n. 3.

[2] Certain words at this point are unintelligible.

[3] In the original the clerk wrote the names of the witnesses, together with the variety of forms by which they attested the document. Each witness then added a cross in the appropriate place. The present charter lists eighteen witnesses, including King Offa, his son, an archbishop, a bishop, four abbots, and seven aldermen.

[4] Aethelred was descended from the royal line of Mercia and still held about half of the old kingdom. His wife was the famous Lady of the Mercians, Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred.

[5] The regular name for the payments of food owed the king from many of his estates.

[6] See above, p. 24, n. 13.

[7] Meaning, of course, the king.

[8] Cf. the similar phrase below, with the addition of "naught out to wite." As pointed out by Maitland (Domesday Book and Beyond, pp. 290 f.), the charter implies the grant of a judicial immunity: the church was to enjoy the profits of justice, including all fines normally paid to the king, but not including ordinary compensation paid by tenants for injuries to persons other than the grantee.

[9] See above, p. 22, n. 7. [10] The text by error has Ceoluht.

[11] Besides the king and Aethelred, the list includes three bishops, an abbot, a priest, two aldermen, and eight other persons.

[12] See above, p. 8, n. 8.

[13] Since Wulfhun was a priest, it must have been he who read the charters while Ecglaf showed him the boundaries.

[14] Presumably the bishop.

[15] See above, p. 26, n. 4.

[16] The boundary of the land in question.

[17] This document exists in two versions, Latin and Anglo-Saxon. The translation has been made from the latter.

[18] Cf. Alfred, 39 (above, p. n).

[19] See above, p. 12, n. 3. In this case the reference is to the borough of Taunton which, together with all royal rights in market and court, remained in the hands of the bishop until after the Norman Conquest; see Round, in Victoria History of Somerset, I, 400 f.

[20] The text mistakenly reads 978.

[21] The list includes, besides the king and the queen, the two archbishops, seven bishops, nine abbots, eight aldermen, and nine thegns.

[22] These officials henceforth appear in place of the aldermen; see Chadwick, Studies, ch. v.

[23] Such phrases as these now become characteristic of all formal grants of immunity; see Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond, pp. 258 f. Sac and soc (more properly sacu and socn) together meant no more than the latter term alone, which ordinarily in modern English is given as soke or soken; see above, p. 24, n. 15. Toll, from the Latin thelonium, has come down to us with the spelling and the meaning alike unchanged. Team meant vouching to warranty, or the right to collect the fees for it on one's own land or elsewhere; see above, p. 4, n. 3.

[24] The shire-reeve, or sheriff, henceforth attains great importance in local government as the subordinate of the earl, who normally was in charge of several shires.

[25] That is to say, formally recorded by a monastic scribe.

[26] The two words together cover all rents and taxes; see above, p. 7, n. 3. Scot often appears in eleventh-century documents as the equivalent of geld; see below, p. 38, n. 2.

[27] The territory subjected to the jurisdiction of the church.

[28]Infangenețeof was the right to punish thieves caught on the property; blodwite the fine for wounding with bloodshed; weardwite the fine for neglect of guard duty. For the other terms, see above, pp. 22, 30.


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