Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Forged charter of Battle Abbey, mid 12th century. (British Library, Egerton Charter 2211). All images by permission of the British Library.
This charter is a medieval forgery. It was produced in the mid 12th century, purporting to be the foundation charter of the abbey, from William II. William I, who actually founded the abbey in thanks for his victoy at Hastings, had died before the abbey could be dedicated. The monks claimed that he had intended the abbey to be free of episcopal jurisdiction, a claim disputed by the bishop of Chichester. This long running dispute appears to be at the heart of the production of a number of forged, or perhaps one might say retrospective, charters in which the claims of the abbey to independence from the interference of bishops are stated overtly.
The charter is not as blatantly obviously a forgery as some. The script is a perfectly acceptable Caroline minuscule which could easily be attributed to the 11th century. The diplomatic of the document is a bit of a mixture of the solemn diploma and the Anglo-Norman writ, but that is evidently not necessarly a problem at that date. The witness list evidently contains no anomalies. A small hint is that pronouns referring to the king are sometimes in the singular (ego) and at other times in the plural (nobis); a grammatical anomaly that occurred particularly in the 12th century. The telling evidence is that the seal is a bad forgery. Unfortunately, it is not illustrated in this photograph. The charter is a single sheet of parchment with the seal attached by a cord.
While scholars now agree that the charter is a forgery, this does not mean that the contents are false. It is part of the process of establishing in the written word legal agreements which had formerly been made by sworn oral testimony. Some form of written word was needed for the monks to be able to pursue their claim as to the exact nature of their exemption from the authority of the bishop, and in the 12th century if that had not been written down already, you just had to write it down yourself.
For further information on these forged charters from Battle Abbey, see Searle, 1968 also Bishop and Chaplais 1957. More information about the significance of forging charters can be found in the section of this website entitled Forged Charters.

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