|Writ of 1234 (British Library, add. charter 28402). Images from The New Palaeographical Society 1980, PLate 150.|
This document is a writ of King Henry III to his foresters of Essex informing them that Gilbert Marshal, his brothers and other followers have come to his peace and he has restored their lands to them. The foresters are commanded to assist the sheriffs of Essex in arresting any disturbers of the peace who do not behave themselves in the course of this process. The older brother of Gilbert Marshal, Richard Marshal, had been the leader of the barons who were virtually at war with the king, but he had just died. Henry III had a lively reign, especially in the early years, which is what happens if you get the job too young.
The script of the writ is a cursive Gothic of the type known as cursiva anglicana, but of a less formal and more hastily written variety than that used for more grand documents such as charters. It is also incredibly tiny, the whole document measuring 3 inches by just over 6 inches (c.7.5 x 15 cm). This is about the same size as the picture on this page appears on my screen, but I don't know about yours. Use a ruler to check. In order to make it possible to do a paleography exercise, it will be presented much enlarged.
The structure or diplomatic of the document is similar to that of a charter, but a little more simplified. It begins with a salutation which includes the full honorifics in the title of the king. However, it does not require witnesses and has no seal. It is dated at the bottom according to the reign of the king.
The nature of the documents makes it apparent that such public servants as foresters were expected to have a working knowledge of Latin literacy, or at least, so it must be presumed. It is possible that they had to have their Latin instructions read and even translated to them by the sheriff. Who knows? It is very hard to get incontrovertible evidence about pragmatic literacy in the middle ages.
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