Medieval Writing
A Grant by Knife
Record of a grant of 1151 to the church of St Denis, Southampton (British Library, Harleian Charter 50 A 8). (From Warner and Ellis 1903)
The document above is a form of charter, recording a grant of land by one William, son of Audoeni, to the church of St Denis, Southanmpton. The charter has a usual form of notification, Notum sit, and is generally addressed to all in the present and future. There is a list of witnesses. The unusual thing about it is that it is not ratified by seal. There are two slits below the text of the document which once held a small knife, which is referred to in the text.
The grant is indicated as per hunc cultellum confirmaui, confirmed by this knife, rather than by this charter or by the seal of the donor.
The ecclesiastical touch of a cross at the beginning of the text, and the large and rounded, somewhat liturgical protogothic book hand in which the document is written, rather than the more usual spiky charter hand of the 12th century, indicates that the document was most likely written out in the recipient institution, to ratify by the written word the solemn symbolism embodied in the knife.
The document is dated, which is a bit unusual for this time, but note that it reads This gift was made in AD 1151, rather than directly implying that this is the date of the document itself. This is another very clear example of the transition from oral to written testimony.
Another beautiful example, with the knife still attached and an inscription on the knife handle, is shown on the home page of the Medieval Seals exhibition from Durham University Library. In this example the text of the document also seems to be entered in a book hand.
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