Medieval Writing
A Reverse Charter
A 12th century brief from the priory of St Mary at Monmouth (British Library, Cambell Chart. v 5). (From Warner and Ellis 1903)
The document illustrated above is interesting as it testifies to the process of making grants by oral testimony rather than written word. The document is a kind of reverse charter, as it was written by the recipient institution rather than by the donors, acknowledging their grant by oral declaration upon the altar, of tithes from their lordship of Norton to the priory of St Mary at Monmouth. The document begins with a cross, indicating the solemnity of an oath before Christ.
It is addressed to the donor and his wife : Ricardo de Cormeliis uiro uenerabili et Beatrici eius hucxori, Richard and Beatrice de Cormeilles.
The nature of the grant is given, and it is indicated that this was done verbally, by a book laid upon the altar. The process is attested by the presence of Richard's seal upon this brief. Unfortunately, that has disappeared.
It is also attested by the witnesses who, it is stated overtly, saw and heard his declaration: qui uiderunt et audierunt.
While the witnessed oral declaration and use of objects to ratify the statement was evidently adequate to convince the donors that they had made their intentions clear, it is intriguing that the recipients felt the necessity to corroborate the deed in writing. As the accepted mode of testimony, writing was winning.
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