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Understanding Medieval Documents

By Craig Wright | 06 Dec 2021 | Law & Regulation

A translation of the following:

Omnibus sancte matris ecclesie filiis Herebertus de Bolebek salutem. Sciatis quod Alexander de Kenebelle consilio et assensu meo dedit et concessit deo et ecclesie Sancte Marie de Messendene et canonicis ibidem deo seruientibus in perpetuam elemosinam duos hammos prati in Hertwella et vj acras terre. Reddendo inde annuatim ipsi et heredibus suis duos denarios ad Pentecosten. Et prefatus Alexander et heredes sui acquietabunt predicta tenementa de omnibus forinsecis seruiciis consuetudinibus et exaccionibus. Ut autem hec donacio et confirmacio rata sit et stabilis in perpetuum ego eam presenti carta mea confirmaui. Testibus Waltero de Hertwelle, Simone de Sancto Claro, Roberto de Bracy, Willelmo de Clouille. Et aliis.

[Cartulary of Missenden, no. 545]

Translation

Through the salvation of all of the holy mother church, know that Herbert de Bolebec [1] does confirm the grant to the church and Abby of St. Mary Messendene by Alexander Kenebelle [2] of two closes [3] of pasture and 6 acres of land in Hartwell [4].

Alexander Kenebelle gave my consent to the church and the cannons serving God an everlasting frankalmoign [5] with the Abbey to render [6] 2 pennies (2d.) [7] annually at Pentecost [8] to Alexander and his heirs. The aforementioned Alexander and his heirs will acquit tenements of all domestic services, customs, and taxes [9]. In order to strengthen (confirm), this donation [10] is valid, stable, and sound forever; my present charter is confirmed.

Witnesses:

            Walter Hartwell           Waltero de Hertwelle,

            Simon Sinclair             Simone de Sancto Claro,

            Robert Bracy               Roberto de Bracy,

            William Clouille           Willelmo de Clouille, and

                                                others.

A commentary on the following charter:

British Library, Add Charter 19790:

http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ch_19790_f001r

P.H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, 8 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1968), no. 139.

Commentary

In this document of the eighth century, King Offa of Mercia provides a grant of land to an official, Æthelmund, father of Æthelric, and his family [11]. The document is written in Latin. The terms of the document issue an estate of fifty-five hides (manentes, assata, or hides) in Westbury near the river Avon [12].The document is believed to be dated between 793 and 796, which would be the final year possible as King Offa died in that year. Fifty-five hides would be considered very large [13]. As Warren Hollister notes, a five-hide unit would extend to an obligation of eleven men to the fyrd. This land grant would span multiple counties. An example of such size would be reflected in an estate of forty hides granted under S1171 to a minister in Barking, that was known to span 60 mi².

S139 has been tested for being genuine and contemporary with regards to the grant [14]. The document is known to survivors as a single sheet original with a copy held in Worcester’s early 11th-century cartulary, Liber Wigorniensis. King Offa issued the document during a synod that is noted to have been held at Clofesho. The dating of between 793 and 796 was established through an analysis of the witnesses present, and it is believed that the synod occurred in 794 [15]. Details of the copy are available and discussed by Stephen Baxter [16].

The reference to God as the supreme thundering being would imply an overlap between Christianity and the remaining Norse gods. The use of terminology to say how money is deceitful indicates the religious tone of the time. The grant of fifty-five hides of land is made in Westbury and near the river Avon.

The grant removes all tribute to the state other than what is required through the military service and feudal fiefdoms. It further requires the maintenance of trade routes, including bridges and those required for the maintenance of defences. It is noted that no individual should be free of such obligation. The witnesses of the Charter are noted to be the entire Council of the Synod [17].

The signatories convene under the grant of the side of the holy cross. This is a form known as Signa, and differs from the methodology used in the Norman conquest. The individual places a cross against the name, before the representing witnesses, and they agree to be bound under an oath to God.

It has been noted that there are other documents, such as the charter S146, preserved in the Liber Wigorniensis, that make no mention of Æthelmund or his descendants. But, given that the grant of sixty hides at Westbury and twenty near Henbury exhibit a large grant of land, the lack of reference to another servant is no cause for concern.

There is scholarship and documents surrounding the creation of the Council recorded as the third Council of Clovesho, in 794. At the Council, a new archbishopric was to be created, at Lichfield, and the Mercian Sees were to be subjected to the jurisdiction that was withdrawn from Canterbury. It is noted that the Archbishop of Lichfield signed as an archbishop. The Council supposedly served somewhere near London, in Mercia [18].

Translation

Grant from Offa, King of Mercian peoples, to Æthelmund of land in Westbury in the province of huuicciorum.

In the name of the supreme thundering being, who is God, blessed forever, amen.

Through the actions of potent regions and the wealthy men of this earth, the rewards of eternal life unnecessarily purchased with the deceitful things of this sorrowful world, all of which vanish in a shade.

As such, I, Offa, ascended to be king through the King of kings in order to rescue my soul, freely grant to Æthelmund, as my devoted servant, fifty-five manentes of workable land in the province of the Huuicciori in the place which is named Westbury near the river that is called Avon in eternal liberty under the condition that it shall be forever free from all tribute to the state, small or greater, and from all services, whether to the sovereign or Doyen, except the military service and the making of bridges and the maintenance of defences, because of the necessity of all of the people that none should be excused from this obligation and duty.

This charter of regalia was drafted by the complete Council of the Synod in the famed location called Clobeshoas with the names of the signatories and their sign to God preserved below:

+ I, Offa, by God’s gift, and King, confirm my own insignia of the grant with the sign of the holy cross.

+ I ecgfer, the son of the king, do hereby agree.

+ I, Archbishop Hygeberht…

Etc.

There are multiple names over the two pages, ranging from senior to what would be less senior positions, starting with the King and including bishops, presbyters, and then people without rank or title, that are listed. See the end of the article for a list.

Document in Latin

In nominee summi tonantis qui est deus Benedictus in secula amen. Regibus potentibus et humius seculi divitibus cum fallacibus istius lugubri mundi substantiis quae omnia sicut umbra eunanescunt aeternae vitae promia mercanda sunt.

Quapropter ego Offa Rex a rege reguum constitutes terram l.v. Cassatorum in provincial huuicciorum ubi nominator uuestburg prope flumen qui dictur aben Æthelmundo fideli meo ministro pro ereptione animae meae in libertatem perpetuam sub hac condicione libens concede ita ut ab omni tribute paruo vel maiore publicalium rerum et a cunctis operibus uel regis uel principis sit in perpetuum libra preter expeditionalibus causis et pontum structionum et arcium munimentum quid omni populo necesse et ab eo opera nullum excssatum esse. Scripta est autem haec liberatatis kartula ab universio concilio synosali in loco celeberrimo qui nuncupatur clobeshoas.

Quorum signa et nmina infra tenentur.

Ego Offa rex deid ono proprian donationis libertatem signo sancta crucis confirmio

Ego ecgfer filius regis consensi

Signum hygeberhti archiepiscopi

            Etc…

Footnotes

1. Herebertus de Bolebek

2. Alexander de Kenebelle

3. Hammos: From the OED Close: An enclosed field (now chiefly local, in the English midlands).

Close; c1440  Gesta Romanorum (Add. MS.) lxx. 386 “Thou haste stolne hym [the horse], and putt hym in thi close”. That is, “two hammos of meadows”.

4. Hertwella

5. OED: A feudal tenure in England by which a religious body could hold land perpetually, in principle without any secular obligations, in return for the performance of religious duties, most commonly the saying of masses or prayers for the soul of the donor and his descendants.

6. Yield up or pay

7. Coin money – best seems to be pence

8. Easter

9. Exactions, demands. Alexander and his heirs will discharge all forensic services, customs, and exactions such as taxes.

10. Grant or gift

11. Sawyer, no. 139

12. Westbury-on-Trym, Gloucestershire

13. Hollister, C. Warren. “The Five-Hide Unit and the Old English Military Obligation.” Speculum 36, no. 1 (1961): 61-74. Accessed March 30, 2021. doi:10.2307/2849844

14. Scharer, Anton. Die angelsächsische Königsurkunde im 7. und 8. Jahrhundert, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 26 (Vienna, 1982), pp. 274–5.

15. Cubitt, Catherine. Anglo-Saxon church councils c. 650-c. 850. Leicester University Press, 1995.

16. Baxter, Stephen. “Archbishop Wulfstan and the Administration of God’s property.” In Wulfstan, Archbishop of York: the proceedings of the second Alcuin conference, pp. 161-205. 2004.

17. Morley, Claude. 1923. “Clovesho – The Councils And The Locality.” Suffolkinstitute.Pdfsrv.Co.Uk. http://suffolkinstitute.pdfsrv.co.uk/customers/Suffolk%20Institute/2014/01/10/Volume%20XVIII%20Part%202%20(1923)_Clovesho%20-%20the%20councils%20and%20the%20locality%20Claude%20Morley_91%20to%20106.pdf

18. Bede, ed. Plummer, II, 214; Haddan, Arthur West, William Stubbs and David Wilkins. Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents (Oxford, 1869-78).

References

Baxter, Stephen. “Archbishop Wulfstan and the Administration of God’s property.” In Wulfstan, Archbishop of York: the proceedings of the second Alcuin conference, pp. 161-205. 2004.

Cubitt, Catherine. Anglo-Saxon church councils c. 650-c. 850. Leicester University Press, 1995.

Haddan, Arthur West, William Stubbs and David Wilkins. Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents (Oxford, 1869-78).

Hollister, C. Warren. “The Five-Hide Unit and the Old English Military Obligation.” Speculum 36, no. 1 (1961): 61-74. Accessed March 30, 2021. doi:10.2307/2849844.

Morley, Claude. 1923. “Clovesho – The Councils And The Locality”. Suffolkinstitute.Pdfsrv.Co.Uk. http://suffolkinstitute.pdfsrv.co.uk/customers/Suffolk%20Institute/2014/01/10/Volume%20XVIII%20Part%202%20(1923)_Clovesho%20-%20the%20councils%20and%20the%20locality%20Claude%20Morley_91%20to%20106.pdf

P.H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, 8 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1968), no. 139.

Scharer, Anton. Die angelsächsische Königsurkunde im 7. und 8. Jahrhundert, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 26 (Vienna, 1982), pp. 274–5.

Appendix – Names

+ Ego Offa rex Dei dono propriam donationis libertatem signo sanctæ crucis confirmo .

+ Ego Ecgferð filius regis consensi .

+ Signum Hygeberhti archiepiscopi .

+ Signum Æðelheardi archiepiscopi .

+ Signum Ceolulfi . episcopi .

+ Signum Haðoredi . episcopi .

+ Signum Unu’u’ona . episcopi .

+ Signum [C]yneberht . episcopi .

+ Signum [D]eneferði . episcopi .

+ Signum Ceolmundi . episcopi .

+ Signum Coenwalh . episcopi .

+ Signum Uuermundis . episcopi .

+ Signum Alhheardi . episcopi .

+ Signum Ælfhuni episcopi .

+ Signum Uuiohtuni episcopi .

+ Signum Alhmund abbatis .

+ Signum Beonnan abbatis .

+ Signum Uuigmundi abbatis .

+ Signum Utel , abbatis .

+ Brorda .

+ Esne .

+ Heardberht .

+ Ubba .

+ Bynna .

+ Æðelmund .

+ Uuynberht .

+ Lulling .

+ Alhmund

+ Uuigberht .

+ Ceolmund .

+ Eafing .