Dating undated medieval charters

The recording of bounds seems to have taken off, for England, in the later Anglo-Saxon period, especially the period between 9.

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Some record the transfer these rights from one person or institution to another or purport to do so, others confirm the ownership of such rights, many are concerned with the legal conditions and obligations that go with the holding of particular rights or properties.

They record acts of authority and had considerable force as records that might be used in court or to obtain further confirmations of the rights they record; but they did not, in the earliest period, constitute legal instruments in themselves even though they often drawn up by clerks present at the ‘issuing’ authority’s court.

Each side had two elements: an inscription around the outer edge naming the person whose seal it was and the image or device at its centre.

The image on the chief side often showed for an institution a building or for an individual their bust or upper three-quarters front on or in profile.

Of the one thousand texts known, for example, for the Anglo-Saxon period, a good number, some two hundred, survive as ‘originals’: that is, for two-hundred or so the earliest witness now extant is a single sheet written in a hand consistent with the stated date and place of issue—one made in the presence (or with the knowledge) of the king in whose name it was issued.

These witnesses are particularly important in so far as they are free from the distortions introduced by repeated copying and interpolation—by the editorial interventions of those who found their texts insufficient. Changes in legal practice and the invention of new obligations often exposed gaps in the provisions made when charters were first issued, necessitating the modification of clauses and sometimes the insertion of entirely new provisions.

The contents of cartularies were often selected and sometimes edited in order to answer particular needs and concerns.

Some collections of charters were illustrated or decorated, reflecting the wealth and pretensions of the persons or institutions for whom they were produced.

Figures are often shown holding an object that symbolises their socio-political function, such as a book for a cleric or a sword or sceptre for a secular lord.

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