William Marshal, King Henry II and the Honour of Chateauroux

William Marshal, King Henry II and the Honour of Chateauroux

By Nicholas Vincent

Archives: The Journal of the British Record Association, Vol.25:102 (2000)

Introduction: Chance plays a large part in the survival of medieval charters. Written on parchment, and in many cases discarded as expendable ephemera within a few weeks, let alone years, of their writing, an incalculable number of charters have perished without trace. Those that survive represent but a tiny fraction of those that once existed, and in many cases have been preserved more by accident than by design. Thomas Martin, the eighteenth-century antiquary, was able to rescue at least part of a volume of Southwark charters that had been recycled as drum-heads by a toy-maker from Exeter.

In 1845, when large numbers of medieval charters were seized from northern French municipal archives for use as wadding by the artillery school at Metz, local historians were able to recover some 10 kilograms of charters in exchange for blank modern parchment purchased at 10 francs the kilo.

The document published below has survived in similarly remarkable circumstances. Discarded eight centuries ago as a piece of waste parchment, it chanced to catch the eye of a contemporary scribe who employed it as a tag with which to attach a seal to another charter. Most scribes would use fresh parchment for this task, but on occasion, as in the present instance, when materials were short, or to save on expense, an older document or draft might be recycled to provide a sealing strip. As a parchment seal tag, our document has weathered the storms of the past eight centuries and at last reached haven in the Lancashire Record Office at Preston. This in itself would make for an interesting story, but when we bear in mind that this humble piece of parchment adds significantly to our knowledge of the political history of both England and France in the late twelfth century, its survival can be accounted not merely extraordinary but little short of miraculous.

The document in question is a copy of a royal writ, addressed to a man named William Marshal, summoning him to attend the King with men and arms. Having served its immediate purpose, and before being destroyed, the original writ came into the hands of a scribe who copied it out together with various other letters, at some time between 1188 and 1200, almost certainly as part of a formulary, intended to provide models for future correspondence. The author of this formulary, we must assume, was a professional scribe or letter-writer, living in the north-west of England.

The formulary itself was in turn swiftly discarded, but at least one of its leaves, rather than being thrown away, was cannibalized, cut up and recycled as seal tags. Again, only one of these fragments now survives, attached to the award of a man named Ketellus the clerk of Kirkby Lonsdale, who around the year 1200 granted land to the canons of Cockersand for the soul of Heixstilda his wife, sealing his charter with an impressive wax seal, showing two twin billets, the seal being attached to the charter by means of our seal tag, cut from the destroyed scribal formulary.

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