Beating the Bounds Between Church and State: Official Documents in the Literary Imagination
Davis, Bryan P.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 13 (1996)
The royal or baronial charter, a legal document by which patrons granted property rights and other franchises to their clients and supporters, figures centrally in the late medieval practice of “beating the bounds.” This ritual procession, which traces a landowner’s or village’s boundaries, was often led by an official carrying the charter, which defines the extent of the landowner’s property rights. Charters not only grant prerogative over a specific geographical area in a legal sense, but are integral to the ceremonial perpetuation of the landowner or tenant’s proprietary power in a metaphoric sense. The beating of the bounds insured that men of all classes understood that official documents such as charters were essential tools of material power.