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The Mersea Charter of Edward the Confessor

The Mersea Charter of Edward the Confessor

By Cyril Hart

Essex Archaeology and History, Vol. 12 (1981)

Introduction: In 1768 Philip Morant published the text of a very unusual charter he had found at Colchester. Carrying the date 1046, it purported to record the gift by King Edward the Confessor to the abbey of St. Ouen at Rouen in Normandy of an estate at Mersea in Essex, just as he had held it for two days after he had inherited the English crown.

Morant’s printed version contained a boundary clause that was obviously corrupt, and the charter’s witness list was missing. Moreover, the source of his text was not made accessible to scholars, and Kemble failed to include the charter in his Codex Diplomatics, published in the middle of the following century. It is not surprising, therefore, that for two hundred years after its editio princeps this alleged charter of the Confessor remained largely neglected by historians.

Recently, however, by an extraordinary coincidence two quite independent medieval copies have been uncovered. First, in 1955 Dr. Donald Matthew found a good 15th-century version in the public archives at Rouen, then in 1968 Mr.J. B. Bennett rediscovered at Colchester the earlier but more corrupt text which had formed the basis of Morant’s edition. Dr. Matthew’s own edition of the Rouen text was published with helpful notes in 1970, and a collation ofthis with the Colchester version appears below as an appendix to this paper.

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