The Dating of Medieval English Private Charters of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

The Dating of Medieval English Private Charters of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

Gervers, Michael

A Distinct Voice: Medieval Studies in Honor of Leonard E. Boyle (University of Notre Dame, 2006)


In 1922, F.M. Stenton published one of the most informative and concise introductions to English private charters of the post Conquest period that has ever been written. His contexts were the largely twelfth-and thirteenth-century charters of five Gilbertine houses in Lincolnshire, preserved in early fifteenth-century transcripts on the Exchequer Memoranda Rolls. Because only five percent of the nearly 200 charters in his edition were dated precisely to the year in which they were issued, his main concern was to identify characteristics by which earlier documents could be distinguished from later ones. Those characteristics invariably translated into the increasingly formulaic nature of the charter as it developed from the reign of Henry II (1154-89) to that of Henry III (1216-72). The point of departure was the royal writ and the pervasive influence of the royal justice system: “…the general submission of the greatest men in the land to the ruling of the king’s justices upon the phraseology of a charter which is to be [considered] valid is one of the most remarkable results of the work of Henry II and the men who were trained in his court.” The “victory of common form,” Stenton argued, was “the victory of the king’s judges”. He was convinced that charter chronology was inextricably tied to the growth and development of formulae in the document.

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