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happens that the precise date of a charter is of great im
BOOK portance; and hence it may be presumed, that a copious collection of dates in use, during those ages when circumlocutory methods obtained, will afford valuable aid. I am perfectly aware that lawyers make a technical distinction, for it is not real, between charters and deeds; but for convenience, I apply the terms indifferently to instruments of sale, of exchange, and of donation, whether of lands or privileges. Indeed, there seems to be no reason why diploma, which is the classical name of charter, might not also be designated in the same manner. Instruments of donation, from the time of the Norman conquest, have been commonly called charters; but previously they received other appellations, such as chyrographum, kartula, syngrapha, polipticon (i. e. Forúatuxov), cautio, testimonium, donatio, litere, scedula, arratum, aratum, i. e. ex-aratum. Dr. Hickes produces two instances, which prove that the term chartæ was used before the conquest, and observes, that it was necessary to notice this fact, in order to correct the remark of Ingulphus, that the Normans gave the name of charters to the chirographs of the Anglo-Saxons, as if that term had not been in use among the latter, who in this vernacular language, named the instrument of donation bocor geprite.*
The material of charters, it is well known, consisted of parchment; but M. Schwander, of Vienna, is said to have found in the imperial library a small charter, bearing the date of 1243, on linen paper. +
Our earliest charters are dated simply by the year of the Dates of Incarnation, the Indiction, or the Regnal year, in which early charthey were issued ; and frequently by all these terms, but they seldom contain more minute indications of their age. They, however, possess some peculiarities, which are not without interest.
The most ancient written charter in England is supposed
Thesaur. Diss. Epist., Tom. III., p. 63. + Macpherson, Annals of Commerce, Vol. I., p. 394.
Charter of Ethelbert I.
by Mr. Fosbrooke to be that of Withred, [Wihtred,] king
* Encyclop. Antiquit., Vol. I., p. 369.
Hickes, Thes., Tom. III. Diss. Epist., p. 79.
Ibid, p. 66.
Sir Edward Coke mentions a sealed deed by king Edwin, in 596 ;* and Sir William Blackstone observes, that the charter of Edward the Confessor to Westminster Abbey is Sealed generally considered to be the oldest sealed charter of any authority in England.f Coke, however, is no authority on subjects of antiquity, neither has he stated where he obtained his information, for in all probability he never saw such an instrument, or seeing it, would not have been able to determine whether it were genuine or not; and Blackstone's remark is limited to charters with the appendage of a seal. There is also ascribed to King Edgar, who died in 971, the famous charter, in which he is styled, “ Marium Brit. Dominus,” on which great stress has been laid by several writers in support of the dominion of England over the four seas, but, besides that, it is more than three centuries after Ethelbert's charter. Dr. Hickest has demonstrated it to be spurious, and to have been forged with many others after the Norman conquest.
67. In addition to the reasons assigned by this great scholar for rejecting
* 1 Inst. 1, fo. 7a.
Thesaur. Diss. Epist., p. 152.
One of his reasons is, that it contains the word Vassallus, “quam a Nortmannis Angli habuerunt,"-Diss., p. 7. It is however to be remarked, says Mr. Hallam, that Asserius, the contemporary biographer of Alfred, uses the term : " Alfredus cum paucis, et etiam cum quibusdam militibus et vassallis,” p. 166. “ Nobiles vassali Sumertunensis pagi,” p. 167.-Hist. Europe in Middle Ages, Vol. II., p. 413.
It was in the early part of the seventh century, or at the beginning of the preceding, that St. Augustine introduced into England* the custom of reckoning by the years of the Incarnation;but although sometimes employed in charters, it was not commonly adopted here until the eighth century. I The greater part of the charters, however, which were issued in the Saxon period, and for a long time after the Norman
invasion were achronical. The reason of this irregularity is Sir E.Coke not apparent; and Sir Edward Coke has attempted an exon undated planation, which does not seem to be very satisfactory:
« The date of a deed,” he says, “many times antiquity rejected; and the reason thereof was, for that limitation of prescription, or time of memory, did often in processe of time change, and the law was then holden, that a deed bearing date before the limited time of prescription was not pleadable; and, therefore, they made their deedes without date, to the end they might alledge them within the time of prescription. And the date of deedes was commonly added in the raigne of Edward II. and III., and so ever since.”'S Such is the recorded opinion of this celebrated lawyer, who, by a competent judge, has been pronounced an indifferent antiquary, and it may also be considered the opinion of Mr. Chitty, who, in his edition of Blackstone, has used nearly the same words, and of Mr. Cruise, who has
He arrived in 597,-Chron. Sax. ad Ann.
Bed. Hist. Eccles., Lib. I.,
+ Bed. de Ratione Temporum, cap. 13. Sir Henry Spelman (Concil. I., 193) says, that it is probable that the years of the Incarnation were seldom or never used in diplomas before the time of Beda. The latter died in 734; Chron. Sax. ad Ann.; but the two unquestioned charters of Ethelbert and Sebbi are of the preceding century.
# “ At seculo viii. tritus esse cæpit calculus ab Incarnatione ut patet ex diplomatibus relatis ab Ingulfo, Dubleto, et aliis.”—Mabillon, de Re Diplom., Tom. I., p. 216, Edit. Neapol., 1789.
Co. Litt. 1 Inst., fo. 6a.
Comm. B. II., p. 304, n. (18).
quoted part of the passage.* Madox, profoundly versed in BOOK this branch of antiquity, dissents from Coke upon very
» Madox on substantial grounds ; “Whether that were the true reason,
may perhaps be justly doubted. It may be be- charters. fore Bracton's time, they were not so well skilled in quirks of law as this amounts to. Or if it were the true reason in cases of feoffments, or other grants of durable estates, it may still be enquired what cause there was to leave out the dates in demises, which were to commence from the time of making them, and to determine not many years after; and likewise in charters purely of confirmation, in writings obligatory, in letters of procuracy, in acquittances of money received, and some other sort of writings, which are found without date.t Petersdorf has adopted the objections of this eminent author, but does not offer an explanation of this remarkable practice.
Before the seventh century, farms, liberties, and privileges Simple were usually given without writings ;and Camden, quoting donations a charter of the Confessor, remarks, that “such was the writings. unsuspecting honor and simplicity of that age, which founded all its security in a few lines, and a few golden crosses; for, before the Normans came in, says Ingulphus, deeds were confirmed by golden crosses and other signatures; but the Normans introduced the custom of authenticating them by a number of seals in wax before three or four witnesses. Formerly many estates were conveyed by word of mouth without writing or deed, only with the Lord's sword or helmet, a horn or cup; and many tenements with a spur, a curry-comb, a bow, and some with an arrow."||
Digest of Laws of Engl., Vol. IV., ch. 20, p. 275. + Formulare Anglicanum, Dissert., 8. xxiv., p. 30.
Abridgment, Vol. VII., p. 664.
Hickes, Dissert. Epist., p. 79. || Britan. pp. 340, 341. Edit. 1590, 8vo. Gough's Camden, Vol. II., p. 121.-An instance ccurs in which William the Second in 1096 delivered the abbot of Tavistock, as seisin, an ivory knife, which was afterwards deposited on the shrine of St. Rumon.-Dugd. Monast. Anglic., Tom. II., p.