Medieval manuscripts blog

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04 July 2024

New acquisition: an illuminated charter of Edward III

It's not every day that the British Library acquires a previously unrecorded charter. And this one is something special. It is an example of an illuminated charter, which make up around 0.1% of the total survivals, and it bears an excellent impression of the Great Seal of England. The Library purchased the charter at auction at Bonham's on 20 June 2024 (lot 71), and it has been accessioned as Add Ch 77743. Once it has been catalogued and undergone minor conservation treatment, it will be made available to researchers in our Manuscripts Reading Room at St Pancras. We are extremely grateful to the British Library Collections Trust for generously supporting this acquisition.

A decorated parchment document, issued by Edward III, with the Great Seal in green wax attached on two cords at the foot

A royal licence issued in the name of King Edward III of England (reigned 1327–1377) at Westminster: Add Ch 77743

The charter itself is a royal licence issued at Westminster on 15 November 1368, and is addressed to David de Wollore, one of the king's chancery clerks. It grants property to David in Ripon (Yorkshire), which would enable him to support a chaplain to perform divine service every day at the altar of St Andrew in the church there. The document opens with a decorated initial showing a cleric addressing his congregation, and in the upper margin there is a drawing of David firing a slingshot at Goliath in the opposite corner. We are aware of two other surviving decorated charters of Edward III, both in French collections, but neither of which is as extensively illuminated as this. The Great Seal is that of the so-called Seventh Seal of Edward III, used between 1360 and 1377, and is attached to the document on two plaited cords. One side shows the king on horseback, and on the other sitting on the throne. The unusual decoration of the document may point to its recipient being the Keeper of the Rolls, who was entrusted with applying the Great Seal to royal grants. 

We are very pleased to be able to add this document to the national collection, where it can be consulted alongside thousands of other medieval charters, including a number of royal grants. Many questions remain to be answered about the circumstances of this charter's production and its artist, including the identity of the cleric in the opening initial — there is much more to be learned about it. Add Ch 77743 has been acquired with the assistance of the British Library Collections Trust.


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