Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association


Archives: The Journal of the British Records Association (2006), 31, (115), 168–187.


ARCHIVES BOOK REVIEWS Edited by Professor William Gibson Marie Therese Flanagan and Judith A. Green, Charters and Charter Scholarship in Britain and Ireland. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Pp xi+234. £45, ISBN 1403932174. For those whose professional training in palaeography and diplomatic began with charters, or those whose medieval collections are still dominated by them, David Bates’ introduction in this volume may well sound risible. Instead of mere land grants charters are now read as literary texts, indicative of local and regional discourse, and produced through collaboration between royal clerici and their beneficiaries. This is a stretch, but power, gender, kindred assent, symbol and emotion will seem very distant concepts. And yet, charter scholarship has indeed become an exciting area, and Bates’ synthesis is a succinct guide to its current progress. Inevitably, the nine chapters here, the product of a conference in Belfast in 2003, offer only a selection of dishes from a richer menu. In some ways Richard Sharpe’s essay is the index piece in the collection, although it promises only a ‘step towards an elaborate taxonomy’ of address clauses in writ-charters. The timorous reader is already reaching for a chair, and wondering whether to wait for the giant leap. But, we are here dealing with crucial moments in the development of written culture and medieval governmentality. Addresses had first shown an intense degree of personalization and local context, and were deliverable, that is to be recited in particular spaces; later, general addresses, ‘to all my barons . . .’, were in effect undeliverable solemn declarations. Even the dullest outsider knows that there is something meaty here. Sharpe follows what he sees as the rise of the general address from the reign of Henry I in England. Beneficiary drafting, eclectic and diffuse forms, local and ecclesiastical involvement and the rise of central courts are all themes which recur throughout the remaining essays. They appear too in Nicholas Vincent’s consideration of Angevin ‘imperial’ practice in the chancery of Henry II. Here clerks saw the Plantagenet empire as personal, some recognised a distinctive English kingship and law, but regional practice was also widespread. Only in the use of the phrase citra et ultra mare ‘this side and beyond the sea,’ is there a hint of imperial pretension. Vincent’s essay closes with a disavowal of Sharpe’s hypothesis on the decline of the public role of county courts in the publication of charters, however addressed. Four other essays deal with issues surrounding the adoption of charters, a debate for the written record somewhat like the diffusion of Romanesque architectural forms. In the British Isles the debate has often been about the role of English practice as a transmission route. Máire Herbert considers the context for the adoption of the Latin charter in Ireland in the twelfth century, concluding that it did not transform existing processes of property documentation, including stone inscriptions and additions to hagiographies, although the decisive influence may have been Anglo-Norman. Marie Therese Flanagan considers whether the Cistercians may have been the missionaries of the charter but

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