An ancient royal charter might not be what everyone expects to find when they come to work, but for one of our visiting fellows that’s exactly what happened.
Dr Benjamin Pohl was recently in Durham on a visiting fellowship and came across the rare, original charter by chance whilst studying medieval manuscripts held at Ushaw College Library, along with our archivist Dr Jonathan Bush.
The charter is dated 26 March 1200, the first year of King John’s reign. Before now fewer than a dozen original charters were known to have survived from the first year of King John’s reign, making this discovery even more exciting.
The charter, which was written in what is known as ‘court hand’, was most likely prepared by a professional scribe, who might have been a member of the king’s government department or chancery. It also includes the royal wax seal.
It confirms the granting of possessions in County Durham, including the hamlets of Cornsay and Hedley Hill, to Walter of Caen and Robert FitzRoger, Lord of Warkworth and Sherriff of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Discovery of the original charter meant it could be compared with a medieval administrative copy known as a ‘charter roll’, which revealed a surprising difference.
Whilst the charter roll copy listed just three witnesses present when the charter was issued at York, the original charter lists nine witnesses including some of the most powerful people of the time, some of whom held leading positions in King John’s government.
Discoveries like this give a fascinating insight into society and political culture of the past and show why exploring archives is so important.
Ushaw College Library is part of the Durham Residential Research Library, which gives people the chance to research the fascinating collections of Durham University, Durham Cathedral and Ushaw.