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Property and Privilege in Medieval and Early Modern England and Wales: Parts 1-4

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Introduction: Property and Privilege in Medieval and Early ModernEngland and Wales; Parts 1-4

Introduction: Property and Privilege in Medieval and EarlyModern England and Wales: Parts 1-4


Cartularies are an indispensable source for the medievalhistorian as they offer an unparalleled insight into the social and economicstructure of medieval Britain. They are all the more invaluable as the originaldocuments on which they are based have often been lost or destroyed.


The publication of so large a collection of cartularies asis presented here provides particular opportunities for historians. Scholarswill be able to compare different regions of Britain and assess the power ofthe monasteries and other ecclesiastical landowners before the Reformation.They will also obtain a detailed picture of the accumulation of lands andgrowth of influence of the great noble families and the increasinglysignificant role of the country gentry in the early modern period.


This collection contains the cartularies in the BritishLibrary which possesses about half of all cartularies in public ownership. Thecartularies have been filmed in collection sequence and have been published infour parts:


Part One: Arundel Cotton Nero
Part Two: Cotton Otho Cotton Roll
Part Three: Egerton Lansdowne
Part Four: Royal Add. Roll


This important programme has been selected under theeditorial guidance of Dr. Dorothy Owen, Keeper of University Archives,University of Cambridge; Dr. David Smith, Director of the Borthwick Instituteof Historical Research, University of York; the late Professor R. Allen Brown,King's College, University of London and Dr. Richard Mortimer, FitzwilliamCollege, University of Cambridge.


The Nature of Cartularies


Cartularies are registers of muniments that is to say ofthe title-deeds, charters of privilege and other documents kept by medieval landownersas evidence of their rights. The first cartularies date from the first half ofthe eleventh century when they were compiled by religious houses, but by thethirteenth century secular landowners had also started to produce them.


Most of the cartularies were produced in the fourteenthcentury but the practice continued well into the sixteenth century and althoughsome later cartularies are simply revisions of earlier ones, many importantdocuments are preserved only in these later manuscripts. The loss ofdestruction of many original medieval charters ensured that cartulary copiesretained a considerable degree of importance well beyond the Middle Ages. Theywere frequently produced in court as evidence of title, particularly in theperiod after the dissolution of the monasteries and even as late as thenineteenth century. Since the sixteenth century their importance to thegenealogist has been widely recognized and for the medievalist todaycartularies are an invaluable source of information on all aspects of medievallife, providing the main body of evidence for the history of the earliermedieval peasantry.


Medieval cartularies are usually in the form of books orrolls. The majority are written in a business like manner in ordinarycharter-hand but occasionally they are very elegant and have fine bindings. Inmost of the earlier examples the titles and initial capitals are in colour usually red or blue but after the fourteenth century colour is used lessfrequently and is replaced with black ink. Many of the cartularies have a tableof contents but indexes are less common. When the cartularies were compiledspace was left for later additions and sometimes they were left unbound so thatmore leaves could be added if necessary. Different types of cartulary existedand they can be divided as follows:


General Cartularies: This is the most common typewhich contained transcripts of the entire muniments of the individual or housefor which it was compiled. The order of the documents varied sometimes subjectmatter order was used, sometimes chronological order but most usuallytopographical order.


Special Cartularies: In order to reduce the size ofgeneral cartularies large religious houses often made up separate cartulariesfor the individual sections of the muniments such as the royal, papal,Episcopal and other privileges, the material for particular places, or thatconcerning a single endowment such as a chantry.


Cartularies of Rights and Privileges: Large religioushouses also compiled separate cartularies of copies of documents which wouldhelp them deal with recurring administrative problems such as royal, papaland Episcopal privileges; material relating to churches, tithes, pensions andrents; records of legal proceedings and Statutes of the Realm.


Chronicle Cartularies: These were made to generallyinstruct the members of the religious houses and were of a more literarynature. They took the form of a narrative chronicle of the house concerned.


Cartularies in Gospel-Books: The custom also existedof copying royal and other important charters into Gospel-books. In Benedictinemonasteries in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries special types of charterwere bound up with Passion narratives, collects, gospel lessons and prayers.


There were many other types of medieval register of businessand lands such as act, letter and memoranda-books, registers of legalproceedings, feodaries, rentals and surveys. As they are so numerous it hasbeen decided to exclude these.


Access to the Microfilm Edition


The single most useful reference work detailing cartulariesis G.R.C. Davis' Medieval Cartularies of Great Britain (London, 1958).We have not attempted to compete with this work as it will be readily availablein most libraries. However, we have attempted to provide useful bibliographicalinformation to scholars both on the microfilms themselves and in this publishedlisting.


Bibliographical information on the microfilm includes:


A brief listing of the Contents of Reels on every reelgiving the reel numbers, the manuscript numbers, the area concerned (e.g.Rievaulx), and the Davis reference number.


The full, detailed British Library catalogue references(some previously unpublished) for the manuscripts included. The relevantentries for each part appear on the first reel of that part.


This guide provides:


A convenient printed version of the full Contents of Reelsgiving reel numbers, the manuscript numbers, the area concerned and the Davisreference number.