Source: After T. Foulds, 'Medieval cartularies', Archives 18 (1987), pp. 3-35.
Brief comments:
MEDIEVAL CARTULARIES: select bibliography
  • G. R. C. Davis, Medieval Cartularies of Great Britain (London, 1958), is the source book, comprising details of all known extant cartularies and notes about those known formerly to have existed. He provides brief details of their codicology, contents, publication, provenance and date of compilation. The arrangement is alphabetically by house (not by Order). It may also be profitable to consult Tanner's Notitia Monastica and Dugdale's Monasticon Anglicanum.
  • T. Foulds, 'Medieval cartularies', Archives 18 (1987), 3-35.
  • V. H. Galbraith, 'Monastic foundation charters of the 11th and 12th centuries', Cambridge Historical Journal 4 (1932-4), 205-22, discusses reconstructions of foundation charters (technically forgeries), many of which occur in cartularies. In these cases, the original foundation and endowments were conferred by oral disposition without a charter, but the religious house reconstructed the events in fabricated charters. Most examples occur before the mid 12th century.
  • D. Walker, 'The organization of material in medieval cartularies' in D. Bullough and R. L. Storey, eds, The Study of Medieval Records. Essays in Honour of Kathleen Major (Oxford, 1972), 132-50 [NB This important article is omitted from Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record, but it is seminal].
MEDIEVAL CARTULARIES: sources
An extract from Davis, Medieval Cartularies, 48-9.
FURNESS                                                           co. Lanc.
Cist. Abbey                                            f.(at Tulketh) 1124
428. PRO., Duchy of Lanc. (Misc Bks 3). Vol. i of a gen. cartulary made, 1412, by John Stell for Abbot W. de Dalton. The whole is elaborately written in double columns with illuminated initials (miniatures, coats of arms etc.), rubrics etc. and arranged topographically, with sections of papal and other general charters at the end of vol. i(fos. 215 ff.) and copies of royal and one or two archiepiscopal etc. charters included passim. Each vol. is prefaced by a contemp. Table, uncompleted in vol. i. Ed. (vol. i) J. C. Atkinson, The Coucher Book of Furness Abbey, 3 vols. (Chetham Soc., New ser. ix, xi, xiv, 1886-8); cf. C. T. Flower, 'The Cowcher Book of Furness Abbey', in Chetham Miscellanies vi (ib. xciv, 1935).
Fos 293 (wants about 25 leaves passim);Cambridge U.L., Add. 4407 (12), taken from a binding, is the upper half of fo. 178 ('Roos'). 16 x 10 in.
429. BM., Add. 33244. Vol. ii, cf. No. 428. Ed. J. Brownbill, The Coucher Book of Furness, Volume ii, 3 vols. (ib. lxxiv, lxxvi, lxxviii, 1915-19).
Fos. 227. 15 x 9 in. FO: the Duchy of Lanc. Office, 16th-17th cent.; R. Palmer, 1747; Ralph, 2nd earl Verney; Sir W. Burrell, bart.; the Hamilton family., dukes of Hamilton etc. 430. Untraced. 'Cartularium ... penes doct. Rawlinson', 1742 (T). Possibly identical with No. 429. The cartulary referred to by Sir H. Spelman, Glossarium, 431, s.v. 'Novale', is there said to have been in the Duchy of Lanc. Office and not in his own possession as stated by (T).
Extended commentary
Davis enumerated 1344 cartularies or 'cartulary-related' items, of which 1185 emanated from ecclesiastical or religious foundations and only 159 derived from secular households or estates. Foulds has reduced the 1185 cartularies of religious houses to 366 'true' or complete cartularies, excluding fragments and related pieces. His two graphs of the production of the extant complete cartularies reveal most intense activity in the religious sector c. 1270-1370, with a revival in the late 15th century, and a peak of production of lay cartularies c. 1400-30 and c. 1500.

Clanchy (From Memory to Written Record) tentatively suggests an origin of production around Worcester, where the earliest two extant cartularies (late 11th century) were produced for the regular Cathedral Priory -- Hemming's (for Bishop Wulfstan in c. 1062-95) and Oswald's cartularies. These two early cartularies may have been commissioned by the monks of the great Benedictine Cathedral Priory immediately after the Conquest to demonstrate to the Normans the great tradition and heritage of their house and to secure their estates from depredations at a time when Church lands may have been vulnerable, especially since the heads of these houses continued to be insular until the 1070s and 1080s when they were succeeded by Normans -- a hypothesis which which Simon Keynes (The Diplomas of King Æthelred the Unready) concurs.

The next oldest extant cartulary, the Textus Roffensis, also derives from a Benedictine Cathedral Priory (Rochester) and was compiled c. 1125. Before 1150, only about half a dozen cartularies are known to have existed and fewer than 30 before 1200. Their proliferation occurred in the 13th century, and particularly towards the end of that century. Events in the early 12th century, however, may have stimulated other religious houses to compile cartularies. The Ramsey Abbey cartularies, for example, were initiated in the reign of Stephen, a period of great insecurity and depredation of the Abbey's estates. Competition amongst religious houses in the late 12th century to acquire and retain gifts and grants of land may have been a further consideration -- exacerbated by the increase of numbers of religious houses, the advent of new Orders and the decline in lay benefactions in the later 12th century. Production of cartularies may, however, simply have been an integral part of the nuanced movement towards written rather than oral testimony and record. This last influence might have been emphasised by episcopal visitations when the muniments of the house were inspected, unless the bishop/ordinary allowed a dispensation so that only the cartulary was examined not the original charters.

The earliest extant lay cartulary, of the Constable family of Flamborough, was not composed until c. 1200-10. Clanchy speculates about a connection of lay production in Northamptonshire, evidenced by the Hotot, Bray and Bassett documents. The Bassett 'cartulary' actually consists of a series of enrolments of charters, kept on rolls rather than in volumes. The book of Henry de Bray of Braybrooke was not compiled until c. 1322. The content of the Bray volume has a close resemblance to the Hotot book, compiled perhaps from the 1240s, since both contain fewer charters and more miscellaneous estate and family material. Their contents suggest that these books were produced not only to record charters but also to instruct the family and heirs about the descent of the family, the acquisition of its estates, and to respect the integrity of those lands. Such a didactic purpose, however, may have been behind many cartularies. Both Bray and Hotot items may have been written by their owners, Henry de Bray and Richard de Hotot, both a miles litteratus.

The motives behind the production of cartularies were thus multiple, but both lay cartularies and those for religious houses may have been commissioned for didactic purposes -- to instruct families to maintain and defend the integrity of estates and to instill in brethren and sisters of religious houses a reverence for the patrimony of the saint of their house. Another possible influence on their production at their zenith in the mid and late thirteenth century was to produce 'a convenient handbook of the abbey's jurisdictional privileges and powers' under administrative and judicial pressure from the Crown and the episcopacy (J. F. R. Walmsley, 'Jurisdiction on an ecclesiastical estate: the case of Burton Abbey,' American Journal of Legal History 24 (1980), p. 1).

In cartularies of the 15th century, motives for production are occasionally more explicit rather than implicit, explained in preambles (Foulds). A small number of cartularies of religious houses was commissioned in the vernacular, including a group around Oxford, such as the English Registers of Godstow Abbey (a nunnery) and Osney Abbey. Both reflected a decline in the knowledge of Latin amongst the religious. A Latin cartulary had been compiled for Godstow in 1404, but 50 years later a Middle English translation was required, made by a 'pore brodur and welwyller' who wrote a didactic prologue. Therein he explained that women of religion were now less capable of reading Latin: 'Therfor, how be hyt that theywolde rede her bokys of remembraunce and of her munymentys wryte in Latyn, for defaute of understondyng they toke ofte tymes grete hurt and hyndraunce ... Hyt wer ryht necessary, as hyt semyth to the understondyng of such relygyous women, that they myght haue out of her latyn bokys, sum wrytynge in her modyr tonge, whereby they myht haue bettyr knowlyge of her munymentys and more clerely yeue informacyon to her seruauntys, rent gedurarys and receyuowrs in the absent of her lernyd councell'.

Finally, some cartularies are extremely specialised: first, as a result of the assignation of revenues to obedientiaries in the larger religious houses, many obedientiaries had cartularies for their own lands; secondly some cartularies were produced to meet particular circumstances, such as the so-called Carte Nativorum of Peterborough Abbey compiled to prevent confusion between the status of land and the status of the peasants holding it.
Problems
  • Cartularies are not consistently comprehensive, but suffer from the usual problems of redaction. In many editions of cartularies, however, the editors have included charters omitted by copyists of cartularies.
  • Cartularies may contain clerical errors of transcription which might affect the sense of charters. Some errors may involve only odd words, but errors of haplography are more serious.
  • Cartularies were written ex parte the religious house or family, so that they will inevitably include some bias, especially when involving disputes over lands and privileges.
  • Following from this is the question of forgeries -- whether they are simply intelligent reconstructions of oral events (Galbraith) or have a more sinister interpretation.
  • The truncation of witnesses may occasionally be a problem, if authenticity, precise dating or social networks are an issue. An interesting example is a charter of 1191 copied into the cartulary of Osney Abbey in c. 1280 and relating to an agreement between Osney Abbey and some burgesses of Oxford. The copy in the cartulary contains only half a dozen witnesses, but the original charter, as R.H.C. Davis showed, has appended a list of more than 60 burgesses of Oxford, important for the constitutional development of the burgesses and burghal organisation.
  • Problems of interpretation may arise from exclusive use of cartularies. The issue of the 'crisis' or decline of knightly families in the late 12th century might have been partly confounded by exclusive use of cartularies of religious houses, which might be a self-fulfilling prophecy since they will inevitably record the expansion of the estates of the religious at the expense of the laity. (There is a large literature about this issue).
Organisation
The organisation of material in cartularies of religious houses mainly conforms to a traditional pattern (David Walker), with few exceptions.
  • Privileges of the Order and Papal bulls.
  • Foundation charter(s), royal and episcopal confirmations.
  • Charters from the honorial baronage -- that is, the mesne tenants and knights of the barony or honor of the founder and her/his family.
  • Topographical arrangement bringing together all the charters of acquisition of lands in each vill. Sometimes the vills are collected together in a higher hierarchy of organisation, such as the bailiwicks or custodia into which the estate was organised.