The inter-relationship between orality and literacy: the 12th-century charter


oral livery of seisin
witnesses (to the event)

Written charter

read out to an assembly

Thus the notification or address in the charter is sometimes visuris or audituris, to those who will see or hear the content of the charter.

Occasionally, the attestation clause implies the importance of hearing and seeing, but the question here is whether the witnesses were witnesses to the hearing and seeing the charter or to the hearing and seeing of the event, the symbolic livery.

Hiis testibus ... [named witnesses] et aliis multis audientibus et videntibus

[William de Redvers, earl of Devon, to Christ Church Priory, 1207x1212: R. Bearman, ed., Charters of the Redvers Family and the Earldom of Devon 1090-1217 (Devon and Cornwall Record Society n.s. 37, 1994), p. 138 (no. 102), and the same phrase in the attestation clause of a charter of William Maskerel to Quarr Abbey in 1191x1194: ibid., p. 194 (no.24)]

[named witnesses] et multis aliis qui hec viderint et audierint

[W. A. Hulton, ed., The Coucher Book or Chartulary of Whalley Abbey II (Chetham Society, XI, 1847), p. 591: charter of Adam de Merland' to Roger constabularius of Chester.]

The implication of the attestation clause might be the same when the witness list refers to a court or an entire vill, thus:

Hiis testibus [named witnesses] et tota uillata Glapuwell' et multis aliis

[R. R. Darlington, ed., 'The Glapwell Charters', Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, LXXVII (1957), p. 18 (no. 17) and also pp. 32-3 (no. 34) for the same phenomenon.]

Following the attestation clause: Coram his omnibus lecta est hec cartula et ab hominibus Malgeri ipsa concessa et confirmata

The implication is again that the charter was read out to the witnesses, perhaps in the chapter house of Southwell, for this charter is a notification by the canons of Southwell minster that Mauger de Roldestuna had made a gift to Rufford Abbey.

[C. J. Holdsworth, ed., Rufford Charters vol. 2 (Thoroton Society Record Series, xxx, 1974), pp. 162-3 (no.293)]

The attestation clause: Hiis testibus [named witnesses] Et halimoto de Cumenora. (1189x1221)

What is the implication? Was the charter read out to the assembled halmote? Or were the witnesses the witnesses to the event, the symbolic livery?

[C.F. Slade & G. Lambrick, eds, Two Cartularies of Abingdon Abbey (Oxford Historical Society n.s. xxxii (1990), p. 439 (no. L645)]

Omnes isti peticione mea testes sunt hujus rei. Insuper hoc meum sigillum est testimonium huius carte.

[R. Holmes, ed., The Chartulary of St John of Pontefract... (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series xxv, 1898), pp. 290-1 (ccxxii).

What is the relationship between the visual authentication and representation of the seal and the ability to read?

[address} Notum sit omnibus audituris litteras istas...
[witnesses .. named] coram parochianis

[Charter of William filius Rogeri to Guisborough Priory c.1159-60 : W. Brown, ed., Cartularium Prioratus de Gyseburne... (Surtees Society 86, 89 (1889, 1894), p. 1905 (dcclix)]