LONDON (Reuters) – A rare original charter from the reign of King John, complete with its royal seal, has been discovered by chance in County Durham northern England.
Dated 26 March 1200, exactly 819 years ago, the charter was issued in the city of York and confirms the transfer of ownership of two hamlets in Durham.
Fewer than a dozen original charters are known to have survived from the first year of King John’s reign.
It was carefully prepared and written in what is known as a court hand, likely belonging to a professional scribe, who might have been a member of the King’s government department or Chancery.
The discovery was made by Benjamin Pohl, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol.
“It’s like a portal, a window into the past that you can touch,” he said.
“Medieval charters are important not just because of the legal acts they contain, but also for what they can tell us about the society and political culture at the time,” he added. “Indeed, their issuing authorities, beneficiaries and witnesses provide a cross-section of medieval England’s ruling elites.”
Pohl discovered the charter while carrying out unrelated research at Ushaw College Library, one of the core collections forming part of the Durham Residential Research Library, managed by Durham University.
King John, who reigned between 1199 and 1216, is best known for having signed another charter, the Magna Carta, in 1215. One of the most important manuscripts in English history, the Magna Carta is a charter of citizens’ rights curbing the arbitrary power of medieval kings which among other things guaranteed the right to a fair trial.
Reporting by Rachel Cordery; editing by Stephen Addison