Earliest English charter


Charters (legal documents recording the ownership of property and rights) were introduced to England in the 670s. This is the earliest example to survive in its original form, on a single sheet of parchment.

It was enacted at Reculver, Kent, and records that King Hlothhere (reigned 673–685) had granted land at Westanae, in Thanet, to Abbot Berhtwald of Reculver, where a monastery had been founded in 669. Hlothhere acted with the consent of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury (died 690), and of his nephew and co-ruler, Eadric. The charter is dated ‘in the month of May, in the seventh indiction’; this reference to a Roman system here signifies 679. The high-grade uncial script is compatible with the given date. 

On the day in question, before adding his mark, the king decided to add another piece of land, at Sturry, near Canterbury, following the ‘well known boundaries’ indicated by his leading men. Although it would be appealing to think that the large cross on line 41 was added by King Hlothhere himself, the crosses and attestations in this document appear to have been written by the main scribe, who varied them to suggest that they were autograph.

Full title:
Grant of King Hlothhere of Kent (673-685) to Abbot Beorhtwald (archbishop of Canterbury 692-731) and his monastery
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Cotton MS Augustus II 2

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