Monasteries were some of the largest landowners in the early kingdom of England, so any changes to them had a wide economic and social impact. In 964, the new bishop of Winchester, Æthelwold, expelled all the clergy from the Old Minster, Winchester (now Winchester Cathedral) and the New Minster, Winchester, and replaced them with ‘regular’ monks, who lived in strict accordance with the Rule of St Benedict.
This charter was produced probably on the orders of Bishop Æthelwold, in order to protect the newly installed monks. Reformed communities remained under threat from the expelled clergy, and from others who resented the encroachment of religious houses on their own economic interests.
The charter is presented, unusually, in the format of a book written entirely in gold. The text, written in gold letters with over 60 pages, records King Edgar (reigned 959–975) being prepared to protect the community of the New Minster from any threats, not least from the expelled clergy.
The text also includes a brief history of the world and a description of how reformed monks were to live. It claims that the monks’ lifestyle made their prayers more powerful than those of other clerics.The volume begins with a magnificent, gilded representation of King Edgar, with two saints, Mary to the left and Peter to the right. Edgar presents a charter (the golden book in his left hand) to Christ, who is supported by four angels.