15.06.19, Brooks and Kelly, eds., Charters of Christ Church Canterbury

Main Article Content

Thomas Waldman

The Medieval Review 15.06.19

Brooks, Nicholas P., and S. E. Kelly, eds. Charters of Christ Church Canterbury, Parts 1-2. Anglo-Saxon Charters, 17-18. Oxford: Oxford University Press for The British Academy, 2013. pp. lii, 662; l, 637. ISBN: 9780197265352; 9780197265369 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Thomas Waldman
University of Pennsylvania

Since its inception in 1973 The British Academy has published a series of volumes that will include "all pre-Conquest title deeds known to have survived" (British Academy website). The series, currently under the general editorship of Professor Simon Keynes, has now published about half of the surviving corpus (about eight hundred charters), and these two volumes, like the preceding ones, exemplify the highest editorial standards.

The charters of Christ Church, Canterbury (i.e., the charters of the cathedral's monastic community) have been edited by Nicholas Brooks, who has published widely on many aspects of the history of Canterbury for over four decades, and S(usan) E. Kelly, the eminent editor of many volumes in this series, including those of St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury. Thus the reader knows that s/he is in safe hands. In 1984, when Brooks published The Early History of the Church of Canterbury, Christ Church from 597 to 1066, he wrote in the preface, "the scholar who is rash enough to attempt a critical history of a major church in the early Middle Ages needs to be a Jack-of-many-trades...Few British medievalists, whatever their special interests, will not at some time or other have had to consider evidence for Canterbury." For this reason the two volumes, besides being a meticulous edition of the charters, are really an overview of a significant aspect of English ecclesiastical history from the Augustinian mission to the Norman Conquest.

An extensive bibliography (xv-lii) is followed by an introduction (1-229), a list of charters (230-46), and a concordance of this edition with those of P.H. Sawyer (1968), W. de G. Birch (1885-1896), and J.M. Kemble (1939-48). The first part of the introduction (1-27) is a survey of the history of Canterbury, and an overview of the documentation is discussed in a section called "A History of the Archive" (39-85). There are 184 documents edited in this collection, and the Canterbury charters not only include documents of an earlier date than any other English church, but also a large number from 798 to the end of the ninth century. Of the 184 documents, 113 survive in single sheet originals, a higher proportion than found in any other collection. The editors then discuss the charters that are not found in single sheets, including those found in the Anglo-Norman Cartulary and Gospel Books. A meticulous analysis of the cartulary's three manuscripts (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 189; Canterbury D & C, Register P; and London, Lambeth Palace, MS 1212) follows (59-72), and it is their conclusion that the cartulary reflects the assertiveness of Archbishop Anselm and Eadmer rather than the more tolerant attitude of Archbishop Lanfranc and Osbern, and thus it should be dated 1080-1120.

Of particular interest will be the analysis of charters that are found in four illuminated gospel books (MacDurnan Gospels, London, Lambeth Palace 1370; Aethelstan or Coronation Gospels, London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius A iii; Gospels of King Cnut, London, British Library, MS Royal I D ix; St. John's College Gospels, Oxford, St. John's College, MS 194) that were kept upon the altar. Art historians are familiar with these important manuscripts, as are historians interested in medieval forgeries, for it is in one of the manuscripts, (Cotton Tiberius A iii) that are found the so-called Canterbury forgeries, which asserted Canterbury's primacy over the archbishop of York. The discussion of the layout of the manuscript and the placement of the charters in it (both authentic and forged) is so clear that any future discussion of them must take this analysis into consideration.

On pp.105-47 the editors discuss their criteria for determining the authenticity of the diplomas. This includes a discussion of the paleography and diplomatic of the documents divided into two main sections--the ninth century and the tenth/eleventh centuries--and includes not only the charters but chirographs, wills, gospel entries, and writs. The introduction continues (147-81) with a survey of the growth of the Canterbury estates and lordship, accompanied by many maps. A number of the charters make clear what efforts the monks took to make certain that the estates were under their control and not the archbishop's. The introduction concludes (181-232) with short biographies of all the archbishops of Canterbury from Augustine to Stigand.

Then follows a list of all the charters, the concordance, a note on the method of editing, and the sigla (230-58). We now come to the edition itself (261-1217). The introduction has provided the reader with the tools he/she will need for the charters, but the best answer to the question what can the reader expect to find in the charters comes from the editors themselves, when they discuss the archive. "These dated (or datable) documents provide crucial evidence (where their authority has been established) for the legal development of English political, economic, ecclesiastical, legal and landscape history and also for the early development of the English language, particularly of the dialectical variations of south-eastern England" (105). Indeed, one might describe the entry for each charter as a little essay in itself. Space precludes an extensive description of the charters; one example will have to suffice to show the thoroughness of the entries.

This is charter no. 97, "Ealdorman Aelfred and Waeburh, his wife, declare that they have ransomed holy books from the Danish army and now wish to donate them to Christ Church." This Old English inscription is found on fol. 11r of the magnificent illuminated manuscript: the Codex Aureus (Stockholm, Royal Library, MS A 135). The Old English edition is followed by an English translation and a discussion of the inscription's placement in the manuscript underneath the Chi-Rho initial at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. Though there is no illustration, reference is made to the edition of Richard Gameson (2001) where there is a color reproduction of the folio. The commentary includes the possible provenance of the manuscript, a discussion of the script and its relation to other charters edited in the volume. The thorough paleographical analysis is followed by the placing of the inscription in its historical context. Who were Aelfred and Waerburh and what was the army of the heathen from whom the manuscript was purchased? The editors' conclusion is that 871-2 was "a probable time for him [Aelfred] to have been in contact with a Viking army and in a position to purchase a valuable gospel-book. Such a date also seems about as late as we might suppose for the presence of a scribe at Christ Church capable of penning this beautiful inscription. Though some Canterbury scribes of that period had appalling scripts (71, 93), there had still been in the late 860s others there capable of writing with some elegance (88, 89)" (820). We may also ask, they add, why an inscription of an illuminated gospel-book would have been written in English. Maybe, they conclude, the author was Waerburh herself, writing in the "only language she could write" (821). If to some, a three-page commentary on a fifteen-line inscription might seem excessive, to this reviewer there is not an extraneous word here or in the commentary to the other charters.

The volumes conclude with a list of lost charters and benefactions, as well as indices of personal names, place names, words and personal names in boundary clauses, a Latin glossary, and a diplomatic index. They, admittedly, do not have plates in either black and white or color, but numerous volumes of facsimiles of the charters are carefully referenced throughout both volumes.

Not only are these volumes a model for editorial practice, but these charters in themselves offer a "course" in Anglo-Saxon paleography and diplomatic. Under the expert guidance of Brooks and Kelly, these two volumes are a treasure trove of information, one that scholars, no matter what their particular field of study, will find invaluable.

Article Details