Sunday, December 7, 2014

Adapting Medieval Legal Documents for SCA Award Texts

By popular demand, I am putting my class notes up into the Blog.  They are notes, so they are less detailed than the actual class, but I think they will be helpful nonetheless.

Why Legal Documents?

Legal documents are among the easiest period documents to adapt for SCA purposes, because
legal documents tend to have the same essential parts as an award text:

  • The Who: who is issuing/authoring/signing this document? To whom is the document addressed?
  • The What: what is the intended purpose of this document?
  • The Why: why is this document being written?
  • The Act: what the document does; and
  •  The Affirmation of the Act.
When dealing with an SCA award text, 
  • The Who = which Crown or Coronet is bestowing the award, and to whom?
  • The What = what award is being given;
  • The Why = why is the award being given; and
  • The Act = an SCA “scroll” serves as validation and confirmation that the award was given.

The greatest amount of work involved in adapting a period text is the research. One you find a text appropriate to the recipient’s place and time, the actual adaptation is the easy part.

Making More Medieval Language

Medieval writers loved to work in units of three.  A simple structure that will make a text sound more medieval uses the Rule of Three:

     Wherefore, [statement of the Crown’s authority]

     Wherefore, [virtues of the person being awarded]

      Therefore, [we award X to person]

Using three-word phrases will make language sound more medieval:

Instead of, “We award [person] arms”

Use: “We hereby give, endow and award [person] arms”

Example: Elizabeth I’s charter to Walter Raleigh

Knowe yee that of our especial grace, certaine science, and meere motion . . . 

. . . to haue, horde, occupie and enjoy to him, his heires and assignee for euer. . .

. . . And for asmuch as upon the finding out, discovering, or inhabiting of such remote lands, countreis, and territories as aforesaid . . .


1.  Salutations by the Crown:

By the Quene Right worshipful fader in god / our Right trusty and right welbeloued / We grete you wele. (Signet of Queen Margaret: Letter concerning a case in Chancery, 1446)

Edward, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine, to all those that these present letters shall hear or see, greeting. (Confirmation of the Charters, 1297)

Edward by the grace of God etc. to the reverend father in Christ William, by the same grace archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, greeting. (The Statute of Laborers; 1351)

Charles the Fourth, by favour of the divine mercy emperor of the Romans, always august, and king of Bohemia; as a perpetual memorial of this matter. (Golden Bull of the Emperor Charles IV, 1356)

We, Rupert the elder, by the grace of God Count Palatine of the Rhine, elector of the Holy Empire and duke of Bavaria (The Foundation of the University of Heidelberg, 1386)

Louis, the divine power ordaining, august emperor. (The Ordinance of Louis the Pius, 817)

Don Ferdinand and Dona Isabella, by the grace of God king and queen of Castile, etc. (Compact between Spain and Portugal, signed by the Catholic Sovereigns at Madrid, May 7, 1495)

ELIZABETH by the Grace of God of England, Fraunce and Ireland Queene, defender of the faith, &c. (Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh, 1584)

2.  Identify The Addressees:

     A.  Public Announcements:

To all people to whome these presents shall come, greeting. (Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh, 1584)

[T]o all those that these present letters shall hear or see, greeting. (Confirmation of the Charters, 1297)

Mary, by the grace of God, queen of Scots, gives greeting to those, all and singly, to whose notice this letter comes (Charter declaring the Earl of Arran the second person in the land, March 1543)

     B.  Individual Addressee:

Bishop Adrian, servant of the servants of God, sends to his dearest son in Christ, the illustrious king of the English, greeting and apostolic benediction. (The Bull of Pope Adrian IV Empowering Henry II to Conquer Ireland. A.D. 1155)

By the kyng: Ryght trusty and right welbeloued Cosin (Letter to Richard, Duke of York, 1436)

John by the grace of God king of Scots, to his beloved and faithful Alexander de Argyll and his bailies of Lochawe, greeting (First Roll of Parliament of Scotland, 1293)

     C.  Groups of Addressees:

Henry, by the grace of God King of England and duke of Normandy, to the archbishop of Canterbury, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs and all his loyal subjects, French or English, throughout England, greetings. (Charter for the City of London, 1131)

Ralph earl of Chester to all his barons, constables, bailiffs, officers, liege-men and friends, French and English, both present and future, greetings. (Charter of the Earl of Chester to Coventry, c. 1199-1204)

Eleanor, by the grace of God, humble queen of England, duchess of Normandy and Aquitaine, and countess of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, counts, vicounts, barons, seneschals, provosts, justiciaries, bailiffs, all in the present and future to whom these letters will come, greetings. (Charter to Oleron, 1199)

3.  Why Is The Crown Doing What It Is Doing?

Although deeds of the Crown may remain valid from the actual act of performing such deeds, and those things which are lawfully endowed to our subjects by exercise of our will cannot be wrested away by any act of force; it is, however, the duty of our imperial authority to set such deeds, donations and endowments into writing, lest there can be any doubt of the transaction. (Charter establishing the Duchy of Austria, 1156)

Whenever our faithful subjects propose things that are in harmony with the motive of justice and pertain to the good weal of the Kingdom, not only should they not be denied with stubborn mind, but they should be granted laudably with ready heart and benevolent mind. (Letter of Matilda of Tuscany, c 1072-76)

Since human memory is short and does not suffice for a crowd of things, the authority of those who preceded our age, the divine emperors and kings, has decreed that those things were to be written down which the progress of fleeting time generally removes from the knowledge of men. (The Gelnhausen Charter; April 13, 1180)

Forasmuch as after long, great and intolerable pains and labours taken by us since our arrival within our realm, for government thereof and keeping of the lieges of the same in quietness, we have not only been vexed in our spirit, body and senses thereby, but also at length are altogether so wearied thereof that our ability and strength of body is no longer able to endure the same. (Charter appointing James, Earl of Moray regent of Scotland, 1567)

4.  What Is the Crown Doing?

Know that we have granted and confirmed in perpetuity by this our present charter to all our beloved and faithful people of Oleron and their heirs, that they may act as they will legally and securely in perpetuity in giving their girls and widows in marriage and marrying their boys, and having stewardship of their girls and widows and boys, without opposition from us and our heirs. (Charter of
Eleanor of Aquitaine to Oleron, 1199)

And therefore we decree by this law, to be forever valid, that he who is elected emperor concordantly or by the majority of the electors, shall, in consequence of the election alone, be considered and regarded by all as the true and lawful emperor; and that he ought to be obeyed by all the subjects of the empire, and that he shall have, and shall be considered and firmly asserted by all to have and
to hold, the imperial administration and jurisdiction and the plenitude of the imperial power. (Law Licit Juris of the Frankfort Diet, 1338)

[W]e have made, named, appointed, constituted and ordained, and, by these our letters, name, appoint, make, constitute and ordain our said dearest brother James, earl of Moray, regent to our said dearest son, realm and lieges aforesaid, during his minority and less age and until he be of the age of seventeen years complete . . . (Charter appointing James, Earl of Moray regent of Scotland, 1567)

5.  Threats Against Those Who Disobey (not usually included later in period, but fun to read)

Concerning this case we wish and by our authority we confirm that if any insolent or rebellious person with reckless boldness will attempt to violate or infringe this our sound command through any contrivance or presume to come against us and this venerable place and will not fully observe all that was said above, he will stand to pay one hundred pounds of gold in the name of punishment, half to our estate, half to that venerable place where the offense was committed, and moreover he will suffer the disturbance of our indignation, and punishment of most severe vengeance. (Letter of Matilda of Tuscany, c 1072-76)

Moreover, whatever persons shall presume to assert or say any thing contrary to these declarations, decrees or definitions, or any one of them or to countenance those who assert or say anything; or to obey their mandates or letters or precepts: we deprive them from now on, and decree them to be deprived by the law and by the act and itself, of all the fiefs which they hold from the empire, of all
the favours, jurisdictions, privileges and immunities granted to them by us or our predecessors. Moreover, we decree that they have committed the crime of high treason and are subject to all the penalties inflicted on those committing the crime of high treason. (Law Licit Juris of the Frankfort Diet, 1338)

6.  Conclusions

In testimony of this we have arranged for our great seal to be appended to the present document, signed by our said dearest kinsman and guardian, with the consent and authority as mentioned. At Edinburgh on 13 February in the year of the Lord 1546 [1547], and in the fifth year of our reign (Confirmation of Treaty by Mary Queen of Scots)

That this our grant, or confirmation, have perpetual authority and full strength, we have had this charter marked with our seal. Dated at Les Andelys, in the year of the incarnation of the Word, 1199 (Charter of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Oleron, 1199)

And so that this our gift may continue firm and unimpaired in future times, we have reinforced it with the protection of our seal and the subscription of witnesses. With these witnesses: [list of witnesses]. Dated at Le Vaudreuil by the hand of Roger, our chaplain, in the 1199th year of the incarnation of the Word (Charter of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Andreas of Chauvigny)

For the rest, in order that this our imperial decree may, for all ages, remain valid and unshaken, we have ordered the present charter to be written and to be sealed with the impress of our seal, suitable witnesses to be called in whose names are as follows: Pilgrim, patriarch of Aquileija, etc. (Charter establishing the Duchy of Austria)

Also, this act being produced in our parliament, we shall cause the same to be ratified, allowed and approved by the three estates thereof in all points. Given under our great seal and subscribed by us and the said lords of our secret council at our palace of Holyroodhouse, 19 March 1566 [1567], and of our reign the 25th year. (Charter of Mary, Queen of Scots)

Doing The Research: Good Places To Start

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook from Fordham University ( This site contains links to a huge number of texts of various kinds, including secular legal documents, cannon law documents, chronicles and fiction. Nearly all of the documents have been translated into modern English but some are available in the original text and language as well.

The Avalon Project website from Yale Law School ( The documents are all in modern English translation.

A collection of primary source material relating specifically to urban life in the medieval era. The documents are all in modern English translation.

Epistolæ: Medieval Women's Letters from the 4th Р13th Centuries
( In many instances, the site provides both a
modern translation and a transcription of the Latin (usually) original.

Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 ( The site
provides modern English and transcriptions of the original manuscripts in Latin, Scots nd
occasionally French.

Anthology of Chancery English (
Primary source documents with no modern translation, but the Middle English is generally readable with practice.

The On-Line Reference Book for Medieval Studies (

The On-Line Medieval and Classical Library (

The Works of Queen Elizabeth I (
Good for getting a feel for Renaissance language

How to tell which saint’s day it is: 

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