The beginning: our oldest document

We thought that a good place to start our new blog was at the ‘beginning’ of our collection, so here Archivist Katharine Schofield introduces the oldest document in our collection.

The oldest document in the ERO is over 1,000 years old. It is an Anglo-Saxon charter (catalogue reference D/DP T209) which dates from 962, in the reign of King Edgar.

(Click for a larger version)

It is a grant of land in South Brent, Devon by King Edgar to one of his ministers Ǽthel[wine]. The land later came into the possession of the Petre family, who originated from Devon and became an important Essex family, and the charter forms part of the extensive Petre collection held at the ERO.

The first part of the charter is written in Latin. The second part which describes the boundaries of the land (e.g. ‘by the lane as far as the earthwork’) is written in Anglo-Saxon.

Unlike medieval deeds this charter is not sealed but has a long list of witnesses, beginning with King Edgar. The witnesses include bishops, ealdormen (royal officials) and ministers and Dunstan (later St. Dunstan), Archbishop of Canterbury.

As this charter is so early in date it does not use the conventional language found in later deeds. It includes the warning to those who might choose to ignore the deed:

But unto any who should lessen or infringe this my grant (far be such a thing from the minds of the faithful) be their portion with those on the other side upon whom is pronounced the sentence ‘Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire which was prepared for Satan and his followers’.