Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Lost Anglo-Saxon Charters of Worcester

How far back in time can the history of your town be traced? For some, the answer is the Anglo-Saxon period, over 1000 years ago…

Engraved portrait of Dean George Hickes of Worcester. From Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014.)
 A recent research project has been focused on the ‘Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus’ of George Hickes. Written in Latin and printed onto paper in 1705, this book deals with the study of Old English in the early medieval period, as well as the Icelandic dialect of Old Norse, and various Runes. In order to explore Old English, Hickes includes a number of Anglo-Saxon charters, two of which directly concern Worcester.

Charter S1363 was written by our very own St Oswald and witnessed by the brothers of Worcester, granting 2 hides of land for 3 lives (these are standard terms used in Medieval legal documents, and represent a modest estate) to be shared by two brothers:

“ic moste gebocian twa hida landes on Mortune on Þreora monna dæg minum twam getreowum mannum Beorhnæge 7 Byrhstane twæm gebroÞrum… 7 ic cy∂e Þæt ∂a gebroÞra twegen me gesealdon .iiii. pund licwyr∂es feos wi∂ fullan unnan”
"I must grant by charter two hides of land in Mortun for three men’s lives to two brothers Beornheah and Brihstan… and I make known that the two brothers surrendered to me four pounds thither for that which is given fully by charter”

A photograph of a printed transcription of S1363 in Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K (2014)

A note in the margin of the original manuscript (which is now lost – lucky that Hickes made a copy) names the estate as ‘Mortun’. We have record of this estate as Moreton or Mortune at various times until the fifteenth century, and it still exists as a farm near Tewkesbury, giving name to the B4080 ‘Moreton Lane’.

A photograph of a printed transcription of S1406 from Thesaurus Grammatico Criticus & Archaeologicus. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral U.K., (2014)

Charter S1406 was written by Bishop Aldred of Worcester sometime between 1046 and 1053, leasing 2 hides of land for the duration of 3 lives. The land is in the manor “that men call Hill” – this is probably the modern area of Hill and Moor, near Pershore.

The recipient is one Aethelstan the Fat, a local nobleman, who signs other charters using this nickname. As ‘Aethelstan’ was a very popular Medieval name, he was presumably comfortable with being identified in this way!

This charter is witnessed by “the whole community of Worcester”
“7 Þisses is to gewitnysse eall se hired on Wigeraceastre”

Along with “all the thegns of Worcester, both Danish and English”
“7 ealle Þa Þegnas on Wigeraceastrescire . denisce 7 englisce”

This is interesting because it shows that after only thirty years or so of Danish rule, Danish noblemen had settled and gained power in areas of England which had traditionally possessed a very strong Anglo-Saxon identity: Worcester was at the heart of the old kingdom of Mercia.

by Joanna Perks



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