Types of charters 4: confirmations and disputes

Posted: Oct. 16, 2014, 5:13 p.m. by Edward Roberts

About 12% of our charters record confirmations. A charter of confirmation is quite simply an endorsement of a previous grant or an existing possession, agreement or other right. Many royal diplomas confirm the rights and possessions of religious houses, as these were keenly sought by bishops and abbots when an opportunity to meet the king arose. Confirmations could equally be sought by institutions and lay people in order to reiterate or clarify a previous donation or privilege. These charters often had the effect of reaffirming or renewing a social, political, economic or spiritual relationship between two parties. A confirmation might also be granted if an original document had been lost or destroyed.

Here is a charter of confirmation from Freising, Bavaria, which renews an earlier grant made to the episcopal church:

Freising no. 58 (9 July 773)

In the name of the highest and only-begotten son of the living God, Jesus Christ. I, Cunibert, now wish to clarify a donation and transfer, which just recently I made to [the church of] the mother of God, Mary, at Freising in the villa called Buch [am Erlbach] by an earlier letter, of these servants and dependants, lest anyone try to entice or carry off anybody great or small from these things on account of my neglect. In the first place, Deotuni and his wife Sindhilt with their two sons Ratolf and Rihpald; then Tagapald with his wife named Kisa and two sons Erpfolt and Ihho; after them Oadalpald with his wife Rihhaid and his sister Uuinguhaid and their offspring Ellanrat; then Uuolfheri with all those things he possesses; and also Uuolfdregi with his unfree Adsonia; after these Ummo with his wife Cundpiriga and their two sons Popo and Petto; then Liuprat with his wife Cunnia with the children Uualtrata and Roodrato; then Sindicho with his wife Perhtnia and daughter Roodlinde; after these Adalrat with his wife Uuolfuuihae and child Frouuimot; after these Tuti with his wife Emgunde and little boy Poso; in total numbering 33. These things were written in the presence of Bishop Arbeo. These witnesses [confirmed] the things I was seen to possess in that villa: Parceol. Wicrat. Popo. Hato. Arpeo. Paatto. Aaron. Reginbert. Done in the villa of Buch on the 7th of the Ides of July in the 26th year of the reign of Lord Duke Tassilo. I, Horskeo, wrote this on orders from the mouths of Arbeo and Cunibert.

The first part of Freising 54, as it appears in the ninth-century Freising cartulary (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, BayHStA HL Freising 3a, f. 58')

Here, Cunibert clarifies an earlier grant he made to Freising by naming all the dependants who are attached to a villa he previously donated in Buch am Erlbach. The original grant also survives – it is no. 15 in the Freising cartulary – but it was given in the year 760 and thus falls outside the chronological parameters of our database (768-814). However, because the initial donation is referred to in this document, you would still be able to find it as a secondary transaction which is ‘also mentioned’ in the charter (as opposed to the confirmation, which appears under the heading ‘main business’ as it is the document's primary purpose). Cunibert states that he wants to list the tenants associated with this land in case any of them are taken away (or presumably leave of their own accord) since he is unable to keep an eye on the property himself. The scribe mentions that the document was ordered by both Cunibert and Bishop Arbeo, and it is probably safe to assume that the bishop was equally keen to have a written document which confirmed the church of Freising’s rights over these individuals. 

Of the charters we have entered so far, roughly 5% contain disputes. Early medieval dispute procedure and settlement have been extensively studied in recent decades as they offer important evidence for understanding how local communities regulated themselves and sought to resolve potentially destabilising conflicts. Such studies have often emphasised the importance medieval society ascribed to the written word, for documentary proof was frequently invoked in dispute proceedings: a charter might record that other charters were shown in court to back up a claim. Charters of dispute thus attest to a sophisticated legal culture which belies a common conception that early medieval law was arbitrary and irrational, or that this was a society which simply turned to trial by ordeal to resolve disputes (although this did sometimes occur, it was often a last resort).

Charters were issued to record the outcomes of quarrels over rights of ownership or possession, physical land boundaries, inheritances and more (such a charter was often known as a placitum). Since one of the chief roles of a medieval king was to dispense justice within his kingdom, diplomas often recount disputes that were heard at the royal court. These tended to involve more important nobles and institutions. Some ecclesiastical charters were issued specifically to record dispute outcomes, although we tend only to have records of disputes in which churches and monasteries were successful in pursuing their claims – which is perhaps unsurprising, given the patterns of documentary survival mentioned in previous blogs. Grants and other charters sometimes refer to earlier disputes between lay people or between lay people and institutions, and where this occurs you’ll see it in our database under the ‘also mentioned’ heading.

Here's a charter recording a dispute from the monastery of Farfa in central Italy:

Farfa no. 2:97 (CDL 4a:28; December 776)

(trans. Graham Barrett)

In the name of the Lord God, our saviour, Jesus Christ. When we, Hildebrand, glorious duke of the duchy of Spoleto, had been staying in the palace at Spoleto, and Bishop Adeodatus, Bishop Gualtarius of Fermo, Bishop Vadpert of Valva, Bishop Auderis of Ascoli Piceno, Rimo the gastald (a Lombard official) of Rieti, Count Lupo of Fermo, Maiorianus the gastald of Forcone, Count Lupo of Ascoli Piceno, Anscausus the gastald of Valva, Count Halo, Gumpertus, Nordo and Campo the gastalds, and Citherius our judges were present with us, then the venerable Bishop Sinuald of the city of Rieti came into our presence, together with the priests of that city, that is, Halo the deputy, John, Acheris, Lupo, Candidus, Septiminus the priests, [because they were] having a dispute with the venerable man Probatus, abbot of the monastery of the mother of God, St Mary (i.e. Farfa), and with his monks.

There Bishop Sinuald and his priests put forward that: ‘The farmhouse which is called Balberiano formerly belonged to Liutpert, and his son named Lupo offered that farmhouse on the day of his death to our church of the blessed Hyacinth; but now that farmhouse has been seized by that Probatus in the monastery of St Mary; for what, we do not know.’

But conversely, Abbot Probatus with his monks responded: ‘That farmhouse of which you speak in no way pertains to you, nor could Lupo give it to your church of blessed Hyacinth; but Liutpert, the father of that Lupo, seized that farmhouse for himself from the public, that is, from the enclosure of Germaniciana, where he had been an agent for many years. But we have a precept of the lord King Aistulf in [our] hands, just as that king in his time conceded that enclosure of Germaniciana with its men, farmhouses and appurtenances to our monastery of St Mary; and when in the past year, in the presence of that lord Duke Hildebrand, the elected [bishop] Agio, with John the deputy and his priests, was arguing with us over that case in your presence, Lord Hildebrand, you can remember how you made a judgement between us, that the side of the church of Rieti – that is, that Agio with his priests – would have to show how that farmhouse had been donated to the same Liutpert by the palace, and [how] they held that farmhouse. And in that order, that Agio, with his priests, gave surety that if they were not prepared in the agreement, either with their witnesses who knew how it had been donated to him by the palace, or to show a precept, they would lose those cases to us.’

And we, the aforesaid duke, remember everything, just as the abbot said, and when they had not been prepared through three agreements, that elected [bishop Agio], with his priests, informed us that he neither had witnesses nor a precept to show.

Repeatedly indeed, and now once again, Bishop Sinuald responded, with Halo the deputy and with the above-written priests: ‘Although the elected [bishop] Agio could not establish [the claim], as you say, we can thus establish how for a long time Liutpert had held that farmhouse by gift, and had taken possession of it through the palace, and just as we have now repeatedly put the agreed surety in your presence in Rieti, we have witnesses who know how Liutpert held that farmhouse, donated through the palace, for we do not have a precept of it, but we establish [this], just as for a long time it was possessed by him; and in those days, those who were gastalds had the power of donating the farmhouse by their gift without the duke.’

Then those witnesses, Sintarius the gastald, brother of that Sinuald, and Count Lupo of Fermo, were brought into our presence, as above, and when they had been examined by us [as to] what they knew of it, they said to us: ‘God is [our] witness that we know nothing in any way of this case.’

But after these things, when they had not been able to find any witnesses, then the above-written priests declared that they did not have any witnesses. Then we, the glorious duke, inquired of the above-written bishop and our gastalds already named if such had been the custom before those times, that the judges of that duchy had license, without the duke, to donate the entire farmhouse to any man. And they unanimously said that: ‘No, except in moderation, a small [plot of] land or a little house without an heir; but half or an entire farmhouse, not without the palace.’

When all these above-written things had been investigated in such a way by us, the above-written duke, bishops, and gastalds, it appeared just to all of us, that, because the side of Bishop Sinuald and the priests of his above-written city of Rieti had had neither a precept nor witnesses to show, the side of the monastery of St Mary and the abbot, as that enclosure of Germaniciana with all its appurtenances was included by the concession of that king and in his precept, which we have had reread immediately before us, should hold and possess the afore-named farmhouse of Balberiano, just as it pertains to the same enclosure in [its] entirety; and the side of Bishop Sinuald and his priests should restrain themselves from this case. And it was finished.

Whence, to prevent contention by everyone, I, Auduin the notary, have written a notice of this judgment, by the order of the above-written power and at the word of Dagarinus the gastald, in the month of December, in the fifteenth indiction. I, in the name of God, Hildebrand, glorious duke, have subscribed this judgment by my hand.

The abbey of Farfa today (Wikimedia Commons)

As you can see, the charter is fairly lengthy, and this is not atypical of dispute charters (particularly those from the monastery of Farfa). This is a dispute between the bishop of Rieti and the abbot of Farfa over some land in ‘Balberiano’, an unidentified place. Hildebrand, the duke of Spoleto, presides, and hears each side’s case. The abbot of Farfa produces a document demonstrating his monastery’s rights to a related property, and insists that the bishop’s claim is invalid because he acquired Balberiano from someone who had himself illegally usurped it from Farfa. Ultimately the bishop of Rieti is unable to provide witnesses who can uphold his church’s claim to the property, and the duke rules in Farfa’s favour.

In the database, the dispute will be broken down into the various alleged grants or possessions and the outcomes. So, the 'main business' of this charter is a dispute involving all the mentioned litigants, and the outcome is that Farfa retains its possession of Balberiano. The different claims made by the disputants (e.g. Farfa's claim that King Aistulf granted this land to them, and Rieti's claim that Lupo granted it to them) are recorded as alleged grants or possessions and will appear under the 'also mentioned' heading.


W. Brown, Unjust Seizure: Conflict, Interest and Authority in an Early Medieval Society (Ithaca, NY, 2001) - for more information on Freising.

W. Brown and P. Górecki (eds), Conflict in Medieval Europe: Changing Perspectives on Society and Culture (Aldershot, 2003).

M. Costambeys, Power and Patronage in Early Medieval Italy: Local Society, Italian Politics and the Abbey of Farfa, c.700-900 (Cambridge, 2007) - for more information on Farfa.

W. Davies and P. Fouracre (eds), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1986).

K. Heidecker (ed.), Charters and the Use of the Written Word in Medieval Society (Turnhout, 2000).

R. McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge, 1989).