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Correlation ID:2e508b5c-19a3-46fe-b49e-832f47be8a2a
 
 

 

William Charter

Charter of William I to the City of London, with seal, 1067

​Charter of William I to the City of London, Manuscript on vellum, with seal, 1067. Ref: COL/CH/01/001A

Archive treasures: The City and the Conqueror

This small but iconic piece of vellum - the 'William Charter' - is the oldest document in the City's archive, given by King William I (the Conqueror) to the City in 1067, soon after the Battle of Hastings, but before he entered the City of London. It has been in the City's keeping continuously ever since. It measures just six inches by one and a half with two slits, the larger one used as a seal-tongue and the other as a tie. The seal impression, although detached and imperfect, is one of the earliest surviving examples from William's reign. Elizabeth Scudder takes a closer look.

The Charter is written in Old English (and so, notably, not in William's native Norman French) and in the form of an administrative letter, a style commonly used by early English Kings. Translated into modern English, it reads: 'William King greets William the Bishop and Geoffrey the Portreeve and all the citizens in London, French and English, in friendly fashion; and I inform you that it is my will that your laws and customs be preserved as they were in King Edward's day, that every son shall be his father's heir after his father's death; and that I will not that any man do wrong to you. God yield you'.

The document reflects William's recognition of the importance of London, and its concentration of trade and wealth, which he wished to safeguard. After defeating the English army under Harold at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, William brought his forces on a slow and marauding march north, subjugating towns along the way, before forming an encampment at Westminster. He threatened to besiege and ransack the City, where many of the remaining leading men of the Anglo-Saxon court had congregated, and the subsequent peaceful surrender, for which the Charter was a reward, was good for both sides. It was issued soon after William's coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, and was a key means whereby he won the support of Londoners; the degree of autonomy which it guaranteed has been valued and defended by the City ever since. The Charter also reflects London's already established international character by addressing both the French and English residents and treating them with equal status.

It is especially significant not only for its survival, but also because it is the earliest known royal or imperial document to guarantee the collective rights of the inhabitants of any town (it is not directed to specific groups, such as merchants, or to institutions such as major churches). The Charter granted nothing new to the Londoners, but confirmed the citizens' rights and privileges already in existence. One of their primary concerns, as expressed in this charter, was to ensure that the succession to property was not subject to arbitrary royal intervention. 

The document is one in a long line of charters which the Citizens of London extracted from the Sovereign; there are over a hundred royal charters in the City's archive. In 2010 the document was inscribed to the UNESCO United Kingdom Memory of the World Register, an online catalogue created to recognise documents of outstanding national cultural significance, and to support and raise international awareness of archives and their importance.

Published:
05 October 2016
Last Modified:
22 August 2018
Unable to display this Web Part. To troubleshoot the problem, open this Web page in a Microsoft SharePoint Foundation-compatible HTML editor such as Microsoft SharePoint Designer. If the problem persists, contact your Web server administrator.


Correlation ID:2e508b5c-19a3-46fe-b49e-832f47be8a2a

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