Dating undated medieval charters

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In Normandy, dating returned to the charter text as royal administrative authority spread in the region after 1204, while in England it was with the accession in 1189 of Richard I, whose administrative experience was rather Continental than English, that dating was regularly introduced to records emanating from his royal chancery.Attachment to tradition being what it is, it still took well over a century for that custom to be adopted consistently by those who drafted charters elsewhere in the realm.

In 1983, using what was then considered new methodology, the DEEDS Project produced a microfiche concordance of the content of the 957 charters in the secunda camera of the English Hospitaller cartulary of 1442 .

It becomes distinctly hazardous, however, in the case of individuals to whom a clearly defined chronology cannot be attached, since namesakes, even when occurring in groups (as they do from one generation to the next in rural environments), can often be shown to be different people.

And even when the identification is certain there is usually no way of telling at what point in the life-span of that individual a given record was issued.

When errors of this sort can be made with dated royal charters, how much more vulnerable might be dates assigned through the association of personal names to undated private ones.

Problems arising from the misidentification of different individuals bearing the same name, or of the same individual bearing the same name, not to mention the same individual bearing different names, are compounded in those records whose witness lists were omitted, as often happened when they were copied into a cartulary.

Faced with the reality that only five percent of the records he was editing bore dates, or could be assigned accurate dates based upon recognizable names or events cited in them, he became convinced after making a meticulous examination of his sources that charter chronology was inextricably tied to the growth and development of the formulae which appeared in them .

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