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Legal documents outlining rights, customs, privileges and pardons granted to a particular legal entity.
Why they were created
Created to record and authorise royal grants made under the Great Seal.
Who might have created them
Created by office holders responsible for the Great Seal on behalf of the Crown.
Where you might find them
Usually found with deeds and legal documents. Commonly found in the following collections:
- Municipal Corporations
- Local authorities
- Landed families
- Charities and trusts
Period from which they most commonly survive
Common in the Medieval and Early Modern periods, but examples exist up to the present day.
- Royal copies sewn together as rolls
- Copies issued to relevant bodies as individual membranes
- Wax impression of the Great Seal affixed to the foot of the document on a cord, ribbon or parchment strip
- Name of monarch under whose authority the grant is made
- Name of party to whom the grant is being made, whether this is an individual, a group of individuals, or a community
- Details of what is being granted, i.e. an appointment to office or commission, land, rights upon a piece of land, legal rights and privileges, pardons, etc.
- Date of grant
- Details of pre-existing grants upon which the grant in question builds
- Design of the Great Seal of individual monarchs
Things to consider:
- Charters are records of the expression of royal power, however, the granting of a charter or letters patent, may be the result of hidden lobbying by an individual or group with the ear of the monarch, thus the context of the grant is important when assessing the extent of royal power being exercised
- Illustrations of and references to the monarch responsible for granting a particular charter might contain subtle devices designed to emphasise or bolster the power of that monarch
Charters and letters patent can be useful when undertaking research into the following areas:
- Royal prerogative
- Legality of claims to land ownership, rights, privileges and position
- Development of rights enjoyed by municipal corporations and local authorities
- Official appointments and commissions
- Visual representations of the monarchy
Further reading in the following areas will help researchers when using these sources:
- Latin - prior to the 16th century, charters and letters patent were usually written in Latin, with English only becoming standard during the 1650s and after 1733
- Medieval and Early Modern palaeography, specifically writing styles used by central government
Resources at Hull History Centre
Search for further examples of charters and letters patent using our online catalogue. Try using search terms such as charter, letters patent, commission, etc.
Alternatively, if you prefer to browse, the file below contains a list of charters and letters patent held at Hull History Centre. Please note that this list is not comprehensive, but represents key examples of the document type.
The following secondary literature provides background and contextual information that will help you to understand and use charters and letters patent in your research: