‘A Lasting Memorial’: The Charter of Liberties of Henry I
According to the chronicler Eadmer, Henry I made promises at his coronation, to maintain good laws and to abolish all oppressions and injustices, and had ordered ‘all these promises confirmed by a solemn oath to be published throughout the kingdom with, by way of lasting memorial, a written document authenticated by his seal in witness of its validity’.1 The Charter of Liberties of 1100 is, like Laudabiliter, one of the famous charters of the central Middle Ages. It is a crucial piece of evidence for our understanding of the situation in England in 1100, when Henry I seized the English throne on his brother’s unexpected death, and because it was taken up by the opposition barons in 1214 as a basis for their demands for redress and reform. It provided a first draft of Magna Carta.2 It has often been discussed, but usually in the context of political and constitutional history rather than as a charter, yet it has a good deal to tell us about the status and transmission of texts. The first section of this chapter is concerned with the genesis of the charter, and with the concessions made: why were these concessions recorded in charter form? The second section deals with the construction and transmission of the text. Finally, the seeming paradox of this charter is explored: if it achieved ultimate fame as a prototype for Magna Carta, it did not, however, establish a document template systematically followed by Henry’s successors.
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