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SESSION IV: Thinking About the Past in the Middle Ages
Public and Private Audiences: Reflections on the Anglo-Saxon Archive of Bury St. Edmunds Abbey in Suffolk
Sarah Foot ( University of Oxford)
This paper examined the Anglo-Saxon writs, and charters of Bury St. Edmunds. Is also answered the following questions: How authentic were these documents? What was their purpose? Who was the intended audience during the Pre-Conquest period?
Bury St. Edmunds was one of the five wealthiest abbeys in medieval England. More medieval chartularies survive from Bury (39) than in any other abbey in England. The collection includes Old English chartularies, and royal writs. The abbey made over 120 copies of the charter of Cnut. However, the Old English wills had very little to do with the abbey – why were they being recopied into the 13th and 14th century? A writ only has value to the person who it was created for and once that person died, it became useless. It was curious that these writs continued to be copied well after the people they had been created for died.
The charter is in King’s-Lynn in the town hall. This however is not a charter of Cnut. This charter was made between 1022-1023. It is believed that the charter was produced by Baldwin, William’s physician and it is not an original deed.
Two surviving chartularies, and one lost chartulary, preserve Old English wills. Bury had the right to prove the wills of local towns people. This made it unique. The town’s people could take the wills to the sacrist court. Each of the registers that survives comes from the sacrist department. This was a statement (more than a practical benefit); and a demonstration that Bury could prove wills with a sacrist.
The documents that speak to an internal and private audience about the monks, their concerns, their valued possessions, investments, books and the landholdings they brought into the abbey. There are a variety of different items in the Bury archive which speak to different audiences and interests. These texts survive in nowhere else but this manuscript. Latin Royal Diplomas were copied and re-copied many times to prove the rights Bury had to Kings . The royal writs of Edward the Confessor were also copied and recopied to testify to various abbey privileges. Collectively, these documents were very carefully thought out in order to secure the well being of the abbey and secure its independence from Episcopal interference.