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  • Feature of the month: No2. July 2009

Feature of the month: No2. July 2009

'Giving', 'Granting', and 'Confirming': The Problem of Dispositive Verbs in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Scottish Charters: Part I

Dr John Reuben Davies, PoMS Research-Assistant

The prosopographical database of the Paradox of Medieval Scotland 1093–1286 (PoMS) derives its factoids (the assertions that sources make about persons) from the corpus of over 6000 charters produced in Scotland during the period of the survey. In its early stages, the database had two basic categories to describe the 'Transaction' factoids relating to the conveyance of property and/or rights: (1) 'Grant', and (2) 'Confirmation'.

In the early 1970s, G. W. S. Barrow identified five categories of charter produced under the auspices of William I, king of Scots; each type of transaction described in Barrow's classification was expressed with some combination of the terms 'Grant' and 'Confirm' 1 . They were as follows.

  1. Charters recording an original grant of property by the king, usually of land or rights or a mixture of both. The dispositive clause (i.e. the operative clause, defining the transaction) for this class consisted of the formula do (or reddo), concedo et confirmo.
  2. Charters confirming original grants by one or more of the king's predecessors.
  3. Charters confirming original grants or other transactions by the king's lieges. The dispositive formula for these two classes was concedo et confirmo.
  4. Charters, typically issued in favour of well-endowed religious houses, in which the king combines the elements of 1, 2, and 3.
  5. Charters of the same general character as class 1, which specifically record decisions of the king's court, usually in favour of the party in whose archives the document has been preserved.

Within a few weeks of entering data into the PoMS database, however, it became apparent that our terms, 'Grant' and 'Confirmation', the standard vocabulary of charter scholarship, did not adequately express what was being described in our sources. How could do/dare (lit., 'to give') be the defining verb in a charter which we describe as a 'grant'? Why was concedo/-ere (lit., 'to grant', 'to allow') being used alone in some apparently original 'grants', yet in other circumstances it was the defining verb of a charter of 'confirmation'? And why was do/dare being used in some cases where a previous 'grant', either by a predecessor or a tenant, was being 'confirmed'.

After consulting Professor Richard Sharpe 2 , however, and benefitting from his recent insights formed from editing Anglo-Norman royal acta, we have come to see that the three principal verbs found in the dispositive clauses of our charters (dare, concedere, and confirmare) need to be understood and translated in a different way from that which has been standard practice in the charter scholarship of the past century. Furthermore, the classification of the transactions which they describe needs to be re-cast. In a paper (not yet published) on 'Giving and Granting in Documents from Anglo-Norman England', Professor Sharpe has categorised transactions in an important, but subtly different, way from the practice that has gone before. Like Barrow for Scotland, Sharpe has retained, in the Anglo-Norman context, five types of transaction, but expressed in this way:

  1. Gift of land by the king
  2. Gift of rights or licensing of other action
  3. Licensing of gift of land by tenant
  4. Reaffirmation to tenant of his holding land as under the king's predecessor
  5. Gift of succession to land held by antecessor

Sharpe's most important insight is that concedere is to be translated as 'to grant', in the sense of 'to concede', 'to allow', or 'to license'. Thus, dare (formerly the operative verb of those transactions described as a 'grant') signifies that the giver desires that the thing given becomes the property of the recipient, whereas concedere can be understood on the basis that the subject has shown his consent.

Sharpe goes on to identify the principal distinctions between dare and concedere. The most important difference is between dare 'to give' (1) and concedere 'to consent to, to grant (a gift)' (3). A second distinction is between the gift of real property (1) and the grant of incorporeal rights (2).

Sharpe's insights may be applied to the Scottish material with profit, and have gone some way to solving our dilemma over terminology.

Giving and Granting in Scottish Royal Acta

In what follows, a number of charters are set out to illustrate how Sharpe's paradigm of giving and granting seems to operate in Scottish charters from our period.

1. Lawrie, no. XII: 3 'Charter by King Duncan II, to the Monks of St. Cuthbert, A.D. 1094.'

Ego Dunecanus filius regis Malcolumb constans hereditarie rex Scotie, dedi in elemosinam Sancto Cuthberto et suis seruitoribus Tiningeham…

I Duncan, son of King Malcolm, by inheritance undoubted king of Scotland, have given in alms to St Cuthbert and his servants Tyninghame …

The charter goes on to describe the endowment as a 'gift', donum:

Et quoniam uolui quod istud donum stabile esset Sancto Cuthberto, feci quod fratres mei concesserunt.

And since I also wished that this gift should steadfastly belong to St Cuthbert, I have done what my brothers have allowed (or granted).

This is the earliest charter for which we have a full text (and, as it happens, the original document). The transaction is the bestowal of a permanent endowment, and uses the verb 'to give', dare (dedi). We also witness the language of granting: whereas the 'giving' is done by Duncan, who is parting with something that belongs to him, his brothers have 'granted' or 'allowed' this giving, because they have an interest in the property as heirs. The purpose of this actum is not only to hand over the properties to St Cuthbert's monks (at Durham Cathedral Priory), but to make the giving of these properties permanent, and so those with an interest in them have also given their permission so that they and their descendants would be bound by this gift.

2. Lawrie, no. XIX: 'Grant by King Edgar to the Monks of St. Cuthbert of Coldingham and other lands, circa A.D. 1100.'

Eadgarus rex Scottorum omnibus suis hominibus Scottis et Anglis salutem. Sciatis quod ego do in elemosinam, Deo omnipotenti et Sancto Cuthberto domino meo et ecclesie Dunelmensi et monachis in eadem ecclesia Deo seruientibus, et in perpetuum seruituris […] mansionem de Goldingaham, et cum ista mansione has subscriptas mansiones scilicet, Aldcambus, Lummesdene [etc., …] Has suprascriptas mansiones concedo Deo et Sancto predicto et monachis eius, cum omnibus terris siluis et aquis et teloneis et fracturis nauium et omnibus consuetudinibus que pertinent ad predictas mansiones et quas pater meus habuit, quietas et solidas, secundum uoluntatem illorum in perpetuum libere disponendas.

Edgar, king of Scots, to all his men, Scots and English, greeting. Know that I give in alms, to Almighty God, Saint Cuthbert my lord, to the church of Durham, and the monks serving God in that church, now and for ever […] the mansio of Coldingham, and with that mansio these mansiones written below, to wit, Aldcambus, Lumsden [etc., …] These mansiones, written above, I grant to God and to the aforesaid saint and his monks, with all lands, woods and waters, and tolls and wrecked ships, and all the customs which belong to the said mansiones, and which my father had, quit and entire, freely disposed for ever according to their will.

Here Edgar 'gives' the physical properties, but then goes on to 'grant' the incorporeal rights belonging to the mansiones – tolls, wrecked ships, etc. – separately.

3. Lawrie, no. XXVI: 'Confirmation by King Alexander I to the Monks of St. Cuthbert, circa A.D. 1100'

Sciatis quod ego dono et concedo ex mea parte Deo et Sancto Cuthberto et uobis suis monachis, Swintunam totam liberam et quietam tenendam et omnino habendam sicut breue fratris mei Eadgari regis uobis testatur.

Know that I bestow and grant on my part to God and Saint Cuthbert, and to you his monks, the whole of Swinton, to hold free and quit, and to have entire, just as the charter of my brother King Edgar to you bears witness.

Here we observe the use donare in conjunction with concedere in the re-affirmation of the holding of land as under a predecessor; this is also a feature of English acta in the twelfth century. The rationale behind the use of the verb dare or donare as well as concedere would appear, at one level, to be that the property was in the monarch's personal gift to begin with; at another level, however, it identifies the subject as the donor, with the legal obligations entailed in that status. We shall return to this concept in a later post.

In this way, we can see how confusing it is to call the bestowal of property a 'grant' when the main verb being used is 'give'. Likewise, it makes no sense to call an actum, as with this last example, a 'confirmation' when the process does not employ the verb confirmare, and the principal verb is one of giving.

In the next part of this article, the terminology of 'confirmation' will be explored in more detail.

To be continued.


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