Royal Charters of Ramsey Abbey
The Charters given to Ramsey Abbey from King Edgar onwards, was the life blood of the Abbey. These Charters made the Abbey powerful in it’s own right, giving it land, absolving it from taxes, and making it very rich. Besides these Charters there were other Grants and Deeds also given.
The most important and first Charter given to the Abbey was from King Edgar. This Charter was obtained by Duke Ailwyn and Archbishop Oswald, and was publicly read before the consecration of the second Church on the 8th of November 991 (Ref 7). The main points of the Charter that follow are from the Monasticon by Dugdale.
King Edgars Charter
I, Edgar, through the great mercy of God Himself, exalted to be King of all England, to all future Kings after me, Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Counts, Sheriffs, Captains, and all the sons of holy Church, greeting, since a certain man beloved by me, and also a near relation, by name Ailwyn, Alderman, moved by divine clemency, with my good will and permission, hath built in the Island, called Ramsey, a Monastery to the honour of the blessed mother of God and perpetual Virgin Mary, and of Saint Benedict, and of all holy Virgins, foreseeing the uncertain condition of all future times, I have desired all my posterity in the future to know, how by the grace of the Almighty, a miracle shewed itself; as by the sure relation of some of my bishops, yea even from Ailwyn himself I have learned.
Then follows this narrative of the miracle, which has been alluded to.
In the same year 974, when on Christmas-day the nobles of all my kingdom, Clerics and Laics, had assembled at my court to keep the festival: I being asked by my friends the Archbishops, to confirm by this Charter of my kingly authority, before my whole court, all the gifts and possessions, as well of the said Ailwyn, as of other persons, which they have bestowed for the support of the said Church and maintenance of the family of monks there under the yoke of Christ, as well as record the names of the donors, these I have decided to inscribe by my letters for the information of posterity.
That is, firstly the gifts of the Alderman himself, to wit, the island, in which is built the aforesaid Monastery, with all the adjoining meadows, pastures, plains, marshes, and thickets of woods. Then others are enumerated as Upwood, Raveley, Hemingford, Sawtry, Stukeley, Brington, Weston, Hebrigch, Walsoken;
In Upwell also twenty fishermen, paying sixty thousand eels a year for the use of the aforementioned brethren; Brancaster, Warboys, Kingston that is Wistow, with Raveley, and Biri berewicis; Slepe, and Chatteris, and the eastern part of Elsworth; Wythesaton and Ysham; Houton, Witton, Ripton, Clinton and Withersam; Hinith vidua, Graveley, Belington, Stockton, and Gillinger, to each and all of which is added “cum omnibus sibi pertinentibus.”
These were granted and confirmed, “tam bene, et tam plene, sicut ea sub mei Juris dominio, suffragatore Deo,” as fully and as freely as if the aforenamed nobility possessed them, by the favour and consent of my first and chiefest, for perpetual possessions to the aforesaid Church.
Nor was this all, the granted estates were freed from taxes or taxed labour, from all secular services and works, “so that no king, or bishop, or prince, procurator, or tax-gatherer, should exact from them pasture, or labour, or tribute; but all should be altogether free, and private, which are noted above. Besides, on the counsel and advice of my friends Dunstan and Oswald, Archbishops of Canterbury and York, I have decreed, that whosoever shall flee to this place for high treason, or other offence, shall escape punishment of estate, members and life; and always it shall be a habitation of monks, and according to the rule of the blessed Benedict, after the death of the Abbot, another worthy one shall be chosen from the same congregation; but if no one there be worthy, they may elect from another known monastery one eminent for wisdom and piety; but no laic or cleric may presume to usurp the headship of that house.
Moreover the property given it, neither Abbot, nor any other person may have power to sell, or give away, but that house holds them always by protection of the Kings; the Abbot, himself serving God alone as King, shall diligently feed the flock committed to him with spiritual and temporal food: it is permitted to that Society always to possess these rights, and it is enjoined on them to pray unitedly for me, and the stability of my kingdom. Also after the gift of this my privilege, all the bishops, abbots and presbyters, who in great numbers were present that day, have excommunicated as much as in them lies, those, who shall break this constitution, or permit it to be broken. And that this authority may be perpetually lasting and inviolate in my time and that of future Kings after me, and that it may be better and more certainly acknowledged by all my nobles, and judges both private and public, I have strengthened this Charter on the fifth of January by my own subscription and confirmed it by the impression of my seal.
— Seal of Edgar, most serene Emperor of the Angles.
— Seal of Edward, son of the King.
— Seal of Ethefred, his brother.
— I, Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, confrrman.
— I, Oswald, Archbishop of York, corroboravi.
— I, Alistan, Bishop of London, consolodavi.
— I, Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, commodum dun.
— I, Elfnothus, Bishop of Dorchester, conelusi.
— I, Elfstan, Bishop of Rochester, consigillavi.
— I, Elgar, Bishop of Winchester, amen dixi.
— I, escwius, Osgar, kifric, IEthelgar, JElfeah, Plod-byrht, Germanus, Abbots.
— I, Ailwyn, Alderman, have accomplished this my desire, God being my helper.
— I, Elfwold, IEthelstan, Brihtnoth, IEthelwearcl, Dukes.
— I, Wulstem, Leoffa, Thured, Sideman, Wulihere, Presbyters.
— I, Ethelsi, Presbyter, with the above and many other Presbyters have excommunicated all transgressors of this agreement.
Similar privileges, liberties and immunities were conferred and confirmed by several subsequent Kings.
The great privileges granted in the above Charter were not peculiar to the Abbey of Ramsey, though it was of the earliest to possess them. The following is a copy of the privileges belonging to the Abbey of Benedictines at Westminster -“That the Abbot and Convent should be free from all secular service, and have the power of electing a new Abbot, on the decease or surrender of the former. That no layman or clergyman should claim any jurisdiction over them, but that they be under the immediate protection of the King, and free from military service, and they, and all belongings to them, be exempt from all taxes, customs, suits, or services, whatever, whether ecclesiastical or temporal”- Stevens Monasticon
1. Charter of Edward 111 10th June 1334
Edward 111 by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitane to the Archbishops , Bishops, Abbots, Earls, Barons, Sheriffs, Reeves and all his faithful subjects, greeting. We have inspected the following charters.
I, Edward, King of all Albion, to the Archbishops etc., and to all the faithful of Holy Church, clerks and laymen, greeting. I will and confirm that the Abbey of Ramsey be exempted from all exactions both episcopal and secular, that the abbots be chosen by the Benedictine rule, that fugitives have the right of sanctuary and that no one may sell or give away the Abbey’s possessions. Also I grant and confirm all gifts of lands and liberties made by King Edgar and King Hardecnut and others. We also relax all exactions and customs, including military service, repair of bridges and castles, capture of thieves and fines for spilling blood, renewing all former privileges and customs. If any person disregards the above grant, let him lie under perpetual anathema.
Written and sealed the 2nd Kalends of December.
Witnesses: Edward the King, Stigand Archbishop, Ealdred Archbishop,
Wlftan Bishop, Giso Bishop, Walter Bishop, Reinbald the Chancellor, 4
Abbots, Dukes Leofric, Harold, Leofwin and Eadwin, Hugelin the
Chamberlain and 3 others.
3. Another Charter of Edward the Confessor, about 1052 — 1056
Edward the King greets Wulfi Bishop, Tosti Earl, and Nordman Sheriff, and all his Witan. Understand that Abbot Leofric of Peterborough and Abbot Aelfwin of Ramsey have made an agreement by which Ramsey receives 9 virgates of land at Ludintune for land at Marham. Ramsey is to give Peterborough 4000 eels each Lent in exhange for squared stones from Barnack in Peterborough and stones suitable for walls when they are required. Ramsey is to be free from all tolls and exactions levied by Peterborough on land or water. The boundaries in Kinges Delf are to remain as settled between Aelfwin Abbot of Ramsey and Siward Abbot of Thorney.
This writing was made at Westminster on St. Peter’s massday.
Witnesses:- Stigand Archbishop, Edwin Abbot, Harold Earl, Hugelin the
Chamberlain and others.
4. Another Charter of Edward the Confessor, 4 April 1053
Edward the King greets Stigand the Archbishop, Athelmar the Bishop. Gyrid the Earl. Toll the Sheriff and all his thegns in Norfolk and Suffolk and his Witan in all England. I have given to the Abbot of Ramsey sac and soc, tol and team, infangenethef and other rights, wreck at Bramcaestre and Ringstryde, the soke within Bicham Dike (All the men in this hundred and a half (within Bicham Dike) are mote-worthy and fyrd-worthy in that hundred) and the market at Dunham. I grant also sac and soc, tol and team and infangenethef in all other shires where the monastery has lands and that they be free of toll all over England, at yearly marketings and in every place by land and by water.
Windsor, the 4th day of Easter.
Witnesses. Eadgid the Queen, Godwin the Earl (1), and Harold the Earl (2).
5. Charter of Henry I. about 1100 – 1123
Henry, King of the English to Robert, Bishop of Lincoln and Gilbert the
Sheriff, greeting, I command that there be no man in all the island of the
Abbey of Ramsey who is not the Abbot’s man.
Witnessed by Nigel de Albuniaco at Bricestoc.
6. Charter of Henry I, about 1100 – 1113
Henry, King ofthe English, to Roger the Sheriff and Richard Engain, greeting, I command you to see that Aedwin Abbot of Ramsey has his woods and other necessary things, including deer and pigs, and all his customs as fully as his predecessors had them in my father’s time.
Witnesses: Roger Bigot and Urso Deabetot, At Bramton.
7. Charter of Henry I. about 1109 – 1111
Henry, King of the English to the archbishops etc., greeting. I have granted and confirmed to the Abbey of Ramsey sac and soc and other rights, all pleas of the crown belonging to me at Bramcestre and Ringstede and in the hundred and a half of Clackclose, together with 64 socmen belonging to the Hundred, namely within Bicham Dike, and at Dunham the market which belongs to Winebodesham as well and freely as they have ever had them of me and my predecessors. And the Abbot has soke over all men in the said hundred and lordship. I forbid my justices, sheriffs and other officials to permit injury or vexation to be done in this liberty.
Witnesses R. Bishop of Salisbury and 5 other Bishops, R. the Chancellor and others.
8. Charter of Henry II. about 1154 -60
Henry, King of the English, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou to his justices, sheriffs, barons and faithful subjects in Huntingdonshire, greeting. I have granted to Walter, Abbot of Ramsey my manor of Ripton, at a ferm of £8 yearly, as King Henry my grandfather granted It.
Witnesses: Reginald, Earl Of Cornwall, Robert, Earl of Leicester and Robert de Novoburgo (Newborough) At Lincoln.
9. Charter of Henry II. about 1154 -60.
Henry, King to the Bishop of Lincoln and all the barons of Huntingdonshire, French and English, greeting. I have granted to the church of Ramsey and Walter the Abbot sac and soc. treasure trove and all other liberties belonging to my crown in their land within a league round the church and all pleas of my crown as in the charter of King Henry my grandfather and this league shall for over be free of views of the forest, assarts and all other suits.
Witnesses: Thomas a Becket the Chancellor, Reginald Earl of Cornwall Robert Earl of Leicester and Robert de Novoburgo,
10. Charter of Henry II. about 1154 -60
Henry, King of the English to his sheriff, barons and faithful subjects in Huntingdonshire, greeting. I have granted to the Abbot of Ramsey the hundred of Hurstingestan at a ferm of 4 silver marks yearly, paid to the sheriff who shall demand no more.
Witnesses: Thomas a Becket the Chancellor, Reginald Earl of Cornwall Robert Earl of Leicester
11. Charter of Richard I, 6 October 1189
Richard King of the English to all his sheriffs and officials in all England, greeting. We command that the monks and men of the Abbey of St Benedict of Ramsey be quit of all tolls and customs wherever they go, sell, buy or carry anything for the use of the monks and we forbid any to injure them upon forfeiture of £10
Witnesses: H. Bishop of Durham. Westminster, 6 October
12. Charter of Henry III, 19 June 1253
Henry, King of England to the archbishops etc sheriffs, reeves, bailiffs and faithful subjects, greeting. We have inspected the following charters, granted by our father King John
13. Charter of King John. 22 Oct. 1200
John, King of England, to the archbishops etc.
We have granted to the Abbot and monks of Ramsey all their lands, churches, tythes and all manner of possessions, and by name their fair at St lves of Slepe, the hundred and a half of Clackclose, their market at Dunham, their soke of Huntingdon, their lands in London, their manor of Walton and vill of Ovre, their fine about the vill with Geoffrey Peccat, and King John’s charter as a result to it. Also the Hundred ofHurstingeston, vill of Ripton and other privileges named above as well as freedom from the collection of Danegeld,
Witnesses: Geoffrey Fitz Peter, Earl of Essex and others. At Chebeworth, 22 Oct.
14. Charter of King John. 11 Oct. 1200
John King of England, to the archbishops etc. greeting. We have granted to the Church of St Benedict of Ramsey and the monks in free alms, their woods in Huntingdonshire with the agistment of pigs there, so that our foresters shall not interfere with them, but we save to ourselves our hunting rights and also the regard every third year of the waste in these woods. We have also granted to them 500 acres of old assart and 200 acres of new assart in the Hundred of Hurstingestan, as in the charter of King Richard our brother.
Witnesses: G. Bishop of Winchester, S. Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, R, Earl of Clare, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and others.
Guildford, 11 Oct.
Wherefore we Henry Ill will and firmly command that the Abbot and monks of Ramsey have all their rents, lands, and possessions with all their liberties as in King John’s Charters. And we grant that the Abbot and monks shall not be called to plead concerning their lands held in chief, except before us, our Chief Justice, the Justices of our Bench (Common Pleas) and our Justices in Eyre hearing Common Pleas.
Witnesses: B. Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard of Cornwall, our brother, Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, John Mansell, Reeve of Beverley and others.
Given by our hand at Winchester, 19 June, 1237
15. Charter of Henry III. 16 June, 1253
Henry King of England etc. to the archbishops etc. greeting. We have inspected the charter which William, King of the English made in those words:
16. Charter of William 1. 19 or 29 December. 1077
William, King of the English, Duke of Normandy, to the archbishops etc. and all my faithful subjects, clerks and laymen, greeting, eternal happiness and peace. I have received into my protection the whole honour of the Church of Ramsey. See to it that as you desire my friendship, you do them no injury nor wrong in all their possessions, nor take away nor diminish any of their rights. I confirm and grant to them all their privileges, gifts of land and other things, given to them in the times of the Kings my predecessors,
The lands are given in the charter continuously, but they are listed here below so as to give easy access to them.
Lands given under King Edgar
The Island of Ramsey with it’s appurtenances
Upwode with Raveleye
20 fishermen in Wells, rendering 60,000 eels a year
Brauncestre with wreck (Brancaster)
Kingston with Raveleye
and Bury its berewicks
A mansion in the East of Ellesworth
The Lands given under Edward the Confessor
A mansion in the West of Ellesworth
Ofirdeton in including the appurtenances in Hoyland
Ringstede with wreck
Winebodesham with its 1 hundreds and 64 sokemen belonging the hundred i.e. within Bichamdic and with the market at Dunham belonging to Winebodesham
3 hides in Brocton
3 hides in Bodekesham
I also will and grant that the Abbot and monks hold all their lands, men, waters and water courses., mills, meadows, pastures., marshes, fisheries, woods, hunting rights and all other things free from all royal customs including Geld or Scot. And that they be free of all (law) pleas and complaints, from service in the shire and Hundred Courts and from castleguard, servile works, and from laws and customs which belong to me.
They are to be for ever free from fyrdwyte, bridge building, capture of thieves and similar burdens. Also I forbid any man to molest them or to interfere with their rights except for the benefit of the monastery. If any one harm the monastery to go against this our decree may he lie under eternal anathema unless he gives satisfaction to God, Our Lady and St Benedict,
I William the King have ordered this to be written down and I have confirmed it and had it sealed with my seal in the tenth year of my reign, 1077. on the fourth kalends of January.
I Maurice the Chancellor have reread and sealed it. Archbishop Lanfranc, Archbishop Thomas, Odo of Bayoux (3) and Hugh, Bishop of London.
Witnesses: Walter Bishop of Worcester, Richard Earl of Gloucester, Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, John Mansell, Reeve of Beverley and others.
15. We also Edward 1 grant and confirm the aforesaid gift, grant and confirmation from us and our heirs to the Abbot and convents and their successors. And because it was found in the rolls of the Exchequer that the Abbot and convent had been allowed to have amercements on their men, though it is not mentioned in their charters, we for the welfare of our soul and that of Eleanor our Queen (4), grant this privilege in words.
Witnesses: Anthony Bishop of Durham, John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, Robert de Brus (5), Earl of Carrik and many others.
Given by our hand at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 23 April
1. We Edward 111, also grant and confirm the gifts and grants which G de Berethe, the King’s son, made to the monks in free alms of the land which belonged to Vitalis at Zephvuim? Further we grant that the Abbot and convent and their successors shall enjoy and use all these liberties aforesaid without any hindrance from us and our heirs.
Witnesses:- William Archbishop of York, Primate of England, Richard Bishop of Durham, our Treasurer, John Earl of Cornwall. Our beloved brother Henry de Percy, Ralph de Neville, steward of our household and others.
Given by our hand at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 10th June.