King Edgar

King Edgar's 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.

The Charter

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