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King Duncan II, The Oldest Surviving Scottish Royal Charter


King Duncan II Charter is the oldest surviving Scottish royal charter for St Cuthbert and his servants and dates from his brief reign (November 1093 November 1094) now in the Durham University.


Click for Larger Image. Duncan II
                                  Scottish Royal Charter

The oldest surviving Scottish royal charter

The charter echoes certain forms found in Anglo-Saxon diplomas and contemporary Norman charters, using `Ego' at the beginning, with a moderately elaborate royal style, and concluding with an anathema (`Qui autem istud uoluerit destruere. uel ministris sancti cuthberti aliquid inde auferre; maledictionem dei. et sancti Cuthberti. & meam; habeat. amen.' It records that the king has given `in elemosina' lands in Lothian with all the service that Bishop Fothad (of St Andrews) had from them, `in tali quie tan tia cum saca & soca. qualem unquam meliorem habuit sanctus Cuthbertus. ab illis de quibus tenet suas elemosinas', this for (the spiritual benefit of) himself, the soul of his father, his brothers, wife and infants, making the common distinction between the living and his dead father with his soul mentioned. Wishing the gift to be stable he has made his brothers confirm. Twelve crosses, each with an associated name, were written below the text, and then there is a blank space of some 100 mm. to the foot of the document.


The single-sided seal is now detached but it is clear that the tongue was attached to the document at the bottom right-hand corner of the face. The turbulence of Duncan's brief reign and its sequel amply explains the fact that there is no evidence that his grant took effect, but within a few years later his half-brother Edgar had made another generous grant.


Despite the absence of a motive in forging a failed grant the authenticity of the document has been attacked more than once, but Duncan (1999) cites parallels for almost all its apparent peculiarities, and earlier offered a plausible explanation for its chief oddity, the fact that the seal is face down, on a tongue attached to the "wrong" corner: the sheet of parchment was sealed blank and the scribe, perhaps unfamiliar with the norm, then chose to write on the "wrong" side, while his text was not sufficiently long to occupy as much as half the sheet. The scribe has been identified (Bishop & Chaplais VIII) as responsible for a genuine writ of King William II for Durham as well as books in the monastic library, in one of which his name is given as William.

Click for Larger Image of DuncanII
                                Seal from the Royal Charter
Duncan II Seal flip side

Original text by Ed Duncan 1999



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