I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

PROJECTS FOR THE PANDEMIC V: CHARTERS, WILLS & MANUMISSIONS

One of the best ways to observe everyday life during the pre-Conquest England is neither through an academic book nor a general non-fiction booth nor even a history book from the time. Just as it is easiest to find people were actually doing during time by reading what they were prohibited from doing, wills, charters and other legal documents tell what the people of the time found important, valuable and coveted.

Yet, these are almost never displayed to the public, so vital way to educate them. So I decided to make a few of these documents that could be displayed. I started by researching what the wills, charters and other documents of the time said. For example, in the famous will of Wynflæd, we find out that she valued red fabric, slaves (many of whom she freed after her death) and (European) bison horns!

I found Anglo-Saxon Wills, and Anglo-Saxon Charters to be especially valuable. These books, dating from he start of the twentieth century, contain the original Latin on one page and a translation in modern English on the facing page. I’ve always loved books like this, and these are not exceptions!

I have long done what I call computerized calligraphy, where I use my typographic training to typeset replicas of hand-made calligraphy. So I was able to choose a number of documents and transferred the untranslated Latin to a document, then formatted it to look like a period document. I substituted the names found in the document for names of reenacting friends and even invented names for some of the places, just to accentuate my sense of humor. Printed out on heavy vegetable parchment, they looked nice.

But I was unsatisfied. I bought a sheet of parchment—the vendor suggested goatskin—and cut it into likely sizes. I discovered that there was no standard size for these documents. In fact, they appeared to be size so they could contain the text. Th bottoms were often cut into strips after the turn of the Millennium, so that seals could be attached. Although my calligraphy might charitably be called “hatchet hand,” I discovered that many of the scribes of the time were no more finessed!

When we can hold events again, I fully intend to display some of the computer calligraphy, but I also intend to hand letter some more documents and display them as well and, hopefully when I have enough, can display only them.

In the meantime, I have made four charters for giving out to visitors, with places for their names. They are grants of land, notes of annual gifs and manumission from slavery, hopefully documents that will intrigue the MoPs and encourage them to find out more about a fascinating time!

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