Parts of a Charter

Thousands of royal diplomas survive from tenth- and eleventh-century Europe, and are a vital source for medieval historians. These diplomas vary greatly in their length, style, appearance and content, depending on where they were issued, and by whom. Below is a more or less comprehensive list of the parts one might find in a royal diploma, but note that few if any will feature all of these!

The Royal Diploma

A charter of Otto I (D OI 222) for the monastery of Saint Maurice at Magdeburg, issued on April 23rd, 961. Image credit Wikimedia Commons. Image in the Public Domain.

Graphic Elements

  1. Pictorial Invocation: In the Ottonian and Salian periods usually the symbol for Christ in the form of a decorated C, which opens the diploma. Elsewhere, it may take the form of a cross, or chi-rho.
  2. Monogram: The letters of the name and (sometimes) the title of the ruler, combined into a single symbol.
  3. Seal: a wax impression of the image, name, and title of the ruler. Sometimes attached directly to the surface of the diploma, sometimes via a strip of parchment at the bottom.
  4. Recognition symbol: an image representing the recognition of the validity of the document of the chancellor or arch-chancellor.


A charter of Otto II (D OII 139) for the bishop of Zeitz from 976. Naumburg, Domstiftsarchiv, Nr. 1. Image credit Wikimedia Commons. Image in the Public Domain.

Verbal Elements

  1. Invocation: a verbal appeal to God.
  2. Intitulatio: the title and name of the ruler granting the document, often with a devotional formula e.g. ‘by the grace of God’
  3. Arenga/Proem: a solemn and religious opening to the main part of the diploma, usually imbued with rhetoric about the duty of rule.
  4. Promulgation: usually along the lines of ‘let it be known that…’.
  5. Narratio: an account of the circumstances that led to the diploma’s necessity and production.
    • Petition/intervention: one or more individuals who petitioned the king or intervened at court to get the charter issued.
  6. Dispositive section: Sometimes called the ‘business section’, here the details of the donation are laid out; often begins with a command concerning the writing of the charter (‘we order it to be recorded’).
    • superscription, the king is named here as grantor [less frequent in Ottonian and Salian diplomas)
    • operative details (names of places or enumeration of goods, name of beneficiary)
    • dispositive word or clause (generally in the present tense, e.g. ‘we give’)
    • appurtenances (any additional possessions that come with the property e.g. pasture
    • statement of possession (e.g. for how long the beneficiary may hold the property, what happens after their death)
    • immunity clause (states the exemptions attached to the land)
    • reservation clause (any exemptions not applicable)

      A charter of Henry II (D HII 3) for the Bishop of Würzburg from 1002. Image credit Wikimedia Commons. Image in the Public Domain.

  7. Blessing: (very rare) Those who support or assist the diploma’s enactment are promised spiritual reward
  8. Sanctio/Anathema: a warning about the consequences for those who disregard the charter.
  9. Corroboration: a notice of the means by which the charter was authenticated, often an order to have it sealed; may possibly contain a list of witnesses
  10. Subscription: the ‘signature’ of the issuer of the charter; not a ‘signature’ in the modern sense, but often a monogram or simply the name written out.
    • Signum: a short line noting the presence of the ruler’s monogram, which follow
    • Recognition: the confirmation of the charter by a member of the chancery, usually the chancellor on behalf of the arch-chancellor/arch-chaplain
  11. Dating clause: the date and place when and where the diploma was issued. Typically in AD dating and regnal/imperial yeara, but more exotic variations exist.
  12. Valedictory formula, often a variation on ‘amen’.


Dr Alice Hicklin

Dr Erik Niblaeus

Compiled by Alice Hicklin and Erik Niblaeus, with the use of the Kemble website for Anglo-Saxon charters (, accessed 10/11/2017, and Anja Ute Blode, Nina Kühnle, and Dominik Waßenhoven, Leitfaden für das Studium der Mittelalterlichen Geschichte: Diplomatik (Urkundenlehre), in: ( accessed 10/11/2017