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
- 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.
- Monogram: The letters of the name and (sometimes) the title of the ruler, combined into a single symbol.
- 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.
- 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.
- Invocation: a verbal appeal to God.
- Intitulatio: the title and name of the ruler granting the document, often with a devotional formula e.g. ‘by the grace of God’
- Arenga/Proem: a solemn and religious opening to the main part of the diploma, usually imbued with rhetoric about the duty of rule.
- Promulgation: usually along the lines of ‘let it be known that…’.
- 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.
- 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)
- Blessing: (very rare) Those who support or assist the diploma’s enactment are promised spiritual reward
- Sanctio/Anathema: a warning about the consequences for those who disregard the charter.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Valedictory formula, often a variation on ‘amen’.
Compiled by Alice Hicklin and Erik Niblaeus, with the use of the Kemble website for Anglo-Saxon charters (http://dk.usertest.mws3.csx.cam.ac.uk/node/91), accessed 10/11/2017, and Anja Ute Blode, Nina Kühnle, and Dominik Waßenhoven, Leitfaden für das Studium der Mittelalterlichen Geschichte: Diplomatik (Urkundenlehre), in: (http://www.historicum-estudies.net/etutorials/leitfaden-mittelalter/diplomatik/?L=1) accessed 10/11/2017