The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Pondering Paleography and Soliciting Transcriptions

Recently, I was in the stacks retrieving an item from the Charles Edward French autograph collection. The item I was looking for comes from the 17th century in Massachusetts, but when I opened the box that holds it, I was immediately stricken by the first folder, which had a date range written on it of 1337-1545.

While I was aware that the MHS holds some medieval manuscript materials, they are primarily small unidentified fragments, or bound religious texts like breviaries and books of hours. Typically, these manuscripts are done in either Latin or medieval French. Here was something completely different.

The item in question (Hold down Ctrl and press + to zoom in)

This vellum item is small, only about 3.5"x9.5", and contains only about eight lines of text. The writing is neatly ordered and still very clear. I am certainly not any sort of expert when it comes to language, but I can often recognize, at least vaguely, some European languages from the Renaissance period to the modern day. This text, though, I had never seen. 

Written on the back of this little document, at a much later date, is "2d Edward III May 27, 1337". So now I have a date and perhaps even an author. Still, this doesn't translate the material for me so I am left with no context for the item or any understanding of the text itself. 

I did a quick search online to see about the history of the English language and found that the variety of English used during the period covering, roughly, 1150-1500 is considered Middle English.

Now I have an assumed author and date, potentially the language of the text, and still no idea what the document may be about. What to do?

I shared my finding with the researcher whose document I was originally seeking and she clued me in to a couple of places that I might go for help, places where paleography (the study of ancient and historical handwriting) is common practice. Perhaps, even, to get a translation of this item. 

If you are hoping for closure in this blog post, I am afraid that I have to let you down. I started to put feelers out to see what help I can get, and that is where the situation stands at present. 

Are you familiar with Middle English writing? Can you identify anything about the document in the image above? If so, please leave a comment below and help us fill in some gaps!

permalink | Published: Friday, 27 May, 2016, 12:00 AM


May 27, 2016, 2:17 pm

Christopher Brown

This is in Latin: "Omnibus Christi fidelibus ad quos praesens scriptum pervenit. Watts [?] filius Agathe de Ae?romlest, salutem in domino…."

May 27, 2016, 2:21 pm


That's Latin the first word is probably "Omnibus," and I also spotted an "aliquid." The subject could perhaps be Edward, but it's almost certainly not in his hand.

May 27, 2016, 2:36 pm

Eric Weiskott

Hello! I'm a professor of medieval English literature at Boston College and read your blog post, and the Boston Globe article about it, with interest.

That is not English: it's fourteenth-century Latin. But the document is indeed from England, with stereotypically English-looking letter forms. The document ends by dating itself to the reign of Edward III, so the later note on the reverse is correct.

I believe this is a charter, a grant of properties. Compare this charter, from the same country and century: The piece of vellum that hangs down originally held a wax seal, still visible in the document in the link. Charters are very formulaic in your text, I spot phrases like "from me and my descendants" "de me & heredib[us] meis," most of the way through the second line. The Latin is heavily abbreviated, which is also typical of such documentary texts.

I'm actually on a transatlantic flight at the moment, so I'm unable to provide a full transcription, but here's the beginning of the text: "Omnib[us] Xr[ist]i fidelib[us] ad quos p[re]sens sc[ri]ptum p[er]uen[er]it," i.e., "To all the faithful in Christ to whom the present document will come. . ."

I'll tweet this out to my medievalist colleagues now. You should have more information, and hopefully a full transcription, soon.

May 27, 2016, 2:48 pm

S. C. Kaplan

Here's some of the first few lines:
1 filius Isache de … … in domino …
2 me concesse dimisisse .. .. de me a heredibus meis … Johannu? de …
3 heredibus suis a … totum … a … quod? habui? … aliquo modo habere potui in … …
4 … cum … in … quas … de … dedit Isach filie sue. … quod ego …
5 … heredes mei nec aliquis … per? me vel … … aliquid juris vel … in … … … …
6 … … exigere clamare vel bendcare? … … …

May 27, 2016, 3:57 pm


Yes, this is immediately recognizable as a Latin charter produced in England. I look forward to a completed transcription from Eric and others!

May 27, 2016, 4:00 pm

Eric Weiskott

Update: I looked a little further and can confirm that it's a charter it enacts the grant of "sixteen acres of land" "sexdecum acris t[er]re," third to fourth lines.

May 27, 2016, 6:26 pm


Here's my current draft transcription. The dashes represent words I couldn't work out with total confidence. Maybe someone better at fourteenth century hands or with more knowledge of charters/Middle English paleography will be able to fill in the blanks and correct transcription errors especially possible in the case of proper names/place names. "Omnibus Christi fidelibus ad quos presens scriptum pervenerit, Willhelmus, filius Isache, de [--], salutem in domino. Noveritis me concesse dimississe et in perpetuum de me et heredibus meis qui quietum clamasse Johann de Wylmschurst heredibus suis et assisnatis totum jus et damnum quod habui ut aliquo modo habere potui in sexdecem acris terre cum pertmentiis in [--] quas [--] de Wylmschurst dedit Isachum filio suo. Ita quod ego dictus Willhelmus heredes mei nec aliquis per me vel nomine nostro aliquid juris vel clamium in praedictis sexdecem acris terre cum pertmentiis exigere clamare vel vendicare non poterimus in perpetuum. In cuius rei testimonium huic quiete clamantie sigillum meum apposui. Hiis testibus Johanne de [--] Ricardo de [--], Ricardo de Rykhurst, Johannem de Leslye, Willhelmus [--] et aliis. Datur apud [--] die jovis in festo Ascensionis domini et anno regni regis Edwardi tertium a conquestu undecimo."

I wanted to translate too but ran out of time. I hope we can crowdsource this--a fun Friday!

May 27, 2016, 7:26 pm


Oops--for "assisnatis," read "assignatis"

May 27, 2016, 7:34 pm


And for "pertmentiis," read "pertinentiis" 2x

May 27, 2016, 11:23 pm

Simon Doubleday

I'm fairly sure the first line reads "Willelmus filius Agathe de Bromlegh". In the second line, I believe we encounter Johannes de Bylingshurst. The land transactions here seem to relate to the Surrey / Sussex region, and the charter is also issued "apud Bromlegh" in Bromley.

May 28, 2016, 6:31 am

Charles Donahue

It is a quitclaim deed in which the grantor is one William son of Agatha de Bromlegh, the grantee one John it could be Joan de Bylingthurst, and the land quitclaimed is 16 acres in Bromlegh. A man named Richard de Bylinghurst had apparently granted the land to his daughter Agatha, who was William’s mother. The deed is dated on Ascension Thursday in 11th year of Edward III, which would be 21 May 1338. There are Bromleys is Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, and Staffordshire. The closest thing to Bylingthurst/Bylinghurst that I can find is Billingshurst in Sussex, which doesn’t help to tie down which Bromley is involved. If it’s important, one might be able to tie it down by fussing with the names of the witnesses.

May 28, 2016, 6:50 am

Simon Doubleday

"Bromley" must be Bramley in Surrey, a lucrative manor which had evidently belonged the Bishop of Bayeux at the time of Domesday Book in 1086 [On the history of Bramley, see]. Billingshurst, in the county of Sussex, was directly connected to Bramley by road. The document records William of Bramley's rights to 16 acres of land.

The places associated with the witnesses to the document include Rykhurst Old Rickhurst and Burningfold, which seems to have been a manor in Dunsfold, are not far from Bramley. [On Dunsfold, and these other places, see].

May 28, 2016, 7:40 am

Erik Michaelson

The grantee is 'Johanni,' so definitely John de Bylinghurst, and not a Joan.

May 28, 2016, 10:33 am

Linda Mitchell

Hiya, I'm a medieval historian who deals with this hand all the time. Here is a quick translation of the document.
TO all the faithful in Christ who are around to see and hear this document, William son of Agatha de Bromlegh sends greetings in the Lord. Everyone should know that I am conceding, demising, and in perpetuity for me and my heirs quitclaiming to John de Bylingehurst and his heirs and assigns all the rights and claims I have, or might be able to have at any time, in 16 acres of land [meaning arable land] with appurtenances in Bromlegh, which Richard de Bylinghurst gave to Agatha his daughter. Therefore I the said William and my heirs, or anyone acting in my name, give up the right to make any claim [in court] to the 16 acres and its appurtenances, or any right to sell it. In which statement I position my seal to this quitclaim. These witnesses: John de Stondebrig, Richard de Grummyngfelde, Richard de Rykhurst, John de Leghe, William Govebrok, and others. Dated at Bromlegh, on the Thursday after the Feast of the Ascension, 11 Edward III.

This is a standard deed transferring property that was probably Agatha's maritagium her dowry back to her natal family. Agatha was probably the sister or aunt of the grantee.

May 28, 2016, 12:21 pm

Simon Doubleday

Makes sense! William ceding rights to [his uncle??] John of Billinghurst. The "L" word in the penultimate line may be Loxley thanks, Elizabeth Papp Kamali, and Loxley -- like Burningfold and Rickhurst, other possible placenames among the witness list -- is also near Dunsfold. It looks from Google Maps as if it's all about control of the Dunsfold Aerodrome That general location is just about halfway between Bramley and Billingsford.

May 28, 2016, 12:25 pm

Simon Doubleday

Clearly the Mass Historical Society website does not like either parentheses or emojis -- while control of an Aerodrome would have been a major boost for a fourteenth-century landowner, that comment was tongue in cheek! The clustering of witnesses near Dunsfold does seem significant, though.

May 29, 2016, 1:50 pm

Daniel Williman & Karen Corsan

A parchment deed in the Massachusetts Historical Society

transcribed and translated by Daniel Williman and Karen Corsano of Cambridge

Omnibus Christi fidelibus ad quos presens scriptum pervenerit, Willelmus filius Agathe de

Gromlegh [dat] salutem in domino. Noveritis me concesse, dimisisse, et imperpetuum de me et

heredibus meis quietumclamasse Johanni de Gylingehurst, heredibus suis, et assignatis totum Jus

et clamium quod habui, vel aliquo modo habere potui, in sexdecim acris terre cum pertinentiis in

Gromlegh quas Ricardus de Gylynghurst dedit Agathe filie sue. Ita quod ego dictus Willelmus,

heredes mei, nec aliquis per me vel nomine nostro aliquid Juris vel clamii in predictis sexdecim

acris terre cum pertinentiis exigere, clamare, vel vendicare non poterimus imperpetuum. In cuius

rei testimonium huic quiete clamantie sigillum meum apposui. Hiis testibus, Johanne de

Stondebrig, Ricardo de Grimyngfelde, Ricardo de Rykhurst, Johanne de Loxhie, Willelmo

Govebrok, et aliis. Datum apud Gromlegh, die Jovis in festo Ascensionis domini, anno regni

Regis Edwardi tertii a conquestu undecimo.

To all the faithful of Christ to whom the present writing shall come, William son of Agatha of

Cromlech wishes health in the Lord. Know you that I have conceded, conveyed, and quitclaimed

forever from myself and my heirs, to John of Gillinghurst, his heirs and assigns, all the right and

claim that I have had, or can have had in any way, in sixteen acres of land with

May 29, 2016, 1:54 pm

Daniel Williman & Karen Corsan

continuedappurtenances in

Cromlech which Richard of Gillinghurst gave to Agatha his daughter. So that neither I, the said

William, my heirs, nor anyone, through me or in our name, will be able to exert, claim, or assert

anything of right or of claim in the aforesaid sixteen acres of land with its appurtenances,

forever. And in witness of this fact I have appended my seal to this quitclaim, these being

witnesses: John of Stondebridge, Richard of Grimmingfield, Richard of Rickhurst, John of

Loxhie, William Govebrook, and others. Given at Cromlech on Thursday the feast of the

Ascension of the Lord, in the 11th year of the reign of King Edward, the third after the Conquest. [29 May 1337]

Jun 1, 2016, 10:10 am


Couldn't agree more.

Jun 1, 2016, 10:11 am


Please accept a belated contribution from someone with some local knowledge! The consensus that it pertains to the area of Bramley is correct. What I can add is that the locative byname Bylingehurst/Bylinghurst can be connected with High Billinghurst in Dunsfold parish formerly part of the manor of Bramley. It is of similar but not identical formation to Billingshurst in Sussex others have mentioned - I wrote a blog about these names and others which may be analogous a couple of years ago It includes photos of High Billinghurst in the present day, perhaps once home to John, Richard and Agatha, but not 100% guaranteed as people tended to take their family names with them when they moved. Very excited to see a Surrey deed receive so much attention - thanks for bringing it to wider notice!

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