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During the Renaissance, many types of agreements—including land sales, business contracts, and wills—needed to be written in Latin and set up in the proper legal form in order to be binding and valid. The notary created the legal record of these agreements, making them public documents that others could consult when necessary. In many areas, notaries played a key role in the Renaissance legal system.

To become a notary in Italy, a person had to join a guild* that also included lawyers. Admission into the guild involved an examination, which people prepared for either through apprenticeship* or by attending classes for two years. Although notaries outnumbered lawyers, they were of a lower social class and held less political power.

The use of notaries spread north during the 1200s. Their legal role and social status varied from one country to another. In France notaries headed government departments and royal offices for public records. By the 1400s they had become hereditary nobles and cultural leaders. Notaries in England played a more limited role. They had almost no function in common law courts, which preferred oral to written evidence. However, they did serve in church and military courts. Notaries were also a vital part of the papal* curia, or administration. In 1507 Pope Julius II established a formal college of notaries who had an exclusive right to serve in the curia.

(See alsoLaw. )

* guild

association of craft and trade owners and workers that set standards for and represented the interests of its members

* apprenticeship

system under which a person is bound by legal agreement to work for another for a specified period of time in return for instruction in a trade or craft

* papal

referring to the office and authority of the pope