A medieval manuscript register or volume containing the muniments of the owner, i.e., copies of original title deeds and other documents relating to the foundation, property, privileges, and legal rights of ecclesiastical establishments, municipal and other corporations, colleges, universities, or private parties (also cartulary, Lat. cartularium, pancarta, codex diplomaticus ). The great majority of such documents are in the diplomatic form of the charter (carta ), hence the name chartulary for such a collection. The typical chartulary is a businesslike manuscript, written in an ordinary charter hand similar to that of the original documents and containing few or no illustrations, rubrications, or decorated initial letters. However, some chartularies (often later ones that are copies of earlier chartularies rather than immediate copies of original documents) are written in fine book hands and provided with elegant illuminated decorations and illustrations.
There are several types of chartularies. General chartularies were intended to contain all of the archives of the owner, often arranged chronologically but sometimes according to the places to which documents refer, or else according to subject matter or to the grantors of the charters. Most frequently some combination of these factors governs the internal arrangement. Because general chartularies, especially those of ecclesiastical houses, tended to be unmanageably large—extending to several volumes or being contained in a single volume of enormous dimensions—they were often replaced or supplemented by special chartularies. These contain documents of one particular nature, sometimes corresponding with a specific chest or receptacle employed for storage of the originals. Thus a special chartulary might be reserved for all papal, episcopal, royal, or other privileges, or for all documents relating to a single place or endowment. Other special chartularies contain records (plus memoranda) pertaining to recurring administrative problems or legal disputes. Their contents vary according to the nature of their purpose: privileges, title deeds, compositions, ordinations, material relating to tithes, pensions, rents, surveys and extents, extracts from plea rolls, other records of legal proceedings, etc. Another type is the combination chronicle-chartulary, in which the documents serve to illustrate a running account of the foundation and subsequent growth of the house. In some sections (usually the earlier parts) the narrative will be little more than some brief notes between the charters, in others the narrative almost supersedes the records.
Some form of chartulary may have existed as early as the 6th century (gregory of tours refers to chartarum tomi ), but the oldest surviving chartularies date from the 11th or, in a very few cases, from the 9th and 10th centuries. The great majority of extant manuscripts are of the 13th century and later.
Chartularies by their very nature are extremely rich historical sources; nevertheless, they must be used with caution. Forgeries, which often sought to bolster immemorial rights, were frequent. As copies of original documents, chartularies were subject to error through carelessness, or through the well-intentioned efforts of copyists to correct MSS that they did not understand.
Bibliography: h. bresslau, Handbuch der Urkundenlehrefür Deutschland and Italien, 2 v. (2d ed. Leipzig 1912–31). a. giry, Manuel de diplomatique (new ed. Paris 1925) v.1. g. r. c. davis, Medieval Cartularies of Great Britain (New York 1958) xi–xvi. f. zoepfl, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger, 10v. (Freiburg 1930–38) 10:444–447.
[r. s. hoyt]