A cartulary or chartulary (/ˈkɑːrtjʊləri/, Latin: cartularium or chartularium), also called pancarta or codex diplomaticus, is a medieval manuscript volume or roll (rotulus) containing transcriptions of original documents relating to the foundation, privileges, and legal rights of ecclesiastical establishments, municipal corporations, industrial associations, institutions of learning, or families. The term is sometimes also applied to collections of original documents bound in one volume or attached to one another so as to form a roll, as well as to custodians of such collections.[1]

The allusion of Gregory of Tours to chartarum tomi in the 6th century is commonly taken to refer to cartularies. The oldest surviving cartularies, however, originated in the 10th century.[2] Those from the 10th to the 13th centuries are very numerous.

Cartularies frequently contain historical texts, known as cartulary chronicles, which may focus on the history of the monastery whose legal documents it accompanies, or may be a more general history of the world. This link between legal and historical writings has to be understood in the context of the importance of past events for establishing legal precedence.[3]

Generally speaking, a cartulary attested by the signatures or marks of a number of prominent individuals ranks as a public document possessing greater value than a private letter or the narrative of an annalist.

Sometimes the copyist of the cartulary reproduced the original documents with literal exactness. On the other hand, some copyists took liberties with the text, including modifying the phraseology, modernizing proper names of persons and places, and even changing the substance, so as to extend the scope of the privileges or immunities granted in the document. The value of a cartulary as a historical document depends not only on how faithfully it reproduces the substance of the original, but also, if edited, on the clues it contains to the motivation for those changes. These questions are generally the subject of scrutiny under well-known canons of historical criticism.

No complete inventory of the cartularies of the various institutions of the Middle Ages exists, but many cartularies of medieval monasteries and churches have been published, more or less completely. The Catalogue général des cartulaires des archives départementales (Paris, 1847) and the Inventaire des cartulaires etc. (Paris, 1878–9) were the chief sources of information regarding the cartularies of medieval France. For the principal English (printed) cartularies, see Gross, Sources and Literature of English History, etc. (London, 1900), 204–7 and 402–67. The important cartulary of the University of Paris was edited by Father Denifle, O.P., and M. Chatelain, Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis (Paris, 1889, sqq). There may be more recent developments in cataloguing.


A cartulary may take the form of a book or a codex. Documents, chronicles or other kinds of handwritten texts were compiled, transcribed or copied to the cartulary.

Michael Clanchy attended to the monastic origin of both chronicles and cartularies, and he defines the latter as "a collection of title deeds copied into a register for greater security".[4]

In the introduction to the book Les Cartulaires, it is argued that in the contemporary diplomatic world it was common to provide a strict definition as the organized, selective, or exhaustive transcription of diplomatic records, made by the owner of them or by the producer of the archive where the documents are preserved.[5]

In the Dictionary of Archival Terminology a cartulary is defined as "a register, usually in volume form, of copies of charters, title deeds, grants of privileges and other documents of significance belonging to a person, family or institution".[6] In 1938, the French historian, Emile Lesne, wrote: "Every Cartulary is the testimony of the statement of the Archives in a Church at the time when it was compiled".[7]

Related terms in other languages are: cartularium (Latin); Kopiar, Kopialbuch (German), Chartular (Oes.); cartolario, cartulario, cartario (Italian); cartulario (Spanish).

In medieval Normandy, a type of cartulary was common from the early 11th century that combined a record of gifts to the monastery with a short narrative. These works are known as pancartes.[8]

List of cartularies

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.


Main article: Chartoularios

The late Roman/Byzantine chartoularios was an administrative and fiscal official. In the Greek Orthodox Church, the corresponding position was called chartophylax. This title was also given to an ancient officer in the Roman Church, who had the care of charters and papers relating to public affairs. The chartulary presided in ecclesiastical judgments, in lieu of the Pope.


  1. Oxford English Dictionary, 1971, "Chartulary".
  2. "J. Herold, 'The Earliest Records of Worcester Cathedral'": "Worcester Cathedral's pre-Conquest and Conquest-era archive is known to have included texts of over 200 acta ... in addition, there are transcripts of at least another 57 pre-conquest single-sheet acta now lost."
  3. Graeme Dunphy. "Cartulary chronicles and legal texts." Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle. Brill Online , 2012. Consulted 18 May 2012 <>
  4. Clanchy, M.: "Cartularies", 1979, pp. 79-80; McCrank,"Discovery in the Archives of Spain and Portugal, p. 85
  5. Les Cartulaires, O. Guyotjeannin, L. Morelle, M. Parisse. Paris: École des chartes, 1993; p. 7 of the Avant-propos.
  6. WALNE, P. (ed.): Dictionary of Archival Terminology. Munich: K. G. Saur, 1988.
  7. Geary, P.: "Entre gestion et gesta", O. Guyotjeannin, L. Morelle, M. Parisse (eds.), Les Cartulaires. Paris: École des chartes, 1993; pp. 13-24, p. 13.
  8. van Houts, Elizabeth (2002). "Historical Writing". In Harper-Bill, Christopher and Elizabeth van Houts. A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell. pp. 103–121. ISBN 978-1-84383-341-3.
  9. Anales de la Universidad de Madrid: Letras - Volume 2 - Page 2 Universidad Complutense de Madrid - 1933 "Il Cartulario de Óvila es un códice encuadernado modernamente y escrito a línea tirada y con clara y elegante letra gótica en el transcurso del siglo xm. Los títulos e iniciales de adorno son de tinta roja. Como en otros cartularios de la misma ..."


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