This writ does not survive in its original but in cartulary-copies of the versions sent to the dioceses of London and Lincoln. Only a Latin text now survives, but one version of the writ reveals that an English text had been provided. The writ sets out matters that should be dealt with by church courts.

Digital edition

Edited by David Bates



by David Bates

This famous writ, which has been the subject of a great deal of modern commentary, survives in two versions in the archives of the cathedral churches of Lincoln and London. It is possible that these two survivals are indications that the writ was originally sent to each one of the dioceses of the English Church. The commnetary in CS, 620-2, suggests that the writ attracted little attention before the early fourteenth century; it is presumably for this reason that the churches of Canterbury and Durham made copies of the London text at this time.The verbal parallels between the passage relating to the summons of laymen and c. 5 of the legislation of the 1076 Council of Winchester (Laici vero si de omnine suo accusati fuerint, et episcopo suo obedire noluerint, vocentur semel et ? et tertio. Si post tertiam vocationem emendari noluerint, excommunicentur) have led to the suggestion that the writ also dates from 1076, but this need not be so; either the writ or the canon could be based on an earlier text. The dating-limits have of necessity to be wide ones. The Lincoln version can be dated only to the episcopate of Remigius and the Conqueror's reign (1067 x 1087). Geoffrey de Mandeville and Ralph Bainard are at some point sheriffs of both Middlesex and Essex; Geoffrey's period of office can be dated only to the whole period, and Ralph's in Essex to 1076 x 1081 and Middlesex to 1075 x 1085. Peter de Valognes was sheriff of both Herts. and Essex in 1086 and earlier. Given the apparently bewildering changes of officials which occurred in all three shires, the only certainties are that Ralph Bainard could not have been in office in any of the shires in 1086, and that others, namely Sweyn son of Robert and Ilbert, were sheriffs in Essex and Herts. in 1066 x 1075, 1070 x 1082, 1066 x 1085 and 1071 x 1075. These datings reduce the period when all three could have been in office at the same time only to 1071/5 x 1085. It is worth noting, however, that the references to Ralph Bainard tend to date to the second half of the 1070s and early 1080s and those to Peter de Valognes to the 1080s. There must be a possibility that the writ, which seemingly represents a major law-pronouncing effort, likely to have been undertaken when William was in England, does date either from the time of the council of Winchester of 1076, or to the visit of 1080 x 1081.