These working notes originated in the early 1990s. See now Charters of Northern Houses, ed. D. A. Woodman, Anglo-Saxon Charters 16 (Oxford, 2013).

The church of St Peter, York, was founded in 627 by Edwin, king of Northumbria, to serve as the episcopal see for Paulinus, who had been consecrated bishop (for Northumbria) in 625; see Bede, HE ii. 9 and 14.  When Wilfrid took charge of the see of York in the late 660s, he found the church in a perilous condition, and began to restore it; ‘outside he richly endowed the church with many estates which he had acquired for God, thus removing its poverty by endowing it with lands’ (Vita Wilfridi, ch. 16).  The process probably involved the consolidation of Wilfrid’s control over a number of other minsters (including his own foundations at Ripon and Hexham), with their respective endowments; but the matter was complicated by Wilfrid’s frequently strained relations with Northumbrian kings, and he evidently had a difficult struggle maintaining possession of his lands (ibid., chs. 45, 48, 51 and 60).  York is said to have been ‘burnt down’ in 741 (ASC, MSS. DE).  <‘Northern Annals’ produced and maintained at York in the late eighth and early ninth century, embedded in the Historia Regum attributed to Symeon of Durham.>  The major source for the history of the church of York in the later eighth century is Alcuin’s poem (ed. Godman).  Alcuin had occasion to mention some acts of munificence towards the church, but he seems (not surprisingly) to have been less interested in land than in other commodities; a passing reference to the rura bequeathed by Bishop Ælberht to Bishop Eanbald (line 1532) is as close as he comes to providing evidence of York’s endowment (and only then if we can assume that the estates in question were passed on to the church).  York would not have escaped in the ninth century from the attentions of the vikings, though it was not long before the Scandinavians established in York adopted Christianity.  In the tenth century, Wulfstan I (931-56) and Oscytel (956-71) played significant parts in the process which brought Northumbria into the realm of the West Saxon kings; their successors Oswald (971-92) and Wulfstan II (1002-23) were instrumental in restoring the fortunes and perhaps also the distinction of the church.  For periods between 971 and 1062 York was held in plurality with the see of Worcester; Archbishop Thomas (1070-1100) attempted initially to claim jurisdiction over Worcester, as it happened without success. 

No genuinely early charters survive for any of the Northumbrian minsters founded in the seventh and eighth centuries; but it is abundantly clear that Northumbrian kings had issued charters during this period.  In his letter to Egbert, bishop of York, written in 734, Bede writes of the laymen who ‘give money to kings, and under the pretext of founding monasteries buy lands on which they may more freely devote themselves to lust, and in addition cause them to be ascribed to them in hereditary right by royal edicts, and even get those same documents of their privileges confirmed, as if in truth worthy of God, by the subscriptions of bishops, abbots and secular persons’ (Whitelock, EHD, no. 170).  One can only regret, therefore, the loss of documentary evidence bearing on the development of the Northumbrian church in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries, and wonder how it might have compared with the surviving evidence for the west midlands, preserved at Worcester; see further Hart, ECNE, pp. 131-8, and Wormald, Bede and the Conversion of England, esp. pp. 19-23.

The tenth- and eleventh-century kings of a united England are known to have issued charters for estates in the north, but procedures involved in the holding and transfer of land may not have been as formal as they were in southern parts, and churches may have had to resort to their own devices to protect their interests in land.  A memorandum drawn up by Archbishop Oswald (S 1453: Charters, ed. Robertson, no. 54; Whitelock, EHD, no. 114) illustrates the difficulties which confronted York.  Oswald names the manors which had been taken away from York’s composite estates at Otley, Ripon and Sherburn-in-Elmet, and goes on to list the lands which his precessor Oscytel had obtained in Northumbria; he adds that his lord (probably King Edgar) had given Oscytel’s lands to him at Nottingham, and that he had held all of the places mentioned until the appointment of Earl Thored (975 x 979), at which point they were taken from St Peter’s.  In the early eleventh century a copy of this document was entered, with other miscellaneous texts, on leaves apparently inserted at the back of another book (BL Harley 55 (Ker, Catalogue, no. 225), fol. 4v), and the text was subsequently annotated by Archbishop Wulfstan himself, who attributes the memorandum to Archbishop Oswald and who adds ‘May God avenge it as he will’.  Wulfstan seems to have managed to recover some of the lost parts of the estates at Sherburn-in-Elmet, Otley and Ripon, and caused surveys of the estates in their reconstituted forms to be entered on blank leaves at the back of a York gospel-book (York, Minster Library, Add. 1 (Ker, Catalogue, no. 402), fols. 156v-157r), intending in this way to ensure that the estates would remain intact thereafter (see Charters, ed. Robertson, no. 84).  One senses that in the conditions which prevailed in Northumbria it was not safe to rely on any king’s charters, and that Oswald and Wulfstan had been obliged to take their own measures to protect their interests.

The ‘ornaments, charters, and privileges’ of the church of St Peter are said to have been destroyed when the Normans ravaged the north in 1069-70 (Hugh the Chanter, ed. Johnson, p. 2).  A few pre-Conquest charters relating to the endowment of York Minster are, however, preserved in the mid-fourteenth-century register known as the ‘Magnum Registrum Album’, now York, Minster Library, L2/1 (Davis 1087).  For a description of this manuscript, see Hugh the Chanter, ed. Johnson, pp. lv-lvii.  The first item in Part I of the ‘Magnum Registrum Album’ is a copy of Hugh the Chanter’s History (fols. 1-32), followed by a continuation.  The cartulary begins on fol. 34, immediately after the end of the continuation, and includes nine pre-Conquest texts, on fols. 56v-62v.  The first two are charters of King Edgar dated 963, granting estates in Yorkshire to prominent Northumbrian laymen: S 712 is a grant of land at Sherburn-in-Elmet to ‘Aslac’, and S 716 is a grant of land at Newbald to Earl Gunner.  ‘Aslac’ can probably be identified as the Earl Oslac who forfeited his lands in 975, though it remains uncertain whether it was he who gave Sherburn to York, or whether the estate was acquired by the church as a consequence of his forfeiture; Gunner’s estate at Newbald is known from Oswald’s memorandum to have been purchased by Archbishop Oscytel from King Edgar.  The third and fourth charters in the series are in favour of Oscytel himself, and concern estates in Nottinghamshire: S 679, issued by King Edgar in 958, is a grant of land at Sutton(-by-Retford), and S 659, issued by King Eadwig in ‘958’ (for 956), is a grant of land at Southwell (the site of what would become Southwell Minster).  The fifth charter is S 407, King Æthelstan’s remarkable grant of ‘a certain portion of land of no small size’, namely Amounderness in Lancashire, to Archbishop Wulfstan (I).  This charter was issued at Nottingham on 7 June 934, but the year seems to have been altered to ‘930’ in the later tenth or early eleventh century, since this alteration infects S 428, a Worcester forgery seemingly based in part on S 407 and preserved in ‘Tiberius I’ (above, p. 000); the link between the archives was most probably Archbishop Wulfstan (II).  The sixth charter is S 968, King Cnut’s grant of land at Patrington, in Yorkshire, to Archbishop Ælfric.  The sequence of thoroughly respectable title-deeds is then broken by a text so disreputable in appearance that it was not included in Professor Sawyer’s catalogue: the alleged charter of Edward the Confessor granting the diocese of Worcester to Archbishop Ealdred (KCD 815), presumably forged in connection with York’s bid to recover control of Worcester after the Conquest.  There is reason to believe, however, that the forger made use of some genuine material, and the charter is therefore registered in Appendix 2 (below, p. 000), as S (Add.) 1037a.  The two remaining pre-Conquest texts in the cartulary are authentic writs of Edward the Confessor: the first announces the king’s grant of the minster at Axminster, in Devon, to Ealdred, deacon of Archbishop Ealdred, ‘as a pious benefaction for St Peter’s minster at York’ (S 1161), and the second announces his grant of rights to Archbishop Ealdred himself (S 1159).  For S 1160 (edited by Harmer under ‘York’), see above, p. 00, under Beverley.  Parts II-IV of the ‘Magnum Registrum Album’, each with its own (contemporary) foliation, contain the rest of the cartulary.  Two of the pre-Conquest charters (S 968 and 407) are copied again in part II, fols. 78r-79v.

<Check the ‘Thurstan’ writ fragment.>  <Cf. Gloucester, St Oswald’s, for a charter of King Æthelstan in the treasury at York.>

<Horn of Ulph.>



Royal diplomas.   407; 659; 679; 712; 716; 968.  See also S (Add.) 1037a.

Writs.  1159; 1161.

Miscellaneous. 1453 (Archbishop Oswald’s memorandum on the estates of the church of York).

Select bibliography

WM, GP, pp. 210-54; Mon. Angl. iii. <130-1>; Not. Mon. (Yorks.), no. <000>; Mon. Angl. (rev. ed.) vi. 1172-1210; VCH City of York,  pp. 337-43 (York Minster); MRH, p. 445.  Harmer, Writs, pp. 412-19.

  • Cooper, J. M., The Last Four Anglo-Saxon Archbishops of York, Borthwick Papers 18 (York, 1970);
  • Farrer, W., ed., Early Yorkshire Charters I (Edinburgh, 1914), pp. 1-29;
  • Godman, P., ed., Alcuin: the Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York (Oxford, 1982);
  • Hill, R. M. T., and C. N. L. Brooke, ‘From 627 until the Early Thirteenth Century’, A History of York Minster, ed. G. E. Aylmer and R. Cant (Oxford, 1977), pp. 1-19;
  • Johnson, C., ed., rev. M. Brett, et al., Hugh the Chanter: the History of the Church of York 1066-1127 (Oxford, 1990);
  • Keynes, S., ‘The Additions in Old English’, The York Gospels, ed. N. Barker (London, 1986), pp. 81-99;
  • Roper, M., ‘Wilfrid’s Landholdings in Northumbria’, Saint Wilfrid at Hexham, ed. D. P. Kirby (Newcastle, 1974), pp. 61-79;
  • Sawyer, P. H., ‘Some Sources for the History of Viking Northumbria’, Viking Age York and the North, ed. R. A. Hall, Council for British Archaeology, Research Report 27 (London, 1978), pp. 3-7.