1902 Encyclopedia > Diplomatics


DIPLOMATICS, the science derived from the study of ancient diplomas, so called from being written on two leaves, or on double tablets. The Romans used the term more specially for the letters of licence to use the public conveyances provided at the different stations, and gene-rally for public grants. Subsequently it attained a more extended signification, and in more modern times has been used as a general term for ancient imperial and ecclesiastical acts and grants, public treaties, deeds of conveyance, letters, wills, and similar instruments, drawn up in forms and marked with peculiarities varying with their dates and countries. With the revival of literature, the importance of such documents in verifying facts and establishing public and private rights led to their being brought together from the historical works and the monastic registers in which they had been copied, or, in rarer instances, from public and ecclesiastical archives where the originals were still preserved. Then arose questions of authenticity, and doubts of the so-called originals; disputants defended or condemned them; and, in order to establish principles for distinguishing the genuine from the forged, treatises were written on the whole subject of these diplomas. With a view to establish the credit of those preserved in the original, the Benedictine, Dom Mabillon, in the year 1681 produced his masterly work De re diplomatica,—Papebroch, the Jesuit, having already, in the year 1675, written his Propilceum antiquarium circa veri ac falsi discrimen in vetustis membranis in the Acta Sanctorum, April, vol. ii. In the following century appeared the Nouveau Traite de Diplomatique, by Dom Toustain (who, however, died before the completion of the work) and Dom Tassin, Benedictines of the congregation of St Maur, 6 vols. 4to, 1750-1765, treating of the whole subject of diplomas, and accordingly oentering at length into a minute investigation of the peculiarities and characteristics of writing proper to different ages and countries. Thus treatises on the subject of diplomas gave the name of diplomatics to the study of ancient writiug, now more properly termed PALAEOGRAPHY, under which it will be separately treated.

Imperial decrees and privileges, public acts and treaties, and, no doubt, contracts between private persons, were in remote times inscribed on marble and stone, on wood and on metal. The wonderfully preserved monuments of ancient Nineveh show the prevalent use of sun-burnt brick. In Egypt papyrus was used from the remotest times. The Greeks and Boraans recorded public docu-ments on wooden tablets, on stone, bronze, lead, and ivory, as well as on papyrus, parchment, and other sub-stances. Tablets of wax served for letters and writings of various kinds, but must have been unsuitable for public acts. Pliny speaks of the use of rolls of lead and of linen. There are many Greek documents preserved in the British Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, and elsewhere, such as royal letters, petitions, contracts, and wills, of the time of the Ptolemies, written on papyrus. See Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits, tome xviii., with plates. The Byzantine emperors often used golden and coloured inks from the 8th to the 12th century.

We know that archives were provided by the Romans for the preservation of their public acts; but fire and war have been the great destroyers of these documents so precious to the historian. Suetonius relates that Vespasian under-took to restore from copies 3000 brazen tablets, containing most ancient records, dating almost from the beginning of the republic, which had been consumed when the Capitol was burnt. Original documents of the nature of diplomas, written in Latin, are now not forthcom-ing of an earlier period than the 5th century. The acts emanating from royal authority anterior to the 13th century are almost exclusively derived from ecclesiastical archives, and consist of foundations of monasteries, and grants of property, privileges, and immunities. In England, from the 13th century they are systematically registered in the royal chancery ; the series of rolls in which they are written, under different classes, is very complete from the reign of King John. History is greatly indebted to the care with which religious houses registered their title deeds. From an early time it was their practise to copy them into volumes, arranging them generally under the name of the property. Chartularies of this character of the 10th century are still extant. The chartulary of Winchester Abbey, compiled early in the 12 th century, and containing numerous documents of the time before the Conquest, is in the British Museum.

Imperial acts affecting the state at large were proclaimed through the governors of provinces ; as in later times, in England royal writs and ordinances were addressed to the sheriffs of the several counties. In England, it would seem, when the object was to appeal to the people, the document was publicly exhibited. When Edward III. landed, as Prince of Wales, on the Yorkshire coast, with the design of overthrowing his father's government, he drew up a manifesto of his purposes, addressed to the citizens of London, who exhibited it on the cross in the Cheap, placing copies in their windows (Chron. Monasterii de Melsa.)

At all times diplomas have been drawn very much in set forms. The Romans employed official clerks, (scribes), assigning them to the different magistrates. Under the empire they are called tabelliones, and act as public notaries. After the breaking up of the Roman empire, there was a period when the chanceries of the new states were imperfectly served. The notarial science was partially lost, and, in the general neglect of learning, the composing a public act or private document was a task of difficulty. In the 7th century the monk Marculfus composed a formulary for guidance in drawing up documents of various kinds. It was first published by Bignon in 1613. In Migne's edition, Patrologiœ Cursus, vol. xxxvii., it is accompanied with several anonymous compilations of the same character. In the 12th and 13th centuries we meet with works of the same kind under the title of de arte dictaminum. A very interesting collection of precedents of royal warrants, state letters, papal bulls, and other documents, arranged under many heads of subjects, was compiled by the English poet Occleve, while he was a clerk in the council office at the beginning of the 15 th century, and is now in the British Museum. We are best able to understand the nature of early diplomas by examining the originals, still extant, on papyrus or parchment, which go back in date to the 5th century. The oldest come chiefly from Ravenna. They have been commented on by Maffei in his Istoria diplomatica, 1727, and printed in full with facsimiles in the Papiri diplomatici of the Abbate Marino-Marini, 1805. A considerable number of the original diplomas of the Merovingian and succeeding sovereigns of France have also been preserved, and have been published in facsimile (Letronue, Diplomata et Chartcé), and in letterpress. England also can boast of a series of very beautifully written royal charters from the 7th century. The larger numbsr of them are in the British Museum, and are in course of publication in facsimile (Facsimiles of Ancient Charters, parts i. ii. iii.). Many original papal bulls, too, of an early date, are still extant, in different repositories.

There is a general uniformity in the diplomas of the earlier times. Taking the French series as examples, we find a regularity of formulas in the following order :—

1. An invocation, as In nomine domini Dei Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi.

2. The name and style of the sovereign, and the name and title of the person addressed. In the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries, the style of the French kings was in general N. Francorum rex, vir inluster ; Pepin added Dei Gratia. From the time of Louis le Débonnaire the form was Divina ordinante (or propitiante, annu-ente, or favente) procidentia (dementia, or misericordia). Popes called themselves simply bishop until the end of the 11th century, when, or only rarely before, they used the title Papa. Gregory the Great (590-604) introduced the form servus servorum Dei. They placed their name before or after that of the person addressed indifferently, before the 10th century,when the custom prevailed to give it precedence.

3. A preamble, consisting of a moral or religious reflexion, or a recital of the motives to the grant. In the earlier times the moral sentiment is expressed brienv, as Memor finis mei, or Paenas inferni eupiem ejfugcre ; but later on it is often of great length and in iutlated language, with admixture of barbarized Greek words.

4. The substance of the act or donation.

5. A protecting clause, in the nature of an imprecation on such as should infringe the privilege granted, or thwart the object of the act. It is first met with in papal bulls of the 6th century, and appears in an exaggerated form in a later time, the bitterest curses being heaped on the hypothetical offender without measure. The papal type is closely followed in French and English diplomas. In the 12th century it took a milder form, as in papal bulls, Nulli ergo hominum Uceat, &c. In the 10th and 11th centuries the eomrnin-atory clause was often placed after the date, having sometimes been previously introduced into the text.

6. The Merovingian sovereigns authenticated their diplomas by the addition of their signature. Those who were unable to write signed with their monogram. The Carlovingians signed with a monogram, and the same form prevailed from the 9th century in Germany and Italy. It ceased to be used in France in the 14th century. The clergy adopted the use of the monogram in the 11th and 12th centuries. It is not found in the charters of English sovereigns. In the earlier times the monogram was formed of letters of tall cursive character ; capitals and uncials were afterwards more commonly used. Sometimes the word rex was added. It is possible that the monogram was in some instances entered by the hand of the sovereign, for so much is indicated by the words in which it is introduced, but it was usually added by the chancellor or scribe. It was not used for some kinds of documents, as judgments, decrees, and mandates. In acts of the later Roman emperors, the form of subscription is simply the word Legi, with a cross prefixed, as in a diploma of Valentinian, printed by Marini, p. 94. The name of the referendary or chancellor, with the expression cptul.it, was in France, in the earliest time, inserted before, subsequently after, the subscription of the monarch. A paraph of the word subscripsi, and often tironian notes, accompanied the subscriptions. Sometimes in royal diplomas, and commonly in private charters, the names of several witnesses were subscribed, each preceded by the word sigmm, with a cross, or followed by snbscripsi. The popes, in their bulls, originally used the form of Bene valete, or Deus te incolumem servet, in place of subscription of their name, which they applied only to synodal and other public acts. At the beginning of the 9th century they used their monogram. In the 14th century they signed with their own hand. In the 9th century also began the practice of adding the subscriptions of cardinals, but it was not commonly followed until the middle of the 12th century. Sentences from the Scriptures were used by popes for asignature, instead of their names, in consistorial bulls in the 11th century. English kings, before the Conquest, neither signed their name nor used a monogram. They affixed, the sign of the cross— the scribe adding Signum manus N. regis, or variations of the form.

7. Dating clause. In France, this followed the subscription and attestation. The manner of dating varied at different times, and in different countries. In diplomas of the emperors, the year is not expressed. For example, an act of Valentinian of about 480 A. D. has simply the words, Dat. sexto idus Januarii, Bavennce. + Legi. The Merovingian kings and their successors dated by their regnal years, adding the day of the month, the place, and generally the word féliciter. Some dated from epochs in their reign, as Louis le Débonnaire from Easter 781, the day of his coronation at Rome ; from September 813, when he was associated in the imperial power ; and from the 28th of January 814, the day of his accession after the death of Charlemagne.

The year of the incarnation was seldom used by the French kings before the end of the 9th century. In England it was generally added to royal charters in the times preceding the Conquest, but, subsequently to the death of William the Conqueror, was very rarely used in public or private deeds until the 13th century. The English charters of the early period often added also the regnal year and papal indiction. In papal bulls the date was given by the names of consuls from 385 to 546 ; by years of the Greek emperors from 550 to 772 ; by years of emperors of the west from 802 to 1047, and in 1111 ; and by years of the pontificate as early as the year 781, but often still by the year of the emperor, or by both together, eventually by the year of the pontificate alone. The year of the incarnation is found in bulls as early as the 7th century, and came into ordinary use in 968. Up to 1088, in the papal dominions, the year was calculated from the 25th of December ; subsequently the Florentine and Fisan years were used, the former beginning three months after the nativity, the other nine months before it. The indiction was also added:—from 584 to 1087, that of Constantinople, beginning on the 1st of September ; afterwards the Constantinian, or Cassarean, beginning on the 25th of September, and the Bapal, beginning on the 1st of January. These dates were accumulated principally in the bulls ; in the briefs the year is rarely designated from 1086 to 1124, and is always wanting from 1124 to 1187. (See Jaffé, Regesta Pontijicum Romanorum.)

An additional security was given to diplomas by the seal, —the antiquity (going back to remotest ages), the form, colour, substance, and use of which are treated of at great length in works on diplomatics (see SEALS). It was in use by the popes from the earliest time, and under the Merovingian kings and their successors ; but by the great feudatories only from the 10th century. In England it is not found during the Saxon period, saving in a few in-stances in the reign of Edward the Confessor. The use of it came in with the Conquest and became general. The popes' seals were of lead, or in rare instances of gold, and suspended to the document. The precious material was introduced by Charlemagne, and was freely employed by the emperors of Constantinople, who with their prin-cipal officers used metal seals. In France, under the Merovingians, and elsewhere at the same period, the seal was of white wax, fixed " en placard," or to the surface of the document. From the 10th century, it was suspended, first by a parchment label, afterwards by cords of silk or other substances. The colour of the cords by which papal bullae were attached varies under different pontiffs. White wax, but of various qualities, was in use to the 13th century, in which and subsequently it was coloured chiefly yellow, red, or green. The quality of the wax, the shape, the legend or inscription, the character of the charge or device-—which was sometimes the impression of an antique gem—all these change with the progress of time and become evidence of age.

English charters of the Saxon period have forms in many respects different from those of foreign diplomas. Variations have been already noticed, as, that the king signed neither with his name nor with his monogram, bnt only with a cross, and that they were dated from the in-carnation. It would appear, indeed, that the charters were not drawn up by an officer of the chancery, as in France, but were composed and written by ecclesiastics, whose services were employed for the occasion. In the grant of the monastery of Beculver to Christ Church, Canterbury, by King Eadred, in the year 949, to which Dunstan, then abbot of Glastonbury, and one of the king's principal ministers is a witness, he states that he both drew up the form and wrote the document with his own hand. It is on this account that we find in English charters before the Conquest a variety of styles of writing, even in those of the same date ; whereas on the Continent the writing is uniform in the several states. In the absence of a strictly official character, the grant was attested by nume-rous witnesses, varying from four or five, the more ordinary number in the earlier times, to from 30 to 100 subse-quently. For it was always an object with the religious houses in whose favour a grant was made to fortify its authority and secure its recognition by impressive solemnities. They made the benefaction a religious act by inviting the grantor to offer the charter to God on the altar of their church ; and they obtained the approval and attes-tations of the members of the court, or of the council over which the king might be at the time presiding. The names which are subscribed to the English charters add greatly to their historical value. A difference in another respect from the foreign typeis attended with advantage to the study of both the language and manners of the time. The pro-perty conveyed was defined by a minute description of its boundaries, written in English; and, as the documents are dated and can generally be referred to special localities, dialectic differences and the formation of names, with other incidental lights on subjects of antiquity, are preserved. In English charters of as early a date as the 9th century, and from that time onwards, is sometimes found, at the top or the bottom, the upper or lower half of an inscription. It is often the word ekirograpkum, but some-times other words, or merely letters. It was used when it was an object that two parties to a contract should each have a copy of the deed, which accordingly was written in duplicate on one skin ; the inscription was written in large letters between the copies, and the skin was then divided. The line of division was at a later period generally in-dented, and the document was called an indenture. The custom was not introduced into France until the middle of the 11th century.

The practise of forging and falsifying diplomas, ecclesiastical constitutions, and documents of all kinds is traced back to very early times. The laws of the Visigoths of the 7th century enact severe punishments on offenders of this class, as do the Capitularia of Charlemagne. The English chronicler Hoveien, under the year 1196, gives an account of wholesale forgeries of papal bulls and briefs by an agent of the archbishop of York. A decretal of Innocent III. (1195-1216) gives rules for detect-ing fabricated bulls (Epist. i. 201, ed. Baluz.). It was so easy to impose upon the ignorance of people, and the temptations to falsify were so great, that we cannot doubt it was done extensively. The science of diplomatics professes to give the power to detect these forgeries. The two concluding books of the Nouveau Traite de Diphmatique treat of the subject at great length, but the rules given for distinguishing the true from the false document can only be applied by one who is practically versed in the study. In passing judgment on a professed original, not only the foimulas, historical facts, and date have to be tested, but the external features have to be regarded—the material, the ink, the forms of abbreviation and character of writing, and the seal; and the properties and character-istics of these cannot well be learnt from written instruc-tion. They are treated of in works on the general subject of palaeography.

In testing the authenticity of diplomas, assistance will be found, in addition to authors already quoted, in the following works :—Germon (Barthelemi), De veteribus regum Francorum diplomatibus, Paris 1703-1707, 3 vols. 12mo ; Muratori, De diplomatis et chartis antiquis ; Antiquit. Ital. medii cevi, torn. iii.; Baguet, Hist. des contestations sur la diplomatique, 12mo, 1708, and 8vo, 1767 ; Hickes, De antiquce litteraturce septentrionalis utilitate dissertatio epistolaris, fol. Oxon. 1703; Marino-Marini, Diplomatica pontificia, 4to, 1841; Kemble, Codex Diplomaticus tevi Anglosaxonici, 6 vols. 8vo, 1839-1848 ; Quantin, Dictionnaire raisonné de Diplomatique Chretienne, in Migne's Encyclopedie Théologique, 1846 ; Archives de l'Empire, Monuments Historiques, Cartons des Rois, ed. J. Tardif, Paris, 4to 1866 ; Bibliotheque de l'Ecole des Chartes, 1839-1875 ; Gloria, Compendia di PaleograOa e Diplomatica, 8vo., 1870. (E. A. B.)

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