Conserving a King Richard II charter

 

On the 10th March 1394 King Richard II issued a charter at Westminster to the Benedictine monks of Worcester Cathedral. The charter re-confirmed their possessions of lands and property and the right of free-warren (that is hunting rights in a specific location) that had been confirmed previously by King Edward III and earlier by King Henry III. The charter was witnessed by senior clerics and members of Richard II’s court.

Why would the monks need to get a monarch to reconfirm their existing legal rights? This was something that a monastery might undertake to reinforce their claims to certain lands or rights. If anyone chose to challenge them in court about something, they could then produce a relatively recent charter that supported ancient claims to land. Such reconfirmations were known as Inspeximus charters. The current ruler had examined the existing legal documents, was satisfied with them, and then issued a new charter.

Unfortunately, over the centuries this particular charter has suffered damage making it very difficult to read parts of it. This week we look at the process of returning the charter after the medieval ceiling repair project. The charter had been packed away during the move in a special acid-free container that is adjustable depending of the length of the charter or map.

Stage 1

Richard II royal charter stage 1

Image reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

 

Keeping historic items stored at a reasonable temperature and humidity, are just a part of the process. Sometimes it is necessary to seek the help of a skilled conservator, who has been trained in the repair of old documents or manuscripts. Several months after the move, on a wintry Friday morning the charter was unpacked from its storage, and flattened out over a number weeks.

Stage 2

 

Richard II royal charter stage 2

Image by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

 

When the conservator was satisfied that the charter was ready, it was then fixed onto the acid-free board it had previously been mounted upon before the upheaval.

Stage 3

Richard II royal charter stage 3

Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

 

The charter was secured in place using clear polypropylene strips. These strips prevent the charter moving about and getting damaged once it is in the case. They are fixed to the backing board and not to the charter. Therefore they will not do it any harm.

Stage 4

Richard II royal charter stage 4

 Image reproduced  by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

 

The board, with the Royal charter upon it, having been placed back into the drawer was then locked in place by the conservator. This process was undertaken for seven other royal charters over a number of weeks.

Stage 5

 

Richard II royal charter stage 5

 Image by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

 

The work of conserving and preserving the historic or rare items in any library or archive is an important and ongoing process. If you would like to help with the general conservation programme at the cathedral it is possible to contribute by donating to the Adopt-A-Book scheme. Contact the library for more details.

David Morrison

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