1This definition of a charter is taken from: J.G. KRUISHEER, De oorkonden en de
kanselarij van de graven van Holland tot 1299, 2 vols. (’s-Gravenhage and Haarlem, 1971:
Hollandse Studiën 2), 1, p. 4. A recent manual of diplomatics: O. GUYOTEJEANNIN, J. PYCKE and
B.-M. TOCK, Diplomatique médiévale (Turnhout, 1993: L’atelier du médiéviste 2).
2Diplomatic formulas are treated in: KRUISHEER, De oorkonden, pp. 70-74.
Trust in Writing:
Charters in the Twelfth-Century County of Holland
In the Middle Ages, and long afterwards, perhaps no other type of written
document was trusted more universally than the charter. According to the
definition used in diplomatics, a charter is a legal deed, written as a separate
text, which by itself may serve as evidence of the right or grant it contains.1 The
charter could function as a legal document because it was generally trusted as
such: its intrinsic trustworthiness was its raison d’être. It distinguished itself
from other kinds of documents because of certain more or less standardised
characteristics. These specific properties include the seal, the layout, the type
of script and the structure of the text. Certain parts of the text of charters are
usually written in stereotypical formulas, which can vary widely but not end-
lessly. These formulas, labelled with names like invocatio, intitulatio, notifica-
tio and so on, are well known to everybody acquainted with diplomatics. For
example, many charters begin with an invocatio such as “In nomine Domini
amen”, and go on with a notificatio such as “Ego NN notum facio quod ...”.2
That people indeed put their trust in charters is attested by the huge success
of the genre. From the early Middle Ages, charters were issued in papal and
royal chanceries, and during the thirteenth century in many parts of Europe an
ever increasing number were also written in various other places: by lesser
temporal and spiritual lords such as counts and bishops, in convents great and
3On the proliferation of the charter in thirteenth-century Europe, see: M.T. CLANCHY,
From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307 (London, 1979; cited from the 2nd edn.,
Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1993), pp. 44-80 (mainly in England), and: Pragmatic Literacy,
East and West 1200-1330, ed. R. BRITNELL (Woodbridge, 1997).
4A recent survey of the early history of Holland may be found in: Geschiedenis van
Holland, 1, Tot 1572, ed. T. DE NIJS and E. BEUKERS (Hilversum, 2002).
5Thirteenth-century diplomatics and pragmatic writing in Holland have been studied in:
small, in the towns, at small judicial courts in the countryside, and finally by a
wide range of private persons endowed with social status but hardly ever with
any public authority to match.3
The widespread acceptance of the charter in the later Middle Ages obscures
the question of the beginnings of the charter at these lower levels of society,
beginnings which should be situated roughly in the twelfth century. It is a prob-
lem why people who for centuries had relied on oral agreement and oral trans-
mission by living witnesses to their grants, transactions and contracts, now
began to turn to a specific type of written document to make sure their deeds
would be legally binding and enduring. To find an answer to this question it
may be worth our while to study in detail the first development of diplomatic
practice at the regional level. In the following this will be attempted for the
county of Holland.
The Chronology of Pragmatic Literacy in the County of Holland
The beginnings of the county of Holland can be traced to the early tenth
century, when local counts succeeded in gaining control over some areas in the
western part of the modern Netherlands. One of their first concerns was the
establishment of the Benedictine abbey of Egmond. There, from c. 980 on-
wards, monks were perpetually praying for the counts and their relatives, who
had endowed the convent. The power of the dynasty was severely shaken dur-
ing a political crisis in the eleventh century, but in the last quarter of that cen-
tury the counts re-established their hold over the region. A long period of politi-
cal and economic expansion followed.4
In recent years much research has been done concerning the development
of pragmatic literacy in the county of Holland and Zeeland during the thirteenth
century. By scrutinising the extant documentary sources from that period,
mainly charters but also other records, by means of well-defined palaeograph-
ical and diplomatic methods, detailed knowledge could be obtained about the
spread of administrative writing in the county.5 We now know that the count’s
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
KRUISHEER, De oorkonden; J.W.J. BURGERS, De paleografie van de documentaire bronnen in
Holland en Zeeland in de dertiende eeuw, 3 vols. (Leuven, 1995: Schrift en Schriftdragers in de
Nederlanden in de Middeleeuwen: Paleografie, codicologie, diplomatiek 1); E.C. DIJKHOF, Het
oorkondenwezen van enige kloosters en steden in Holland en Zeeland, 1200-1325 (Leuven,
2003: Schrift en Schriftdragers in de Nederlanden in de Middeleeuwen: Paleografie,
codicologie, diplomatiek 3). For a synthesis, see: J.W.J. BURGERS, E.C. DIJKHOF and J.G.
KRUISHEER, “De doordringing van het schrift in Holland en Zeeland in de tweede helft van de
dertiende eeuw”, in: Wi Florens... De Hollandse graaf Floris V in de samenleving van de
dertiende eeuw, ed. D.E.H. DE BOER, E.H.P. CORDFUNKE and H. SARFATIJ (Utrecht, 1996),
pp. 191-211. The process of the transition from Latin to the vernacular in charters and other
documents in thirteenth-century Holland has been analyzed in: J.W.J. BURGERS, “De invoering
van het Nederlands in de dertiende-eeuwse documentaire bronnen in Holland en Zeeland”,
Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse taal- en letterkunde 112 (1996), pp. 129-150.
6J.W.J. BURGERS, “Oorkonden in Holland vóór 1200: De abdij van Egmond en het begin
van het Hollandse oorkondenwezen” (forthcoming). Much of the following is based on the
detailed account of the first diplomatic texts in Holland given there.
7On the problem of determining of the place of origin of a charter, see J. KRUISHEER,
“Kanzleianfertigung, Empfängeranfertigung und Anfertigung durch Dritte: Methodologische
Anmerkungen anlässlich einiger neuerer Untersuchungen”, Archiv für Diplomatik,
Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde 25 (1979), pp. 256-300.
chancery first came into being c. 1198, but that it existed without interruptions
only from c. 1268, allowing it to develop into the hierarchical organisation that
had come about in the 1290s. We know how the abbeys of Egmond and
Middelburg influenced the writing of charters in the neighbouring districts; we
know how, in the towns, from the 1260s onwards local scribes started to write
legal deeds for the burgesses and simultaneously began to keep a civic adminis-
tration, soon changing the language of their records and charters from Latin to
Dutch. In view of this, it is remarkable that until recently no close study was
made of the beginnings of this important institutional and cultural process,
which in Holland must have started before the thirteenth century. Clearly, al-
ready before 1200 some writing was done in the abbey of Egmond. Not only
books were produced, but charters as well, and at the turn of the century the
monks had already developed a certain diplomatic practice of their own. How
and when they had started this practice, and where their inspiration had come
from, has long remained unknown.
Only recently a detailed study has been made of the beginnings of prag-
matic literacy in Holland.6 To start with, a list was made of all the charters and
other records issued or received in the county before the year 1200. This corpus
consists of 45 texts. Of course, not all documents were written in Holland itself.
As both parties involved in a juridical act or contract can produce charters, it
usually takes diplomatic research to establish which party wrote the document.7
8A.C.F. KOCH, Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299, 1, Eind van de 7e eeuw
tot 1222 (’s-Gravenhage, 1970), Nos. 21, 28, 40, 55.
9KOCH, Oorkondenboek, Nos. 39, 43, 45, 46, 52, 57, 62.
10 O. OPPERMANN, Die älteren Urkunden des Klosters Blandinium und die Anfänge der
Stadt Gent, 2 vols. (Utrecht, 1928: Bijdragen van het Instituut voor Middeleeuwsche
Geschiedenis 11-12). Many aspects of this study, which is seriously flawed by the hypercritical
attitude of its author, have been corrected by A.C.F. Koch in: M. GYSSELING and A.C.F. KOCH,
Diplomata belgica ante annum millesimum centesimum scripta, 2 vols. (Brussels, 1950:
Bouwstoffen en studiën voor de geschiedenis en de lexicografie van het Nederlands 1), 1, pp. 85-
11 O. OPPERMANN, Fontes Egmundenses (Utrecht, 1933: Werken uitgegeven door het
Historisch Genootschap (gevestigd te Utrecht), 3e serie 61), pp. 61-62 and 63.
12 OPPERMANN, Fontes, p. 61: “Fundaciones, dotaciones et donaciones Hecmundensi
monasterio collate a primitivis comitibus Hollandie necnon a ceteris fidelibus christianis,
excerpte seu registrate de antiquo textu ewangeliorum, cuius antiquitatem et per consequens
auctoritatem et volumen ostendit et littera demonstrat”.
13 The grant by Dirk I opens: “Noverit omnium tam presentium quam per succedentium
temporum curricula venientium Christifidelium temporum industria, qualiter ...”; Arnulf’s grant
starts with the words: “Notum sit etiam cunctis nunc natis atque iam nascituris ...” (OPPERMANN,
Fontes, pp. 61 and 63 respectively).
Only when both parties can be located in Holland, can we be certain a priori
that a local clerk wrote the charter. In our corpus several documents are likely
to have been produced outside the county. Sometimes this is even certain.
At a first glance the corpus can be divided into two distinct periods: 13
documents date from the years 889-993, while the others date from the twelfth
century (two of these are slightly earlier). In the eleventh century, then, there is
a long period without any documents. Most of the documents of the early,
tenth-century group seem to have been written outside the county. Among these
thirteen texts we find four royal charters, in which different counts are granted
lands and rights. These documents have doubtless been produced in royal chan-
ceries.8 Next, there are seven charters issued by the counts or their relatives for
St. Peter’s abbey in Ghent, five of which were also issued in this convent.9
There seems to be every reason to believe that these texts were conceived and
written in the abbey. In the tenth century charter production was already flour-
ishing there, something that certainly cannot be said of the territories to the
north of Flanders.10 Finally, two documents remain which must indeed have
been written locally, because they are grants to the abbey of Egmond made by
Count Dirk I and his grandson, Count Arnulf.11 These texts are transmitted in a
fifteenth-century register of the abbey, and it is said that they were written
originally in “the old gospel book”, which is no longer extant.12 Both texts
show one diplomatic formula (a notificatio and a general address),13 but they
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
14 OPPERMANN, Fontes, pp. 62-63, beginning with the words “Traditio, quam domnus
Theodericus cum legitima coniuge sua nomine Hildegarda fecerunt ad predictum locum pro
comparanda beatitudine, hec est: ...”.
15 KOCH, Oorkondenboek, Nos. 120, 123, 139, 140, 160, 189, 214, 226.
16 KOCH, Oorkondenboek, Nos. 215, 217, 218, 235, 236. The origin of these charters was
studied in KRUISHEER, De oorkonden, pp. 30-31.
17 No. 16 of the list. This charter probably was written in that abbey.
18 Nos. 1, 2, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13.
19 Nos. 5, 6, 9, 10, 14, 17.
probably were never issued as a charter; they were just entries in the gospel
book. This is clear from the fact that a similar grant by Dirk II, written in the
gospel book between the two grants mentioned above, shows no trace of any
diplomatic formula.14 Furthermore, the wording of the notificatio of Arnulf’s
grant reads: “Notum sit etiam”, and one cannot start a diploma with the words
“Let it also be known”. Probably these formulas were added later, when an
Egmond scribe copied these texts and in the process embellished them with
some diplomatic phrases. Further on we will encounter more instances of this
We may therefore conclude that, apart from these few notes made in
Egmond, there are no signs of pragmatic literacy in Holland during the tenth
century, or, for that matter, during the eleventh. Only at the end of the rule of
count Dirk V (1061-1091) do we find the first diplomatic texts. After that, char-
ters and related documents are transmitted in ever growing numbers during the
twelfth century. In the period 1083-1198 we count 32 of these texts. Again,
however, many of them were made outside the county: charters issued by the
pope, the emperor, the archbishop of Cologne, the abbot of Echternach or the
count of Flanders.15 And palaeographical research has shown that five charters
of the count of Holland for the Flemish abbeys of Ten Duinen and Ter Doest
were written in these convents.16 In the end there remain 17 documents that
were certainly or almost certainly produced in Holland itself during the twelfth
century; these are listed chronologically at p. 16.
The first thing that catches the eye is that all but one of these 17 texts are
somehow connected with the abbey of Egmond. The single exception is a deed
by the count for the abbey of Middelburg in Zeeland, dating from the 1190s.17
Apart from that, we have seven deeds by the count, by the bishop of Utrecht
and by a private person for Egmond abbey or its abbot,18 and six texts in which
the abbot regulates the internal affairs of the convent.19 Even in three docu-
ments in which the abbey appears not to have been party to the legal transac-
tion, the involvement of the convent is certain, as the texts have been transmit-
20 Nos. 3, 4, 15.
21 No. 2.
22 No. 1.
23 Nos. 5, 6.
ted in the Egmond archives.20 A first, tentative conclusion must be that during
the greater part of the twelfth century the abbey of Egmond was the only place
in Holland where charters and other administrative documents were written. As
we shall see, a closer study of the dossier will confirm this conclusion.
Twelfth-Century Informal Charters
The earliest texts in the group of documents originating in Holland are two
deeds by Count Dirk V, granted to the abbey and to Abbot Stephen in or before
1083. Without doubt neither was issued as a formal charter. One grant was
recorded in the gospel book mentioned before. It does not show any trace of the
use of diplomatic formulary, but it does include a list of witnesses.21 The text is
also transmitted in the famous forged diploma of “1083” (which incorporates
the other eleventh-century deed as well), but with another list of witnesses. This
forgery will be discussed more fully in a moment.22 Both documents, although
lacking formal diplomatic characteristics, differ fundamentally from the earlier
notes in the gospel book because of the presence of lists of witnesses. More-
over, it is possible that at least the second deed, which was not recorded in the
gospel book, was written originally as a single-sheet document. These are the
first texts produced in Egmond that do not only record a juridical act (this had
been done before), but that were also intended as evidence of that act. In this
respect both documents fulfil at least one basic condition that allows us to con-
sider them as charters according to our definition. Here we witness the birth of
charter-writing in Holland.
The following four documents originated in the time of the abbot Allard
(1105-1120). All are handed down as later copies in the early thirteenth-century
Liber Sancti Adalberti (which itself is only known from a transcript in the
fifteenth-century register mentioned earlier). Two of these are deeds by the
abbot, the first documents of this kind in Holland.23 Both texts have a list of
witnesses and show some diplomatic formulas. These formulas, however, seem
a later addition by a scribe from Egmond. This is apparent from certain discrep-
ancies in the text, such as the alternation between first and third persons singu-
lar when referring to the abbot: “ego Adallardus” in the intitulatio and “abbas
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
24 Nos. 3, 4.
25 Nos. 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 17.
26 No. 15.
Adallardus ... concessit” in the dispositio. The same goes for two grants by the
count to the inhabitants of two parishes,24 where the diplomatic formulas cer-
tainly are later additions, as they have been copied from the text of the forged
charter of “1083”, which, as we will see, was made later in the century. The
original nucleus of these texts consists in all cases of a record of the juridical
act itself, a list of witnesses and a date. As before, we are dealing with an infor-
mal kind of charter. This was probably written on a single sheet, and, in the
case of a count’s deed, it was possibly validated with a seal.
During the twelfth century, seven more examples of this type of text are
found in the Egmond archives,25 suggesting that this had become current prac-
tice in recording juridical acts. Around the middle of the century a change can
be observed: the witnesses disappear from the contracts between the abbot and
his convent. A possible explanation for this phenomenon may be that the abbot
now possessed a seal, and that this replaced the names of the witnesses as the
validating device. Regrettably, as nearly all these documents are transmitted as
copies, this assumption cannot be proven.
We are fortunate that an original of at least one of these informal charters
has been preserved (fig. 1). In this charter of c. 1175, the Utrecht Chapter of St.
Mary’s grants the right of burial to the parishioners of Akersloot, a village
some ten kilometres from Egmond.26 The abbey of Egmond was somehow
involved in this juridical act, as the charter was not only written by an Egmond
monk (as can be deduced from the wording of the text and the style of the
script) but it was also kept in the convent’s archives. The text has some ele-
ments of the standard diplomatic formulary, even if in a rather unorthodox
order, and there is no list of witnesses. The outward appearance agrees with this
internal informality: the charter is written in a somewhat cursory minuscule,
loosely decorated with some diplomatic traits, in a rather untidy layout; it is,
however, validated with a seal. The other informal charters produced in the
abbey probably had the same characteristics: they showed a fragmentary use of
diplomatic formulas and a certain carelessness regarding script and layout, but
they were written on a single sheet and validated by a list of witnesses or a seal,
or sometimes perhaps by both. The documents concerned deal with relatively
27 No. 7.
28 Or perhaps the decorations, which are in an Utrecht style, were added by a bishop’s
29 KOCH, Oorkondenboek, No. 120.
Twelfth-Century Formal Charters
In the same period, the abbey also produced charters that were very differ-
ent from these informal ones. These are larger, and much more important texts,
drawn up in a complete diplomatic style, with a full use of the standard formu-
lary and without the internal discrepancies found in some of the charters men-
tioned before. Another difference is that most of these are preserved as origi-
nals. The first of these ‘true’ charters is the deed issued by bishop Hardbert of
Utrecht in 1143, on the occasion of the dedication of Egmond’s new abbey
church.27 In its text the complete diplomatic formulary is found, although it is
arranged in an unorthodox order. For instance, the date is placed at the begin-
ning of the text, in the arenga, while at the end there is a datatio in which the
indiction is given. The text of the dispositio is not a unity either. When the
consecration of the new church of the abbey took place, in the presence of
witnesses the bishop confirmed the papal privilege the abbot had received in
1140 and an earlier deed by the count for the convent; in addition, the bishop
himself granted the monks freedom from paying toll in his lands. We still have
the original charter (fig. 2), and so we can see that it is an impressive, sizeable
piece, written in a large but rather unconventional script. It is executed in a
book script, which then is adorned with a mass of exuberant decorations. The
writing was done by a scribe who clearly was more used to copying books than
to writing this diplomatic script. After the text had been finished, he wrote
underneath, in a much smaller and informal book script, a list of witnesses.
These awkward traits in the wording and the script of the document reveal that
it probably was not written by an Utrecht scribe joining the bishop on his trip
to Egmond, but rather by a local monk.28 This conclusion is corroborated by the
fact that in the intitulatio the bishop is mentioned in the majestic plural, “Nos
Hardbertus”, while the Utrecht bishops up to the very end of the twelfth cen-
tury always use the singular in their charters. Probably this plural form was
derived from the papal charter that the abbey had received in 1140 (fig. 3),29 as
were, at the end of the final protocol, the words “Amen” and “Bene valete”, and
the cross with the four dots written before the list of witnesses.
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
30 No. 1.
31 KOCH, Oorkondenboek, Nos. 123 and 139 respectively.
32 Nos. 11, 12 (the latter in original form).
The next ‘true’ charter is the Egmond forgery of “1083”, that is, if it was
really made after the diploma of 1143 (fig. 4).30 Since its latest edition was
published by Koch in 1970, it is commonly agreed that this document, for cen-
turies a hotly debated piece in Dutch medieval history, was written sometime
in the second quarter of the twelfth century. I think, however, that it must have
been made between 1156 and 1162. The charter, another one of an impressive
size, is written in a diplomatic minuscule by a scribe who was definitely more
used to this kind of script than his colleague of 1143, even if in this text frag-
ments of book script do occur, and the st- and ct-ligatures are rather clumsily
executed. The global impression of the layout and script of the piece, however,
is one of control and balance. The scribe seems inspired by the papal bull of
1140: compare in both documents the relatively wide margins, the wide spacing
between the lines and, in connection with that, the long ascenders (also in the
elongated letters, the litterae elongatae, of the first line). The conspicuous
ligatures in the Egmond charter probably are a (not very successful) imitation
of those in the papal bull, as are some typical abbreviation signs. The wording
of the “1083” charter shows no influence of the papal text, with the exception
perhaps of the double structure of the sanctio, in which persons who infringe on
the provisions of the deed are threatened with the wrath of God, whereas those
who uphold them are promised their reward in the next world. The text of the
forgery is a compilation from different sources. In it are recorded the earlier
grants of the first counts and their relatives as well as some grants made in
1083. Moreover, in its phrases parts of the so-called Gravenregister (an
Egmond text from c. 1125) are found, and fragments of the formulary of the old
royal charters for the counts, which were kept in the Egmond archives. There
is also some clear borrowing from two other important charters in the Egmond
archives: one which the abbey received in 1146 from the archbishop of Co-
logne and another which was issued in 1156 by the abbot of Echternach for
Count Dirk VI.31
In 1162 two authentic diplomatic texts were again written in Egmond. They
are two nearly identical deeds, one of which again has been handed down in its
original form (fig. 5).32 These are charters issued by Count Floris III for the
abbey of Egmond, in which a bitter conflict between the count and the convent
is brought to an end. Floris was forced to give in. These were important docu-
ments for the abbey. Both the wording and, as one can see from the surviving
10 J.W.J. BURGERS
33 On the beginnings of the chancery of the counts, and the role played therein by Allinus,
see J.G. KRUISHEER, “De kanselarij van graaf Dirk VII van Holland”, in: Septet: Gedenkboek bij
de herdenking van 75 jarig bestaan van de Vereniging van archivarissen in Nederland
(Groningen, 1966), pp. 24-35 (also Nederlands Archievenblad 70 (1966), pp. 99-110), and J.W.J.
BURGERS, “Allinus, grafelijke kapelaan en Egmondse geschiedschrijver’, in: In het spoor van
Egbert: Aartsbisschop Egbert van Trier, die bibliotheek en geschiedschrijving van het klooster
Egmond, ed. G.N.M. VIS (Hilversum, 1997: Egmondse Studiën 3), pp. 65-149.
34 For that reason, in early twentieth-century diplomatics most of these charters were
considered as forgeries; see J. BURGERS and M. MOSTERT, “Oorkondenvervalsingen in Holland?
De rehabilitatie van het 12de- en 13de-eeuwse Hollandse oorkondenwezen”, Holland: Regio-
naal-historisch tijdschrift 35 (2003), pp. 134-151 (Polish tr.: “O fałszerstwach dokumentów w
średniowiecznej Holandii”, Roczniki Historyczne 69 (2003), pp. 49-70).
original, the script of these texts by now shows a nearly flawless diplomatic
style. These charters are truly conceived and executed according to the rules.
Elements of the formulary were taken from the “1083” forgery and from the
charter issued by the archbishop of Cologne in 1147. The writing also seems
inspired by these two documents: the scribe executed a convincing if not yet in
all its aspects successful script.
Why Were Charters Introduced in Holland?
By detailed research using palaeographical and diplomatic methods, it
proved possible to reconstruct the first phases of pragmatic literacy in the
county of Holland before the thirteenth century. It turned out that there are no
signs of a comital chancery before 1198, when such an institution came into
being under the direction of Allinus, an Egmond monk and the count’s chap-
lain.33 The only place in the county of Holland with an older tradition of liter-
acy, pragmatic as well as literary, was the Benedictine abbey of Egmond. From
its founding in the tenth century onwards, the monks had kept a record of grants
given to the convent by the counts in the form of entries in the gospel book. In
the late eleventh century, pragmatic literacy developed, and for the first time
deeds were written as separate, single-sheet documents, validated with a list of
witnesses or a seal. These documents, no matter how defective they were from
the point of view of modern diplomatics,34 nevertheless were intended not only
to record the juridical act, but also to preserve proof of it. According to our
definition, these are the first charters written in Holland. Finally, from the
1140s onwards charters were written in the abbey that met all diplomatic re-
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
35 CLANCHY, From Memory to Written Record, pp. 294-297, argues that there were strong
feelings in favour of the traditional oral methods, not only with ignorant illiterates but also with
sophisticated Platonists, and that people had to be persuaded to rely on documentary proof. After
all, in the Middle Ages the word ‘novel’ was hardly considered a recommendation. On the
contrary, it was venerable age that inspired confidence; see the heading of the texts copied from
the Egmond gospel book, cited supra, n. 12.
36 Cf. CLANCHY, From Memory to Written Record, pp. 326-327. Probably the sheer magic
of the written word, even that of the act of writing itself, played a role in the development of
pragmatic literacy: M. MOSTERT, “De magie van het geschreven woord”, in: De betovering van
het middeleeuwse Christendom: Studies over ritueel en magie in de Middeleeuwen, ed. M.
MOSTERT and A. DEMYTTENAERE (Hilversum 1995: Amsterdamse Historische Reeks: Grote
Serie 22), pp. 61-100 (an extended version of: M. MOSTERT, “La magie de l’écrit dans le Haut
Moyen Age: Quelques réflexions générales”, in: Haut Moyen Age: Culture, édification et
société: Études offertes à Pierre Riché, ed. M. SOT (La Garenne-Colombes, 1990), pp. 273-281).
Now that we have established the outlines of the origin and first develop-
ment of pragmatic literacy in the county of Holland, or rather in the abbey of
Egmond, the question arises as to the forces behind this evolution. What reason
did the monks have to put their trust in the written word, to overcome the initial
distrust of this breach with the oral tradition, and to invest the extra expense,
time and effort necessary for mastering the novel techniques?35 It is easy to see
why in the tenth century the oldest records were written in the gospel book.
Doubtless they served as a memory aid. Without these records, the monks could
not keep track of the wide range of grants given by the successive counts,
grants which often consisted of a variety of small lands or rents throughout the
county. Of course, the recording these texts in the Holy Book, placed on the
altar, guaranteed that the deeds would be respected.36 This was an effective
method, and the question arises why, at the end of the eleventh century, a fun-
damentally new method was introduced with the charter-like document. It has
been emphasised before that these new documents clearly had another function
than the earlier aides-mémoire: their formal structure, not the holiness of the
book in which they might have been written, in itself gave evidence of the deed
in question. Now, for the first time in Holland, writing of this kind of docu-
ments was recognised as an effective means of upholding one’s rights and
properties against the intrusions of others. The question remains to be
answered: why were charters introduced in Egmond, and why then?
The answer must be sought in the cultural, socio-economic and political
changes that took place in Egmond and Holland precisely during the last quar-
ter of the eleventh century. In this period, the county of Holland experienced a
political revival. After the upheavals of the 1060s and 1070s, when Count Dirk
V had still been a small child and the land was dominated by foreign powers,
12 J.W.J. BURGERS
37 Cf. D.P. BLOK, “Holland und Westfriesland”, Frühmittelalterliche Studien 3 (1969),
pp. 347-361, and J.W.J. BURGERS, “Holland omstreeks 1100: De 11e-eeuwse transformatie van
het Westfriese graafschap”, Holland: Historisch tijdschrift 31 (1999), pp. 199-209.
38 In 1143, bishop Hardbert of Utrecht described the convent as situated “in extremo
margine mundi” (OPPERMANN, Fontes, p. 152).
39 The standard reference work on the abbey of Egmond still is J. HOF, De abdij van
Egmond van de aanvang tot 1573 (’s-Gravenhage and Haarlem, 1973: Hollandse Studiën 5).
More recent studies on different subjects, including the Egmond library, are to be found in the
series Egmondse Studiën, ed. G.N.M. VIS, 1-4 (Hilversum, 1990-2002). The Egmond sources
have been analyzed in: O. OPPERMANN, Untersuchungen zur Nordniederländischen Geschichte
des 10. bis 13. Jahrhunderts, 1, Die Egmonder Fälschungen (Utrecht, 1920: Bijdragen van het
Instituut voor Middeleeuwsche Geschiedenis 3), and, correcting many of Oppermann’s untenable
Dirk now succeeded in defeating his opponents and regaining the land of his
fathers. He ended the occupation of his territories by the bishop of Utrecht and
the duke of Lotharingia, and in the 1080s his authority was unchallenged within
his county, which from now on was called Holland. Formerly it had been
known as Frisia, but due to the steady influx of ‘Frankish’ settlers this name
now seemed inappropriate, as the Frisians proper mostly lived in the northern
part of the county; they were by now seen as a foreign people, hostile to the
During the foreign occupation of Holland, Dirk had lived at the court of his
stepfather, Count Robert of Flanders. In Ghent he must have become ac-
quainted with the advanced state of the comital administration and its diplo-
matic practice. More important for us, abbot Stephen of Egmond (1057-1105)
joined him in his exile, as from 1071 until 1076 he was abbot of the great mon-
astery of St. Bavo in Ghent. The library of this venerable and important con-
vent, and its scriptorium, where books, charters and other records were written
by the score, must have made a deep impression upon Stephen, coming as he
did from a small monastery “on the very edge of the world”, as Egmond was
not unjustly called.38 One can imagine how, back home in Egmond, he tried to
emulate the example he had seen in Ghent. During the last decades of his reign,
all aspects of literacy knew a rapid expansion in the abbey. For the first time,
administrative records were being kept in separate books, in registers. The need
for a better administration arose because of the increased number of grants
given to the abbey, which by now were also made by private persons. The con-
vent’s library was enlarged with at least some 80 volumes, both liturgical books
and works on all branches of science. These new books were in part purchased,
but a fair number of them were produced in the convent’s own scriptorium.
Perhaps even some original works were written in the abbey in this period: the
Vita Ieronis is thought to date from the latter part of the eleventh century.39
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
views, in: P.A. MEILINK, De Egmondsche geschiedbronnen (‘s-Gravenhage, 1939; published
earlier in: Bijdragen voor vaderlandsche geschiedenis en oudheidkunde, 7e reeks 9 (1938), pp. 1-
54, 181-210, and 10 (1939), pp. 1-50).
After Stephen’s death in 1105, his successors continued his initiatives in
the fields of literary and administrative writing. The library was constantly
enlarged, and several original works were written in the convent: a vita of its
patron saint Adalbert, the first part of the Annales Egmundenses, and the
Gravenregister, in which the history of the counts was recorded. These writings
reflect a heightened awareness of the cultural and political identity of the
monks as members of their convent and as inhabitants of the new entity called
Holland. This awareness must have been enhanced by the wars that by now
were fought incessantly between the counts and the Frisians. From 1139 to
1161 the convent was governed by Walter, who was a monk of St. Peter’s ab-
bey in Ghent before he became abbot in Egmond. As we have seen, it was at
this time that Egmond took the final step towards the production of diplomatic
documents in the true sense of the word; probably it was Walter who intro-
duced the abbot’s (or convent’s) seal. Clearly the example of the advanced state
of diplomatic writing in Ghent, in which Walter had been schooled, induced
him to reform diplomatic practice in Egmond.
All this may explain how and why at the end of the eleventh century in
Holland fundamental changes started to transform pragmatic literacy. It is like-
ly that there was a connection between the sudden start of writing of all kinds
of texts, including the introduction of the first diplomatic practice in the abbey
of Egmond, and the county’s new cultural and political self-consciousness;
obviously the latter must have triggered the former. Abbot Stephen began by
imitating habits he had seen in the powerful Ghent monasteries, because he felt
that his own abbey was, or at least should be, an important institution too. The
expansion of the library, the introduction of an orderly written administration,
and the production of diplomatic documents as written evidence of grants, all
should be seen, at least in part, as tokens of the ambitions of the Egmond con-
The writing of charters began because diplomas gave prestige, because they
belonged to the status symbols of prominence and power. In this view, trust in
charters is secondary; charters are trusted because they have status, not the
other way around. This is the only explanation why a convent like Egmond
would introduce the charter for proving its rights and possessions, while it
easily could have done without such a device, as it had done for more than a
century. The Egmond example further shows that charters did not gain author-
14 J.W.J. BURGERS
40 On this seal, see J.C. KORT, “De oudste zegels van de graven van Holland en het
zogenaamde zegel van graaf Dirk V”, De Nederlandsche Leeuw: Maandblad van het Koninklijk
Nederlandsch Genootschap voor Geslacht- en Wapenkunde 110 (1993), cols. 279-291, who
thinks the seal is that of count Dirk VI. Count Dirk V could have become acquainted with a
count’s seal at the court of his stepfather, count Robrecht of Flanders, who in fact possessed a
ity because of the sacredness of the written word, for if that had been the case
the gospel book would have remained the ideal medium for preserving impor-
The hypothesis of the charter as a status symbol is confirmed by the devel-
opment of diplomatic writing in Egmond in the twelfth century. As we have
seen, the first ‘real’ charters began to be written from the 1140s onwards, when
very important matters were at stake. These diplomas are truly splendid objects,
obviously intended for showing off; they were meant to impress by means of
their size and rich decoration. Similarly, there seems every reason to suppose
that the full use of the diplomatic formulary also was a sign of ostentation, and
not merely an expansion of the text with conventional phrases. Exactly because
they were demonstrations of prestige, elements such as the script, decoration,
layout and diplomatic formulas were copied from prestigious examples, such as
the diplomas of the pope, the kings, the archbishop of Cologne and the abbot of
Echternach. The grandest of these early Egmond charters, the forgery of
“1083”, in its turn became an example for the later diplomatic style of the con-
vent, which took its script and formulary from it. The predominance of status
over trust in this early stage of diplomatic development may also be deduced
from the fact that the most important of the Egmond charters was not a genuine
diploma, but precisely a falsum. At the time many of the persons involved,
including the count, must have known that the “1083” charter, when it suddenly
emerged in all its splendour, was a fake, but this obviously bothered no one.
The counts of Holland give us another indication of the symbolic status of
early diplomatic activity. We have seen that only from 1198 onwards the counts
had a chancery of their own; before that, they were unable to have charters
made by their own clerks. In this light it seems rather peculiar that they owned
a seal long before 1198. The 1162 charter for Egmond has the seal of Count
Floris III impressed on it, and on the “1083” forgery there is also a seal, which
is perhaps that of Count Dirk VI (1121-1157), who therefore must implicitly
have recognised the charter. Perhaps the seal even dates from the late eleventh
century; if so, it may have been the genuine seal of Dirk V reused by the monk
making the forgery. (The style of the stamp seems to suggest such an early
date.)40 It is certain that Dirk VI had a seal, as it is mentioned unequivocally in
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
seal (R. LAURENT, Les sceaux des princes territoriaux Belges du Xe siècle à 1482, 2 in 3 vols.
(Bruxelles, 1993), 1.1, p. 150).
41 KOCH, Oorkondenboek, No. 122.
42 See also B.M. BEDOS-REZAK, “Medieval identity: A sign and a concept”, The American
Historical Review 105 (2000), pp. 1489-1533, where the symbolic use of the seal is stressed. The
author rejects, however, the idea that seals were “icons of power” (p. 1515). Instead, she argues
that in the eleventh and twelfth centuries the use of the seal is linked to the contemporary
prescholastic debate about mediation, signification and representation. In her view, the seal
represented not a real person, but the person as a category. By the seal, the individual retreats
“behind representational signs whose operational principles lay not in individualization but
classification, not in differentiation but replication, not in identification but verification” (p.
1532). The petty lords in Northern France, however, who at the time began to use a seal, must
have had a practical reason for adopting it, no matter what they, or their learned clerks, thought
about the way the seal represented a person. Status seems to be the most likely reason for the
introduction of the seal at these less elevated levels of society.
the charter of a nobleman called Fastrad Scherebaard. In this undated docu-
ment, which must have been written between 1130 and 1145, Fastrad asks the
count to put his seal to the charter, as he himself is not in the possession of
one.41 It is clear, therefore, that the counts of Holland had owned a seal for
several generations, when they had not as yet had the means to have charters
written on their own account. The seal obviously was used incidentally to vali-
date charters produced by other parties, but one can hardly maintain that for the
counts its possession was a daily necessity. For them the seal probably was
primarily a status symbol, representing their public authority, or at least their
ambitions.42 Similarly, for the monks of Egmond the charter must have been a
sign of prominence and wealth. In Holland, the glamour and status of the char-
ter clearly preceded its trustworthiness.
16 J.W.J. BURGERS
List of Charters and Charter-Like Documents Written in Holland, 1083-
In this list are given, after the number of the text: the date the document was written; the
person issuing and 6 the person or institution receiving the charter; and the edition of the
text in Koch, Oorkondenboek or Oppermann, Fontes. The abbreviation ‘inhab.’ stands for
‘inhabitants of’. In the last column, ‘o’ stands for the original charter, if that is preserved, ‘c’
for a later copy.
1 “1083 July 26” Count Dirk V ÷ Egmond abbey Koch, No. 88o o
2 [c. 1077-1091] Count Dirk V ÷ Egmond abbey Fontes, pp. 64-65 c
3 1108 Apr. 12 Count Floris II ÷ inhab. Heiloo Koch, No. 94 c
4 1116 July 16 Count Floris II ÷ inhab. Alkmaar Koch, No. 99 c
5 [1105-1119] Oct. 1 Abbot Adalard ÷ nobleman Eilger Koch, No. 101 c
6 [1105-1120 Apr. 22] Abbot Adalard ÷ Egmond abbey Koch, No. 102 c
7 1143 [Oct. 7 or later] the Bishop of Utrecht ÷ Egmond abbey Koch, No. 121 o
8 [1130-1157 Aug. 5] Knight Willem ÷ Egmond abbey Koch, No. 145 c
9 [1130-1161 Nov. 28] Abbot Wouter ÷ Egmond abbey Fontes, pp. 85-86 c
10 [1130-1161 Nov. 28] Abbot Wouter ÷ Egmond abbey Fontes, pp. 88-89 c
11 1162 Aug. 28 Count Floris III ÷ Egmond abbey Koch, No. 151 c
12 1162 Aug. 28 Count Floris III ÷ Egmond abbey Koch, No. 152 o
13 1174 Oct. 3 Count Floris III ÷ Egmond abbey Koch, No. 169 c
14 1173 or 1174 Abbot Wibold ÷ Egmond abbey Koch, No. 170 c
15 1175 St. Mary of Utrecht ÷ inhab. Akersloot Koch, No. 171 o
16 [1190-1199] Count Dirk VII ÷ Middelburg abbey Koch, No. 237 o
17 [1182-1206 Oct. 3] Abbot Franco ÷ Egmond abbey Fontes, p. 91 c
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
Fig. 1 Charter of St. Mary’s of Utrecht for the inhabitants of Akersloot, 1175. Haar-
lem, Noord-Hollands Archief (NHA), Abdij van Egmond, No. 678
18 J.W.J. BURGERS
Fig. 2 Charter of bishop Hardbert of Utrecht for Egmond abbey, 1143 [Oct. 7]. NHA,
Abdij van Egmond, No. 56. Fragment.
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
Fig. 3 Charter of pope Innocent III for Egmond abbey, 1140 Febr. 29. NHA, Abdij van
Egmond, No. 13. Fragment.
20 J.W.J. BURGERS
Fig. 4 Forged charter of count Dirk V for Egmond abbey, allegedly 1083 July 26.
NHA, Abdij van Egmond, No. 44. Fragment.
Trust in Writing: Charters in Holland
Fig. 5 Charter of count Floris III for Egmond abbey, 1162 August 28. NHA, Abdij van
Egmond, No. 719.