While most Englishmen never saw the royal court, their lives were governed by the complex system of feudal rights and obligations that derived from it. Beinecke MS 88 is a small collection of medieval laws. Shown here is the beginning of the Charter of the Forests, first issued in 1217. This charter, almost contemporaneous with the Magna Carta, protects the liberties of feudal landholders.
While law books were plentiful, most legal business was recorded in documents; this document and that below are (unusually) written in English, not Latin. In Takamiya MS 132, John Burgh, the parson of Huish Champflower in Somerset, releases his rights in the lands of John Badyngton. By the fifteenth century, even minor land transactions could involve several persons with plausible claims to rights in a property.
Takamiya MS 133 contains an agreement by Sir John Fastolf to purchase lands in Norwich from Richard Sellyng. Sir John was probably the prototype of the character Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Fastolf’s contract is a chirograph; it has been written in duplicate on a single piece of parchment. The wavy cut made through the middle (typically through the word chirographum) allows the two halves of the document to be rejoined, thus guarding against forgery.