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Anglo-Saxon Charters - The Electronic Sawyer

Updated: May 28

The latest summary of free and easy-access resources for those interested in early medieval history. The Electronic Sawyer is a free online database of Anglo-Saxon charter evidence, covering a broad chronological and geographical scope.

What are Anglo-Saxon Charters?

'Charters' represent a diverse set of legal documents; wills, the gifting of land and provision of privileges, often at royal bequest. They provide a crucial source of historical evidence, particularly about the mechanisms of the running of everyday life in the Anglo-Saxon period, and are far more 'down-to-earth' than the grand chronicle narratives or epic poems. How and by who was land divided? What was passed on from generation to generation? What role did the King play in the lives of land-holding individuals? As a representation of day-to-day life of the Anglo-Saxons, the Charters are unparalleled.

Despite their interest and importance, charters have traditionally been perhaps the most inaccessible of the Anglo-Saxon sources - printed in huge towering multi-volume tomes, often over a hundred years old, priced well outside the budget of most. The work of Sawyer in the 60s helped to centralize and standardize a diverse set of historical evidence, but still remained inaccessible to many.

The Electronic Sawyer

The solution? The Electronic Sawyer: an online, free database of Sawyer's work on charters which can be found here: https://esawyer.lib.cam.ac.uk/about/index.html

Charters are categorized into a standardized number system, allowing for scholarly consistency. Each entry provides a wealth of contextual information including original manuscript source and secondary scholarly comments.

There are a few drawbacks to the website. For on, at the time of writing, there are some technical issues - the search functions seems to be down, but the catalogue still allows for sorting by date. Secondly, although a great number of charters are provided with translations this is not universally true - for those not comfortable with Old English and Latin, this might be a hurdle (or, perhaps, a welcome motivation!). An index of translated examples can be found here: https://esawyer.lib.cam.ac.uk/browse/trans/0100.html. Even so, The Electronic Sawyer is a crucial resource to anybody interested in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Want more information on access to early medieval source material? Hit the 'Resources' tag above to keep up to date with the weekly feature, or check out the previous article on the PAS.

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