GEN-MEDIEVAL-L ArchivesArchiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2005-09 > 1128080530
From: "Peter Stewart" <>
Subject: Re: Gundred, wife of William de Lancaster (was: 1st wife of Alan Fitz Roland ...
Date: Fri, 30 Sep 2005 11:42:10 GMT
<> wrote in message
> The sole purpose of a witness is to verify the person who signs and/or
> the document is the person he claims to be. A witness need not know the
> context of the document, but should be present when the document is
> signed. A
> deed must always be witnessed, where land is involved at least two.
> care is taken that the witness is not the spouse or close relation of
> named in the deed, but that was not always the case. A contract involves
> least two parties and the witness (if required, eg in a conveyance) will
> to make it clear to which signature/seal he is a witness, usually clear
> the original, the witness signing under the appropriate party. Each of
> parties may sign at different places and time, but their corresponding
> should be present.
This is not quite what Tim and I were discussing - a witness to the
execution of a contract is only required to verify that the nominated
signatory subscribed it, but that doesn't take a whole list of people
including, often, "and many others" unnamed at the end.
The purpose of witnesses attesting to medieval charters was to verify that
the specific business described in the document had been transacted by the
principal/s, not just that such person/s had gathered a number of others
together to look on while something unknown was being agreed and recorded.
If they didn't even know the substance of the transaction, they could not
very well confirm later what charter/s of a particular individual they had
A modern witness, on the other hand, may be asked only to give evidence that
a signature on a piece of paper was actually his or hers, and perhaps to
recall the occasion. Medieval witnesses often didn't sign or seal the
document, they were just named in it. The involvement of family members was
mainly to verify their assent, whether or not this was made explicit in the
In the charter originally discussed in this thread, the consent of William
de Lancaster's wife Gundred was worth mentioning apart from just the
relationship and pious wishes for the good of her soul, so that it is less
likely she would have been described differently ("filia comitisse" instead
of "uxor mea") as a witness to the same document.