An original royal charter from the reign of England’s King John has been found in a cardboard box.
The document, which was discovered by accident, carries the seal of the medieval monarch and was issued in York exactly 819 years ago today.
Dated 26 March 1200, it confirms the transfer of ownership of two hamlets.
The rare charter was not previously known to have survived, but an excited historian spotted it by chance when he was looking through the archives of Ushaw College Library, which is managed by Durham University.
Dr Benjamin Pohl, a senior lecturer in medieval history, says he immediately recognised it was an original royal charter, which was carefully prepared and written by a “court hand” – someone who might have been a member of the king’s government.
He said: “Discovering the original charter at Ushaw is extremely exciting, not least because it allows us to develop a fuller picture of the people who were present at York on 26 March 1200 and eager to do business with the new king.
“Medieval charters are important not just because of the legal acts they contain, but also for what they can tell us about the society and political culture at the time. Our charter might best be described, therefore, as a kind of ‘who’s who’ of northern England (and beyond) at the turn of the 13th century.”
Before this discovery, less than a dozen original charters were known to have survived from the first year of King John’s reign, making it a hugely exciting find for historians.