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charters and seals

The Bruce charter: a translation

Haddington Charter

1318 Charter from Robert the Bruce to Haddington

Charter dated 1318, confirming Haddington’s status as a royal burgh, with Robert the Bruce’s seal. Held in the archives at the John Gray Centre.

Robert, By the Grace of God, King of Scots – To all good men of his land, Greeting. Know ye that we have given and granted, and by this our present charter have confirmed to our Burgh of Haddington and our burgesses dwelling in that our Burgh all rights, liberties and privileges which our same burgesses in our time or any times of any of our ancestors until now had or possessed or ought to have, with all burghal rights as freely as any other burghs commonly within our kingdom freely and quietly hold and possess from us. We grant also to our burgesses of Haddington that those who may be in the said burgh shall be free for ever from all toll and custom on their different goods throughout all our Kingdom of Scotland. Wherefore we firmly prohibit any one to dare, against this our grant, to vex them unjustly by exacting from them toll or custom on their different goods. We forbid, also, anyone within our Sheriffdom of Haddington to buy wool or skins or to trade in merchandise or to make broad cloth dyed or shorn except our burgesses of Haddington. Also that no other merchant within the said Sheriffdom of Haddington or in our Burgh shall buy any except from our burgesses of Haddington under our heavy displeasure. If, nevertheless, any merchant be found within our said Sheriffdom of Haddington buying wool or skins, or acting as a trader in any such way, his person shall be seized by our burgesses of Haddington: the goods thus bought shall be carried to our said Burgh of Haddington, and forfeited to our said burgesses. The person, however, of the said buyer shall be detained until we decree our will concerning him. All those conveying timber or merchandise to supply our said Burgh of Haddington, from whatever wood or whatever barony they may be, shall have our firm peace and protection. Anyone daring to poind goods or to annoy them unjustly on our highway in going to the said town of Haddington or in returning shall incur our heavy displeasure. We will that our said burgesses of Haddington shall as freely have and possess all common rights and common pasturage in moors, in peat mosses, turbaries and in all other easements rightly pertaining to the said town of Haddington, as in anytime the aforementioned burgesses or any of their ancestors had or possessed by all the true marches and boundaries, or have been used by them up until this time. In witness of which we have ordered our seal to be affixed to this our present charter. Witnesses – Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, our Chancellor. William of Lindesay, our chamberlain. Thomas Ranulph, Earl of Moray and Lord of Man, our dearest nephew. Walter, our Steward of Scotland. John of Menteith. James Lord of Douglas. Gilbert of Hay, our Constable of Scotland, and Robert of Keith, our marshal of knights. At Scone, 6th December, thirteenth year of our Reign.


A note from the archivists about the charter

James VI sealDating from 1318 this is actually a confirmation charter. Haddington had become a royal burgh around 200 years previously, but had mislaid its original charter(!). This document, sealed by Robert the Bruce, confirms its rights such as the right to hold a market etc. And anyone annoying the burgesses will face our heavy displeasure! You can see the remains of the seal attached to the document. This is one of a number of important seals we hold in our collection. Seals are used primarily to authenticate documents, specifically those which carry some legal importance. Initially used by royalty and religious figures they were eventually used by landed gentry and often featured their family crest.

Charters were fundamental to Royal Burghs and each went to great pains to keep their own safe and secure. In a very real sense the charter made the burgh by confirming rights and obligations set down by successive monarchs. A written charter was absolute proof in a time when many contracts were still verbal. For example, by the charter Haddington could enforce the clause “Anyone daring to poind goods or to annoy them unjustly on our highways in going to the said town of Haddington or in returning shall incur our heavy displeasure” by appealing straight to the Crown.

The Charter is written in Latin on vellum and the seal of Robert the Bruce is appended to the bottom. The charter and the seal have both been conserved by specialist conservators at the National Records of Scotland. Though only a portion of the original seal remains, you can make out the seated figure of Robert dressed in robes sitting on his throne. 

This charter featured in our exhibition, ‘The King, the Queen and the Vicious Strumpet‘, and you can find out more about related records in the archive by browsing the exhibition online.

General info on burghs

For most of its history (from medieval times until 1975), Scotland was divided into counties, parishes and burghs for civil and religious purposes. Burghs (especially royal burghs) were often treated differently by central government and the legal system. They were urban settlements which enjoyed trading privileges from medieval times until 1832 and which regulated their own affairs to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the type of burgh) until the abolition of all Scottish burghs in 1975. Many had their own courts of law, local government, churches and schools. The physical and social structure of burghs differed from the rest of the country for much of their existence. Burghs produced characteristic forms of historical record, such as court books, guild records, registers of deeds, financial accounts and, latterly, records of burgh institutions such as schools and libraries.

The Haddington burgh records were stored in a kist that can still be seen in Haddington Town House.

One thought on “The Bruce charter: a translation”

  1. It is nice to see the charter reproduced on the BBC Scotland website. If my eyes allow, I’ll have a shot at transscribing it too. But before that, thanks for providing a translation.
    j p. ward

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