Imagine unfolding a fragile piece of history, a piece of parchment folded into a small rectangle with two red seals dangling from it, one so huge that surely the weight of it would rip it apart.
How to get it out of it’s small square grey cardboard box where it is incongruously nestling in some grey foam. Eagle eyed librarians watch over a hushed room of people looking at all sorts of priceless treasures. Gingerly this treasure is teased from it’s box.
The parchment must be tougher than it appears. On the top a zig zag pattern has been cut and at the bottom where the two seals hang heavily from slits in the thick parchment are three further slits now empty. The big seal is dark dark red, heavy and smooth on the back. The pattern on the front has been partly damaged over the passing years but some remains clear, a pattern of four shields with chevrons with a smaller one joining them all at the centre.
Across the parchment is a dense neat black Early English script but it is difficult to distinguish individual letters let alone patterns of words. You get an inkling of what it must feel like to be illiterate wanting to understand but not knowing the code.
What I was looking at had thankfully been transcribed in part at the beginning of the 20th century into legible Latin. It was a lease for ‘knoclas castle’ among other castles and lands c. 1433
When was the last time that this document had seen the cold light of day ?
Where had it been kept for the last five hundred years ?
How had it survived ?
The wonderful thing is anyone can go and see it although it is in the restricted section of the British Library in London for which you will need a letter to explain what a fit and proper person you are plus a reading room card which you can get on the day as long as you have lots of ID.
Ch Cnwclas al Knucklass Co Radnor Lease of the castle and demesne, c.1433 (Knoclas). Harl.ch. 53H. 17