Textus Roffensis


 photo textus roffensis

The Textus Roffensis is a medieval manuscript. It was written in Rochester during the early 1120s and is the only existing copy of the first code of English law.

According to Rochester Cathedral “This manuscript, written in Old English and Latin, is hugely important in the history of English law and language and is believed to have influenced the wording of the Magna Carta of 1215 and, later, the American Declaration of Independence of 1776.” (www.rochestercathedral.org/news/categories/cathedral-news/288-textus-roffensis-online ).

In fact the Textus Roffensis consists of two separate books that were bound together some time after 1300. But, as the John Rylands Library (University of Manchester) tells us, the two parts were written at the same time and largely by the same scribe. The two parts are described as follows:

“The first part contains one of the most important of all surviving collections of Anglo-Saxon laws, from the conversion of King Aethelberht of Kent to the coronation of King Henry I of 1100.

The second part is the oldest and most precious of the cathedral registers. It can best be described as a memorandum book, created for ease of reference and security. Both parts were compiled in part from individual or single sheet original documents or exemplars, many now lost, in part from the collective memory of the cathedral community.

(…) The book contains two foundation charters of Rochester Cathedral and Diocese of 604 (DRc/R1 f.119 recto – f.119 verso and DRc/R1 f.177 recto), two pre-Conquest and pre-Domesday Book lists of Kent parishes and copies of the earliest English law codes to survive”. (www.enriqueta.man.ac.uk/luna/servlet/detail/Man4MedievalVC~4 ).

The John Rylands Library also remarks that the Textus Roffensis “represents the first documentary evidence of the compromises made between the new Norman rulers and their indigenous English subjects, hinting at a convergence rather that a collision between the English language and English laws on the one hand and Romance laws and language on the orther.”

The Textus Roffensis is currently held at Medway Archives in Strood but during 2015 it will be moved to a specially constructed exhibition cabinet in Rochester Cathedral, to be on public display.

Rochester Cathedral has also commissioned a facsimile copy of the Textus. This will be on display at certain times in the Magna Carta 800 Years Conference week. A digitalised version is available online at www.rochestercathedral.org.