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Guest Edited by Dr David Rundle (MEMS, University of Kent)

The history of diplomatic (or, in US English, diplomatics) is very different from diplomatic history. While the latter looks at the roles of international negotiators and their actors, the former investigates the materials of communication from and between sources of power. The study of diplomacy grows out of the study of diplomatic, and its remit its implicit in its name: 'diplomatic' comes from 'diploma', which is originally a Greek noun for a letter folded double. In Latin and thus languages derived from it, it comes to mean a form of official document. So, diplomatic is interested in all the elements which go into the making of charters and other official correspondence.

Classics of Diplomatic

Jean Mabillon might be best remembered for his foundational discussion of palaeography but, as the title of his 1681 magnum opus, De re diplomatica, suggests, he saw that as one necessary element of a a wider discipline. The whole text is available online.

Another work considered central to the development of the discipline is Arthur Giry, Manuel de diplomatique, first published in 1894 and available online in its 1925 edition.

Looking further back, an important prototype for both diplomatic and philology is Lorenzo Valla's declamatio attacking the authenticity of the Donation of Constantine. While the standard edition is now that in the print-only I Tatti series, there is a serviceable edition of the Latin, with English translation, freely available.


The Vocabulaire international de la diplomatique, ed. Maria Milagros Cárcel Ortí, 2nd ed. (Valencia, 1997), a project of the Commission internationale de diplomatique, has an online version: the basic language is French with translations of terms in most major languages, though those for English are incomplete.

There are two webpages which provide useful introductions to early medieval charters, outlining their range and explaining relevant terminolgy -- and both are by MEMS lecturers. There is one for Carolingian Europe by Dr Ed Roberts and a counterpart for pre-Conquest England by Dr Rob Gallagher.

There is also a short and clear introductory guide to the parts of a charter provided by Dr Alice Hicklin of the After Empire project.

Online Collections of Diplomatic Documents

The following listing avoids a vain attempt to be comprehensive. For early medieval charters from across Europe, see the detailed listing provided on our Early Medieval Studies page.

A large collection of material is available through DEEDS -- Database of Early England Data Set -- the long-term project of Prof. Michael Gervers at the University of Toronto. Despite its title, it includes information on deeds produced on the continent as well as in England.

For post-medieval England, important recent projects include:

For medieval Scotland, both Models of Authority and The Community of the Realm in Scotland, 1249-1424 provide invaluable material.

For medieval Ireland, there is CIRCLE, the online calendar of Irish Chancery Letters, c. 1244-1509, which includes a useful historical introduction (at time of writing, there appears to be a problem with the associated images).


The best starting point for understanding sealing practices is Imprint, a project led by Drs Philippa Hoskin and Elizabeth New. As well as its database of seals, it has a useful history of sealing, an introductory glossary and an extensive bibliography.

For an introductory guide in French, see the relevant page provided by France's Archives Nationales. There is also an introduction provided by the UK's National Archives.

The website of SIGILLVM, an international network for research on seals, also has some useful pages, including a brief overview of the history of study of seals.

Further information and links are available from the ever-useful Ménestrel site.


The Theleme website of the École des chartes in Paris has detailed and well-organised bibliographies for both medieval and post-medieval diplomatic (concentrating, but not confined to, French material).

Though it has not been updated since 2009, the German listing compiled for the WWW-VL of EUI in Florence includes a rich range of resources.

Online Documents

Resource page updated by David Rundle  - last updated 18/02/22

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