Structure of Circle

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Ireland in the later Middle Ages was a dominion of the kings of England, and administrative documents produced by the English government in Ireland were dated and enrolled according to the regnal year of the ruling monarch. CIRCLE reflects the practice of the medieval Irish chancery in that the calendar is organized by regnal year. For each regnal year, there is a patent roll (PR) and a close roll (CR). Each letter within a PR or CR has been assigned a reference number.

A total of 123 chancery rolls survived to the nineteenth century to be inventoried by the Record Commission of Ireland in 1819 and published (in the volume known as RCH) in 1828. The inventory of 1819 assigns each roll a running number. In CIRCLE this running number is cited in the form RCI roll §1, RCI roll §2 etc. It is used in the 'Browse CIRCLE' feature of the website to show at a glance which rolls from CIRCLE were also calendared in RCH. For further information, please refer to the relevant page of the Historical Introduction.

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Structure of individual letters

The Irish chancery produced letters of many different forms, but the structure of letters issued under the g.s. of Ire. is stable across the period. The following information is captured for each letter in CIRCLE:

  1. Type of chancery roll (PR/CR)
  2. Regnal year
  3. Item reference number
  4. Date
  5. Place-date
  6. Addressee
  7. Text of calendared document
  8. Attestation clause
  9. Authorization or warranty clause
  10. RCH number (linked to image), where applicable.
  11. Classified list to all sources (for further information, see below)
  12. Footnotes

Classified list of sources

A guide to the nature of the sources used during the reconstruction is provided by categorizing them as [O] originals, [F] facsimiles, [T] transcripts, [C] calendars or [N] notices. Within each subsection, sources are listed in order of declining quality. 

[O] Original — this class does not refer to original chancery rolls since none survive. 'Original' in this context means engrossed letters patent, copies of writs sent to the English exchequer during the audit of the accounts of the treasurer of Ire., certified copies such as an inspeximus, and 'registered' copies found in the archives of municipal bodies, archiepiscopal or monastic registers.
[F] Facsimile — normally a nineteenth-century photozincograph image of original chancery enrolments 
[T] Transcript—a complete or near-complete transcript in Latin, either in manuscript or printed form, often produced by post-medieval antiquarians.
[C] Calendar— a calendar or summary, in either manuscript or printed form, in English or Latin.
[N] Notice—a brief notice or abstract of a chancery letter found in another document (including chancery warrants or fiants) or mentioned in guides to MSS and handlists of primary sources.

Often we have multiple publications based on a common source. In a case such as this, the different sources are entered under different headings. The charters of a town, for instance, often survive as original engrossments or copied into the town's register [O]; some of these charters will have been printed as facsimiles [F]; others will have been published as a critical edition [T]; and others are only printed in calendar form [C]. All these, however, descend from a common source.

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Order and numeration of letters

Chancery letters calendared in RCH

One of the most valuable features of RCH is that it shows us the structure of the original Irish chancery rolls. Wherever a chancery roll is calendared in RCH, the letters in CIRCLE follow the RCH sequence. On some occasions, however, the numeration may differ between CIRCLE and RCH.

  • Where RCH includes more than one letter within a single item, CIRCLE breaks up the entry and assigns each letter its own reference number.

  • Where RCH divides a single PR or CR into more than one ‘part’, CIRCLE unites the two ‘parts’ and assigns reference numbers consecutively. Any information concerning these ‘parts’ is retained and noted in the footnotes.


Chancery letters not calendared in RCH

A large number of letters and several whole chancery rolls were not calendared in RCH because the original rolls were damaged or destroyed before 1828. The procedure for assigning reference numbers to such letters is as follows:

  • Letters missing from chancery rolls published in RCH are listed in chronological order after the last RCH entry. The CIRCLE numeration continues on from the last RCH entry.
  • Letters from a roll that does not appear in RCH are listed in simple chronological order from the start of the regnal year. 
  • Where chancery warrants (or fiants) survive for which there are no corresponding letters extant, these texts are placed in chronological order after the last chancery letter.