Style Book

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The Translation

The vast majority of the letters that passed under the great seal of Ireland were written in Latin. The Irish chancery rolls are no long extant, however, and the substitute materials used to create CIRCLE vary greatly in quality and in the way they render the language of the original chancery letters. The few surviving original writs, facsimiles and antiquarian transcripts provide full and accurate samples of chancery practice and formulae. Other calendars and ‘notices’ of letters are extremely abbreviated and often in antiquarian English. RCH is relatively accurate but it typically renders the letters in the third person (sometimes in the perfect tense, sometimes the present) and the text is much abbreviated.

From the mid-fifteenth century we occasionally have texts written in Middle English that passed under the great seal of Ireland. Wherever possible, CIRCLE reproduces the text in the original Middle English. An excerpt of one such text which survives in facsimile can be accessed through the links in this record: CIRCLE, CR 19 Edw. IV, §7.

The conventions outlined below are intended to ensure consistency during the translation of Latin and editing of the letters. 

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The original chancery letters were composed in the name of the king in the first person plural (the ‘royal we’). RCH normally renders these letters in the third person singular. CIRCLE likewise uses the third person, but where possible also employs a neutral register, placing the operative word in capital letters, as follows:

Assignavimus Rex assignavit APPOINTMENT of
Concessimus Rex concessit GRANT to

The injunctive is often used in chancery letters. In CIRCLE commands in the form capias, teneas, facias and so on are normally rendered in the third person as ‘he is to take’, ‘he is to hold’, or ‘he is to cause’, or often simply as ‘ORDER to take’, ‘ORDER to hold’, or ‘ORDER to cause’.

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Extended constructions
Writs with preambles containing the details of petitions or recitals of previous chancery letters are often extremely cumbersome. In general, CIRCLE prefers a briefer construction. Such letters are restructured and, where appropriate, cut into shorter sentences (although no substantive information is omitted).

To take a typical example from RCH: letters issued in response to petitions or inquisitions are rendered with an ‘accusative + infinitive’ construction. CIRCLE employs the indicative and often breaks the construction into two sentences, as follows:

  • Rex (recitando se accepisse per inquisitionem …) mandavit vicecomiti Loethe
    = The king has learned by inquisition that … ORDER to the sheriff of Louth …’

CIRCLE uses a number of other conventions to ensure concision. One of these is abbreviations (listed below).

Dictus is omitted from the translation where the sense remains clear without it; predictus and prefatus are normally translated as ‘the said’, not ‘the aforesaid’.

The definite/indefinite article is omitted where possible, especially in reference to office-holders, administrative units and periods of time:

  • ‘the sheriff of co. Connacht’ not ‘the sheriff of the county of Connacht’
  • ‘X, K.’s  pleader’ not ‘X, the king’s pleader’
  • ‘his fee for a quarter year’ not ‘his fee for a quarter of a year’.

In dates reckoned by reference to an ecclesiastical feast, the phrase 'the feast of' (ad festum or in festo) is normally omitted and CIRCLE seeks to render the formula as concisely as possible, as in the following examples:

  • die lune proxima post festum Cinerum proximo preteritum
    = ‘on the next Monday after Ash Wednesday’
  • die iovis proxima post festum Epiphanie Domini proximo preteritum
    = ‘on the Thursday after Epiphany’

Archaic language and technical terms
Archaic language is generally avoided if there is an acceptable modern alternative. Thus:

  • ‘widow’ not ‘relict’
  • ‘reason’ not ‘pretext’
  • ‘various’ not ‘diverse’
  • ‘crosslands’ not ‘county of the cross’
  • ‘All Saints’ not ‘All Hallows’ (e.g. the ‘priory of All Saints, near Dublin’)
  • ‘eve’ not ‘vigil’ (although ‘morrow’ is retained for in crastino)

Among those technical terms that are retained, the most common concern legal actions or tenure, e.g. ‘writ of liberate’, ‘writ of certiorari’, ‘writ of amoveas manum’, seisin, mainpernor, mainprise, recognizance, purparty.

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Editorial Interventions

All editorial interventions are placed in square brackets. This includes ‘et cetera’, which frequently appears in RCH as ‘&c.’. This is shown in CIRCLE as [etc.].

Uncertain readings are preceded by a question mark in square brackets, without a space between the word and the opening bracket: ‘[?]sumpters’.

Lacunae in the text are indicated by ellipses within square brackets: ‘[…]’.

Some entries in CIRCLE will be expanded at a later date or have to be verified against the source material. Such entries conclude with a note in angled brackets as follows: <Editor's note: marked for expansion/verification.>.

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Dating clauses
In the original letters, the date appears at the close of the letter, normally in the form xij. die Februarii anno regni Regis supradicti a conquestu Anglie quingesimo et Francie trecesimo septimo.

CIRCLE places the date at the head of the entry immediately after the document reference number, and modernizes it as follows: 12 Feb. 1376. This is followed in CIRCLE by the place-date (if known).

Regnal years
Dating by the regnal year (e.g. anno regni nostri Anglie quadragesimo nono) is expressed simply in the form ‘49 Edw. III’. The calendar year is normally given in square brackets, normally as follows: 1 Jan. [1376] 49 Edw. III.

Ecclesiastical calendar
Dates within individual letters are often given by reference to the nearest ecclesiastical feast. CIRCLE retains this form, and normally offers a modernized date in square brackets (the principle exception is exchequer terms, which are not modernized).

The following translations are standard:

  • Sancti Petri ad Vincula = ‘St Peter in Chains’ not ‘Lammas’
  • Purificationis beate Marie = the ‘Purification of the Blessed Mary’ not ‘Candlemas’
  • ad quindenam Pasche proximo futuram = ‘at the quindene of Easter next’
  • die sabbati in octabis sancti Michaelmas proximo futuro = ‘on Saturday, the octaves of Michaelmas next’

Exchequer terms
CIRCLE does not modernize exchequer terms and days for return. The most common dates as follows:


  • octaves of Michaelmas (6–12 Oct.)
  • quindene of Michaelmas (13–19 Oct.)
  • morrow of All Souls (2–8 Nov.)
  • morrow of Martinmas (18–24 Nov.)
  • octave of Martinmas (18–24 Nov.)
  • quindene of Martinmas (25 Nov.–1 Dec.)


  • octaves of Hilary (20–26 Jan.)
  • quindene of Hilary (27 Jan.–2 Feb.)
  • morrow of the Purification (3–8 Feb.)
  • octaves of the Purification (8–15 Feb.)
  • quindene of the Purification (16–22 Feb.)


  • quindene of Easter (beginning 2 weeks and a day after Easter Sunday)
  • three weeks after Easter (beginning 3 weeks and a day after Easter Sunday)


  • octaves of Trinity (beginning one week and a day after Trinity Sunday)
  • quindene of Trinity (beginning 2 weeks and a day after Trinity Sunday)

Special cases to note
When more than one letter in a sequence is issued on the same date, RCH often gives the date simply as Teste ut supra. Although this may reflect chancery practice, CIRCLE replaces this with the modernized date to make each individual letter complete in itself.

Where RCH combines two related letters in a single entry but only dates the first, CIRCLE assumes that the second letter was issued on the same date. An example would be [Letter §1] an appointment to the constableship of a castle, followed by [Letter §2] a mandate ordering the previous incumbent to release all things pertaining to that office to the new constable. A footnote to Letter §2 in this case will record that the date has been assumed from its relationship to Letter §1. In cases of doubt, the second letter is marked ‘no date’, although the relationship to the foregoing letter is still recorded.

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Numbers one to twelve are normally spelled out. Numbers 13 to 99 use numerals. However, lists always use numerals, as with ‘1 mill, 1 carucate of land, 2 weirs, 8 acres of pasture, 8 acres of wood’ etc. All figures above one hundred use numerals, with a comma after four digits (e.g. 12,500).

Sums of money are given in the form £4 13s 4d.  ‘Mark(s)’ is abbreviated to ‘m’ (e.g. 10m) and never converted to £ s d.

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Naming practices

The king
CIRCLE normally abbreviates the phrase ‘the lord king’ to ‘the K.’. References to former kings as ‘our [his] father’, ‘our [his] grandfather’ etc., are converted to (e.g.) ‘Edward I’, ‘Edward III’. Thus, in a letter of Richard II, the phrase ‘by letters patent of our grandfather’, becomes ‘by letters patent of Edward III’.

Standard Latin Christian names are extended and translated to the closest English equivalent:

  • Henricus = Henry [not ‘Harry’]
  • Matildis = Matilda [not ‘Maud’]
  • Petrus = Peter [not ‘Piers’, except for Piers Gaveston]
  • Radulphus = Ralph
  • Reginaldus = Reginald
  • Robertus = Robert [not ‘Robin’] etc.
  • Jacobus = James.

Unusual Christian names are given as they appear in the sources, although without the Latin case ending (e.g. Fromundus = ‘Fromund’; Almaricus = ‘Almaric’). However the ending is normally retained when the chancery gives a Latinate form of a Gaelic name, e.g. Arthurus = ‘Art’; Donaldus = ‘Domhnall’. In cases of doubt, the Gaelic forename is left in suspension, e.g. Comar’ McComarre.

In most of the period covered by CIRCLE, toponymics appear to be genuine surnames. Owing to the erratic way these names are rendered in RCH and other sources, CIRCLE drops ‘de’ in most instances, and never converts it to ‘of’’. A case such as Ricardus de Burgo de Conn’ is given as ‘Richard Burgh of Connacht’.

The toponymic are spelled as they appear in the original and not normally modernized to match the modern place-name.

  • Willielmus de Karlell = ‘William Karlell’ [not ‘William de Carlisle’ or ‘William of Carlisle’].

Occupational surnames
These are translated into English where they appear in Latin (e.g., Pistor = Baker). Where they appear in French or English they are left in this form:

  • Johannes le Carpenter = John le Carpenter
  • Rogerus Draper = Roger Draper.

An exception is le Botiller, which is given as ‘Butler’.

Names in the form ‘X filius Y’ are always given in the form ‘X s. of Y’ [i.e. X son of Y], unless the source clearly endorses the use of ‘fitz’. So

  • Johannes filius Willielmi = John s. of William
  • Johannes fitz Nichol’, miles1 = John fitz Nicholas kt.

In the latter case, no attempt is made to pre-empt the distinction between a genuine patronymic (‘fitz Gerald’) and surname (‘FitzGerald’) by spacing and capitalization. Rather the form closest to the original sources is retained.

Where lineages are referred to by a collective name (e.g., lez Burkeyns), the name is rendered as in the original but indexed by the modern standard (e.g., Burgh).

Gaelic names
Gaelic names (e.g. Nell Onell) are rendered as they appear in the original but indexed under the standard Anglicized form of the name. RCH occasionally inserts an apostrophe (e.g. O’Nell, O’Railhan etc.) but these almost certainly did not appear in the original enrolment. The final printed indexes will include cross-references from the Irish forms of the names.

Standard usage
In cases of doubt, the guiding principle is to render family names as they appear in the original. However, this rule is broken for the most common English names, which CIRCLE regularizes to match the form that has entered common usage. This is especially common with:

Aristocratic titles

  • in Ireland (e.g.), the earls of Desmond, Ormond, Carrick, March etc.
  • in England (e.g.), earl of Wiltshire, duke of Clarence, duke of Aumale, Lord Furnival etc.

Family names (especially in Latinate forms), e.g.

  • de Mortuo Mari = Mortimer
  • de Bello Campo = Beauchamp
  • de Burgo = Burgh
  • de Exonia = Exeter

A full list of standardized names is given below.

CIRCLE modernizes the names of large towns, counties, liberties, dioceses, and prominent manors and castles in Ireland. Cantreds (or baronies), parishes and townlands in Ireland are not normally modernized. This applies also to the bailiwicks (later ‘counties’) of the earldom of Ulster. CIRCLE proposes to modernize other insular and continental place-names where the identification is certain. All place-names that occur in the text are entered in the index with only two exceptions: ‘Ireland’ and ‘England’.