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The Foundation Charter

This is the original charter which records the foundation of Exeter Cathedral in 1050. It is a unique survival, for no other document recording the creation of a diocese and the enthronement of its first bishop at so early a date exists in England. It is preserved in the Cathedral Archives.

By this charter King Edward the Confessor ordained that the dioceses of Devon and Cornwall, at the time with their seats at Crediton in Devon and St German’s in Cornwall, should be joined into one diocese with its episcopal see at Exeter. The resulting diocese remained until the creation of the Diocese of Truro in 1876 once more separated Cornwall and Devon in ecclesiastical organisation.

The charter states that the new diocese was made with the approval of Pope Leo IX, on account of attacks by Danish pirates, and on the grounds that Exeter was easier to defend. The king also confirmed property and possessions for the support of the cathedral. Bishop Leofric, who had been bishop of Crediton since 1046, became the first bishop of the new Diocese of Exeter. At the enthronement ceremony, Leofric was led by King Edward and his queen, Edith, and physically enthroned in his new seat (cathedra) in the presence of many prominent ecclesiastics and laymen. This document was laid on the high altar.

The document is written on a skin of parchment, expressed in flowery and elaborate Latin, in the large bold minuscule script typical of the eleventh century. It is set out in the style of a Royal Anglo-Saxon diploma, and so never had a seal, instead relying on authentication by the inclusion of the names of those witnessing it. Amongst the witnesses are the archbishop, several bishops, and many nobles. These nobles included several of Queen Edith’s own family – the Godwins. Her father, Earl Godwin, was present, as were her brothers Sweyn, Tostig, and Harold, who was, briefly in 1066, the last Anglo Saxon king of England.