The charter rolls contain enrolments of royal charters, the most solemn form of Chancery instrument, which were used by the Crown to grant intangible benefits, such as liberties, privileges, immunities, exemptions and peerages, as well as for grants of land.
The enrolled charters on these rolls consist largely of charters of foundation and incorporation; grants of lands, liberties and privileges to cities, towns, civil and religious corporations, and individuals; creations of peerages; and grants of markets, fairs, free warrens, leets and hundreds.
The enrolments are either of the original granting charter, or of charters of confirmation of previous grants. The confirmation charters either confirm the previous grants without reciting them, or recite them in full, sometimes adding new grants as well. Charters differ in form from letters patent by being always executed in the presence of witnesses, whose attestation was necessary to ensure the charter's validity, and by having a more elaborate address clause.
After 1517 charters were no longer issued, except in rare cases, chiefly for the conferring of titles of honour, and such charters were enrolled on the patent rolls; all further Crown grants were made in the form of letters patent. The series of charter rolls thus ceases at this date.
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