Written in Latin, the Stocket Charter granted to the “burgesses and community of our burgh of Aberdeen” by Robert the Bruce on 10th December 1319 is one of the pivotal documents in the city’s history. Many Aberdonians and visitors to the city will be familiar with the sculpted version of the charter which Bruce is holding aloft outside Marischal College, sometimes providing a convenient perch for seagulls.
As a reward for its loyalty, the burgh received several grants from Robert the Bruce, including custody of the forest of Stocket, culminating in this charter which gave all revenues from the burgh courts, market tolls, fishings etc., to the burgesses in perpetuity, in return for an annual payment of £213 6s 8d.
The charter reserved sporting and timber rights for the crown, but otherwise the city obtained absolute possession. It was an extremely valuable gift, allowing the burgh to generate significant income and to lay the basis for the ‘Common Good Fund’ which survives to this day. It also enabled Aberdeen to become a significant economic and political power in late-medieval and early-modern Scotland.
Charter by King Robert the Bruce to the Burgesses of Aberdeen, 10th December 1319
Robert, by the grace of God King of Scots, to all good men of his whole land, greeting. Know ye that, with the advice and approval of the good men of our kingdom, we have granted and set to feufarm, and by our present charter confirmed to our burgesses and community of our burgh of Aberdeen, our foresaid burgh of Aberdeen and our forest of the Stocket with the pertinents; to be held and had by the foresaid burgesses and community, their heirs and successors, for ever, of us and our heirs in fee and heritage and in free burgage, by all their right meiths and marches, with mills, waters, fishings, petty customs, tolls, courts weights, measures and with all other privileges, conveniences, easements, usages, and their just pertinents by law and usage belonging, or which shall in future belong, to the sett of the said burgh and forest; paying yearly therefor the said burgesses, their heirs and successors, to us or to our heirs, as aforesaid, two hundred and thirteen pounds, six shillings and eightpence sterling only, into our Treasury at two terms yearly, half at the feast of Pentecost and the other half at the feast of Saint Martin in winter, in place of all other service, exaction, usage or demand. It is also our will and we grant that our said burgesses, the heirs and successors thereof, freely and without hindrance from anyone, in the fields, moors and other portions whatsoever of the said forest outwith the wood of the Stocket, hard by the foresaid burgh of Aberdeen, may perform every kind of tillage, erect dwelling-houses and other buildings, dig fuel, and exercise, carry out and regulate other conveniences whatsoever, as they shall see fit to arrange: reserving for ourselves and our heirs only the green-growth of the great trees in the foresaid wood, and game likewise, should any such chance to be found in the same forest. We have likewise granted to the same our burgh, the burgesses and community thereof, their heirs and successors, that no justiciar of the forest or any other person of our kingdom, of whatsoever condition or rank he be, shall in any way interfere with or take cognisance of the administration of the present grant and our infeftment, or of infringements thereof, save only our Chamberlain for the time being; but so that whosoever shall be lawfully convicted of such infringements, or of destroying the green wood, or the game in the said forest, shall undergo the punishment of such crime in his own person, and no other: the chief grant, however, and our infeftment remaining in full force strictly and forever. In witness whereof we have ordered our seal to be appended to these presents. Witnesses:- William, Bishop of Saint Andrews, and William, Bishop of Dunkeld; Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, and our Chancellor; Thomas Ranulph, Earl of Moray, and Lord of Annandale and Man; Robert of Keith, our Marischal; Gilbert of Hay, our Constable; Alexander Fraser, our Chamberlain, - Knights. At Berwick-on-Tweed, the tenth day of December, in the fourteenth year of our reign.