Dundee City Archives

Charter of Confirmation and Novodamus by Charles I to the Town of Dundee

The Charles I Charter is an important document in the legal history of the burgh of Dundee. It also gives a great insight to what Dundee was like in the mid-17th century. There was enough trade to warrant a weigh house and enough money and people to keep the wine flowing.

However, there is an interesting story behind this charter – particularly the hole at the bottom. Just after the Charter was written the Wars of the Three Kingdoms was beginning and this would lead to a turbulent time for Dundee. Firstly, the Covenant supporting town was attacked by the Royalists under the Marquis of Montrose in 1644 and 1645. The town was so damaged the number of properties was reduced by 36% according to the Stent Roll.

But the story with this document continues in 1651. Charles I was executed and his son Charles II was crowned and acknowledged as King in Scotland. Naturally the Parliamentarians didn’t like this so they marched up north. After attacking a few other towns north of the border, General Monck and his army reached Dundee around 26th August 1651.

The siege of Dundee lasted around 2 weeks. On September 1st Monck finally broke the burgh’s defences. The town governor Robert Lumsden, in a state of very misplaced hubris, refused to surrender as he thought a Scottish Army was on the way to relieve the town (spoiler alert – they weren’t, and for his poor decision making Lumsden was rewarded with having his head chopped off). It’s believed that the attacking army were given a few days licence to raid and pillage the town. The exact number of those killed is not known, it has been stated as 700, but others say it could have been up to 1500.

Some of the defending military leaders made their way to the St Mary’s tower (the Steeple) to take shelter but they were eventually smoked out of the building. It was probably whilst checking the tower for hiding soldiers or townspeople that Monck’s men found the charter chest. It is said that upon realising that this Charter was issued, signed and sealed by the beheaded Charles I, the Parliamentarians fixed it to a spike and paraded it through the town – as if it was the head of the King itself. The story then goes that it, along with other unique documents from the Chest, were sold off the highest bidder. Luckily the Town Clerk was able to buy back many of them later, but who knows what else went missing.

We’re not sure if this story is true or if only parts are true. What we do know is that Charles I’s seal is missing from the Charter and there is a massive hole at the bottom. So, this tale certainly could be true…