The Charter of Dundee holds the distinction of being the oldest surviving document associated with the city. It serves as a trade agreement between King John of England and the merchants of the Burgh of Earl David of Huntingdon (Dundee), who interestingly happened to be the brother of King William 1st of Scotland. Although the original document from Dundee was lost or destroyed during the Wars of Independence, references to it can still be found in the records of King John, securely stored in the National Archives in London.
Dundee’s strategic coastal location made it an established trade route even before the charter. With its Viking connections and favourable position, the city possessed great value to King John in terms of maintaining trade relationships. According to Iain Flett’s writings on Dundee’s maritime history, the Charter granted Dundee merchants freedom from tolls in English ports, excluding London. Essentially, it was a bulk trading agreement, a significant concession that would have required substantial investment to convince the rather frugal King John to grant it. Moreover, the Dundee merchants would have needed sufficient wealth and a fleet of large seagoing ships by 1199 to make this negotiation worthwhile. Hence, despite commemorating its Octocentenary in 1991 to mark 800 years of burgh status, Dundee must have had a maritime presence and trading foundation for a considerable portion of the twelfth century.
It’s fascinating to imagine Dundee as a bustling maritime hub, considering its historical associations and coastal ties. While more than 800 years have elapsed since the agreement was reached, the Charter stands as a poignant reminder of our city’s erstwhile thriving seafaring community. Nowadays, Dundee has forged a new identity, renowned for its achievements in medical research, technology, gaming industries, and exceptional educational institutions. Time brings change, but we, the people of Dundee, possess a remarkable ability to adapt and excel in any endeavour we undertake. It’s no wonder King John sought to trade with us—after all, we are truly awesome!
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