History Of The Notary

Notaries public (also called "notaries", "notarial officers", or "public notaries") hold an office that can trace its origins back to the ancient Roman Republic, when they were called scribae ("scribes"), tabelliones forenses, or personae publicae.[5]

The history of notaries is set out in detail in Chapter 1 of Brooke's Notary (13th edition):[6]

The office of a public notary is a public office. It has a long and distinguished history. The office has its origin in the civil institutions of ancient Rome. Public officials, called scribae, that is to say, scribes, rose in rank from being mere recorders of facts and judicial proceedings, copiers and transcribers to a learned profession prominent in private and public affairs. Some were permanent officials attached to the Senate and courts of law whose duties were to record public proceedings, transcribe state papers, supply magistrates with legal forms, and register the decrees and judgments of magistrates.

In the last century of the Republic, probably in the time of Cicero, and apparently by his adoptive son Marcus Tullius Tiro, after whom they were named 'notae Tironianae' a new form of shorthand was invented and certain arbitrary marks and signs, called notae, were substituted for words in common use. A writer who adopted the new method was called a notarius. Originally, a notary was one who took down statements in shorthand using these notes, and wrote them out in the form of memoranda or minutes. Later, the title notarius was applied almost exclusively to registrars attached to high government officials, including provincial governors and secretaries to the Emperor.

Notwithstanding the collapse of the Western Empire in the 5th century AD, the notary remained a figure of some importance in many parts of continental Europe throughout the Dark Ages. When the civil law experienced its renaissance in medieval Italy from the 12th century onwards, the notary was established as a central institution of that law, a position which still exists in countries whose legal systems are derived from the civil law, including most of Europe and South America. The office of notary reached its apogee in the Italian city of Bologna in the twelfth century, its most distinguished scion being Rolandino Passeggeri generally known as Rolandino of Bologna, who died in 1300 AD, whose masterwork was the Summa Artis Notariae.

The separate development of the common law in England, free from most of the influences of Roman law, meant that notaries were not introduced into England until later in the 13th and 14th centuries. At first, notaries in England were appointed by the Papal Legate. In 1279 the Archbishop of Canterbury was authorized by the Pope to appoint notaries. Not surprisingly, in those early days, many of the notaries were members of the clergy. In the course of time, members of the clergy ceased to take part in secular business and laymen, especially in towns and trading centers, began to assume the official character and functions of a modern common law notary.

The Reformation produced no material change in the position and functions of notaries in England. However, in 1533 the enactment of "the Act Concerning Peter's Pence and Dispensations" (the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533) terminated the power of the Pope to appoint notaries and vested that power in the King who then transferred it to the Archbishop of Canterbury who in turn assigned it to the Court of Faculties and the Master of the Faculties.

Traditionally, notaries recorded matters of judicial importance as well as private transactions or events where an officially authenticated record or a document drawn up with professional skill or knowledge was required.