Executive summary: Tout, professor of medieval and ecclesiastical history at the University of Manchester in 1919, gives a basic background on the widespread and pervasive nature of medieval Catholic forgeries. Known forgeries include everything from fake deeds, to fake genealogies "proving" noble ancestry, and even forged signatures of kings and popes on political and diplomatic documents, manipulating bits and pieces history all along the way.
The criminal is with us throughout the ages. He is with us still, though in much reduced numbers, for the farther we go back in history the more criminals we find. In the middle ages the criminal class mustered strongly. Not only were mediaeval criminals more numerous than their modern counterparts, but by reason of their numbers and importance they excited much more general sympathy than they do nowadays, and were as a rule dealt with by society in a more lenient manner. This was true both of crimes of violence and crimes of deceit. In these two typical classes of misdeeds homicides and forgeries easily took the first places. In the simple middle ages there were only two great classes of society which really counted. These were the knightly or warrior class, whose business in life was to fight, and the clerical or priestly class, whose special function was to pray, and which, besides its devotional duties, had the monopoly of all intellectual activities, clerical, literary, and academic. It is hardly going too far to say that homicide was the special misdeed of the former and forgery the particular peccadillo of the latter. Few self-respecting gentlemen passed through the hot season of youth without having perpetrated a homicide or two. It was almost the duty of the clerical class to forge. If it did not always commit culpable forgeries for its own particular interest, it forged, almost from a sense of duty, for the benefit of the society, the community, the house whose interests it represented.
Originally published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 5, no. 3 (April 1919). Click here for full PDF version.