Notary publics date back to ancient Roman times when few people were taught to read and write. A notarius was appointed as a public official to create written documents of agreement or wills and to hold them for safekeeping.
There are three major and different notarial systems each associated with a different kind of Notary:
- The Civil Law Notary system of the Latin nations;
- The Common Law Notary system of the English-speaking nations; and
- The Notary system of the United States, which is derived from the English Common Law system, but quite different.
Ancient Egyptian “sesh,” or “scribes,” were established in the Old Kingdom and were the earliest known chroniclers of official communications in recorded history. Scribes made up an entire level of ancient bureaucracy and were the only citizens who were aware of almost every noteworthy event in the empire.
The Power of the Knights Templar & Friday the 13th
The Knights Templar were a monastic military order formed at the end of the First Crusade with the mandate of protecting Christian pilgrims on route to the Holy Land.
Within two hundred years they had become powerful enough to defy all but the Papal throne. They created the modern system of banking, mortgages and loans. The Clergy of the Order were highly educated and became the critically important Notaries for all Templar business, official documents, orders and proclamations.
The Templars had grown rich and powerful, and King Philip of France saw an opportunity to fill his own coffers at their expense. He had all the Templars in France arrested and pressured Pope Clement V to suppress the order. Clement V ordered one of the Order’s Notaries to record the coerced confessions of scores of Order members.
On Friday, October 13th, 1307, King Philip had all the Templars arrested on the grounds of heresy. With the forced notarized confessions used as key evidence, many Templars were tortured, banished or burned at the stake. This has caused Friday the 13th to be considered a day of bad luck.
Beginning of English Common Law
Notaries were not introduced into England until later in the 13th and 14th centuries, as English common law developed free from most of the influences of Roman law.
Notaries were often appointed by the Papal Legate or the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in those early days many were members of the clergy.
Over the course of time members of the clergy ceased to involve themselves in secular business, and the laymen in towns and trading centers began to assume the official character and functions of a modern Notary.
In 1533, the enactment of the Ecclesiastical Licenses Act terminated the power of the Pope to appoint Notaries and vested that power in the King.
Traditionally, Notaries recorded matters of judicial importance as well as private transactions or events when an officially authenticated report or a document was drawn up with professional skill and knowledge was required.
In the Middle Ages, Notaries were sometimes asked to witness the consummation of marriages involving royalty. The other emphasis on notarial acts was the importance of a deed.
In Roman law countries, only court judgments carried any special force. Notaries ceased to be dependent on judicial authorities more and more force was given to their Authentic Acts, as they are called.
It was Louis XIV of France who abolished the last vestiges of the ancient dependence on judicial authority and granted to each Notary a seal with the Royal Arms.
Notaries accompanied Columbus on all of his voyages to ensure to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that all discovered treasures were documented.
The Truth Bearers
Notaries, during this time, enjoyed a special relationship to the truth. It fell to them to shape the specifics of each event into the proper form to be committed truthfully to the page. Not just any written language would do.
Manuals with specific language were used in Europe and the colonial Americas to be a guide in regularizing the endless diversity of people’s actions and language into the approved formula.
Notaries were truth bearers, putting the singular into the formulaic in accordance with prescribed recipes to produce written, duly witnessed, and certified truth.
The marks of this stylized, notarial truth are everywhere in the archives of Europe and the Americas in documents which demand the reader’s belief in the Notary’s word.
Contribution to Success of American Business
In Colonial America, only persons of high moral character were appointed as public Notaries to certify and keep documents safe. Their fundamental contributions to colonial life and the founding and development of the United States are largely seen as the reason American business became a huge success.
Notaries were invaluable to trans-Atlantic commerce, as parties on both sides depended on them to be honest third parties in reporting damage or loss to a ship’s cargo. While Notaries were held in very high regard during this time, life for Notaries in early America was anything but easy.
Notaries were faced with huge challenges of authority and relevance during the era of rapid political and cultural change. Some were even killed for their involvement in authenticating official documents and recordkeeping as conflicting factions fought for control of the New World. Others saw their fortunes and celebrity either increase, or decline depending on the ever-changing power structure.
Despite the early struggles of Notaries, their certificates and seal of office remained prima facie evidence that an official act had occurred and was authentic.
USA President Calvin Coolidge: 1872-1933
When USA President Warren Harding died in 1923, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as the 30th President of the United States by his father to be the only president to ever be sworn in by a notary.
Coolidge is a very important President with respect to notaries. His example for notaries was that, unlike other Presidents, he consistently demonstrated the courage to say “no” when asked to notarize an untruth.
Ethics & Integrity in Defense of Your Property Rights
An important basis of notarizing is to maintain high ideals and ethical integrity, including the defense of property and personal rights.
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This article is based upon Flex MLS reporting, legal opinions, current practices and my personal experiences in the Puerto Vallarta-Bahia de Banderas areas. I recommend that each potential buyer or seller of Mexican real estate conduct his own due diligence and review. If you have any other questions, contact me through my website.Harriet Murray