Notary Public: A History

As an office, a notary public is probably one of the oldest that is still currently in existence. It’s probably not an exaggeration to state that for as long as civilisation has had written contracts, there would have been a public notary in one form or the other.


Notaries in Antiquity

Due to being an office that stretches back into ancient history, we’ll probably never know when the first notary public came into office. However, one of the earliest references we have to a notary is from 43BC.
Cicero, one of ancient Rome’s most famous statesmen and orators was said to employ persons skilled in writing to record – or more accurately to note – his many speeches.
If we stay in Rome but fast forward a couple of hundred years to 800 AD, when the Christen Papacy was largely in control of Rome, we see further references to notaries. By this time, papal notaries were an intrinsic part of the papal household. These papal notaries oversaw both religious and civil matters. Thus notary publics were assigned by the Catholic Church. In England, around this time the archbishop of Canterbury had the power to create notaries.


Notaries in the middle Ages


In Ireland, it was the archbishop of Canterbury or the archbishop of Armagh that appointed Notaries and this continued largely unchanged until the reformation.
Post-reformation it was no longer just the Catholic Church that appointed notaries. Notaries were appointed by royal decree.


 Notaries in the 19th and 20th Century


Things stayed largely the same until 1871 when an amendment to the Matrimonial Causes and Marriage Law meant that notaries could be appointed by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. This power of appointment was changed in 1920 were the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland could appoint Notaries. This again changed in 1924 when the power to appoint notaries was transferred to the Chief Justice of the Irish Free State.


Notaries appointment from the 1960s onward


Finally, in 1961, the power to appoint notaries in Ireland was transferred to the Chief Justice. This power remains with the Chief Justice to this day.

From the above, you can get an insight into how long notary publics have been around and their importance to civilised society. For more information on our services please see our Notary Public page or get in contact with our offices today.


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