Using late medieval examples from Switzerland, this paper argues that the emergence of formally organized archives around 1500 was part of an important shift in how documents could be deployed. However, this shift was not away from an oral and toward a literate culture, as argued in some earlier studies, but rather away from seeing documents as testimony that reminded a community about past authoritative actors, and toward relating the texts of documents to other texts, that is, to contexts. This shift took place largely through the appropriation of methods for using and organizing written material that had been developed in the realms of scholastic theology and liturgy, and applying them to secular lordship and administration. These methods provided new models for organizing collections of parchments and papers into connected archives and gave rise to new forms of text collection such as reorganized versions of law books (Spiegel, Coutumiers) containing new search tools such as tables of contents (capitulationes) and indices (abecedaria). Individual charters and scattered legal norms were also organized into textus–glossae structures in larger and smaller administrative units. In the Swiss case, the contextualization of legal texts was accompanied by an increased attribution of authority to ‘custom’ in general, because the community-oriented attribution of meaning found in earlier use was lost. Ultimately, recasting individual documents as part of larger textual contexts increased the power of rulers and ushered in an age of lawyers and of archives.