OUR LEGAL HERITAGE: King AEthelbert - King George III
S. A. Reilly author
- The Times: 600-900 - The country was inhabited by Anglo-Saxons. The French called it "Angleterre", which means the angle or end of the earth. It was called "Angle land", which later became "England". A community was usually an extended family. Its members lived a village in which a stone church was the most prominent building. They lived in one-room huts with walls and roofs made of wood, mud, and straw. Hangings covered the cracks in the walls to keep the wind out. Smoke from a fire in the middle of the room filtered out of cracks in the roof. Grain was ground at home by rotating by hand one stone disk on another stone disk. Some villages had a mill powered by the flow of water or by horses. All freeholders had the duty of watch [at night] and ward [during the day], of following the hue and cry to chase an offender, and of taking the oath of peace. These three duties were constant until 1195. Farmland surrounded the villages and was farmed by the community as a whole under the direction of a lord. There was silver, copper, iron, tin, gold, and various types of stones from remote lead mines and quarries in the nation. Silver pennies replaced the smaller scaetts. Freemen paid "scot" and bore "lot" according to their means for local purposes. Everyone in the village went to church on Sunday and brought gifts such as grain to the priest. Later, contributions in the form of money became customary, and then expected. They were called "tithes" and were spent for church repair, the clergy, and poor and needy laborers. Local custom determined the amount. There was also church-scot: a payment to the clergy in lieu of the first fruits of the land. The priest was the chaplain of a landlord and his parish was coextensive with that landlord's holding and could include one to several villages. The priest and other men who helped him, lived in the church building. Some churches had lead roofs and iron hinges, latches, and locks on their doors. The land underneath had been given to the church by former kings and persons who wanted the church to say prayers to help their souls go from purgatory to heaven and who also selected the first priest. The priest conducted Christianized Easter ceremonies in the spring and (Christ's mass) ceremonies in winter in place of the pagan Yuletide festivities. Burning incense took the place of pagan burnt animal offerings, which were accompanied by incense to disguise the odor of burning flesh. Holy water replaced haunted wells and streams. Christian incantations replaced sorcerer's spells. Nuns assisted priests in celebrating mass and administering the sacraments. They alone consecrated new nuns. Vestry meetings were community meetings held for church purposes. The people said their prayers in English, and the priest conducted the services in English. A person joined his hands in prayer as if to offer them for binding together in submission. The church baptized babies and officiated or gave blessings at marriage ceremonies. It also said prayers for the dying, gave them funerals, and buried them. There were burial service fees, candle dues, and plough alms. A piece of stone with the dead person's name marked his grave. It was thought that putting the name on the grave would assist identification of that person for being taken to heaven. The church heard the last wish or will of the person dying concerning who he wanted to have his property. The church taught that it was not necessary to bury possessions with the deceased. The church taught boys and girls. Every man carried a horn slung on his shoulder as he went about his work so that he could at once send out a warning to his fellow villagers or call them in chasing a thief or other offender. The forests were full of outlaws, so strangers who did not blow a horn to announce themselves were presumed to be fugitive offenders who could be shot on sight. An eorl could call upon the ceorl farmers for about forty days to fight off an invading group. There were several kingdoms, whose boundaries kept changing due to warfare, which was a sin according to the church. They were each governed by a king and witan of wise men who met at a witanegemot, which was usually held three times a year, mostly on great church festivals and at the end of the harvest. The king and witan chose the witan's members of bishops, eorldormen, and thegns [landholding farmers]. The king and hereditary claims played a major part in the selection of the eorldormen, who were the highest military leaders and often of the royal family. They were also chief magistrates of large jurisdictional areas of land. The witan included officers of the king's household and perhaps other of his retinue. There was little distinction then between his gesith, fighting men, guards, household companions, dependents, and servants. The king was sometimes accompanied by his wife and sons at the witanagemot. A king was selected by the witan according to his worthiness, usually from among the royal family, and could be deposed by it. The witan and king decided on laws, taxes, and transfers of land. They made determinations of war and peace and directed the army and the fleet. The king wore a crown or royal helmet. He extended certain protections by the king's peace. He could erect castles and bridges and could provide a special protection to strangers. A king had not only a wergeld to be paid to his family if he were killed, but a "cynebot" of equal amount that would be paid to his kingdom's people. A king's household had a chamberlain for the royal bedchamber, a marshall to oversee the horses and military equipment, a steward as head of household, and a cupbearer. The king had income from fines for breach of his peace; fines and forfeitures from courts dealing with criminal and civil cases; salvage from ship wrecks; treasure trove [assets hidden or buried in times of war]; treasures of the earht such as gold and silver; mines; saltworks; tolls and other dues of markets, ports, and the routes by land and by river generally; heriot from heirs of his special dependents for possession of land (usually in kind, principally in horses and weapons). He also had rights of purveyance [hospitality and maintenance when traveling]. The king had private lands, which he could dispose of by his will. He also had crown lands, which belonged to his office and could not be alienated without consent of the witan. Crown lands often included palaces and their appendant farms, and burhs. It was a queen's duty to run the royal estate. Also, a queen could possess, manage, and dispose of lands in her name. Violent queens waged wars. Kingdoms were often allied by marriage between their royal families. There were also royal marriages to royalty on the continent. The houses of the wealthy had ornamented silk hangings on the walls. Some had fine white ox horn shaved so thin they were transparent for windows. Brightly colored drapery, often purple, and fly nets surrounded their beds, which were covered with the fur of animals. They slept in bed clothes on pillows stuffed with straw. Tables plated with silver and gems held silver candlesticks, gold and silver goblets and cups, and lamps of gold, silver, or glass. They used silver mirrors and silver writing pens. There were covered seats, benches, and footstools with the head and feet of animals at their extremities. They ate from a table covered with a cloth. Servants brought in food on spits, from which they ate. Food was boiled, broiled, or baked. The wealthy ate wheat bread and others ate barley bread. Ale made from barley was passed around in a cup. Mead made from honey was also drunk. Men wore long-sleeved wool and linen garments reaching almost to the knee, around which they wore a belt tied in a knot. Men often wore a gold ring on the fourth finger of the right hand. Leather shoes were fastened with leather thongs around the ankle. Their hair was parted in the middle and combed down each side in waving ringlets. The beard was parted in the middle of the chin, so that it ended in two points. The clergy did not wear beards. Great men wore gold-embroidered clothes, gilt buckles and brooches, and drank from drinking horns mounted in silver gilt or in gold. Well- to-do women wore brightly colored robes with waist bands, headbands, necklaces, gem bracelets, and rings. Their long hair was in ringlets and they put rouge on their cheeks. They had beads, pins, needles, tweezers of bronze, and workboxes of bronze, some highly ornamented. They were often doing needlework. Silk was affordable only by the wealthy. Most families kept a pig and pork was the primary meat. There were also sheep, goats, cows, deer, hare, and fowl. Fowl was obtained by fowlers who trapped them. The inland waters yielded eels, salmon, and trout. In the fall, meat was salted to preserve it for winter meals. There were orchards growing figs, nuts, grapes, almonds, pears, and apples. Also produced were beans, lentils, onions, eggs, cheese, and butter. Pepper and cinnamon were imported. Fishing from the sea yielded herrings, sturgeon, porpoise, oysters, crabs, and other fish. Sometimes a whale was driven into an inlet by a group of boats. Whale skins were used to make ropes. The roads were not much more than trails. They were often so narrow that two pack horses could hardly pass each other. The pack horses each carried two bales or two baskets slung over their backs, which balanced each other. The soft soil was compacted into a deep ditch which rains, floods, and tides, if near the sea, soon turned into a river. Traveling a far distance was unsafe as there were robbers on the roads. Traveling strangers were distrusted. It was usual to wash one's feet in a hot tub after traveling and to dry them with a rough wool cloth. There were superstitions about the content of dreams, the events of the moon, and the flights and voices of birds were often seen as signs or omens of future events. Herbal mixtures were drunk for sickness and maladies. From the witch hazel plant was made a mild alcoholic astringent, which was probably used to clean cuts and sooth abraisons. In the peaceful latter part of the 600s, Theodore, who had been a monk in Rome, was appointed archbishop and visited all the island speaking about the right rule of life and ordaining bishops to oversee the priests. Each kingdom was split up into dioceses each with one bishop. Thereafter, bishops were selected by the king and his witan, usually after consulting the clergy and even the people of the diocese. The bishops came to be the most permanent element of society. They had their sees in villages or rural monasteries. The bishops came to have the same wergeld as an eorldorman: 1200s., which was the price of about 500 oxen. A priest had the wergeld as a landholding farmer [thegn], or 300s. The bishops spoke Latin, but the priests of the local parishes spoke English. Theodore was the first archbishop whom all the English church obeyed. He taught sacred and secular literature, the books of holy writ, ecclesiastical poetry, astronomy, arithmetic, and sacred music. Theodore discouraged slavery by denying Christian burial to the kidnapper and forbidding the sale of children over the age of seven. A slave became entitled to two loaves a day and to his holydays. A slave was allowed to buy his or his children's freedom. In 673, Theodore started annual national ecclesiastical assemblies, for instance for the witnessing of important actions. The bishops, some abbots, the king, and the eorldormen were usually present. From them the people learned the benefit of common national action. There were two archbishops: one of Canterbury in the south and one of York in the north. They governed the bishops and could meet with them to issue canons that would be equally valid all over the land. A bishop's house contained some clerks, priests, monks, and nun and was a retreat for the weary missionary and a school for the young. The bishop had a deacon who acted as a secretary and companion in travel, and sometimes as an interpreter. Ink was made from the outer husks of walnuts steeped in vinegar. The learned ecclesiastical life flourished in monastic communities, in which both monks and nuns lived. Hilda, a noble's daughter, became the first nun in Northumbria and abbess of one of its monasteries. There she taught justice, piety, chastity, peace, and charity. Several monks taught there later became bishops. Kings and princes often asked her advice. Many abbesses came to run monastic communities; they were from royal families. Women, especially from royal families, fled to monasteries to obtain shelter from unwanted marriage or to avoid their husbands. Kings and eorldormen retired to them. Danish Vikings made several invasions in the 800s for which a danegeld tax on land was assessed on everyone every ten to twenty years. The amount was determined by the witan and was typically 2s. per hide of land. (A hide was probably the amount of land which could support a family or household for a year or as much land as could be tilled annually by a single plow.) It was stored in a strong box under the King's bed. King Alfred the Great, who had lived for awhile in Rome, unified the country to defeat the invaders. He established fortifications called "burhs", usually on hill tops or other strategic locations on the borders to control the main road and river routes into his realm. The burhs were seminal towns. They were typically walled enclosures with towers and an outer ditch and mound, instead of the hedge or fence enclosure of a tun. Inside were several wooden thatched huts and a couple of churches, which were lit by earthen oil lamps. The populace met at burh-gemots. The land area protected by each burh became known as a "shire", which means a share of a larger whole. The shire or local landowners were responsible for repairing the burh fortifications. There were about thirty shires. Alfred gathered together fighting men who were at his disposal, which included eorldormen with their hearthbands (retinues of men each of whom had chosen to swear to fight to the death for their eorldorman, and some of whom were of high rank), the King's thegns, shire thegns (local landholding farmers, who were required to bring fighting equipment such as swords, helmets, chainmail, and horses), and ordinary freemen, i.e. ceorls (who carried food, dug fortifications, and sometimes fought). Since the King was compelled to call out the whole population to arms, the distinction between the king's thegns from other landholders disappeared. Some great lords organized men under them, whom they provisioned. These vassals took a personal oath to their lord "on condition that he keep me as I am willing to deserve, and fulfill all that was agreed on when I became his man, and chose his will as mine." Alfred had a small navy of longships with 60 oars to fight the Viking longships. Alfred divided his army into two parts so that one half of the men were fighting while the other half was at home sowing and harvesting for those fighting. Thus, any small-scale independent farming was supplanted by the open-field system, cultivation of common land, more large private estates headed by a lord, and a more stratified society in which the king and important families more powerful and the peasants more curtailed. The witan became mere witnesses. Many free coerls of the older days became bonded. The village community tended to become a large private estate headed by a lord. But the lord does not have the power to encroach upon the rights of common that exist within the community. In 886, a treaty between Alfred and the Vikings divided the country along the war front and made the wergeld of every free farmer, whether English or Viking, 200s. Men of higher rank were given a wergeld of 4 1/2 marks of pure gold. A mark was probably a Viking denomination and a mark of gold was equal to nine marks of silver in later times and probably in this time. The word "earl" replaced the word "eorldormen" and the word "thegn" replaced the word "aetheling" after the Danish settlement. The ironed pleats of Viking clothing indicated a high status of the wearer. The Vikings brought combs and the practice of regular hair-combing to England. King Alfred gave land with jurisdictional powers within its boundaries such as the following: "This is the bequest which King Alfred make unequivocally to Shaftesbury, to the praise of God and St. Mary and all the saints of God, for the benefit of my soul, namely a hundred hides as they stand with their produce and their men, and my daughter AEthelgifu to the convent along with the inheritance, since she took the veil on account of bad health; and the jurisdiction to the convent, which I myself possessed, namely obstruction and attacks on a man's house and breach of protection. And the estates which I have granted to the foundation are 40 hides at Donhead and Compton, 20 hides at Handley and Gussage 10 hides at Tarrant, 15 hides at Iwerve and 15 hides at Fontmell. The witnesses of this are Edward my son and Archbishop AEthelred and Bishop Ealhferth and Bishop AEthelhead and Earl Wulfhere and Earl Eadwulf and Earl Cuthred and Abbot Tunberht and Milred my thegn and AEthelwulf and Osric and Brihtulf and Cyma. If anyone alters this, he shall have the curse of God and St. Mary and all the saints of God forever to all eternity. Amen." Sons usually succeeded their fathers on the same land as shown by this lifetime lease: "Bishop Denewulf and the community at Winchester lease to Alfred for his lifetime 40 hides of land at Alresford, in accordance with the lease which Bishop Tunbriht had granted to his parents and which had run out, on condition that he renders every year at the autumnal equinox three pounds as rent, and church dues, and the work connected with church dues; and when the need arises, his men shall be ready both for harvesting and hunting; and after his death the property shall pass undisputed to St. Peter's. These are the signatures of the councilors and of the members of the community who gave their consent, namely ..." Alfred invented a graduated candle with spaces indicating one hour of burning, which could be used as a clock. He used a ventilated cow's horn to put around the top of the candle to prevent its blowing out, and then devised a wooden lantern with a horn window. He described the world as like a yolk in the middle of an egg whose shell moves around it. This agreed with the position of Ptolemy Claudius of Alexandria, who showed the curvature of the earth from north to south by observing that the Polar Star was higher in the north and lower in the south. That it was curved from east to west followed from the observation that two clocks placed one west and one east would record a different time for the same eclipse of the moon. Alfred wrote poems on the worthiness of wisdom and knowledge in preference to material pleasures, pride, and fame, in dealing with life's sorrow and strife. His observations on human nature and his proverbs include: 1. As one sows, so will he mow. 2. Every man's doom [judgment] returns to his door. 3. He who will not learn while young, will repent of it when old. 4. Weal [prosperity] without wisdom is worthless. 5. Though a man had 70 acres sown with red gold, and the gold grew like grass, yet he is not a whit the worthier unless he gain friends for himself. 6. Gold is but a stone unless a wise man has it. 7. It's hard to row against the sea flood; so it is against misfortune. 8. He who toils in his youth to win wealth, so that he may enjoy ease in his old age, has well bestowed his toil. 9. Many a man loses his soul through silver. 10. Wealth may pass away, but wisdom will remain, and no man may perish who has it for his comrade. 11. Don't choose a wife for her beauty nor for wealth, but study her disposition. 12. Many an apple is bright without and bitter within. 13. Don't believe the man of many words. 14. With a few words a wise man can compass much. 15. Make friends at market, and at church, with poor and with rich. 16. Though one man wielded all the world, and all the joy that dwells therein, he could not therewith keep his life. 17. Don't chide with a fool. 18. A fool's bolt is soon shot. 19. If you have a child, teach it men's manners while it is little. If you let him have his own will, he will cause you much sorrow when he comes of age. 20. He who spares the rod and lets a young child rule, shall rue it when the child grows old. 21. Either drinking or not drinking is, with wisdom, good. 22. Be not so mad as to tell your friend all your thoughts. 23. Relatives often quarrel together. 24. The barkless dog bites ill. 25. Be wise of word and wary of speech, then all shall love you. 26. We may outride, but not outwit, the old man. 27. If you and your friend fall out, then your enemy will know what your friend knew before. 28. Don't choose a deceitful man as a friend, for he will do you harm. 29. The false one will betray you when you least expect it. 30. Don't choose a scornful false friend, for he will steal your goods and deny the theft. 31. Take to yourself a steadfast man who is wise in word and deed; he will prove a true friend in need. To restore education and religion, Alfred disseminated the Anglo- Saxon Chronicles; the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation; the "Consolidation of Philosophy" by Roman philosopher Boethius, which related the use of adversity to develop the soul, and described the goodness of God and how the highest happiness comes from spiritual values and the soul, which are eternal, rather than from material or earthly pursuits, which are temporal; and Pope Gregory's Pastoral Care, which he had translated into English and was the fundamental book on the duty of a bishop, which included a duty to teach laymen; and Orosius' History of the World, which he had translated into English. Alfred's advice to pastors was to live as they had been taught from books and to teach this manner of life to others. To be avoided was pride, the mind's deception of seeking glory in the name of doing good works, and the corruption of high office. Bede was England's first scholar, first theologian, and first historian. He wrote poetry, theological books, homilies, and textbooks on grammar, rhetoric [public speaking and debating], arithmetic, and astronomy. He adhered to the doctrine that death entered the world by the sin of Adam, the first man. He began the practice of dating years from the birth of Christ and believed that the earth was round. Over the earth was a fiery spherical firmament. Above this were the waters of the heavens. Above this were the upper heavens, which contained the angels and was tempered with ice. He declared that comets portend downfalls of kingdoms, pestilence, war, winds, or heat. This reflected the church's view that a comet was a ball of fire flung from the right hand of an angry God as a warning to mankind, usually for disbelief. Storms were begun by the devil. A famous poem, the oral legend of Beowulf, a hero who led his men into adventures and performed great feats and fought monsters and dragons, was put into writing with a Christian theme. In it, loyalty to one's lord is a paramount virtue. Also available in writing was the story of King Arthur's twelve victorious battles against the pagan Saxons, authored by Nennius. There were professional story tellers attached to great men. Others wandered from court to court, receiving gifts for their story telling. Men usually told oral legends of their own feats and those of their ancestors after supper. Alfred had monasteries rebuilt with learned and moral men heading them. He built a nunnery which was headed by his daughter as prioress. He built a strong wall with four gates around London, which he had taken into his control. He appointed his son-in-law, who was one of his eorldormen, to be alderman [older man] to govern London and to be the shire's earl. A later king built a palace in London, although Winchester was still the royal capital town. When the king traveled, he and his retinue were fed by the local people at their expense. After Alfred's death, his daughter Aethelflared ruled the country for seven years. She had more fortified burhs built and led soldiers to victories. Under the royalty were the nobles. An earl headed each shire as representative of the King. The term "earl" came to denote an office instead of a nobleman. He led the array of his shire to do battle if the shire was attacked. He executed all royal commands. An earl received grants of land and could claim hospitality and maintenance for himself, his officers, and his servants. He presided over the shire court. He received one-third of the fines from the profits of justice and collected as well a third of the revenues derived from tolls and duties levied in the boroughs of his shire. The office tended to be hereditary. Royal representatives called "reeves" started to assist them. The reeve took security from every person for the maintenance of the public peace. He also tracked cattle thieves, brought suspects to court, gave judgments according to the doom books, and delivered offenders to punishment. Under the earls were the thegns. By service to the King, it was possible for a coerl to rise to become a thegn and to be given land by the King. Other thegns performed functions of magistrates. A thegn was later identified as a person with five hides of land, a kitchen, a church, a bell house, a judicial place at the burh- gemot [a right of magistracy], and an appointment in the King's hall. He was bound to to service in war by virtue of his landholding instead of by his relationship to the king. Nobility was now a territorial attribute, rather than one of birth. The wergeld of a thegn was 1200s. when that of a ceorl or ordinary freeman was 200s. The wergeld of an earl or bishop was four times that of a thegn: 5800s. The wergeld of a king or archbishop was six times that of a thegn: 7200s. The higher a man's wergeld, the higher was his legal status in the scale of punishment, giving credible evidence, and participation in legal proceedings. The sokemen were freemen who had inherited their own land, chose their own lord, and attended and were subject to their lord's court. That is, their lord has soke [soc] jurisdiction over them. A ceorl typically had a single hide of land. A smallholder rented land of about 30 acres from a landlord, which he paid by doing work on the lord's demesne [household or messuage] land, paying money rent, or paying a food rent such as in eggs or chickens. Smallholders made up about two fifths of the population. A cottager had one to five acres of land and depended on others for his living. Among these were shepherds, ploughmen, swineherds, and blacksmiths. They also participated in the agricultural work, especially at harvest time. It was possible for a thegn to become an earl, probably by the possession of forty hides. He might even acquire enough land to qualify him for the witan. Women could be present at the witenagemot and shire-gemot [meeting of the people of the shire]. They could sue and be sued in the courts. They could independently inherit, possess, and dispose of property. A wife's inheritance was her own and under no control of her husband. Marriage required the consent of the lady and her friends. The man also had to arrange for the foster lean, that is, remuneration for rearing and support of expected children. He also declared the amount of money or land he would give the lady for her consent, that is, the morgengift, and what he would bequeath her in case of his death. It was given to her on the morning after the wedding night. The family of the bride was paid a "mund" for transferring the rightful protection they possessed over her to the family of the husband. If the husband died and his kindred did not accept the terms sanctioned by law, her kindred could repurchase the rightful protection. If she remarried within a year of his death, she had to forfeit the morgengift and his nearest kin received the lands and possessions she had. The word for man was "waepnedmenn" or weaponed person. A woman was "wifmenn" or wife person, with "wif" being derived from the word for weaving. Great men and monasteries had millers, smiths, carpenters, architects, agriculturists, fishermen, weavers, embroiders, dyers, and illuminators. For entertainment, minstrels sang ballads about heroes or Bible stories, harpers played, jesters joked, and tumblers threw and caught balls and knives. There was gambling, dice games, and chasing deer with hounds. Fraternal guilds were established for mutual advantage and protection. A guild imposed fines for any injury of one member by another member. It assisted in paying any murder fine imposed on a member. It avenged the murder of a member and abided by the consequences. It buried its members and purchased masses for his soul. Mercantile guilds in seaports carried out commercial speculations not possible by the capital of only one person. There were some ale houses, probably part of certain dwellings.
- The Law - Alfred issued a set of laws to cover the whole country, which were drawn from the best laws of each region. There was no real distinction between the concepts of law, morals, and religion. The importance of telling the truth and keeping one's word are expressed by this law: "1. At the first we teach that it is most needful that every man warily keep his oath and his wed. If any one be constrained to either of these wrongfully, either to treason against his lord, or to any unlawful aid; then it is juster to belie than to fulfil. But if he pledge himself to that which is lawful to fulfil, and in that belie himself, let him submissively deliver up his weapon and his goods to the keeping of his friends, and be in prison forty days in a King's tun: let him there suffer whatever the bishop may prescribe to himů" Let his kinsmen feed him, if he has no food. If he escapes, let him be held a fugitive and be excommunicate of the church. The word of a bishop and of the king were incontrovertible without an oath. The Ten Commandments were written down as this law: "The Lord spake these words to Moses, and thus said: I am the Lord thy God. I led thee out of the land of the Egyptians, and of their bondage. 1. Love thou not other strange gods above me. 2. Utter thou not my name idly, for thou shalt not be guiltless towards me if thou utter my name idly. 3. Remember that thou hallow the rest day. Work for yourselves six days, and on the seventh rest. For in six days, Christ wrought the heavens and the earth, the seas, and all creatures that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: and therefore the Lord hallowed it. 4. Honor thy father and thy mother whom the Lord hath given thee, that thou mayst be the longer living on earth. 5. Slay thou not. 6. Commit thou not adultery. 7. Steal thou not. 8. Say thou not false witness. 9. Covet thou not thy neighbor's goods unjustly. 10. Make thou not to thyself golden or silver gods." If any one fights in the king's hall, or draws his weapon, and he be taken; be it in the king's doom, either death, or life, as he may be willing to grant him. If he escape, and be taken again, let him pay for himself according to his wergeld, and make bot for the offence, as well wer as wite, according as he may have wrought. If a man fights before a king's ealdorman in the gemot, let him make bot with wer and wite as it may be right; and before this 120s. to the ealdorman as wite. If he disturbs the folkmote by drawing his weapon, 120s. to the ealdorman as wite. If any of this happens before a king's ealdorman's junior, or a king's priest, 30s. as wite. If any one fights in a ceorlish man's dwelling, let him make bot of 6s.to the ceorl. If he draws his weapon but doesn't fight, let it be half of that. If, however, either of these happens to a man with a wergeld of 600s., let it increase threefold of the ceorlish bot; and if to a man with a wergeld of 1200s., let it increase twofold of the bot of the man with a wergeld of 600s. Breach of the king's dwelling [breaking and entering] shall be 120s.; an archbishop's, 90s.; any other bishop's, and an ealdorman's, 60s.;. a 1200s. wergeld man's, 30s.; a 600s. wergeld man's, 15s.; and a ceorl's 5s. If any one plot against the king's life, of himself, or by harbouring of exiles, or of his men; let him be liable with his life and in all that he has; or let him prove himself according to his lord's wer. If any one with a band or gang of men slays an unoffending man, let him who acknowledges the death-blow pay wer and wite. If the slain man had a wergeld of 200s, let every one who was of the gang pay 30s. as gang-bot. If he had a wergeld of 600s., let every one pay 60s. as gang-bot. If he had a wergeld of 1200s., let every one pay 120s. If a gang does this, and afterwards denies it on oath, let them all be accused, and let them then all pay the wer in common; and all, one wite, such as shall belong to the wer. If any one lends his weapon to another so he may kill some one with it, they may join together if they will in the wer. If they will not join together, let him who lent the weapon pay of the wer a third part, and of the wite a third part. With his lord a man may fight free of liability for homicide, if any one attack the lord: thus may the lord fight for his man. Likewise, a man may fight with his born kinsman, if a man attack him wrongfully, except against his lord. And a man may fight free of liability for homicide, if he finds another with his lawful wife, within closed doors, or under one covering, or with his lawfully-born daughter, or with his lawfully-born sister, or with his mother, who was given to his father as his lawful wife. If a man knows his foe is sitting at his home, he may not fight with him before he demands justice of him. If he has such power that he can beset his foe, and besiege him within, let him keep him within for seven days, and not attack him if he will remains within. And, then, after seven days, if he surrenders, and gives up his weapons, let him be kept safe for thirty days, and let notice of him be given to his kinsmen and his friends. But if he does not have sufficient power to besiege him within, let him ride to the ealdorman, and beg aid of him. If he will not aid him, let him ride to the king before he fights. In like manner also, if a man come upon his foe, and he did not know beforehand that he was staying at his home; if he is willing to give up his weapons, let him be kept for thirty days, and let notice of him be given to his friends; if he will not give up his weapons, then he may attack him. If he is willing to surrender, and to give up his weapons, and any one after that attack him, let him pay as well wer as wound, as he may do, and wite, and let him have forfeited his compensation to his kin. Every church shall have this peace: if a fugitive flee to one for sanctuary, no one may drag him out for seven days. If he is willing to give up his weapons to his foes, let him stay thirty days, and then let notice of him be given to his kinsmen. If any man confess in church any offences which had not been before revealed, let him be half forgiven. If a man from one holdgetael wishs to seek a lord in another holdgetael, let him do it with the knowledge of the ealdorman whom he before followed in his shire. If he does it without his knowledge, let him who treats him as his man pay 120s. as wite, one-half to the king in the shire where he before followed and one-half in that into which he comes. If he has done anything wrong where he was before, let him make bot for it who has there received him as his man; and to the king 120s. as wite. "If any one steals so that his wife and children don't know it, he shall pay 60 shillings as wite. But if he steals with the knowledge of all his household, they shall all go into slavery. A boy of ten years may be privy to a theft." "If one who takes a thief, or holds him for the person who took him, lets the thief go, or conceals the theft, he shall pay for the thief according to his wer. If he is an eorldormen, he shall forfeit his shire, unless the king is willing to be merciful to him." If any one steal in a church, let him pay the lawful penalty and the wite, and let the hand be struck off with which he did it. If he will redeem the hand, and that be allowed him, let him pay as may belong to his wer. If a man slanders another, the penalty is no lighter thing than that his tongue be cut out; which must not be redeemed at any cheaper rate than it is estimated at according to his wer. If one deceives an unbetrothed woman and sleep with her, he must pay for her and have her afterwards to wife. But if her father not approve, he should pay money according to her dowry. "If a man seize hold of the breast of a ceorlish woman, let him make bot to her with 5 shillings. If he throw her down and do not lie with her, let him make bot with 10 shillings. If he lie with her, let him make bot with 60 shillings. If another man had before lain with her, then let the bot be half that. ... If this befall a woman more nobly born, let the bot increase according to the wer." "If any one, with libidinous intent, seize a nun either by her raiment or by her breast without her leave, let the bot be twofold, as we have before ordained concerning a laywoman." "If a man commit a rape upon a ceorl's female slave, he must pay bot to the ceorl of 5 shillings and a wite [fine to the King] of 60 shillings. If a male theow rape a female theow, let him make bot with his testicles." For the first dog bite, the owner pays 6 shillings, for the second, 12 shillings, for the third, 30 shillings. An ox which gores someone to death shall be stoned. If one steals or slays another's ox, he must give two oxen for it. The man who has land left to him by his kindred must not give it away from his kindred, if there is a writing or witness that such was forbidden by those men who at first acquired it, and by those who gave it to him; and then let that be declared in the presence of the king and of the bishop, before his kinsmen.
- Judicial Procedure - Cases were held at monthly meetings of the hundred court. The king or one of his reeves, conducted the trial by compurgation. In compurgation, the one complaining, called the "plaintiff", and the one defending, called the "defendant", each told their story and put his hand on the Bible and swore "By God this oath is clean and true". A slip or a stammer would mean he lost the case. Otherwise, community members would stand up to swear on behalf of the plaintiff or the defendant as to their reputation for veracity. The value of a man's oath was commensurate with his value or wergeld. A man's brothers were usually his compurgators. If these "compurgators" were too few, usually twelve in number, or recited poorly, their party lost. If this process was inconclusive, the parties could bring witnesses to declare such knowledge as they had as neighbors. These witnesses, male and female, swore to particular points determined by the court. If the witnesses failed, the defendant was told to go to church and to take the sacrament only if he or she were innocent. If he or she took the sacrament, he or she was tried by the process of "ordeal", which was administered by the church. In the ordeal by cold water, he was given a drink of holy water and then bound hand and foot and thrown into water. If he floated, he was guilty. If he sank, he was innocent. It was not necessary to drown to be deemed innocent. In the ordeal by hot water, he had to pick up a stone from inside a boiling cauldron. If his hand was healing in three days, he was innocent. If it was festering, he was guilty. A similar ordeal was that of hot iron, in which one had to carry in his hands a hot iron for a certain distance. The results of the ordeal were taken to indicate the will of God. Presumably a person convicted of murder, i.e. killing by stealth, or robbery [taking from a person's robe, that is, his person or breaking into his home to steal] would be hung and his possessions confiscated. A bishop's oath was incontrovertible. Accused archbishops and bishops could clear themselves with an oath that they were guiltless. Lesser ranks could clear themselves with the oaths of three compurgators of their rank or, for more serious offenses, undergo the ordeal of the consecrated morsel. For this, one would swallow a morsel; if he choked on it, he was guilty. Any inanimate or animate object or personal chattel which was found by a court to be the immediate cause of death was forfeited as "deodand", for instance, a tree from which a man fell to his death, a beast which killed a man, a sword of a third party not the slayer that was used to kill a man. The deodand was to go to the dead man's kin so they could wreak their vengeance on it, which in turn would cause the dead man to lie in peace. This is a lawsuit regarding rights to feed pigs in a certain woodland: "In the year 825 which had passed since the birth of Christ, and in the course of the second Indiction, and during the reign of Beornwulf, King of Mercia, a council meeting was held in the famous place called Clofesho, and there the said King Beornwulf and his bishops and his earls and all the councilors of this nation were assembled. Then there was a very noteworthy suit about wood pasture at Sinton, towards the west in Scirhylte. The reeves in charge of the pigherds wished to extend the pasture farther, and take in more of the wood than the ancient rights permitted. Then the bishop and the advisors of the community said that they would not admit liability for more than had been appointed in AEthelbald's day, namely mast for 300 swine, and that the bishop and the community should have two thirds of the wood and of the mast. The Archbishop Wulfred and all the councilors determined that the bishop and the community might declare on oath that it was so appointed in AEthelbald's time and that they were not trying to obtain more, and the bishop immediately gave security to Earl Eadwulf to furnish the oath before all the councilors, and it was produced in 30 days at the bishop's see at Worcester. At that time Hama was the reeve in charge of the pigherds at Sinton, and he rode until he reached Worcester, and watched and observed the oath, as Earl Eadwulf bade him, but did not challenge it. Here are the names and designations of those who were assembled at the council meeting ..."