OUR LEGAL HERITAGE: King AEthelbert - King George III
S. A. Reilly author
- The Times: 900-1066 - There were many large landholders such as the King, earls, and bishops. Earls were noblemen by birth, and often relatives of the King. They were his army commanders and the highest civil officials, each responsible for a shire. A breach of the public peace of an earl would occasion a fine. Lower in social status were freemen: sokemen, and then, in decreasing order, villani [villeins], bordarii, and cottarii. The servi were the slaves. Probably all who were not slaves were freemen. Kings typically granted land in exchange for services of military duties, maintaining fortresses, and repairing bridges. Less common services required by landlords include equipping a guard ship and guarding the coast, guarding the lord, military watch, maintaining the deer fence at the King's residence, alms giving, and church dues. Since this land was granted in return for service, there were limitations on its heritability and often an heir had to pay a heriot to the landlord to obtain the land. A heriot was originally the armor of a man killed, which went to the King. The heriot of a thegn who had soken came to be about 80s.; of a kings' thegn about four lances, two coats of mail, two swords, and 125s.; of an earl about eight horses, four saddled and four unsaddled, eight lances, four coats of mail, four swords, and 500s. There were several thousand thegns, rich and poor, who held land directly of the King. Some thegns had soken or jurisdiction over their own lands and others did not. Free farmers who had sought protection from thegns in time of war now took them as their lords. A freeman could chose his lord, following him in war and working his land in peace. All able-bodied freemen were liable to military service in the fyrd [national militia], but not in a lord's private wars. In return, the lord would protect him against encroaching neighbors, back him in the courts of law, and feed him in times of famine. But often, lords raided each other's farmers, who fled into the hills or woods for safety. Often a lord's fighting men stayed with him at his large house, but later were given land with inhabitants on it, who became his tenants. The lords were the ruling class and the greatest of them sat in the King's council along with bishops, abbots, and officers of the King's household. The lesser lords were local magnates, who officiated at the shire and hundred courts. Stag-hunting, fox-hunting, and hawking were reserved for lords who did not work with their hands. Every free born person had the right to hunt other game. There was a great expansion of arable land. Some land had been specifically allocated to certain individuals. Some was common land, held by communities. If a family came to pay the dues and fines on certain common land, it could become personal to that family and was then known as heir-land. Most land came to be privately held from community-witnessed allotments or inheritance. Book-land was those holdings written down in books. This land was usually land that had been given to the church or monasteries because church clerics could write. So many thegns gave land to the church, usually a hide, that the church held 1/3 of the land of the realm. Folk-land was that land that was left over after allotments had been made to the freemen and which was not common land. It was public land and a national asset and could be converted to heir-land or book-land only by action of the king and witan. It could also be rented by services to the state via charter. A holder of folk-land might express a wish, e.g. by testamentary action, for a certain disposition of it, such as an estate for life or lives for a certain individual. But a distinct act by the king and witan was necessary for this wish to take effect. Small private transactions of land could be done by "livery of seisin" in the presence of neighbors. All estates in land could be let, lent, or leased by its holders, and was then known as "loenland". Ploughs and wagons could be drawn by four or more oxen or horses in sets of two behind each other. Oxenshoes and horseshoes prevented lameness due to cracked hooves. Horse collars especially fitted for horses, replaced oxen yoke that had been used on horses. A free holder's house was wood, perhaps with a stone foundation, and roofed with thatch or tiles. There was a main room or hall, with bed chambers around it. Beyond was the kitchen, perhaps outside under a lean-to. These buildings were surrounded by a bank or stiff hedge. Simple people lived in huts made from wood and mud, with one door and no windows. They slept around a wood-burning fire in the middle of the earthen floor. They wore shapeless clothes of goat hair and unprocessed wool from their sheep. They ate rough brown bread, vegetable and grain broth, ale from barley, bacon, beans, milk, cabbage, onion, apples, plums, cherries, and honey for sweetening or mead. Vegetables grown in the country included onions, leeks, celery, lettuce, radish, carrots, garlic, shallots, parsnip, dill, chevil, marigold, coriander, and poppy. In the summer, they ate boiled or raw veal and wild fowl such as ducks, geese, or pigeons, and game snared in the forest. Poultry was a luxury food, but recognized as therapeutic for invalids, especially in broth form [chicken soup]. Venison was highly prized. There were still some wild boar, which were hunted with long spears, a greyhound dog, and hunting horns. They sometimes mated with the domestic pigs which roamed the woodlands. In September, the old and infirm pigs were slaughtered and their sides of bacon smoked in the rafters for about a month. Their intestines provided skin for sausages. In the fall, cattle were slaughtered and salted for food during the winter because there was no more pasture for them. However, some cows and breed animals were kept through the winter. For their meals, people used wooden platters, sometimes earthenware plates, drinking horns, drinking cups from ash or alderwood turned on a foot-peddled pole lathe, and bottles made of leather. Their bowls, pans, and pitchers were made by the potter's wheel. Water could be boiled in pots made of iron, brass, lead, or clay. Water could be carried in leather bags because leather working preservative techniques improved so that tanning prevented stretching or decaying. At the back of each hut was a hole in the ground used as a latrine, which flies frequented. Moss was used for toilet-paper. Parasitical worms in the stool were ubiquitous. Most of the simple people lived in villages of about 20 homes circling a village green or lining a single winding lane. There were only first names, and these were usually passed down family lines. To grind their grain, the villagers used hand mills with crank and gear, or a communal mill, usually built of oak, driven by power transmitted through a solid oak shaft, banded with iron as reinforcement, to internal gear wheels of elm. Almost every village had a watermill. It might be run by water shooting over or flowing under the wheel. Clothing for men and women was made from coarse wool, silk, and linen and was usually brown in color. Only the wealthy could afford to wear linen or silk. Men also wore leather clothing, such as neckpieces, breeches, ankle leathers, shoes, and boots. Boots were worn when fighting. They carried knives or axes under metal belts. They could carry items by tying leather pouches onto their belts with their drawstrings. They wore leather gloves for warmth and for heavy working with their hands. People were as tall, strong and healthy as in the late 1900s, not having yet endured the later malnourishment and overcrowding that was its worst in the 1700s and 1800s. Their teeth were very healthy. Most adults died in their 40s, after becoming arthritic from hard labor. People in their 50s were deemed venerable. Boys of twelve were considered old enough to swear an oath of allegiance to the king. Girls married in their early teens, often to men significantly older. The lands of the large landholding lords were administered by freemen. They had wheat, barley, oats, and rye fields, orchards, vineyards for wine, and bee-keeping areas for honey. On this land lived not only farm laborers, cattle herders, shepherds, goatherds, and pigherds, but craftsmen such as goldsmiths, hawkkeepers, dogkeepers, horsekeepers, huntsmen, foresters, builders, weaponsmiths, embroiders, bronze smiths, blacksmiths, watermill wrights, wheelwrights, wagon wrights, iron nail makers, potters, soap makers, tailors, shoemakers, salters (made salt at the "wyches", which later became towns ending with '-wich'), bakers, cooks, and gardeners. Most men did carpentry work. Master carpenters worked with ax, hammer, and saw to make houses, doors, bridges, milk buckets, washtubs, and trunks. Blacksmiths made gates, huge door hinges, locks, latches, bolts, and horseshoes. The lord loaned these people land on which to live for their life, called a "life estate", in return for their services. The loan could continue to their widows or children who took up the craft. Mills were usually powered by water. Candles were made from beeswax, which exuded a bright and steady light and pleasant smell, or from mutton fat, which had an unpleasant odor. The wheeled plough and iron-bladed plough made the furrows. One man hald the plough and another walked with the oxen, coaxing them forward with a stick and shouts. Seeds were held in an apron for seeding. Farm implements included spades, shovels, rakes, hoes, buckets, barrels, flails, and sieves. Plants were pruned to direct their growth and to increase their yield. Everyone got together for feasts at key stages of the farming, such as the harvest. Easter was the biggest feast. When the lord was in the field, his lady held their estate. There were common lands of these estates as well as of communities. Any proposed new settler had to be admitted at the court of this estate. The land of some lords included fishing villages along the coasts. From the sea were caught herrings, salmon, porpoises, sturgeon, oysters, crabs, mussels, cockels, winkeles, plaice, flounder, and lobsters. Sometimes whales were driven into an inlet by many boats. River fish included eels, pike, minnows, burbo, trout, and lampreys. They were caught by brushwood weirs, net, bait, hooks, and baskets. Oysters were so numerous that they were eaten by the poor. The king's peace extended over the waterways. If mills, fisheries, weirs, or other structures were set up to block them, they were to be destroyed and a penalty paid to the king. Other lords had land with iron-mining industries. Ore was dug from the ground and combined with wood charcoal in a shaft furnace to be smelted into liquid form. Wood charcoal was derived from controlled charring of the wood at high temperatures without using oxygen. This burned impurities from it and left a purer carbon, which burned better than wood. The pure iron was extracted from this liquid and formed into bars. To keep the fire hot, the furnaces were frequently placed at windswept crossings of valleys or on the tops of hills. Some lords had markets on their land, for which they charged a toll [like a sales tax] for participation. There were about fifty markets in the nation. Cattle and slaves (from the word "slav") were the usual medium of exchange. An ox still was worth about 30d. Shaking hands was symbolic of an agreement for a sale, which had to be carried out in front of witnesses at the market for any property worth over 20d. The higher the value of the property, the more witnesses were required. Witnesses were also required for the exchange of property and to vouch for cattle having being born on the property of a person claiming them. People traveled to markets on deep, sunken roads and narrow bridges kept in repair by certain men who did this work as their service to the King. The king's peace extended to a couple of high roads, i.e. highways, running the length of the country and a couple running its width. Salt was used throughout the nation to preserve meat over the winter. Inland saltworks had an elaborate and specialized organization. The chief one used saltpans and furnaces to extract salt from natural brine springs. They formed little manufacturing enclaves in the midst of agricultural land, and they were considered to be neither large private estates headed by a lord nor appurtenant to such. They belonged jointly to the king and the local earl, who shared, at a proportion of two to one, the proceeds of the tolls upon the sale of salt and methods of carriage on the ancient salt ways according to cartload, horse load, or man load. Sometimes there were investors in a portion of the works who lived quite at distance away. The sales of salt were mostly retail, but some bought to resell. Peddlers carried salt to sell from village to village. Some smiths traveled for their work, for instance, stonewrights building arches and windows in churches, and lead workers putting lead roofs on churches. An example of a grant of hides of land is: "[God has endowed King Edred with England], wherefore he enriches and honors men, both ecclesiastic and lay, who can justly deserve it. The truth of this can be acknowledged by the thegn AElfsige Hunlafing through his acquisition of the estate of 5 hides at Alwalton for himself and his heirs, free from every burden except the repair of fortifications, the building of bridges and military service; a prudent landowner church dues, burial fees and tithes. [This land] is to be held for all time and granted along with the things both great and small belonging to it." A Bishop gave land to a faithful attendant for his life and two other lives as follows: "In 904 A.D., I, Bishop Werfrith, with the permission and leave of my honorable community in Worcester, grant to Wulfsige, my reeve, for his loyal efficiency and humble obedience, one hide of land at Aston as Herred held it, that is, surrounded by a dyke, for three lives and then after three lives the estate shall be given back without any controversy to Worcester." At seaports on the coast, goods were loaded onto vessels owned by English merchants to be transported to other English seaports. London was a market town on the north side of the Thames River and the primary port and trading center for foreign merchants. Streets that probably date from this time include Milk, Bread, and Wood Streets, and Honey Lane. There were open-air markets such as Billingsgate. There were wooden quays over much of the riverfront. Houses were made of wood, with one sunken floor, or a ground floor with a cellar beneath. Some had central stone hearths and earth latrines. There were crude pottery cooking pots, beakers and lamps, wool cloth, a little silk, simple leather shoes, pewter jewelry, looms, and quernstones (for grinding flour). Wool, skins, hides, wheat, meal, beer, lead, cheese, salt, and honey were exported. Wine (mostly for the church), fish, timber, pitch, pepper, garlic, spices, copper, gems, gold, silk, dyes, oil, brass, sulphur, glass, slaves, and elephant and walrus ivory were imported. Goods from the continent were sold at open stalls in certain streets. Furs and slaves were traded. There was a royal levy on exports by foreigners merchants. Southwark was reachable by a bridge. It contained sleazy docks, prisons, gaming houses, and brothels. Guilds in London were first associations of neighbors for the purposes of mutual assistance. They were fraternities of persons by voluntary compact to assist each other in poverty, including their widows or orphans and the portioning of poor maids, and to protect each other from injury. Their essential features are and continue to be in the future: 1) oath of initiation, 2) entrance fee in money or in kind and a common fund, 3) annual feast and mass, 4) meetings at least three times yearly for guild business, 5), obligation to attend all funerals of members, to bear the body if need be from a distance, and to provide masses for the dead, 6) the duty of friendly help in cases of sickness, imprisonment, house burning, shipwreck, or robbery, 7) rules for decent behavior at meetings, and 8) provisions for settling disputes without recourse to the law. Both the masses and the feast were attended by the women. Frequently the guilds also had a religious ceremonial to affirm their bonds of fidelity. They readily became connected with the exercise of trades and with the training of apprentices. They promoted and took on public purposes such as the repairing of roads and bridges, the relief of pilgrims, the maintenance of schools and almshouses, and the periodic performance of pageants and miracle plays telling scriptural history, which could last for several days. The devil often was prominent in miracle plays. Many of these London guilds were known by the name of their founding member. There were also Frith Guilds (peace guilds) and a Knights' Guild. The Frith Guild's main object was to enforce the King's laws, especially the prevalent problem of theft. They were especially established by bishops and reeves. Members met monthly and contributed about 4d. to a common fund, which paid a compensation for items stolen. They each paid 1s. towards the pursuit of the thief. The members were grouped in tens. Members with horses were to track the thief. Members without horses worked in the place of the absent horseowners until their return. When caught, the thief was tried and executed. Overwhelming force was used if his kindred tried to protect him. His property was used to compensate the victim for his loss and then divided between the thief's wife, if she was innocent, the King, and the guild. Owners of slaves paid into a fund to give one half compensation to those who lost slaves by theft or escape, and recaptured slaves were to be stoned to death or hanged. The members of the peace guild also feasted and drank together. When one died, the others each sang a song or paid for the singing of fifty psalms for his soul and gave a loaf. The Knights' Guild was composed of thirteen military persons to whom King Edgar granted certain waste land in the east of London, toward Aldgate, and also Portsoken, which ran outside the eastern wall of the city to the Thames, for prescribed services performed, probably defense of the vulnerable east side of the city. This concession was confirmed by King Edward the Confessor in a charter at the suit of certain citizens of London, the successors of these knights. Edward granted them sac and soke [cause and suit] jurisdiction over their men. Edward the Confessor made these rules for London: 1. Be it known that within the space of three miles from all parts outside of the city a man ought not to hold or hinder another, and also should not do business with him if he wish to come to the city under its peace. But when he arrives in the city, then let the market be the same to the rich man as to the poor. 2. Be it also known that a man who is from the court of the king or the barons ought not to lodge in the house of any citizen of London for three nights, either by privilege or by custom, except by consent of the host. For if he force the host to lodge him in his house and there be killed by the host, let the host choose six from his relatives and let him as the seventh swear that he killed him for the said cause. And thus he will remain quit of the murder of the deceased towards the king and relatives and lords of the deceased. 3. And after he has entered the city, let a foreign merchant be lodged wherever it please him. But if he bring dyed cloth, let him see to it that he does not sell his merchandise at retail, but that he sell not less than a dozen pieces at a time. And if he bring pepper, or cumin, or ginger, or alum, or brasil wood, or resin, or incense, let him sell not less than fifteen pounds at a time. But if he bring belts, let him sell not less than a thousand at a time. And if he bring cloths of silk, or wool or linen, let him see that he cut them not, but sell them whole. But if he bring wax, let him sell not less than one quartanum. Also a foreign merchant may not buy dyed cloth, nor make the dye in the city, nor do any work which belongs by right to the citizens. 4. Also no foreign merchant with his partner may set up any market within the city for reselling goods in the city, nor may he approach a citizen for making a bargain, nor may he stop longer in the City. Every week in London there was a folkmote at St. Paul's churchyard, where majority decision was a tradition. By 1032, it had lost much of its power to the husting [household assembly in Danish] court. The folkmoot then had responsibility for order and was the sole authority for proclaiming outlaws. It met three times a year at St. Paul's churchyard and there acclaimed the sheriff and justiciar, or if the king had chosen his officer, heard who was chosen and listened to his charge. It also yearly arranged the watch and dealt with risks of fire. It was divided into wards, each governed by an alderman who presided over the ward-mote, and represented his ward at the folk-mote. Each guild became a ward. The chief alderman was the portreeve. London paid one-eighth of all the taxes of England. Later in the towns, merchant guilds grew out of charity associations whose members were bound by oath to each other and got together for a guild feast every month. Some traders of these merchant guilds became so prosperous that they became landholders. Many market places were dominated by a merchant guild, which had a monopoly of the local trade. In the great mercantile towns all the land and houses would be held by merchants and their dependents, all freeholders were connected with a trade, and everyone who had a claim on public office or magistry would be a member of the guild. The merchant guild could admit into their guild country villeins, who became freemen if unclaimed by their lords for a year and a day. Every merchant who had made three long voyages on his own behalf and at his own cost ranked as a thegn. There were also some craft guilds composed of handicraftsmen or artisans. Escaped bonded agricultural workers, poor people, and traders without land migrated to towns to live, but were not citizens. Towns were largely self-sufficient, but salt and iron came from a distance. The King's established in every shire at least one town with a market place where purchases would be witnessed and a mint where reliable money was coined by a moneyer. There were eight moneyers in London. Coins were issued to be of value for only a couple of years. Then one had to exchange them for newly issued ones at a rate of about 10 old for 8 or 9 new. The difference constituted a tax. Roughly 10% of the people lived in towns. Some took surnames such as Tanner, Weaver, or Carpenter. Some had affectionate or derisive nicknames such as clear-hand, fresh friend, soft bread, foul beard, money taker, or penny purse. Craftsmen in the 1000s included goldsmiths, embroiderers, illuminators of manuscripts, and armorers. Edward the Confessor, named such for his piety, was a king of 24 years who was widely respected for his intelligence, resourcefulness, good judgment, and wisdom. His educated Queen Edith, whom he relied on for advice and cheerful courage, was a stabilizing influence on him. They were served by a number of thegns, who had duties in the household, which was composed of the hall, the courtyard, and the bedchamber. They were important men - thegns by rank. They were landholders, often in several areas, and held leading positions in the shires. They were also priests and clerics, who maintained the religious services and performed tasks for which literacy was necessary. Edward was the first king to have a "Chancellor". He kept a royal seal and was the chief royal chaplain. He did all the secretarial work of the household and court, drew up and sealed the royal writs, conducted the king's correspondence, and kept all the royal accounts. The word "chancellor" signified a screen behind which the secretarial work of the household was done. He had the special duty of securing and administering the royal revenue from vacant benefices. The most important royal officers were the chamberlains, who took care of the royal bedchamber and adjoining wardrobe used for dressing and storage of valuables, and the priests. These royal officers had at first been responsible only for domestic duties, but gradually came to assume public administrative tasks. Edward wanted to avoid the pressures and dangers of living in the rich and powerful City of London. So he rebuilt a monastic church, an abbey, and a palace at Westminster about two miles upstream. He started the growth of Westminster as a center of royal and political power; kings' councils met there. Royal coronations took place at the abbey. Since Edward traveled a lot, he established a storehouse-treasury at Winchester to supplement his traveling wardrobe. At this time, Spanish stallions were imported to improve English horses. London came to have the largest and best-trained army in England. The court invited many of the greatest magnates and prelates [highest ecclesiastical officials, such as bishops] of the land to the great ecclesiastical festivals, when the king held more solemn courts and feasted with his vassals for several days. These included all the great earls, the majority of bishops, some abbots, and a number of thegns and clerics. Edward had a witan of wise men to advise him, but sometimes the King would speak in the hall after dinner and listen to what comments were made from the mead-benches. As the court moved about the country, many men came to pay their respects and attend to local business. Edward started the practice of King's touching people to cure them of scrofula, a disease which affected the glands, especially in the head and neck. It was done in the context of a religious ceremony. The main governmental activities were: war, collection of revenue, religious education, and administration of justice. For war, the shires had to provide a certain number of men and the ports quotas of ships with crews. The king was the patron of the English church. He gave the church peace and protection. He presided over church councils and appointed bishops. As for the administration of justice, the public courts were almost all under members of Edward's court, bishops, earls, and reeves. Edward's mind was often troubled and disturbed by the threat that law and justice would be overthrown, by the pervasiveness of disputes and discord, by the raging of wicked presumption, by money interfering with right and justice, and by avarice kindling all of these. He saw it as his duty to courageously oppose the wicked by taking good men as models, by enriching the churches of God, by relieving those oppressed by wicked judges, and by judging equitably between the powerful and the humble. He was so greatly revered that a comet was thought to accompany his death. The king established the office of the Chancery to draft documents and keep records. It created the writ, which was a small piece of parchment addressed to a royal official or dependent commanding him to perform some task for the King. By the 1000s A.D., the writ contained a seal: a lump of wax with the impress of the Great Seal of England which hung from the bottom of the document. Writing was done with a sharpened goose-wing quill. Ink was obtained from mixing fluid from the galls made by wasps for their eggs on oak trees, rainwater or vinegar, gum arabic, and iron salts for color. A King's grant of land entailed two documents: a charter giving boundaries and conditions and a writ, usually addressed to the shire court, listing the judicial and financial privileges conveyed with the land. These were usually sac and soke [possession of jurisdiction of a private court of a noble or institution to execute the laws and administer justice over inhabitants and tenants of the estate], toll [right to have a market and to collect a payment on the sale of cattle and other property on the estate] and team [probably the right to hold a court to determine the honesty of a man accused of illegal possession of cattle or of buying stolen cattle by inquiring of the alleged seller or a warrantor, even if an outsider], and infangenetheof [the authority to hang and take the chattels of a thief caught on the estate]. The town of Coventry consisted of a large monastery estate and a large private estate headed by a lord. The monastery was granted by Edward the Confessor full freedom and these jurisdictions: sac and soke, toll and team, hamsocne [the authority to fine a person for breaking into and making entry by force into the dwelling of another], forestall [the authority to fine a person for robbing others on the road], bloodwite [the authority to impose a forfeiture for assault involving bloodshed], fightwite [the authority to fine for fighting], weordwite [the authority to fine for manslaughter, but not for willful murder], and mundbryce [the authority to fine for any breach of the peace, such as trespass on lands]. Every man was expected to have a lord to whom he gave fealty. He swore by this fealty oath: "By the Lord, before whom this relic is holy, I will be to ------ faithful and true, and love all that he loves, and shun all that he shuns, according to God's law, and according to the world's principle, and never, by will nor by force, by word nor by work, do ought of what is loathful to him; on condition that he keep me as I am willing to deserve, and all that fulfill that our agreement was, when I to him submitted and chose his will." If a man was homeless or lordless, his brothers were expected to find him such, e.g. in the folkmote. Otherwise, he as to be treated as a fugitive, and could be slain as for a thief, and anyone who had harbored him would pay a penalty. Brothers were also expected to protect their minor kinsmen. Marriages were determined by men asking women to marry them. If a woman said yes, he paid a sum to her kin for her "mund" [jurisdiction or protection over her] and gave his oath to them to maintain and support the woman and any children born. As security for this oath, he gave a valuable object or "wed". The couple were then betrothed. Marriage ceremonies were performed by priests in churches. The groom had to bring friends to his wedding as sureties to guarantee his oath to maintain and support his wife and children. Those who swore to take care of the children were called their "godfathers". The marriage was written into church records. After witnessing the wedding, friends ate the great loaf, or first bread made by the bride. This was the forerunner of the wedding cake. They drank special ale, the "bride ale" (from hence the work "bridal"), to the health of the couple. Women could own land, houses, and furniture and other property. They could even make wills that disinherited their sons. This marriage agreement with an Archbishop's sister provides her with land, money, and horsemen: "Here in this document is stated the agreement which Wulfric and the archbishop made when he obtained the archbishop's sister as his wife, namely he promised her the estates at Orleton and Ribbesford for her lifetime, and promised her that he would obtain the estate at Knightwick for her for three lives from the community at Winchcombe, and gave her the estate at Alton to grant and bestow upon whomsoever she pleased during her lifetime or at her death, as she preferred, and promised her 50 mancuses of gold and 30 men and 30 horses. The witnesses that this agreement was made as stated were Archbishop Wulfstan and Earl Leofwine and Bishop AEthelstan and Abbot AElfweard and the monk Brihtheah and many good men in addition to them, both ecclesiastics and laymen. There are two copies of this agreement, one in the possession of the archbishop at Worcester and the other in the possession of Bishop AEthelstan at Hereford." This marriage agreement provided the wife with money, land, farm animals and farm laborers; it also names sureties, the survivor of whom would receive all this property: "Here is declared in this document the agreement which Godwine made with Brihtric when he wooed his daughter. In the first place he gave her a pound's weight of gold, to induce her to accept his suit, and he granted her the estate at Street with all that belongs to it, and 150 acres at Burmarsh and in addition 30 oxen and 20 cows and 10 horses and 10 slaves. This agreement was made at Kingston before King Cnut, with the cognizance of Archbishop Lyfing and the community at Christchurch, and Abbot AElfmaer and the community at St. Augustine's, and the sheriff AEthelwine and Sired the old and Godwine, Wulfheah's son, and AElfsige cild and Eadmaer of Burham and Godwine, Wulfstan's son, and Carl, the King's cniht. And when the maiden was brought from Brightling AElfgar, Sired's son, and Frerth, the priest of Forlstone, and the priests Leofwine and Wulfsige from Dover, and Edred, Eadhelm's son, and Leofwine, Waerhelm's son, and Cenwold rust and Leofwine, son of Godwine of Horton, and Leofwine the Red and Godwine, Eadgifu's son, and Leofsunu his brother acted as security for all this. And whichever of them lives the longer shall succeed to all the property both in land and everything else which I have given them. Every trustworthy man in Kent and Sussex, whether thegn or commoner, is cognizant of these terms. There are three of these documents; one is at Christchurch, another at St. Augustine's, and Brihtric himself has the third." Nuns and monks lived in segregated nunneries and monasteries on church land and grew their own food. The local bishop usually was also an abbot of a monastery. The priests and nuns wore long robes with loose belts and did not carry weapons. Their life was ordered by the ringing of the bell to start certain activities, such as prayer; meals; meetings; work in the fields, gardens, or workshops; and copying and illuminating books. They chanted to pay homage and to communicate with God or his saints. They taught justice, piety, chastity, peace, and charity; and cared for the sick. Caring for the sick entailed mostly praying to God as it was thought that only God could cure. They bathed a few times a year. They got their drinking water from upstream of where they had located their latrines over running water. The large monasteries had libraries, dormitories, guesthouses, kitchens, butteries to store wine, bakehouses, breweries, dairies, granaries, barns, fishponds, orchards, vineyards, gardens, workshops, laundries, lavatories with long stone or marble washing troughs, and towels. Slavery was diminished by the church by excommunication for the sale of a child over seven. The clergy taught that manumission of slaves was good for the soul of the dead, so it became frequent in wills. The clergy were to abstain from red meat and wine and were to be celibate. But there were periods of laxity. Punishment was by the cane or scourge. The Archbishop of Canterbury began anointing new kings at the time of coronation to emphasize that the king was ruler by the grace of God. As God's minister, the king could only do right. From 973, the new king swore to protect the Christian church, to prevent inequities to all subjects, and to render good justice, which became a standard oath. There was a celestial hierarchy, with heavenly hosts in specific places. God intervened in daily life, especially if worshipped. Saints such as Bede and Hilda performed miracles, especially ones of curing. Their spirits could be contacted through their relics, which rested at the altars of churches. When someone was said to have the devil in him, people took it quite literally. A real Jack Frost nipped noses and fingers and made the ground too hard to work. Little people, elves, trolls, and fairies inhabited the fears and imaginings of people. The forest was the mysterious home of spirits. People prayed to God to help them in their troubles and from the work of the devil. Since natural causes of events were unknown, people attributed events to wills like their own. Illness was thought to be caused by demons. People hung charms around their neck for cure and treatments of magic and herbs were given. Some had hallucinogenic effects, which were probably useful for pain. For instance, the remedy for "mental vacancy and folly" was a drink of "fennel, agrimony, cockle, and marche". Blood- letting by leeches and cautery were used for most maladies, which were thought to be caused by imbalance of the four bodily humors: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic. These four humors reflected the four basic elements of the world articulated by Aristotle: air, water, fire, and earth. Blood was hot and moist like air; phlegm was cold and moist like water; choler or yellow bile was hot and dry like fire; and melancholy or black bile was cold and dry like earth. Bede had explained that when blood predominates, it makes people joyful and glad, sociable, laughing, and talking a great deal. Phlegm renders them slow, sleepy, and forgetful. Red cholic makes them thin, though eating much, swift, bold, wrathful, and agile. Black cholic makes them serious of settled disposition, even sad. To relieve brain pressure and/or maybe to exorcise evil spirits, holes were drilled into skulls by a drill with a metal tip that was caused to turn back and forth by a strap wrapped around a wooden handle. A king's daughter Edith inspired a cult of holy wells, whose waters were thought to alleviate eye conditions. Warmth and rest were also used for illness. Agrimony boiled in milk was thought to relieve impotence in men. It was known that the liver casted out impurities in the blood. The stages of fetal growth were known. The soul was not thought to enter a fetus until after the third month, so presumably abortions within three months were allowable. The days of the week were Sun day, Moon day, Tiw's day (Viking god of war), Woden's day (Viking god of victory, master magician, calmer of storms, and raiser of the dead), Thor's day (Viking god of thunder), Frig's day (Viking goddess of fertility and growing things), and Saturn's day (Roman god). Special days of the year were celebrated: Christmas, the birthday of Jesus Christ; the twelve days of Yuletide (a Viking tradition) when candles were lit and houses decorated with evergreen and there were festivities around the burning of the biggest log available; Plough Monday for resumption of work after Yuletide; February 14th with a feast celebrating Saint Valentinus, a Roman bishop martyr who had married young lovers in secret when marriage was forbidden to encourage men to fight in war; New Year's Day on March 25th when seed was sown and people banged on drums and blew horns to banish spirits who destroy crops with disease; Easter, the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; Whitsunday, celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles of Jesus and named for the white worn by baptismal candidates; May Day when flowers and greenery was gathered from the woods to decorate houses and churches, Morris dancers leapt through their villages with bells, hobby horses, and waving scarves, and people danced around a May pole holding colorful ribbons tied at the top so they became entwined around the pole; Lammas on August 1st, when the first bread baked from the wheat harvest was consecrated; Harvest Home when the last harvest load was brought home while an effigy of a goddess was carried with reapers singing and piping behind, and October 31st, the eve of the Christian designated All Hallow Day, which then became known as All Hallow Even, or Halloween. People dressed as demons, hobgoblins, and witches to keep spirits away from possessing them. Trick or treating began with Christian beggars asking for "soul cake" biscuits in return for praying for dead relatives. Ticktacktoe and backgammon were played. There were riddles such as: I am a strange creature, for I satisfy women ... I grow very tall, erect in a bed. I'm hairy underneath. From time to time A beautiful girl, the brave daughter Of some fellow dares to hold me Grips my reddish skin, robs me of my head And puts me in the pantry. At once that girl With plaited hair who has confined me Remembers our meeting. Her eye moistens. What am I? An onion. A man came walking where he knew She stood in a corner, stepped forwards; The bold fellow plucked up his own Skirt by hand, stuck something stiff Beneath her belt as she stood, Worked his will. They both wiggled. The man hurried; his trusty helper Plied a handy task, but tired At length, less strong than she, Weary of the work. Thick beneath Her belt swelled the thing good men Praise with their hearts and purses. What am I? A milk churn. The languages of invaders had produced a hybrid language that was roughly understood throughout the country. The existence of Europe, Africa, Asia, and India were known. Jerusalem was thought to be at the center of the world. There was an annual tax of a penny on every hearth, Peter's pence, to be collected and sent to the pope in Rome. Ecclesiastical benefices were to pay church- scot, a payment in lieu of first fruits of the land, to the pope.
- The Law - The king and witan deliberated on the making of new laws, both secular and spiritual, at the regularly held witanagemot. There was a standard legal requirement of holding every man accountable, though expressed in different ways, such as the following three: Every freeman who does not hold land must find a lord to answer for him. The act of homage was symbolized by holding his hands together between those of his lord. Every lord shall be personally responsible as surety for the men of his household. [This included female lords.] (King Athelstan) "And every man shall see that he has a surety, and this surety shall bring and keep him to [the performance of] every lawful duty. 1. And if anyone does wrong and escapes, his surety shall incur what the other should have incurred. 2. If the case be that of a thief and his surety can lay hold of him within twelve months, he shall deliver him up to justice, and what he has paid shall be returned to him." (King Edgar) Every freeman who holds land, except lords with considerable landed property, must be in a local tithing, usually ten to twelve men, in which they serve as personal sureties for each other's peaceful behavior. If one of the ten landholders in a tithing is accused of an offense, the others have to produce him in court or pay a fine plus pay the injured party for the offense, unless they could prove that they had no complicity in it. If the man is found guilty but can not pay, his tithing must pay his fine. The chief officer is the "tithing man" or "capital pledge". There were probably ten tithings in a hundred. (King Edward the Confessor). Everyone was to take an oath not to steal, which one's surety would compel one to keep. No one may receive another lord's man without the permission of this lord and only if the man is blameless towards every hand. The penalty is the bot for disobedience. No lord was to dismiss any of his men who had been accused, until he had made compensation and done right. "No woman or maiden shall be forced to marry a man she dislikes or given for money." "Violence to a widow or maiden is punishable by payment of one's wergeld." No man may have more wives than one. No man may marry among his own kin within six degrees of relationship or with the widow of a man as nearly related to him as that, or with a near relative of his first wife's, or his god- mother, or a divorced woman. Incest is punishable by payment of one's wergeld or a fine or forfeiture of all his possessions. Grounds for divorce were mutual consent or adultery or desertion. Adultery was prohibited for men as well as for women. The penalty was payment of a bot or denial of burial in consecrated ground. A law of Canute provided that if a wife was guilty of adultery, she forfeited all her property to her husband and her nose and ears, but this law did not survive him. Laymen may marry a second time, and a young widow may again take a husband, but they will not receive a blessing and must do penance for their incontinence. Prostitutes were to be driven out of the land or destroyed in the land, unless they cease from their wickedness and make amends to the utmost of their ability. Neither husband nor wife could sell family property without the other's consent. If there was a marriage agreement, it determined the wife's "dower", which would be hers upon his death. Otherwise, if a man who held his land in socage [owned it freely and not subject to a larger landholder] died before his wife, she got half this property. If there were minor children, she received all this property. Inheritance of land to adult children was by the custom of the land held. In some places, the custom was for the oldest son to take it and in other places, the custom was for the youngest son to take it. Usually, the sons each took an equal portion by partition, but the eldest son had the right to buy out the others as to the chief messuage [manor; dwelling and supporting land and buildings] as long as he compensated them with property of equal value. If there were no legitimate sons, then each daughter took an equal share when she married. In London, one-third of the personal property of a decedent went to his wife, one-third went to his children in equal shares, and one-third he could bequeath as he wished. "If a man dies intestate [without a will], his lord shall have heriot [horses, weapons, shields, and helmets] of his property according to the deceased's rank and [the rest of] the property shall be divided among his wife, children, and near kinsmen." A man could justifiably kill an adulterer in the act with the man's wife, daughter, sister, or mother. In Kent, a lord could fine any bondswoman of his who had become pregnant without his permission [childwyte]. A man could kill in defense of his own life, the life of his kinsmen, his lord, or a man whose lord he was. The offender was "caught red-handed" if the blood of his victim was still on him. Self-help was available for hamsocne [breaking into a man's house to assault him]. Murder is punished by death as follows: "If any man break the King's peace given by hand or seal, so that he slay the man to whom the peace was given, both his life and lands shall be in the King's power if he be taken, and if he cannot be taken he shall be held an outlaw by all, and if anyone shall be able to slay him he shall have his spoils by law." The king's peace usually extended to important designated individuals, churches, assemblies, those traveling to courts or assemblies, and particular times and places. Often a king would extend his peace to fugitives from violent feuds if they asked the king, earls, and bishops for time to pay compensation for their misdeeds. From this came the practice of giving a portion of the "profits of justice" to such men who tried the fugitive. The king's peace came to be extended to those most vulnerable to violence: foreigners, strangers, and kinless persons. "If anyone by force break or enter any man's court or house to slay or wound or assault a man, he shall pay 100s. to the King as fine." "If anyone slay a man within his court or his house, himself and all his substance are at the King's will, save the dower of his wife if he have endowed her." If a person fights and wounds anyone, he is liable for his wer. If he fells a man to death, he is then an outlaw and is to be seized by raising the hue and cry. And if anyone kills him for resisting God's law or the king's, there will be no compensation for his death. A man could kill a thief over twelve years in the act of carrying off his property over 8d., e.g. the thief hand-habbende [a thief found with the stolen goods in his hand] or the thief back-berend [a thief found carrying stolen goods on his back]. Cattle theft could be dealt with only by speedy pursuit. A person who had involuntarily lost possession of cattle is to at once raise the hue and cry. He was to inform the hundred-man, who then called the tithing-men. All these neighbors had to then follow the trail of the cow to its taker, or pay 30d. to the hundred for the first offense, and 60d. for the second offense, half to the hundred and half to the lord, and half a pound [10s.] for the third offense, and forfeiture of all his property and declared outlaw for the fourth offense. If the hundred pursued a track into another hundred, notice was to be given to that hundred-man. If he did not go with them, he had to pay 30s. to the king. If a thief was brought into prison, he was to be released after 40 days if he paid his fine of 120s. His kindred could become his sureties, to pay according to his wer if he stole again. If a thief forfeited his freedom and gave himself up, but his kindred forsook him, and he does not know of anyone who will make bot for him; let him then do theow-work, and let the wer abate for the kindred. Measures and weights of goods for sale shall be correct. Every man shall have a warrantor to his market transactions and no one shall buy and sell except in a market town; but he shall have the witness of the portreeve or of other men of credit, who can be trusted. Moneyers accused of minting money outside a designated market were to go to the ordeal of the hot iron with the hand that was accused of doing the fraud. If he was found guilty, his hand that did the offense was to be struck off and be set up on the money- smithy. No marketing, business, or hunting may be done on Sundays. No one may bind a freeman, shave his head in derision, or shave off his beard. Shaving was a sign of enslavement, which could be incurred by not paying one's fines for offenses committed. No clergy may gamble or participate in games of chance. The Laws for London were: "1. The gates called Aldersgate and Cripplegate were in charge of guards. 2. If a small ship came to Billingsgate, one half-penny was paid as toll; if a larger ship with sails, one penny was paid. 1) If a hulk or merchantman arrives and lies there, four pence is paid as toll. 2) From a ship with a cargo of planks, one plank is given as toll. 3) On three days of the week toll for cloth [is paid] on Sunday and Tuesday and Thursday. 4) A merchant who came to the bridge with a boat containing fish paid one half-penny as toll, and for a larger ship one penny." 5 - 8) Foreigners with wine or blubber fish or other goods and their tolls. Foreigners were allowed to buy wool, melted sheep fat [tallow], and three live pigs for their ships. "3. If the town-reeve or the village reeve or any other official accuses anyone of having withheld toll, and the man replies that he has kept back no toll which it was his legal duty to pay, he shall swear to this with six others and shall be quit of the charge. 1) If he declares that he has paid toll, he shall produce the man to whom he paid it, and shall be quit of the charge. 2) If, however, he cannot produce the man to whom he paid it, he shall pay the actual toll and as much again and five pounds to the King. 3) If he vouches the tax-gatherer to warranty [asserting] that he paid toll to him, and the latter denies it, he shall clear himself by the ordeal and by no other means of proof. 4. And we [the king and his counselors] have decreed that a man who, within the town, makes forcible entry into another man's house without permission and commits a breach of the peace of the worst kind ... and he who assaults an innocent person on the King's highway, if he is slain, shall lie in an unhonored grave. 1) If, before demanding justice, he has recourse to violence, but does not lose his life thereby, he shall pay five pounds for breach of the King's peace. 2) If he values the good-will of the town itself, he shall pay us thirty shillings as compensation, if the King will grant us this concession." 5. No base coin or coin defective in quality or weight, foreign or English, may be used by a foreigner or an Englishman. (In 956, a person found guilty of illicit coining was punished by loss of a hand.)
- Judicial Procedure - There were courts for different geographical communities. The arrangement of the whole kingdom into shires was completed by 975 after being united under King Edgar. A shire was a larger area of land, headed by an earl. A shire reeve or "sheriff" represented the royal interests in the shires and in the shire courts. This officer came to be selected by the king and earl of the shire to be a judicial and financial deputy of the earl and to execute the law. The office of sheriff, which was not hereditary, was also responsible for the administration of royal lands and royal accounts. The sheriff summoned the freemen holding land in the shire, four men selected by each community or township, and all public officers to meet twice a year at their "shire-mote". Actually only the great lords - the bishops, earls, and thegns - attended. The shire court was primarily concerned with issues of the larger landholders. Here the freemen interpreted the customary law of the locality. The earl declared the secular law and the bishop declared the spiritual law. They also declared the sentence of the judges. The earl usually took a third of the profits, such as fines and forfeits, of the shire court, and the bishop took a share. In time, the earls each came to supervise several shires and the sheriff became head of the shire and assumed the earl's duties there, such as heading the county fyrd. The shire court also heard cases which had been refused justice at the hundred-mote and cases of keeping the peace of the shire. The hundred was a division of the shire, having come to refer to a geographical area rather than a number of households. The monthly hundred-mote could be attended by any freeman holding land (or a lord's steward), but was usually attended only by reeve, thegns, parish priest, and four representatives selected by each agrarian community or village - usually villeins. Here transfers of land were witnessed. A reeve, sometimes the sheriff, presided over local criminal and peace and order issues ["leet jurisdiction", which derived from sac and soc jurisdiction] and civil cases at the hundred court. All residents were expected to attend the leet court. The sheriff usually held each hundred court in turn. The suitors to these courts were the same as those of the shire courts. They were the judges who declared the law and ordered the form of proof, such as compurgatory oath and ordeal. They were customarily thegns, often twelve in number. They, as well as the king and the earl, received part of the profits of justice. Summary procedure was followed when a criminal was caught in the act or seized after a hue and cry. Every freeman over age twelve had to be in a hundred and had to follow the hue and cry. "No one shall make distraint [seizure of personal property out of the possession of an alleged wrong-doer into the custody of the party injured, to procure a satisfaction for a wrong committed] of property until he has appealed for justice in the hundred court and shire court". In 997, King Ethelred in a law code ordered the sheriff and twelve leading magnates of each shire to swear to accuse no innocent man, nor conceal any guilty one. This was the germ of the later assize, and later still the jury. The integrity of the judicial system was protected by certain penalties: for swearing a false oath, bot as determined by a cleric who has heard his confession, or, if he has not confessed, denial of burial in consecrated ground. Also a perjurer lost his oath-worthiness. Swearing a false oath or perjury was also punishable by loss of one's hand or half one's wergeld. A lord denying justice, as by upholding an evil-doing thegn of his, had to pay 120s. to the king for his disobedience. Furthermore, if a lord protected a theow of his who had stolen, he had to forfeit the theow and pay his wer, for the first offense, and he was liable for all he property, for subsequent offenses. There was a bot for anyone harboring a convicted offender. If anyone failed to attend the gemot thrice after being summoned, he was to pay the king a fine for his disobedience. If he did not pay this fine or do right, the chief men of the burh were to ride to him, and take all his property to put into surety. If he did not know of a person who would be his surety, he was to be imprisoned. Failing that, he was to be killed. But if he escaped, anyone who harbored him, knowing him to be a fugitive, would be liable pay his wer. Anyone who avenged a thief without wounding anyone, had to pay the king 120s. as wite for the assault. "And if anyone is so rich or belongs to so powerful a kindred, that he cannot be restrained from crime or from protecting and harboring criminals, he shall be led out of his native district with his wife and children, and all his goods, to any part of the kingdom which the King chooses, be he noble or commoner, whoever he may be - with the provision that he shall never return to his native district. And henceforth, let him never be encountered by anyone in that district; otherwise he shall be treated as a thief caught in the act." This lawsuit between a son and his mother over land was heard at a shire-meeting: "Here it is declared in this document that a shire- meeting sat at Aylton in King Cnut's time. There were present Bishop AEthelstan and Earl Ranig and Edwin, the Earl's son, and Leofwine, Wulfsige's son, and Thurkil the White; and Tofi the Proud came there on the King's business, and Bryning the sheriff was present, and AEthelweard of Frome and Leofwine of Frome and Godric of Stoke and all the thegns of Herefordshire. Then Edwin, Enneawnes son, came traveling to the meeting and sued his own mother for a certain piece of land, namely Wellington and Cradley. Then the bishop asked whose business it was to answer for his mother, and Thurkil the White replied that it was his business to do so, if he knew the claim. As he did not know the claim, three thegns were chosen from the meeting [to ride] to the place where she was, namely at Fawley, and these were Leofwine of Frome and AEthelsige the Red and Winsige the seaman, and when they came to her they asked her what claim she had to the lands for which her son was suing her. Then she said that she had no land that in any way belonged to him, and was strongly incensed against her son, and summoned to her kinswoman, Leofflaed, Thurkil's wife, and in front of them said to her as follows: 'Here sits Leofflaed, my kinswoman, to whom, after my death, I grant my land and my gold, my clothing and my raiment and all that I possess.' And then she said to the thegns: 'Act like thegns, and duly announce my message to the meeting before all the worthy men, and tell them to whom I have granted my land and all my property, and not a thing to my own son, and ask them to be witnesses of this.' And they did so; they rode to the meeting and informed all the worthy men of the charge that she had laid upon them. Then Thurkil the White stood up in the meeting and asked all the thegns to give his wife the lands unreservedly which her kinswoman had granted her, and they did so. Then Thurkil rode to St. AEthelbert's minister, with the consent and cognizance of the whole assembly, and had it recorded in a gospel book." Courts controlled by lords of large private estates had various kinds of jurisdiction recognized by the King: sac and soke [possession of legal powers of execution and profits of justice held by a noble or institution over inhabitants and tenants of the estate, exercised through a private court], toll [right to collect a payment on the sale of cattle and property] and team [right to hold a court to determine the honesty of a man accused of illegal possession of cattle], infangenetheof [the authority to judge and to hang and take the chattels of a thief caught on the property], and utfangenetheof [the authority to judge and to hand and take the chattels of a thief dwelling out of his liberty, and committing theft without the same, if he were caught within the lord's property]. Some lords were even given jurisdiction over breach of the royal peace, ambush and treacherous manslaughter, harboring of outlaws, forced entry into a residence, and failure to answer a military summons. Often this court's jurisdiction overlapped that of the hundred court and sometimes a whole hundred had passed under the jurisdiction of an abbot, bishop, or earl. A lord and his noble lady, or his steward, presided at this court. The law was administered here on the same principles as at the hundred court. Judges of the leet of the court of a large private estate were chosen from the constables and four representatives selected from each community, village, or town. Before a dispute went to the hundred court, it might be taken care of by the head tithing man, e;.g. cases between vills, between neighbors, and some compensations and settlements, namely concerning pastures, meadows, harvests, and contests between neighbors. The vill [similar to village] was the smallest community for judicial purposes. There were several vills in a hundred. In London, the Hustings Court met weekly and decided such issues as wills and bequests and commerce matters. The folk-mote of all citizens met three times a year. Each ward had a leet court [for minor criminal matters]. The king and his witan decided the complaints and issues of the nobility and those cases which had not received justice in the hundred or shire court. The witan had a criminal jurisdiction and could imprison or outlaw a person. The witan could even compel the king to return any land he might have unjustly taken. Specially punishable by the king was "oferhyrnesse": contempt of the king's law. It covered refusal of justice, neglect of summons to gemot or pursuit of thieves, disobedience to the king's offiers, sounding the king's coin, accepting another man's dependent without his leave, buying outside markets, and refusing to pay Peter's pence. The forests were peculiarly subject to the absolute will of the king. They were outside the common law. Their unique customs and laws protected the peace of the animals rather than the king's subjects. Only special officials on special commissions heard their cases. The form of oaths for compurgation were specified for theft of cattle, unsoundness of property bought, and money owed for a sale. The defendant denied the accusation by sweating that "By the Lord, I am guiltless, both in deed and counsel, and of the charge of which … accuses me." A compurgator swore that "By the Lord, the oath is clean and unperjured which … has sworn.". A witness swore that "In the name of Almighty God, as I here for … in true witness stand, unbidden and unbought, so I with my eyes over-saw, and with my ears over-heard, that which I with him say." If a theow man was guilty at the ordeal, he was not only to give compensation, but was to be scourged thrice, or a second geld be given; and be the wite of half value for theows.