One of the extant legal documents from Anglo-Saxon England. This contains some old english, which is explained in the glossary.
I, Aethelstan king, with the counsel of Wulfhelm, archbishop, and of my other bishops,
make known to the reeves at each burh, and beseech you, in God's name, and by all his
saints, and also by my friendship, that you first of my own goods render the tithes both
of livestock and of the year's earthly fruits, so that they may most rightly be either
meted, or told, or weighed out; and let the bishops then do the like from their own goods,
and my ealdormen and my reeves the same. And I will, that the bishop and the reeves
command it to all those who ought to obey them, that it be done at the right term. Let us
bear in mind how Jacob the patriarch spoke: "Decimas et hostias pacificas offeram
tibi;" and how Moses spoke in God's law: "Decimas et primitias non
tardabis offerre Domino." It is for us to think how awfully it is declared in the
books: If we will not render the tithes to God, that he will take from us the nine parts
when we least expect; and, moreover, we have the sin in addition thereto. And I will also
that my reeves do, that there be given the churchscots and the soulscots at the places to
which they rightly belong: and plow-alms yearly, on this condition; that they shall enjoy
it at the holy places who are willing to serve their churches, and of God and of me are
willing to deserve it: but let him who will not, forfeit the bounty, or again turn to
right. Now you hear, says the king, what I give to God, and what you ought to fulfil by my
oferhyrnes. And do you also so that you may give to me my own what you for me may acquire.
I wil1 not that you unjustly anywhere acquire aught for me; but I will grant to you your
own justly, on this condition, that you yield to me mine; and shield both yourselves, and
those whom you ought to exhort, against God's anger and against my oferhyrnes.
1. First: that no thief be spared, who may be taken hand-haebbende, above
twelve years, and above eight pence. And if any one so do, let him pay for the thief
according to his wer, and let it not be the more settled for the thief, or that he clear
himself thereby. But if he will defend himself, or flees away, then let him not be spared.
If a thief be brought into prison: that he be forty days in prison, and let him be
released thereout with 120 shillings, and let the kindred enter into borh for him that he
evermore desist. And if after that he steal, let them pay for him according to his wer, or
bring him again therein: and if any one stand up for him, let him pay for him according to
his wer, as well to the king as to him to whom it lawfully belongs: and let every man of
those there who stand by him pay to the king 120 shillings as wite.
Of lordless men.
2. And we have ordained: respecting those lordless men of whom no law can be got,
that the kindred be commanded that they domicile him to folkright, and find him a lord in
the folkmote; and if they then will not or cannot produce him at the term, then be he
thenceforth a flyma, and let him slay him for a thief who can come at him: and
whoever after that shall harbour him, let him pay for him according to his wer, or by it
Of denial of right.
3. And the lord who denies justice, and upholds his evil-doing than, and the wing
be applied to on that account; let him pay the ceapgeld, and give to the king 120
shillings: and he who applies to the king before he has prayed for justice, as oft it
shall behove him; let him pay the like wite that the other should if he had denied him
justice. And the lord who is privy to his theow's theft, and it is made manifest against
him, let him forfeit the theow, and be liable in his wer, for the first time. If he do so
oftener, let him be liable in all that he has: and, also, such of the king s horderes,
or of our reeves, as shall be privy to the thieves who have stolen, let him be subject to
the like. . . .
6. And we have ordained respecting witch-crafts, and lybacs, and morthdaeds:
if any one should be thereby killed, and he could not deny it, that he be liable in his
life. But if he will deny it, and at threefold ordeal shall be guilty; that he be 120 days
in prison: and after that let kindred take him out, and give to the king 120 shillings,
and pay the wer to his kindred, and enter into borh for him, that he evermore desist from
7. Let incendiaries, and those who avenge a thief, be worthy of the like law. And he
who will avenge a thief, and wounds no man, let him give to the king 120 shillings, as
wite for the assault.
Of the single ordeal.
8. And we have ordained respecting the single ordeal, for those men who have been often
accused, and have been found guilty, and they know not who shall take them in borh; let
them be brought into prison: and let them be delivered out as here before is ordained.
Of landless men.
9. And we have ordained: if any landless man should become a follower of another
shire, and again seek his kinsfolk; that he may harbour him on this condition, that he
present him to folkright if he there do any wrong, or make bot for him.
Of attaching cattle.
10. He who attaches cattle, let five of his neighbours be named to him; and of the five
let him get one who will swear with him that he takes it to himself by folkright: and he
who will keep it to himself, to him let there be named ten men, and let him get two of
them, and give the oath that it was born on his property, without the rimath; and
let his cyreath stand for over twenty pence.
11. And let no man exchange any property without the witness of the reeve, or of the
mass-priest, or of the landlord, or of the hordere, or of other unlying man. If any one do
so, let him give thirty shillings, and let the landlord take possession of the exchange.
Of wrongful witness.
12. But if it be found that any of these have given wrongful witness, that his witness
never stand again for aught, and that he also give thirty shillings as wite.
That a man buy not out of port.
13. And we have ordained: that no man buy any property out of port over twenty pence;
but let him buy there within, on the witness of the portreeve, or of another unlying man:
or further, on the witness of the reeves at the folkmote.
Of reparing of burhs.
14. And we ordain: that every burh be repaired fourteen days over Rogation Days.
Secondly: that every marketing be within port.
15. Thirdly: that there be one money over all the king's dominion, and that no man mint
except within port. And if the moneyer be guilty, let the hand be struck off that wrought
the offense, and, be set up on the money-smithy but if it be an accusation, and he is
willing to clear himself; then let him go to the hot-iron, and clear the hand therewith
with which he is charged that fraud to have wrought. And if at the ordeal he should be
guilty, let the like be done as here before ordained.
In Canterbury seven moneyers; four the king's, and two the bishop's, one the abbot's.
At Rochester three; two the king's, and one the bishop's.
At London eight.
At Winchester six.
At Lewes two.
At Hastings one.
Another at Chichester.
At Hampton two.
At Wareham two.
At Exeter two.
At Shaftesbury two.
Else, at the other burhs one.
16. Fourthly: that no shieldwright cover a shield with sheep's skin; and if he so
do, let him pay thirty shillings.
17. Fifthly: that every man have to the plough two well-horsed men.
Of those who take meed-money of a thief.
18. Sixthly: if any one take meed-money of a thief, and suppress another's right,
let him be liable in his wer.
19. Seventhly: that no man part with a horse over sea, unless he wish to give it.
Of a theowman who is guilty at the ordeal.
20. And we have ordained respecting a theowman: if he were guilty at the ordeal,
that the ceapgeld should be paid; and that he be scourged thrice, or a second geld be
given: and be the wite of half value for theows.
Of him who fails to attend the gemot.
21. If any one, when summoned fail to attend the gemot thrice; let him pay the king's
oferhyrnes, and let it be announced seven days before the gemot is to be. But if he will
not do right, nor pay the oferhyrnes; then let all the chief men belongirg to the burh
ride to him, and take all that he has, and put him in bohr. But if any one will not ride
with his fellows, let him pay the king's oferhyrnes. And let it be announced at the gemot,
that the frith be kept toward all that the king wills to be within the frith, and theft be
foregone by his life and by all that he has. And he who for the wites not desist, then let
all the chief men belonging to the burh ride to him, and take all that he has; and let the
king take possession of half, of half the men who may be in the riding; and place him in
borh. If he knows not who will be his borh, let them imprison him. If he will not suffer
it, let him be killed, unless he escape. If any one will avenge him, or be at feud with
any of them, then be he foe of the king, and to all his friends. If he escape, and any one
harbour him, let him be liable to his wer; unless he shall dare to clear himself by the flyma's-wer,
that he knew he was a flyma.
Of him who compounds for an ordeal.
22. If any one compound for an ordeal, let him compound for the ceapgeld, as he can,
and not for the wite; unless he is willing to grant it to whom it may belong.
Of him who receives another man's man.
23. And let no man receive another man's man, without his leave whom he before
followed. If any one so do; let him give up the man, and make bot the king's oferhyrnes.
And let no one dismiss his accused man from him before he has done what is right.
Of him who gives wed for an ordeal.
24. If any one gives wed for an ordeal, then let him come three days before to the
mass-priest who is to hallow it; and let him feed himself with bread and with water, and
salt, and herbs, before he shall go to it; and let him attend mass each of the three days,
and make an oblation, and go to the house on the day that he shall go to the ordeal: and
then swear the oath that he is, according to the folkright, guiltless of the charge,
before he goes to the ordeal. And if it be water, that he dive an ell and a half by the
rope; if it be iron ordeal, let it be three days before the hand be undone. And let every
man begin his charge with a fore-oath, as we before ordained: and be each of those fasting
on either hand, who may be there together, by God's command and the archbishop's: and let
there be on either side not more than twelve. If the accused man be with a larger company
than some twelve, then be the ordeal void, unless they will go from him.
Of him who buys property.
25. And he who buys property with witnesses, and if after obliged to vouch it to
warranty, then let him receive it from whom he before had bought it, whether he be free or
bond, whichsoever he be. And let no marketing be on Sundays; but if any one do so, let him
forfeit the goods, and pay thirty shillings as wite.
26. And he who shall swear a false oath, and it be made clear against him; that he
never after be oath-worthy, nor let him lie within a hallowed burial-place, though he die,
unless he have the testimony of the bishop in whose shrift-shire he may be, that he has
made such bot as his confessor prescribed to him. And let his confessor announce to the
bishop, within thirty days, whether he would turn to the bot. If he do not so, let him
make bot in such wise as the bishop shall prescribe to him.
27. But if any one of my reeves will not do this, and care less about
it than we have commanded; then let him pay my oferhyrnes, and I will find another who
will. And let the bishop exact the oferhyrnes of the reeve for the first time five pounds;
for the second time, his wer; for the third time, let him forfeit all that he has, and the
friendship of us all. All this was established in the great synod at Greatanlea: in which
was the archbishop Wulfhelm, with all the noblemen and witan whom King Aethelstan gather.
Doom concerning hot iron and water.
28. And concerning the ordeal we enjoin by command of God, and of the archbishop,
and of all the bishops: that no man come within the church after the fire is borne in with
which the ordeal shall be heated, except the mass-priest, and him who shall go thereto:
and let there be measured nine feet from the stake to the mark, by the man's feet who goes
thereto. But if it be water, let it be heated till it low to boiling. And be the kettle of
iron or of brass, of lead or of clay. And if it be a single accusation, let the hand dive
after the stone up to the wrist, and if it be threefold, up to the elbow. And when the
ordeal is ready, then let two men go in of either side; and be they agreed that it is so
hot as we before have said. And let go an equal number of men of either side, and stand on
both sides of the ordeal, along the church; and let these all be fasting,and abstinent
from their wives on that night; and let the mass-priest sprinkle holy water over them all,
and let each of them taste of the holy water, and give them all the book and the image of
Christ's rood to kiss: and let no man mend the fire any longer when the hallowing is
begun; but let the iron lie upon the hot embers till the last collect: after that let it
be laid upon the stapela; and let there be no other speaking within, except that
they earnestly pray to Almighty God that he make manifest what is truest. And let him go
thereto; and let his hand be enveloped, and be it postponed till after the third day,
whether it be foul or clean within the envelope. And he who shall break this law, be the
ordeal with respect to him void, and let him pay to the king 120 shillings as wite. Walreaf
is the nithing's deed: if any one desire to deny it, let him do so with eight and
forty full-born thanes.
see the glossary, or
more Anglo-Saxon Laws and Customs