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Bishops, and of the Eorldermen, (after the Conquest, called Earls),-dignitaries who had the official custody of the shires, under the Crown, and of the Thanes, or nobility. It was convened by the king, who presided over it. Its highest duty was, to elect the sovereign when a vacancy occurred, and to assist at his coronation. It also advised and assisted the king in making the laws, and in all the main acts of his government. It had also duties of a judicial kind, being to the whole nation what the shire-mote, or court, was to the shire After the union of the Heptarchy, King Alfred ordained that the Wittena-Gemote (or Witan, as it was briefly called) should “meet twice a year, or oftener if need be, to speak their minds for the guiding of the people, how to keep from offences, live in quiet, and have right done to them by ascertained usages and sound judgment.” The Saxon people were divided into three ranks, of Eorls, Ceorls, and Theowes; terms indicating the noble, the free, and the slaves.' The Eorls were distinguished as King's Thanes, and middle and inferior Thanes; the former were the nobility, the latter were the gentry of the nation. The Ceorls were husbandmen, and the cultivators of the Thanes' lands. They were of the same station as the Villani, or Villains of later times,” agricultural tenants, not permitted to depart from the land which they held; but not liable to be removed, so long as they performed the services which were the condition of their tenure.” They were, although
Peer of the Realm, vol. i. p. 15. The author expresses his grateful acknowledgments for the assistance he has derived from the collection of ancient documents analyzed and commented upon, in these learned Reports. (Hume's History of England, vol. i., Appendix.) * Hume's History, vol. i., Appendix. * Palgrave's English Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 9. Hallam's Middle Ages, vol. ii. p. 67. * Sir H. Spelman says, that “ceorls were of two sorts; one, that hired the lord's outland, or tenementary land (called also the folcland), like our farmers; the other, that tilled and manured his inland or demesnes;
ignoble, freemen," and they must have possessed the power, under some circumstances, of disengaging themselves from the pursuit of husbandry; for if a ceorl throve, so that he became the owner of five hides of land, of a church, and of some other smaller possessions; or if he made three voyages beyond sea, in a ship, and with a cargo of his own, he was advanced to the dignity of a Thane.” The Theowes, or serfs, are supposed to have been the descendants of the conquered Britons. They were destitute of all political rights, and entirely the property of their masters. Some of these performed servile labour on the lands to which they were annexed, and were passed as slaves with such lands from one owner to another. Others were domestic slaves, employed in the houses and families of their lords; but notwithstanding their degraded condition, all these were under the protection of the law, or, as it was called, law-worthy. The Were-geld, or compensation in money, included all ranks: it was paid, in lieu of punishment and revenge, to the relatives of a person slain under circumstances which now constitute manslaughter; the price of blood ascending in amount with the rank of the slain, from the theowe, the lowest, to the eorl, the highest in the social scale. But murder, treason, military desertion, and theft, were inexpiable, and punished with death.” To keep crime in check, the people were yielding work, not rent, and was therefore called his socmen or ploughmen: these were oftentimes his very bondsmen.” (Spelman on the Ancient Government of England.) * “Every freeman was either noble or ignoble.” (Palgrave's Commonwealth, p. 12.) * Kelham's Domesday Book Illustrated, p. 345. Also Pennant's London, p. 13, who says, -“Our commerce by sea was not very extensive; our wise monarch Athelstan being obliged, for the encouragement of navigation, to promise patents of nobility to every merchant who should, on his own bottom, make three voyages to the Mediterranean.” * Palgrave's Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 204. “There is no clear proof that the Saxons distinguished between manslaughter and murder.” (Littleton's Henry II., vol. iii. p. 228. Hallam's Middle Ages, vol. ii. p. 60.) In referring to the works of Mr. Hallam, I acknowledge with gratitude my obligations to him, as the great pioneer in Constitutional 596-816.] SAxon EccLESIASTICAL INSTITUTIONs. 15
under a system of oversight. Every man must be under the patronage of a lord. No man could leave his shire, without the Eorlderman's permission. A stranger could not be entertained for more than two nights, without the host, on the third, becoming responsible for his conduct." Amongst the Anglo-Saxon institutions there was an ecclesiastical hierarchy of Archbishops, Bishops, and inferior Clergy. Christianity, which had been suppressed by the first Saxon invaders, was restored by St. Augustine, who was sent by Pope Gregory from Rome to England, in the latter end of the sixth century, during the reign of Ethelbert. Through the influence of Adelberga, the Queen, who had secretly embraced Christianity, Augustine obtained royal grants of the ancient churches that had been consecrated to Christianity in the time of the Romans; and the King, becoming a convert and receiving baptism, invested him with authority over the infant Church, by appointing him Archbishop of Canterbury. The power of the Pope was thus extended over the Saxon kingdom. Cathedrals, monasteries, and churches were raised and endowed,” and a parochial clergy gradually arose; the Thanes being encouraged to erect churches on their lands, and to endow them with tithes.” But the Saxon clergy did not obtain those privileges and immunities by which, in later times, the En
History. I hardly know which is most worthy of admiration, his learning and research, or the spirit of liberty which pervades and animates his works, and which often displays itself in fine bursts of eloquence. * Saxon Laws, Hallam's Middle Ages, vol. ii. p. 80. * “A.D. 596.-This year Pope Gregory sent Augustine to Britain with very many monks, to preach the Word of God to the English people.” (Saxon Chronicle, p. 28.) “A.D. 616.-This year died Ethelbert, King of Kent, the first of English kings that received baptism.” (Idem, p. 34.) * The statutes of Edgar and Canute allowed a thane to endow a church with one-third of the tithes, if a burial-ground were annexed thereto; if not, the tithes were to be paid to the Mother Church. (Palgrave's Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 162.)
16 TERRITORIAL DIVISION OF THE KINGI)OM. [CH. II.
glish clergy separated themselves from the laity. The clerk and the layman were governed by the same laws, and subject to the same judicial tribunals. The clergy, however, enjoyed unbounded reverence and respect. The bishops were appointed by the king; they had equal dignity in the State with the eorls; and one distinction they enjoyed above the eorls, and in common with the king alone,—that a bishop's testimony in a court of justice was conclusive, without the corroboration of compurgators. The AngloSaxon law required, in the case of all other ranks of the people, if accused of crime, that they should, in the absence of direct testimony, produce compurgators to support their declaration of innocence. These consisted of twelve friends and neighbours of the accused, who vouched, by their own oaths, their belief in his." The kingdom was divided into Shires, a work frequently attributed to King Alfred, but known to have been of more ancient date.” These were again subdivided into Lathes, Rapes, Hundreds (or Wapentakes, as the Hundreds were called north of the Trent), Burghs, Townships, and Tythings. The shires were under the government of an Eorlderman,—not a degree of dignity, or of the tenure of land, but of office or judicature, extending over a shire, or other portion of the country conterminous with the bishopric. In process of time he acquired the government of the chief city and castle of the territory; and with it the third part of the king's profits, arising from his courts of justice; but the office was held at the pleasure of the king, and was not hereditary.” Every shire had its Gerefa, or Shire-reeve. Two general courts were held every year in each shire, over which the bishop and eorlderman presided; and declared, respectively, the ecclesiastical and municipal law. These courts had jurisdiction in criminal matters, or those against the king's peace. The sheriff appears to have
Palgrave's Commonwealth, chapters v. and vii., passim. * Sir Edward Coke says that Alfred restored them (Co. Litt. 168). * Sir H. Spelman on Feuds, cap. 6.
- . . . . . . * *
820–1066.] ANGLO-SAXON COURTS. 17
presided over them in the absence of the bishop and eorlderman; and, in course of time, the judicial authority fell exclusively into his hands. For we find that the sheriff held two several courts of distinct natures, one called his Tourn, “because he keepeth his tourn circuit about the shire, and holdeth the same court in several places, to inquire of all offences perpetrated against the common law. That court was held twice in the year. The other court was called the County Court, which exercised jurisdiction in civil cases;” restrained (but probably at a much later period) to cases under forty shillings, arising within the county." The proceedings of the Anglo-Saxon courts were oral; legal records did not exist.” At the Shire-court transfers of land were made public, in order that they might be noted by the landowners who attended the court. Yet it seems that grants of land were made by charters; but these were preceded by actual possession delivered of the land, by the symbol of a turf taken from the land, and placed in the hands of the grantee, or on the altar of the church.” This custom of delivering possession on the land, descended to modern times; being adopted, under certain circumstances, in aid of the written conveyance." The Hundred also had its court, held once a month. It was attended by the bishop, but presided over by the eorlderman. The thanes and landlords of the hundred
* The description of the sheriff’s tourn and shire court (called County Court after the Conquest) is from ‘Cases of Treason, etc., by Sir Francis Bacon (Harleian Miscellany, vol. v. p. 2). Mr. Hallam cannot pretend to determine when the sheriff's tourn arose. He says that the sheriff presided in the county court in the absence of the bishop and eorlderman. (Middle Ages, vol. ii. p. 72.)
* Palgrave's Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 143.
* Idem, vol. i. p. 141.
* Sir H. Spelman observes, “that when they sold or gave land absolutely, they did it usually without deed; but where they gave it in a special manner, as with a limitation of time, heirs, or how it should be employed, they did it in writing. The former they called folkland; either for that the assurance of them rested in the testimony of the folke