Chapter 1

S. A. Reilly

The Times: before 600

Clans, headed by Kings, lived in huts on top of hills or other high places and fortified by circular or rectangular earth ditches and banks behind which they could gather with their herds for protection. At the entrances were several openings only one of which really allowed entry. The others went between banks into dead ends and served as traps in which to kill the enemy from above. Concentric circles of ditches around these fortified camps could reach to 14 acres. The people lived in circular huts with wood posts in a circle supporting a roof. The walls were made of saplings, and a mixture of mud and straw. Sometimes there were stalls for cattle. Cooking was in a clay oven inside or over an open fire on the outside. Forests abounded with wolves, bears, wild boars, and wild cattle.

People wore animal skins over their bodies for warmth and around their feet for protection when walking. They carried small items by hooking them onto their belts.

Pathways extended through this camp of huts and for many miles beyond. They were used for trade and transport with pack horses.

Men bought or captured women for wives and carried them over the thresholds of their huts. The first month of marriage was called the honeymoon because the couple was given mead, a drink with fermented honey and herbs, for the first month of their marriage. A wife wore a gold wedding band on the ring finger of her left hand to show that she was married. Women wore other jewelry too, which indicated their social rank.

Women usually stayed at home caring for children, preparing meals, and making baskets. They also made wool felt and spun and wove wool into cloth. Flax was grown and woven into linen cloth. The weaving was done on an upright or warp- weighted loom. People draped the cloth around their bodies and fastened it with a metal brooch inlayed with gold, gems, glass, and shell, which were glued on with glue that was obtained from melting animal hooves. They also had amber beads and pendants. They could tie things with rawhide strips or rope braids they made. They cut things with flint dug up from pits. On the coast, they made bone harpoons for deep sea fish.

The King, who was tall and strong, led his men in hunting groups to kill deer and other wild animals in the forests and to fish in the streams. Some men brought their hunting dogs on leashes to follow scent trails to the animal. The men attacked the animals with spears and threw stones. They used shields to protect their bodies. They watched the phases of the moon and learned to predict when it would be full and give the most light for night hunting. This began the concept of a month.

If hunting groups from two clans tried to follow the same deer, there might be a fight between the clans or a blood feud. After the battle, the clan would bring back its dead and wounded. A priest officiated over a funeral for a dead man. His wife would often also go on the funeral pyre with him. Memorial burial mounds would be erected over the corpses or cremated ashes of their great men. Later, these ashes were first placed in urns before burial in a mound of earth or the corpses were buried with a few personal items.

The priest also officiated over sacrifices of humans, who were usually offenders found guilty of transgressions. Sacrifices were usually made in time of war or pestilence, and usually before the winter made food scarce, at Halloween time. Humans were sometimes eaten.

The clan ate deer that had been cooked on a spit over a fire, and fruits and vegetables which had been gathered by the women. They drank water from springs. In the spring, food was plentiful. There were eggs of different colors in nests and many rabbits to eat. The goddess Easter was celebrated at this time.

After this hunting and gathering era, there was farming and domestication of animals such as horses, pigs, sheep, goats, chicken, and cattle. Of these, the pig was the most important meat supply, being killed and salted for winter use. Next in importance were the cattle. Sheep were kept primarily for their wool. Flocks and herds were taken to pastures. The male cattle, with wood yokes, pulled ploughs in the fields of barley and wheat. The female goat and cow provided milk, butter, and cheese. The chickens provided eggs. The hoe, spade, and grinding stone were used. Cloth was woven for clothes. Pottery was made from clay and used for food preparation and consumption. During the period of "lent" [from the word "lencten", which means spring], it was forbidden to eat any meat or fish. This was the season in which many animals were born and grew a lot. The people also made boats.

Circles of big stones like Stonehenge were built so that the sun's position with respect to the stones would indicate the day of longest sunlight and the day of shortest sunlight. Between these days there was an optimum time to harvest the crops before fall, when plants dried up and leaves fell from the trees. The winter solstice, when the days began to get longer was cause for celebration. In the next season, there was an optimum time to plant seeds so they could spring up from the ground as new growth. So farming gave rise to the concept of a year. Certain changes of the year were celebrated, such as Easter; the twelve days of Yuletide when candles were lit and houses decorated with evergreen; Plough Monday for resumption of work after Yuletide; May Day when greenery was gathered from the woods and people danced around a May pole; Whitsun when Morris dancers leapt through their villages with bells, hobby-horses, and waving scarves; Lammas when the first bread was celebrated; and Harvest Home when the effigy of a goddess was carried with reapers singing and piping behind.

There were settlements on high ground and near rivers. Each settlement had a meadow, for the mowing of hay, and a mill, with wooden huts, covered with branches or thatch, of families clustered nearby. Grain was stored in pits in the earth. Each hut had a garden for fruit and vegetables. A goat or cow might be tied out of reach of the garden. There was a fence or hedge surrounding and protecting the garden area and dwelling. Outside the fence were an acre or two of fields of wheat and barley, and sometimes oats and rye. Wheat and rye were sown in the fall, and oats and barley in the spring. They were all harvested in the summer. These fields were usually enclosed with a hedge to keep animals from eating the crop. Flax was grown and made into linen cloth. Beyond the fields were pastures for cattle and sheep grazing. There was often an area for beehives.

Crops were produced with the open field system. In this system, there were three large fields for the heavy and fertile land. Each field was divided into long and narrow strips. Each strip represented a day's work with the plough. One field had wheat, or perhaps rye, another had barley, oats, beans, or peas, and the third was fallow. These were rotated yearly. Each free man was allotted certain strips in each field to bear crops. His strips were far from each other, which insured some very fertile and some only fair soil, and some land near his village dwelling and some far away. These strips he cultivated, sowed with seed, and harvested for himself and his family. After the year, they reverted to common ownership for grazing.

The plough used was heavy and made first of wood and later of iron. It had a mould-board which caught the soil stirred by the plough blade and threw it into a ridge. Other farm implements were: coulters, which gave free passage to the plough by cutting weeds and turf, picks, spades and shovels, reaping hooks and scythes, and sledge-hammers and anvils. With iron axes, forests were cleared to provide more arable land.

The use of this open field system instead of compact enclosures worked by individuals was necessary in primitive communities which were farming only for their own subsistence. Each ox was owned by a different man as was the plough. Strips of land for agriculture were added from waste land as the community grew.

There were villages which had one or two market days in each week. Cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, calves, and rabbits were sold there.

Flint workers mined with deer antler picks and ox shoulder blade shovels for flint to grind into axes, spearheads, and arrowheads. People used bone and stone tools, such as stone hammers, and then bronze and iron tools, weapons, breast plates, and horse bits, which were formed from moulds and/or forged by bronze smiths and blacksmiths. Weapons included bows and arrows, flint and copper daggers, stone axes, and shields of wood with bronze mountings. The warriors fought with chariots drawn by two horses. The horse harnesses had bronze fittings. The chariots had wood wheels, later with iron rims. When bronze came into use, there was a demand for its constituent parts: copper and tin, which were traded by rafts on waterways and the sea. Lead was mined. Wrought iroin bars were used as currency.

Corpses were buried far away from any village in wood coffins, except for Kings, who were placed in stone coffins after being wrapped in linen. Possessions were buried with them.

With the ability to grow food and the acquisition of land by conquest, for instance by invading Angles and Saxons, the population grew. There were different classes of men such as eorls, ceorls [free farmers], and slaves. They dressed differently. Freemen had long hair and beards. Slaves' hair was shorn from their heads so that they were bald. Slaves were chained and often traded. Prisoners taken in battle, e.g. Britons, became slaves. Criminals became slaves of the person wronged or of the King. Sometimes a father pressed by need sold his children or his wife into bondage. Debtors, who increased in number during famine, which occurred regularly, became slaves by giving up the freeman's sword and spear, picking up a slave's mattock [pick ax for the soils], and placing their head within a master's hands. Children with a slave parent were slaves. The slaves lived in huts around the homes of big landholders, which were made of logs and consisted on one large room or hall. An open hearth was in the middle of the earthen floor, which was strewn with rushes. There was a hole in the roof to let out the smoke. Here the landholder and his men would eat meat, bread, salt, hot spiced ale, and mead while listening to minstrels sing about the heroic deeds of their ancestors. Physical strength and endurance in adversity were admired traits. Slaves often were used as grain-grinders, ploughmen, sowers, haywards, woodwards, shepherds, goatherds, swineherds, oxherds, cowherds, dairymaids, and barnmen. A lord could kill his slave at will.

The people were worshipping pagan gods when St. Augustine came to England in 596 A.D. to Christianize them. King AEthelbert of Kent and his wife, who had been raised Christian on the continent, met him when he arrived. The King gave him land where there were ruins of an old city. Augustine used stones from the ruins to build a church which was later called Canterbury. He also built the first St. Paul's church in what was later called London. Aethelbert and his men who fought with him and ate in his household [gesiths] became Christian.

Augustine knew how to write, but King AEthelbert did not. The King announced his laws at meetings of his people and his eorls would decide the punishments. There was a fine of 120s. for disregarding a command of the King. He and Augustine decided to write down some of these laws, which now included the King's new law concerning the church.

These laws concern personal injury, murder, theft, burglary, marriage, adultery, and inheritance. The blood feud's private revenge for killing had been replaced by payment of compensation to the dead man's kindred. One paid a man's "wergeld" [worth] to his kindred for causing his wrongful death. The wergeld [wer] of an aetheling was 1500s., of an eorl, 300s., of a ceorl, 100s., of a laet [agricultural serf in Kent], 40-80s., and of a slave nothing. At this time a shilling could buy a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. If a ceorl killed an eorl, he paid three times as much as an eorl would have paid as murderer. The penalty for slander was tearing out of the tongue. If an aetheling were guilty of this offense, his tongue was worth five times that of a coerl, so he had to pay proportionately more to ransom it.

The Law


1. [Theft of] the property of God and of the church [shall be compensated], twelve-fold; a bishop's property, eleven-fold; a priest's property, nine-fold; a deacon's property, six-fold; a cleric's property, three-fold; church-frith [breach of the peace of the church; right of sanctuary and protection given to those within its precincts], two-fold [that of ordinary breach of the peace]; m….frith [breach of the peace of a meeting place], two-fold.

2. If the King calls his leod to him, and any one there do them evil, [let him compensate with] a two-fold bot [damages for the injury], and 50 shillings to the King.

3. If the King drink at any one's home, and any one there do any lyswe [evil deed], let him make two-fold bot.

4. If a freeman steal from the King, let him repay nine-fold.

5. If a man slay another in the King's tun [enclosed premises], let him make bot with 50 shillings.

6. If any one slay a freeman, 50 shillings to the King, as drihtin-beah.

7. If the King's ambiht-smith [smith or carpenter] or laad-rine [man who walks before the King or guide or escort], slay a man, let him pay a half leod-geld.

8. [Offenses against anyone or anyplace under] the King's mund-byrd [protection], 50 shillings.

9. If a freeman steal from a freeman, let him make threefold bot; and let the King have the wite [fine] and all the chattels [necessary to pay the fine].

10. If a man lie with the King's maiden [female servant], let him pay a bot of 50 shillings.

11. If she be a grinding slave, let him pay a bot of 25 shillings. The third [class of servant] 12 shillings.

12. Let the King's fed-esl [woman who serves him food or nurse] be paid for with 20 shillings.

13. If a man slay another in an eorl's tun [premises], let [him] make bot with 12 shillings.

14. If a man lie with an eorl's birele [female cup-bearer], let him make bot with 12 shillings.

15. [Offenses against a person or place under] a ceorl's mund-byrd [protection], 6 shillings.

16. If a man lie with a ceorl's birele [female cup-bearer], let him make bot with 6 shillings; with a slave of the second [class], 50 scaetts [a denomination less than a shilling]; with one of the third, 30 scaetts.

17. If any one be the first to invade a man's tun [premises], let him make bot with 6 shillings; let him who follows, with 3 shillings; after, each, a shilling.

18. If a man furnish weapons to another where there is a quarrel, though no injury results, let him make bot with 6 shillings.

19. If a weg-reaf [highway robbery] be done [with weapons furnished by another], let him [the man who provided the weapons] make bot with 6 shillings.

20. If the man be slain, let him [the man who provided the weapons] make bot with 20 shillings.

21. If a [free] man slay another, let him make bot with a half leod-geld of 100 shillings.

22. If a man slay another, at the open grave let him pay 20 shillings, and pay the whole leod within 40 days.

23. If the slayer departs from the land, let his kindred pay a half leod.

24. If any one bind a freeman, let him make bot with 20 shillings.

25. If any one slay a ceorl's hlaf-aeta [bread-eater; domestic or menial servant], let him make bot with 6 shillings.

26. If [anyone] slay a laet of the highest class, let him pay 80 shillings; of the second class, let him pay 60 shillings; of the third class, let him pay 40 shillings.

27. If a freeman commit edor-breach [breaking through the fenced enclosure and forcibly entering a ceorl's dwelling], let him make bot with 6 shillings.

28. If any one take property from a dwelling, let him pay a three-fold bot.

29. If a freeman goes with hostile intent through an edor [the fence enclosing a dwelling], let him make bot with 4 shillings.

30. If [in so doing] a man slay another, let him pay with his own money, and with any sound property whatever.

31. If a freeman lie with a freeman's wife, let him pay for it with his wer- geld, and obtain another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other [man's dwelling].

32. If any one thrusts through the riht [true] ham-scyld, let him adequately compensate.

33. If there be feax-fang [taking hold of someone by the hair], let there be 50 sceatts for bot.

34. If there be an exposure of the bone, let bot be made with 3 shillings.

35. If there be an injury to the bone, let bot be made with 4 shillings.

36. If the outer hion [outer membrane covering the brain] be broken, let bot be made with 10 shillings.

37. If it be both [outer and inner membranes covering the brain], let bot be made with 20 shillings.

38. If a shoulder be lamed, let bot be made with 30 shillings.

39. If an ear be struck off, let bot be made with 12 shillings.

40. If the other ear hear not, let bot be made with 25 shillings.

41. If an ear be pierced, let bot be made with 3 shillings.

42. If an ear be mutilated, let bot be made with 6 shillings.

43. If an eye be [struck] out, let bot be made with 50 shillings.

44. If the mouth or an eye be injured, let bot be made with 12 shillings.

45. If the nose be pierced, let bot be made with 9 shillings.

46. If it be one ala, let bot be made with 3 shillings.

47. If both be pierced, let bot be made with 6 shillings.

48. If the nose be otherwise mutilated, for each [cut, let] bot be made with 6 shillings.

49. If it be pierced, let bot be made with 6 shillings.

50. Let him who breaks the jaw-bone pay for it with 20 shillings.

51. For each of the four front teeth, 6 shillings; for the tooth which stands next to them 4 shillings; for that which stands next to that, 3 shillings; and then afterwards, for each a shilling.

52. If the speech be injured, 12 shillings. If the collar-bone be broken, let bot be made with 6 shillings.

53. Let him who stabs [another] through an arm, make bot with 6 shillings. If an arm be broken, let him make bot with 6 shillings.

54. If a thumb be struck off, 20 shillings. If a thumb nail be off, let bot be made with 3 shillings. If the shooting [fore] finger be struck off, let bot be made with 8 shillings. If the middle finger be struck off, let bot be made with 4 shillings. If the gold [ring]finger be struck off, let bot be made with 6 shillings. If the little finger be struck off, let bot be made with 11 shillings.

55. For every nail, a shilling.

56. For the smallest disfigurement of the face, 3 shillings; and for the greater, 6 shillings.

57. If any one strike another with his fist on the nose, 3 shillings.

58. If there be a bruise [on the nose], a shilling; if he receive a right hand bruise [from protecting his face with his arm], let him [the striker] pay a shilling.

59. If the bruise [on the arm] be black in a part not covered by the clothes, let bot be made with 30 scaetts.

60. If it be covered by the clothes, let bot for each be made with 20 scaetts.

61. If the belly be wounded, let bot be made with 12 shillings; if it be pierced through, let bot be made with 20 shillings.

62. If any one be gegemed, let bot be made with 30 shillings.

63. If any one be cear-wund, let bot be made with 3 shillings.

64. If any one destroy [another's] organ of generation [penis], let him pay him with 3 leud-gelds: if he pierce it through, let him make bot with 6 shillings; if it be pierced within, let him make bot with 6 shillings.

65. If a thigh be broken, let bot be made with 12 shillings; if the man become halt [lame], then friends must arbitrate.

66. If a rib be broken, let bot be made with 3 shillings.

67. If [the skin of] a thigh be pierced through, for each stab 6 shillings; if [the wound be] above an inch [deep], a shilling; for two inches, 2; above three, 3 shillings.

68. If a sinew be wounded. let bot be made with 3 shillings.

69. If a foot be cut off, let 50 shillings be paid.

70. If a great toe be cut off, let 10 shillings be paid.

71. For each of the other toes, let one half that for the corresponding finger be paid.

72. If the nail of a great toe be cut off, 30 scaetts for bot; for each of the others, make bot with 10 scaetts.

73. If a freewoman loc-bore [with long hair] commit any leswe [evil deed], let her make a bot of 30 shillings.

74. Let maiden-bot [compensation for injury to an unmarried woman] be as that of a freeman.

75. For [breach of] the mund [protection] of a widow of the best class, of an eorl's degree, let the bot be 50 shillings; of the second, 20 shillings; of the third, 12 shillings; of the fourth, 6 shillings. [Mund was a sum paid to the family of the bride 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.]

76. If a man carry off a widow not under his own protection by right, let the mund be twofold.

77. If a man buy a maiden with cattle, let the bargain stand, if it be without fraud; but if there be fraud, let him bring her home again, and let his property be restored to him.

78. If she bear a live child, she shall have half the property, if the husband die first.

79. If she wish to go away with her children, she shall have half the property.

80. If the husband wish to keep them [the children], [she shall have the same portion] as one child.

81. If she bear no child, her paternal kindred shall have the fioh [her goods]and the morgen-gyfe [morning gift; a gift make to the bride by her husband on the morning following the consummation of the marriage].

82. If a man carry off a maiden by force, let him pay 50 shillings to the owner, and afterwards buy [the object of] his will from the owner.

83. If she be betrothed to another man in money [at a bride price], let him [who carried her off] make bot with 20 shillings.

84. If she become gaengang, 35 shillings; and 15 shillings to the King.

85. If a man lie with an esne's wife, her husband still living, let him make twofold bot.

86. If one esne slay another unoffending, let him pay for him at his full worth.

87. If an esne's eye and foot be struck out or off, let him be paid for at his full worth.

88. If any one bind another man's esne, let him make bot with 6 shillings.

89. Let [compensation for] weg-reaf [highway robbery] of a theow [slave] be 3 shillings.

90. If a theow [a type of slave] steal, let him make twofold bot [twice the value of the stolen goods]. "

Judicial Procedure

If a man did something wrong, his case would be heard by the King and his freemen. His punishment would be given to him by the community.

There were occasional meetings of "hundreds", which were probably a hundred hides of land or a hundred extended families, to settle wide-spread disputes.

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