Chapter 2

S. A. Reilly

The Times: 600-900

A community was usually an extended family. It's members lived in villages in which a stone church was the most prominent building. They lived in one-room huts with walls and roofs made of wood, mud, and straw. Hangings covered the cracks in the walls to keep the wind out. Smoke from a fire in the middle of the room filtered out of cracks in the roof. Grain was ground at home by rotating by hand one stone disk on another stone disk. Some villages had a mill powered by the flow of water or by horses.

Farmland surrounded the villages and was farmed by the community as a whole under the direction of a lord. There was silver, copper, iron, tin, gold, and various types of stones from remote lead mines and quarries in the nation. Silver pennies replaced the smaller scaetts. Freemen paid "scot and lot" according to their means.

Everyone in the village went to church on Sunday and brought gifts such as grain to the priest. Later, contributions in the form of money became customary, and then expected. They were called "tithes" and were spent for church repair, the clergy, and poor and needy laborers. The parish of the priest was coextensive with the holding of one landlord and was his chaplain. The priest and other men who helped him, lived in the church building. Some churches had lead roofs and iron hinges, latches, and locks on their doors. The land underneath had been given to the church by former Kings and persons who wanted the church to say prayers to help their souls go from purgatory to heaven and who also selected the first priest. The priest conducted Christianized Easter ceremonies in the spring and Christmas (Christ's mass) ceremonies in winter in place of the pagan Yuletide festivities. Incense took the place of pagan burnt offerings, holy water of haunted wells and streams, and Christian incantations of sorcerer's spells.

The church baptized babies and officiated at marriage ceremonies. It also said prayers for the dying, gave them funerals, and buried them. There were burial service fees, candle dues, and plough alms. A piece of stone with the dead person's name marked his grave. It was thought that putting the name on the grave would assist identification of that person for being taken to heaven. The church heard the last wish or will of the person dying concerning who he wanted to have his property.

Every man carried a horn slung on his shoulder as he went about his work so that he could at once send out a warning to his fellow villagers or call them in chasing a thief or other offender. The forests were full of outlaws, so strangers who did not blow a horn to announce themselves were presumed to be fugitive offenders who could be shot on sight. An eorl could call upon the ceorl farmers for about forty days to fight off an invading group.

The houses of the wealthy had ornamented silk hangings on the walls. Brightly colored drapery, often purple, and fly-nets surrounded their beds, which were covered with the fur of animals. They slept in bed-clothes on pillows stuffed with straw. Tables plated with silver and gems held silver candlesticks, gold and silver goblets and cups, and lamps of gold, silver, or glass. They used silver mirrors and silver writing pens. There were covered seats, benches, and footstools with the head and feet of animals at their extremities. They ate from a table covered with a cloth. Servants brought in food on spits, from which they ate. Food was boiled, broiled, or baked. The wealthy ate wheat bread and others ate barley bread. Ale made from barley was passed around in a cup. Mead made from honey was also drunk.

Men wore long-sleeved wool and linen garments reaching almost to the knee, around which they wore a belt tied in a knot. Men often wore a gold ring on the fourth finger of the right hand. Leather shoes were fastened with leather thongs around the ankle. Their hair was parted in the middle and combed down each side in waving ringlets. The beard was parted in the middle of the chin, so that it ended in two points. The clergy did not wear beards. Well-to-do women wore brightly colored robes with waist bands, headbands, necklaces, gem bracelets, and rings. Their long hair was in ringlets and they put rouge on their cheeks. They were often doing needlework. Silk was affordable only by the wealthy.

Most families kept a pig and pork was the primary meat. There were also sheep, goats, cows, deer, rabbits, and fowl. Fowl was obtained by fowlers who trapped them. The inland waters yielded eels, salmon, and trout. In the fall, meat was salted to preserve it for winter meals. There were orchards growing figs, nuts, grapes, almonds, pears, and apples. Also produced were beans, lentils, onions, eggs, cheese, and butter. Pepper and cinnamon were imported.

Fishing from the sea developed in the 1000s A.D., and yielded herrings, sturgeon, porpoise, oysters, crabs, and other fish. Whale skins were used to make ropes.

It was usual to wash one's feet in a hot tub after traveling and drying them with a rough wool cloth. Traveling a far distance was unsafe as there were robbers on the roads. Traveling strangers were distrusted. There were superstitions about the content of dreams, the events of the moon, and the flights and voices of birds were often seen as signs or omens of future events. Herbal mixtures were drunk for sickness and maladies.

In the peaceful latter part of the 600s, Theodore, who had been a monk in Rome, was appointed Archbishop and visited all the island speaking about the right rule of life and ordaining bishops to oversee the priests. There was a bishop for each of the kingdoms. The bishops came to have the same wergeld as an eorldorman: 1200 s., which was the price of about 500 oxen. A priest had the wergeld as a landholding farmer [thegn], or 300s. The bishops spoke Latin, but the priests of the local parishes spoke English. Theodore was the first archbishop whom all the English church obeyed. He taught sacred and secular literature, the books of holy writ, ecclesiastical poetry, astronomy, arithmetic, and sacred music. The learned ecclesiastical life flourished in monasteries. Theodore discouraged slavery by denying Christian burial to the kidnapper and forbidding the sale of children over the age of seven. Hilda, a noble's daughter, became the first nun in Northumbria and abbess of one of its monasteries. There she taught justice, piety, chastity, peace, and charity. Several monks taught there later became bishops. Kings and princes often asked her advice.

There were several kingdoms. Kings were selected from the royal family by their worthiness. A King had not only a wergeld to be paid to his family if he were killed, but a "cynebot" that would be paid to his kingdom. A King's household would have a chamberlain, marshall to oversee the horses and military equipment, a steward, and a cupbearer. A queen could possess, manage, and dispose of lands in her name. Great men wore gold-embroidered clothes, gilt buckles and brooches, and drank from drinking horns mounted in silver-gilt or in gold. Their wives had beads, pins, needles, tweezers of bronze, and work-boxes of bronze, some highly ornamented.

Danish Vikings made several invasions in the 800s for which a danegeld tax on land was assessed on everyone every ten to twenty years. It was stored in a strong box under the King's bed. King Alfred the Great unified the country to defeat them. He established fortifications called "burhs", usually on hill tops or other strategic locations on the borders to control the main road and river routes into Wessex. The burhs were the first towns. They were typically walled enclosures with towers and several wooden thatched huts and a couple of churches inside. Earthen oil lamps were in use. The land area protected by each burh became known as a "shire". The country was inhabited by Anglo-Saxons and was called "Angle-land", which later became "England".

Alfred gathered together fighting men who were at his disposal, which included eorldormen's hearthband (men each of whom had chosen to swear to fight to the death for their eorldorman, and some of whom were of high rank), shire thegns (local landholding farmers, who were required to bring fighting equipment such as swords, helmets, chainmail, and horses), and ordinary freemen, i.e. ceorls (who carried food, dug fortifications, and sometimes fought). Some great lords organized men under them, whom they provisioned. These vassals took a personal oath to their lord "on condition that he keep me as I am willing to deserve, and fulfill all that was agreed on when I became his man, and chose his will as mine." Alfred had a small navy of longships with 60 oars to fight the Viking longships.

Alfred divided his army into two parts so that one-half of the men were fighting while the other half was at home sowing and harvesting for those fighting. Thus, any small-scale independent farming was supplanted by the open-field system, cultivation of common land, and a more manor-oriented and stratified society with the King and important families more powerful and the peasants more curtailed. Many free coerls of the older days became bonded. The village community became a manor. But the lord does not have the power to encroach upon the rights of common that exist within the community.

In 886, a treaty between Alfred and the Vikings divided the country along the war front and made the wergeld of every free farmer, whether English or Viking, 200s. Men of higher rank were given a wergeld of 4 1/2 marks of pure gold. A mark was probably a Viking denomination and a mark of gold was equal to nine marks of silver in later times and probably in this time.

King Alfred gave land with jurisdictional powers within its boundaries such as the following: "This is the bequest which King Alfred make unequivocally to Shaftesbury, to the praise of God and St. Mary and all the saints of God, for the benefit of my soul, namely a hundred hides [a hide was probably the amount of land which could support a family for a year or as much land as could be tilled annually by a single plow] as they stand with their produce and their men, and my daughter AEthelgifu to the convent along with the inheritance, since she took the veil on account of bad health; and the jurisdiction to the convent, which I myself possessed, namely obstruction and attacks on a man's house and breach of protection. And the estates which I have granted to the foundation are 40 hides at Donhead and Compton, 20 hides at Handley and Gussage 10 hides at Tarrant, 15 hides at Iwerve and 15 hides at Fontmell.

The witnesses of this are Edward my son and Archbishop AEthelred and Bishop Ealhferth and Bishop AEthelhead and Earl Wulfhere and Earl Eadwulf and Earl Cuthred and Abbot Tunberht and Milred my thegn and AEthelwulf and Osric and Brihtulf and Cyma. If anyone alters this, he shall have the curse of God and St. Mary and all the saints of God forever to all eternity. Amen."

Sons usually succeeded their fathers on the same land as shown by this lifetime lease: "Bishop Denewulf and the community at Winchester lease to Alfred for his lifetime 40 hides of land at Alresford, in accordance with the lease which Bishop Tunbriht had granted to his parents and which had run out, on condition that he renders every year at the autumnal equinox three pounds as rent, and church dues, and the work connected with church dues; and when the need arises, his men shall be ready both for harvesting and hunting; and after his death the property shall pass undisputed to St. Peter's.

These are the signatures of the councilors and of the members of the community who gave their consent, namely …"

Alfred wrote poems on the worthiness of wisdom and knowledge in preference to material pleasures, pride, and fame, in dealing with life's sorrow and strife. His observations on human nature and his proverbs include:

1. As one sows, so will he mow.

2. Every man's doom [judgment] returns to his door.

3. He who will not learn while young, will repent of it when old.

4. Weal [prosperity] without wisdom is worthless.

5. Though a man had 70 acres sown with red gold, and the gold grew like grass, yet he is not a whit the worthier unless he gain friends for himself.

6. Gold is but a stone unless a wise man has it.

7. It's hard to row against the sea-flood; so it is against misfortune.

8. He who toils in his youth to win wealth, so that he may enjoy ease in his old age, has well bestowed his toil.

9. Many a man loses his soul through silver.

10. Wealth may pass away, but wisdom will remain, and no man may perish who has it for his comrade.

11. Don't choose a wife for her beauty nor for wealth, but study her disposition.

12. Many an apple is bright without and bitter within.

13. Don't believe the man of many words.

14. With a few words a wise man can compass much.

15. Make friends at market, and at church, with poor and with rich.

16. Though one man wielded all the world, and all the joy that dwells therein, he could not therewith keep his life.

17. Don't chide with a fool.

18. A fool's bolt is soon shot.

19. If you have a child, teach it men's manners while it is little. If you let him have his own will, he will cause you much sorrow when he comes of age.

20. He who spares the rod and lets a young child rule, shall rue it when the child grows old.

21. Either drinking or not drinking is, with wisdom, good.

22. Be not so mad as to tell your friend all your thoughts.

23. Relatives often quarrel together.

24. The barkless dog bites ill.

25. Be wise of word and wary of speech, then all shall love you.

26. We may outride, but not outwit, the old man.

27. If you and your friend fall out, then your enemy will know what your friend knew before.

28. Don't choose a deceitful man as a friend, for he will do you harm.

29. The false one will betray you when you least expect it.

30. Don't choose a scornful false friend, for he will steal your goods and deny the theft.

31. Take to yourself a steadfast man who is wise in word and deed; he will prove a true friend in need.

To restore education and religion, Alfred disseminated the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, the Providence of Boethius on the goodness of God, and Pope Gregory's Pastoral Care, which he had translated into English and was the fundamental book on the duty of a bishop, and included his duty to teach laymen. Alfred's advice to pastors was to live as they had been taught from books and to teach this manner of life to others. To be avoided was pride, the mind's deception of seeking glory in the name of doing good works, and the corruption of high office. Bede was England's first scholar, first theologian, and first historian. He wrote poetry, theological books, and textbooks on grammar, rhetoric [public speaking and debating], arithmetic, and astronomy. He began the practice of dating years from the birth of Christ.

A famous poem, the oral legend of Beowulf, a hero who led his men into adventures and performed great feats and fought monsters and dragons, was put into writing with a Christian theme. In it, loyalty to one's lord is a paramount virtue. Also available in writing was the story of King Arthur's twelve victorious battles against the pagan Saxons, authored by Nennius.

There were professional story-tellers attached to great men. Others wandered from court to court, receiving gifts for their story-telling. Men usually told oral legends of their own feats and those of their ancestors after supper.

Alfred had monasteries rebuilt with learned and moral men heading them. He built a strong wall with four gates around London, which he had conquered. He appointed one of his eorldormen to be alderman [older man] to govern London and to be the shire's earl. A later King built a palace in London, although Winchester was still the royal capital town. When the King traveled, he and his retinue would be fed by the local people at their expense.

Under the royalty were the nobles. An earl headed each shire. He led the array of his shire to do battle if the shire was attacked. He and the local bishop presided over shire meetings and meetings of the people. Reeves were appointed by the King as his representatives in the shires. The reeve took security from every person for the maintenance of the public peace. He also brought suspects to court, gave judgments according to the doom-books, delivered offenders to punishment. By service to the King, it was possible for a coerl to rise to become a thegn and to be given land by the King. The King's thegns who got their position by fighting for the King came to be known as knights. Other thegns performed functions of magistrates. A thegn was later identified as a person with five hides of land, a church, a bell-house, a judicial at the burgh-gate, and an office or station in the King's hall. Some thegns reached nobility status with a wergeld of 1200 s. when a freeman's wergeld was 200s. They also were given a higher legal status in the scale of punishment, giving credible evidence, and participation in legal proceedings. The sokemen were freemen who had inherited their own land, chose their own lord, and attended their lord's court. That is, their lord has soc jurisdiction over them. A smallholder rented land of about 30 acres from a landlord, which he paid by doing work on the lord's demesne [household] land, paying money rent, or paying a food rent such as in eggs or chickens. Smallholders made up about two-fifths of the population. A cottager had one to five acres of land and depended on others for his living. Among these were shepherds, ploughmen, swineherds, and blacksmiths. They also participated in the agricultural work, especially at harvest time.

It was possible for a thegn to acquire enough land to qualify him for the witan [King's council of wise men, which included archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, chief landholders, and officers of the King's household; and also chose the King's successor on his death]. Women could be present at the witenagemot [meeting of the witan, which met three times annually] and shire-gemot [meeting of the shire]. They could sue and be sued in the courts. They could independently inherit, possess, and dispose of property. A wife's inheritance was her own and under no control of her husband.

Marriage required the consent of the lady and her friends. The man also had to arrange for the foster-lean, that is, money for the support of expected children. He also declared the amount of money or land he would give the lady for her consent, that is, the morgengift, and what he would bequeath her in case of his death. If she remarried within a year of his death, she had to forfeit the morgengift.

Great men and monasteries had millers, smiths, carpenters, architects, agriculturalists, fishermen, weavers, embroiderers, dyers, and illuminators.

For entertainment, minstrels sang ballads about heroes or Bible stories, harpers played, jesters joked, and tumblers threw and caught balls and knives. There was gambling, dice games, and chasing deer with hounds.

Fraternal guilds were established for mutual advantage and protection. A guild imposed fines for any injury of one member by another member. It assisted in paying any murder fine imposed on a member. It avenged the murder of a member and abided by the consequences. It buried its members and purchased masses for his soul.

Merchantile guilds in sea-ports carried out commercial speculations not possible by the capital of only one person.

There were some ale-houses.

The Law

Alfred issued a set of laws to cover the whole country.

The importance of telling the truth and keeping one's word are expressed by this law: "1. At the first we teach that it is most needful that every man warily keep his oath and his wed. If any one be constrained to either of these wrongfully, either to treason against his lord, or to any unlawful aid; then it is juster to belie than to fulfil. But if he pledge himself to that which is lawful to fulfil, and in that belie himself, let him submissively deliver up his weapon and his goods to the keeping of his friends, and be in prison forty days in a King's tun: let him there suffer whatever the bishop may prescribe to him: …".

The Ten Commandments were written down as this law:

"The Lord spake these words to Moses, and thus said: I am the Lord thy God. I led thee out of the land of the Egyptians, and of their bondage.

1. Love thou not other strange gods above me.

2. Utter thou not my name idly, for thou shalt not be guiltless towards me if thou utter my name idly.

3. Remember that thou hallow the rest-day. Work for yourselves six days, and on the seventh rest. For in six days, Christ wrought the heavens and the earth, the seas, and all creatures that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: and therefore the Lord hallowed it.

4. Honour thy father and thy mother whom the Lord hath given thee, that thou mayst be the longer living on earth.

5. Slay thou not.

6. Commit thou not adultery.

7. Steal thou not.

8. Say thou not false witness.

9. Covet thou not thy neighbour's goods unjustly.

10. Make thou not to thyself golden or silver gods."

If one deceives an unbetrothed woman and sleep with her, he must pay for her and have her afterwards to wife. But if her father not approve, he should pay money according to her dowry.

"If a man seize hold of the breast of a ceorlish woman, let him make bot to her with 5 shillings. If he throw her down and do not lie with her, let him make bot with 10 shillings. If he lie with her, let him make bot with 60 shillings. If another man had before lain with her, then let the bot be half that. … If this befall a woman more nobly born, let the bot increase according to the wer."

"If any one, with libidinous intent, seize a nun either by her raiment or by her breast without her leave, let the bot be twofold, as we have before ordained concerning a laywoman."

"If a man commit a rape upon a ceorl's female slave, he must pay bot to the ceorl of 5 shillings and a wite [fine to the King] of 60 shillings. If a male theow rape a female theow, let him make bot with his testicles."

For the first dog bite, the owner pays 6 shillings, for the second, 12 shillings, for the third, 30 shillings.

An ox which gores someone to death shall be stoned.

If one steals or slays another's ox, he must give two oxen for it.

"If any one steals so that his wife and children don't know it, he shall pay 60 shillings as wite. But if he steals with the knowledge of all his household, they shall all go into slavery. A boy of ten years may be privy to a theft."

"If one who takes a thief, or holds him for the person who took him, lets the thief go, or conceals the theft, he shall pay for the thief according to his wer. If he is an eorldormen, he shall forfeit his shire, unless the King is willing to be merciful to him."

Judicial Procedure

Cases were held at monthly meetings of the community [folk-moot]. The King or his representative in the community, called the "reeve", conducted the trial by compurgation.

The one complaining, called the "plaintiff", and the one defending, called the "defendant", each told their story and put his hand on the Bible and swore "By God this oath is clean and true". A slip or a stammer would mean he lost the case. Otherwise, community members would stand up to swear on behalf of the plaintiff or the defendant as to their reputation for veracity. If these "compurgators" were too few, usually twelve in number, or recited poorly, their party lost.

If this process was inconclusive, the defendant was told to go to church and to take the sacrament only if he were innocent. If he took the sacrament, he was tried by the process of "ordeal". In the ordeal by cold water, he was bound hand and foot and then thrown into water. If he floated, he was guilty. If he sank, he was innocent. It was not necessary to drown to be deemed innocent. In the ordeal by hot water, he had to pick up a stone from inside a boiling cauldron. If his hand was healing in three days, he was innocent. If it was festering, he was guilty. A similar ordeal was that of hot iron, in which one had to carry in his hands a hot iron for a certain distance. Although the results of the ordeal were taken to indicate the will of God, the official conducting the ordeal could adjust its parameters so that a person with a guilty demeanor would be found guilty and a person with an innocent demeanor found innocent. The ordeal seems to favor the physically fit, because a person who was not fat would tend to sink and a person who was in good health would have prompt healing of burns. Presumably a person convicted of murder, i.e. killing by stealth, or robbery [taking from a person's robe, that is, his person or breaking into his home to steal] would be hung and his possessions confiscated.

The issue of rights to herd pigs to feed in certain woodland was heard in this lawsuit:

"In the year 825 which had passed since the birth of Christ, and in the course of the second Indiction, and during the reign of Beornwulf, King of Mercia, a council meeting was held in the famous place called Clofesho, and there the said King Beornwulf and his bishops and his earls and all the councilors of this nation were assembled. Then there was a very noteworthy suit about wood-pasture at Sinton, towards the west in Scirhylte. The reeves in charge of the pigherds wished to extend the pasture farther, and take in more of the wood than the ancient rights permitted. Then the bishop and the advisors of the community said that they would not admit liability for more than had been appointed in AEthelbald's day, namely mast for 300 swine, and that the bishop and the community should have two-thirds of the wood and of the mast. They Archbishop Wulfred and all the councilors determined that the bishop and the community might declare on oath that it was so appointed in AEthelbald's time and that they were not trying to obtain more, and the bishop immediately gave security to Earl Eadwulf to furnish the oath before all the councilors, and it was produced in 30 days at the bishop's see at Worcester. At that time Hama was the reeve in charge of the pigherds at Sinton, and he rode until he reached Worcester, and watched and observed the oath, as Earl Eadwulf bade him, but did not challenge it.

Here are the names and designations of those who were assembled at the council meeting …"

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