Family Settlements & Early Organisation


Family Settlements & Early Organisation


With the origin of any nation its early institutions must necessarily have been closely connected. Some of the most interesting traces of Anglo-Saxon life maybe followed as far back as the time of the settlement. The changes which time has brought about in the early institutions that came into England with our tribal forefathers make it difficult to form an accurate estimate of them from the knowledge we have of the organization that prevailed during the later part of the Old English period. The later part of the period is historic, the earlier is prehistoric. We know that much which was concerned with the organization of settlers by families, with their local government and the administration of law, did survive from the earlier to the later period, but much must have been changed or modified.


The earliest dialects show important variations from the language of the time of the last Saxon King. Similarly, we can trace developments by studying the various collections or codes of Anglo-Saxon law that have come down to us. The earliest are those of Æthelbert, King of Kent, about the beginning of the seventh century, and these are archaic compared with those of the later period. During the Saxon Age progress was going on, although but slowly. The dialects of the tribes became the language of a nation, the territorial organizations of counties and hundreds were developed out of the tribal districts and the local organizations of the kindred or maegth. The laws developed so as to be better adapted to the increasing population and the new areas which were becoming gradually occupied. The courts by which they were administered grew in importance, and the general laws and customs of the areas that afterwards formed the later shires become more fully recognised. The collective responsibility of the kindred passed into the collective responsibility of the hundred, and changes in the territorial jurisdiction were probably in many cases made. Yet, with all these and other changes there survived one great underlying principle which was a characteristic of the Anglo-Saxons in their tribal state – the principle of local self-government. This can be traced to the German and Scandian fatherlands of the settlers, and was brought to English soil by our earliest tribal ancestors. The Anglo-Saxon people were of two classes – viz., those who were freemen, and took part in the government of their districts, and those who were not freemen, for whom their, lords were answerable. As regards the freemen, the principle of local government appears in its origin to have been closely connected with the organization of people of the same kin. In early Anglo-Saxon institutions prominence is given to the kindred or maegth. People within the recognized degree of kinship were necessarily bound together as an organized body of their collective responsibility, that they all should be law-abiding. This kindred organization is the most natural to any people in a tribal state. It was certainly brought into England by the tribal Anglo-Saxons, but it was no doubt here previously among the Britons, since it survived among the Welsh in a special form for many centuries. The tribal people at the time of their settlement were organized locally, so that the kindred as a body were liable for the good behaviour of every member of that body, and, on the other hand, they defended each other against injury by others outside their organization. If one of their number had injury done to him, the fine payable by another maegth or body of kindred was shared by them. They paid the fines or wergelds, and they received them. From this it follows that the family tie was the basis of all government, and the early settlements must have been communities of people of the same kindred. If the kindred had been much scattered they could not have retained their organization. These bodies of kinsmen united together to form a larger political unit of some kind. Thus, by a comparison with what is known to have existed among the Germen tribes in the early centuries A. D., and what can be traced to a remote period among the Scandians tribes, we can understand the early organization which settlers from these countries brought into England. As an American writer(1) has said : `We can now trace the slender thread of political and legal thought, so familiar to our ancestors, through the wild lawlessness of the heptarchy and the confusion of feudalism, and can follow it safely and firmly back until it leads us out upon the wide plains of Northern Germany, and attaches itself at last to the primitive popular assembly, parliament, law-court, and army all in one.` In our study of the English settlement it is this local administration of the law by the freemen of any district which comes prominently before us in the earliest assemblies or courts which we can trace, and in the organization of the later Hundred Court. This principle of local justice, which survived so long in England in a modified form, notwithstanding many political changes, has left the names of its courts in the names of some of the extinct hundreds, and surviving evidence of its legal power in the sites and names of its places of execution. Gallows and gibbet names are found on our Ordinance maps, and there are many other, which are known locally, still attached to sites where the most severe penalties of the law were carried out. The survival of many Continental tribal and clan names in all the Anglo-Saxon States, side by side with different manorial customary laws, is evidence of a great commingling in England of Continental tribal immigrants. The tribal traditions lived long on English soil. The early Kings were styled kings of people and not of territories. As new tribal States were formed in England, the ealdormen, who were their viceroys, took their titles from their tribes and not from their States, such as the Ealdorman of the Sumersaetas, the Hecanas, the Wilsaetats, etc. After the conversion of the people to Christianity grants by early Kings of the power of administrating justice in their territories to Abbots and other great men – i.e., seigniorial jurisdiction – certainly were made. The early charters of the Abbeys of Peterborough, Glastonbury, and others, show that in whatever words the power may have been conferred, it was a reality. It is this early delegation of judicial authority which imparts so great an interest to some of the sites which were the meeting-places of old courts, or some of the ancient places of execution. Cnut, in his laws, reaffirms the legal authority which the King has over all men in Wessex, unless, he adds, `he will more amply honour anyone and concede to him this worship.` It was in regard to the freemen only that the administration of the law was closely connected with the organization of the kindred. If an unfree man was accused of any crime, the oaths of his brothers, uncles, and cousins were not acceptable as evidence of his innocence, for by remote tribal custom, which prevailed for centuries after the early Anglo-Saxon settlement, such relatives had not the privileges of a free kindred. If a man was made a freeman he was still by tribal custom without kindred to answer for him, and the lord had to do this until after several generations his descendants had become a kindred.(2)

The unfree man could clear himself of the crime imputed to him by the ordeal, of which there was several kinds, such as the trial by red-hot iron and by boiling water, which after the conversion of the Old English people to Christianity were carried out in the churches as a religious service.(3) For the ordeal by hot water a fire was kindled under a caldron in a remote part of the church. At a certain depth below the surface of the water a stone or apiece of iron was placed. Strangers were excluded, and the accused was attended only by twelve friends. The priest said or sang the Litany, and at its conclusion a deputy from each side was sent to ascertain the heat of the water. On their declaration that the water was boiling, the accused plunged his naked arm into the caldron and brought out the stone or iron. The priest instantly wrapped the arm in a linen cloth and fastened it with a seal of the church. At the expiration of three days, the fate of the accused was decided according to the appearance of the scalded arm. If the appearance of the arm was decidedly bad, the unfortunate man was led away to execution.


For the ordeal by hot iron the same precautions were observed in regard to the number of attendants, and the Mass appears to have been celebrated. As soon as it began a bar of iron of the weight of one or three pounds, according to the nature of the accusation, was laid upon the coals. At the last Collect it was taken off and placed upon a pillar. The accused instantly took it up with his hand, made three steps on the lines previously marked out to nine feet in length, and threw it down. The treatment of the burn and the indications of guilt or innocence were the same as in the trial by hot water.(4) Such customs as these, modified by Christian usage, could only have had their origin among people in an archaic tribal condition.


It was from such a trial that a freeman accused of any crime could be saved by his kinsmen acting as his compurgators or oath-helpers, and taking oath that they believed him to be innocent. There can thus be no doubt that the principle underlying the structure of tribal society was that of blood relationship among the free tribesmen.(5) This was the basis of the old customary laws introduced by the early Anglo-Saxons. They brought their tribal law with them, being yet in a tribal state. The earliest local settlements we can trace are those of families, and these were very often called by the name of their head, by which the family and descendants were commonly known. Among the early Anglo-Saxon tribes every freeman had two maegths – that of his father or paternal kin, and that of his mother or maternal kin. These groups, entirely distinct before his birth, united in his person, and both had with him rights and duties of kindred, but in different degrees.(6) Those only were of kin and belonging to the maegth who had common blood originating from lawful marriage. In considering the rights and duties of a man`s kindred, we can, therefore, see that marriages must in almost all cases have been limited to families or groups of kinsmen living at no great distance apart. The degrees of relationship within which the duties and rights of kindred were confined constituted what was called the sippe, which can be clearly traced in Germany, and of which some traces are still existing in England at the present day. This archaic institution is one of the most curious survivals of the Teutonic race. It survived in England in the law of cousinship, and traces of it may probably stil be found in some place-names. Bracton, who wrote in the thirteenth century, tells us of the law of succession in his time. He says : `Of kinship and of relationship some are upwards and others are downwards, and other are travers or sidewards. Ancestors succeed on failure of those below them. The computation does not go beyond the sixth grade or degree – i.e., great-great-grandfather`s great-grandfather, because such a computation would be beyond the memory of mankind.`(7)


The early German method of reckoning the degrees of side-relationships is described in documentary evidence of the thirteenth century,(8) but comes down from a much earlier time. It is explained by reference to the joints of the human body from the head to the tips of the fingers. There are thus to be observed seven joints in the human frame – viz., those of (1) the neck, (2) the shoulders, (3) the elbow, (4) the wrist, and (5, 6, and 7) the joints of the fingers. Then we read : `Now mark where the sippe begins and where it ends. In the head it is ordered that man and wife do stand who have come together in lawful wedlock. In the joint of the neck stand the children, born of the same father and mother. Half-brothers and sisters may not stand in the neck, but descend to the next. Full brothers` and sisters` children stand in the joint where the shoulder and arm come together. This is the first quarter of the sippe which is reckoned to the maegen, brothers` and sisters` children. In the elbow stands the next ; in the wrist the third ; in the first joint of the middle finger the fourth ; in the next joint the fifth ; in the third joint of the middle finger of the sixth ; in the seventh stands a nail, and therefore ends here the sippe, and this is called the nail mage.`

All this is important in considering the influence of the maegth or kindred in connection with the English settlement and Old English life. The name constantly comes before us in records of the period. We read of the maegasetas of Herfordshire and Gloucestershire, and the maegth name, the g sound having passed into y, probably appears in many Old English place-names. Nor is the end of the sippe wanting among our ancient topographical names. The nail, as the name for the limit of kindred, perhaps, still survives in those of Nailsworth, Nailsea, and the stream called Nailbourn in Kent. In a charter relating to lands at Salwarpe in Worcestershire in 817 the Narlesbroc is mentioned as a boundary stream.(9) These names are only curious survivals or dim shadows at the present day, but they were full of life and meaning to our Old English forefathers.

When a man committed a crime in Wessex, as we learn from the laws of King Alfred, two-thirds of the wergild or fine had to be paid by hi father`s maegth, and one-third by his mother`s maegth.(10) As the individual members of the maegth became powerful and wealthy, a tendency appeared on the part of the rich to discard their poorer kin. Thus, a freeman need not pay the wergild of a slave or of one who had forfeited his freedom.(11) Moreover, as time went on, the tendency to weaken the tie of kinship was encouraged by the State, which had much to fear from the independence of powerful families, and whose peace was endangered by the continuance of the old system of private vengeance,(12) which was one of the old obligations of kinsmen if the wergild was not paid them. King Edmund tried to break this down by permitting a maegth to abandon their kinsmen guilty of homicide. The influence of the Church also tended to weaken the kindred tie in the case of religious Orders, for those who became monks lost all the rights of kindred. In some cases, also, a man lost his family rights as a penalty. In the forty-second law of Alfred it is ordered that a man who should attack his foe after he had yielded should forfeit his right to the maegth. All these laws and customs relating to the maegth refer to one of the oldest of the Anglo-Saxon institutions affecting social life and the administration of law. The maegth and its organizations assist us in understanding the settlement of the Anglo-Saxon by families. All over England we find evidence of this in the Saxon place-names, many of which are tribal names, or derived from them. These family settlements made up the larger community of the maegth, whose existence as the basis of organization is evidence of the formation of villages or communities of people within the recognised degrees of kindred.


The term sibscraft for kinsmanship, and also maegth and sippe, denoting kindred, became disused at the close of the Saxon period. In many parts of England, however, it is probable that the name of the old maegth survives in the modern form may or maid. In the old country of the tribal maegesetas there are two hills, May Hill near Ross, and another near Monmouth, whose names are probably examples. The numerous earthworks called Maiden Castle, many of them of Celtic origin, were probably used as defensive earthworks by the early maegths. Some of these, which comprised many families, were certainly large communities, and we know that the repair of local fortifications was one of the obligations of all Anglo-Saxons. The words maeden and maegdenman as variants of maegth are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon laws. These maiden names have thus probably been derived from the maegth. The maegenstan, or boundary of the maegth, is mentioned in a charter relating to Ashbury in Berks in 856, and there are many instances in which the origin of such names as Maybury and Mayland may reasonably be traced to an old maegth. Maidenhead, originally Maydenhithe, Maidstone or Maydenstan, and similar names, are probably examples which in their old forms referring to a maegth.

The sippe name, modified in sound, probably survived in the Anglo-Saxon names Siberton in Northamptonshire, Sibbestapele, and Sibbeslea in Worcestershire, Sibestun in Huntingtonshire, Sibbeswey and Siblingchryst in Hampshire.(13) the word sibry was also an equivalent for kinship, but while in our common tongue the latter survived, the former passed into disuse. Other old names, such as Sipson in Middlesex, Sibley Headingham in Essex, Sibsey in Lincolnshire, Sibthorp in Notts, Sibton Sheales in Northumberland, and Sibbertoft in Northamptonshire, appear to be names of the same kind. Another trace of the old word sippe for kindred maybe found in the word gossip, which originally meant a godship or god-parent, and was so used as late as the seventeenth century.

The sippe, as we have seen, included in all seven joints or degrees, and as a whole, therefore, nine generations, reckoned on the human frame thus : Head, neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, first finger-joint, second joint, third joint, and nail. Within these nine generations it was possible for a family to form a large community, and some settlements were no doubt of one family descent only. There is an interesting reference to the sippe and its joints in the laws of AEthelstan relating to the degree of kinship within which marriages were not permissible. `And let it never happen that a Christian man marry within the relationship of six persons of his own kin – that is, within the fourth joint.`(14) The fourth joint was the wrist. A similar reference occurs in the laws of Cnut. In old Frisian law relating to the next of kin, in the case where a man or woman dies and leaves no near relatives to divide the property, the sibbosta sex Honda is mentioned – that is, their six next of kin, viz., father, mother, brother, sister, child and child`s child.(15) The first instalment of the wergild, called the healsfang, which the maegth or kindred, in the case where a member was killed or injured, was entitled to receive, was shared equally between the father, the children, brothers ,and the paternal uncles. The rest of the fine was shared by the whole kindred, (16) but it does not appear that any record remains to show exactly how or in what proportions.

There is another aspect from which the maegth or kindred maybe viewed, and that is in relation to oath-taking. It is not possible for us to realize fully the oath-taking that was carried on as a judicial system among the Old English and the tribes from which they sprang. If a man was accused of a certain crime, and he swore he was innocent, he had the right of proof, and called oath-helpers around him. If they took oath that they believed his oath to be clean, and that he did not commit the crime, his acquittal followed as a matter of course. This was trial by compurgation, and much depended on which party had the right of proof. A man naturally looked to his kindred, the more numerous were those he could generally gather for his defence. He had, no doubt, to convince them that he was innocent, and they would be ready to take oaths in his defence, for if he was proved guilty they would, as his kindred, be liable to pay his fine.

It is not possible to understand the circumstances of the settlement and life of the Old English people without realizing the great importance of the kindred tie. In the many instances in which we find old settlements named as the tun or ham of a man, the settlement was not only the tun or ham of a man, but also of his family and of some, at least, of his near kindred who assisted him in cultivation of the land. The –ing terminal part of many place-names in south and south-eastern England had a wider significance than merely `son of.` In many cases it included all the near kindred, probably in some cases all those who are liable as kinsmen. Viewed in this light, such place-names as Basing, Malling, Goring, Sonning, and Charing, and those ending in –ingham, -ington, and others of a similar kind, denoted bodies of kinsmen having an organization of their own. Such names may thus be traced to family settlements, comprising, as time went on, in some cases persons who were not only children or grandchildren of the original head of the family, but relatives within the limit of the sippe, to the seventh degree of relationship, As these settlements sent off some of their number to form other settlements in the forest-land or other unoccupied territory, their kinship to the parent stock would last until the nail had been reached – i.e., the limits of the sippe had been passed – and the rural colonies had formed new kindreds of their own, the original kin or ken name given to them by the first settlers, or the parent stock whence they came alone surviving to afford us a dim glimpse of their origin. It was one of the duties of the kindred, in the later Saxon time, at least to see that the landless kinsman had a lord in the folk-gemot, otherwise they had themselves to become responsible for him to the State. This collective responsibility of the kindred survived in England as a tribal usage after many generations of occupation and settlement. It survived for centuries after the introduction of Christianity, which, from the sense of individual responsibility, was opposed to the principle of joint responsibility of the kindred. Nevertheless, the tribal custom, with its wergelds or fines, lasted long, and even the clergy placed themselves under it by claiming that a Bishop`s wergild to be paid if he were killed should be that of a prince, and a priest`s that of a thane.(17)

From what has been said, it will be seen that the probability of the Domesday names of some of the hundreds being the later names for still older tribal areas of administration is great. These older areas appear in some instances to be known in Anglo-Saxon time by a tribal name. Among such old Domesday hundred names are honesberie in Warwickshir, Danais or Daneis in Hertfordshire, Godelminge and Godelei in Surrey, Estrei in Kent, Wandelmestrei and Bexelei in Sussex, Honeslaw in Middlesex, Salemanesberei in Gloucestershire, Wederlai in Cambridgeshire, Normanecros in Huntingdonshire, Weneslai and Wilga in Bedfordshire, Hocheslau in Northamptonshire, Wensistreu and Angre in Essex, Caninga in Somerset, and Hunesberge in Devon. In addition to these, whose names have apparently a connection with old tribes which we can identify, there are many others whose names, ending in –ga or –ges, seem to denote various clans or kindreds. Of such are Hapinga, Lothninga and Dochinga in Norfolk ; Blidinga and Ludinga in Suffolk ; Clauelinga and Rodinges in Essex ; Wochinges in Surrey ; Brachinges in Hertfordshire ; and Mellinges and Staninges in Sussex.

We are not without evidence of the existence, even in the later Saxon time, of agricultural communities that were their own lords, nor without traces of the existence of these lordless villages to our own time. They existed apparently here and there within the Danelaw, or among settlers of Scandinavian origin. Thus, Domesday Book tells us, concerning Goldentone in Bedfordshire, that the land there was held by men of the village in common, and that they had the power to sell it.(18) Similarly, at the present time in another Scandinavian district, at Ibthorpe, a manor in the parish of Hurstbourn Tarrant, in Hampshire, the inhabitants are lords of the manor, and have territorial jurisdiction over a rather extensive common.

In the time of the empire one fact concerning Celtic, German, and Wendish tribes alike, which appear to have interested the Roman observer, who could find no parallel to it in his own country, was the custom of cultivating land in commons.(19) Wendish immigrants would therefore bring with them, like their much more numerous Teutonic neighbours, a common system of agriculture. On the other hand, it must be remembered that in the social life of our Old English forefathers no point is established by clearer evidence than the existence of people of all classes, from the great lord down to the slave who could be sold. Slavery was an Anglo-Saxon institution, and there are some early records relating to it. There is an account of slave sold to a Frisian merchant in London in the seventh century. One of the laws of Ine is directed against `those men who sell their countrymen,` and another of AEthelred orders that `no Christian or uncondemned person be sold out of the country.` There were slaves among the Old English whom their lords could dispose of from time the time of the earliest settlements. There were above them unfreemen, who had certain rights and certain specified services to render to their lords. Above these were the freemen, who enjoyed the protection of their kindred, and thus formed a large privileged class. An old record says : `It was whilom in the laws of the English that people and law went by ranks, and then were the witan of worship, worthy each according to his condition.`(20)

All freemen were bound under penalties to attend the local assemblies of their district, and these, later on, were the Hundred Court and Shire Court. They collectively administered the highest justice, and this part of their function was recognised as late as the time of William the conqueror, in one of whose laws they are referred to in these words : `Let those whose office it is to pronounce judgement take particular care that they judge in like manner as they pray, when they say “Forgive us our trespasses.“ . . . Whosoever promotes injustice or pronounces false judgement through anger, hatred, or avarice, shall forfeit to the King 40s., and if he cannot prove that he did not know how to give a more right judgement, let him lose his franchise.` The highest courts were the courts of the early States, which afterwards were called Shires, and the local courts were those of the smaller regions, afterwards called hundreds. These courts were commonly held in the open air at well-known meeting-places, as in Germany and Scandinavia. Even as late as the thirteenth century the States of East Friesland assembled under three large oaks which grew near Aurich,(21) and open-air courts of the hundreds survived in England to a later date.

The various tribal names that were in use in England before the origin of the present shires either must have been brought by the original settlers from the Continent or have been newer designations that arose after their settlement. Such names as Engle, Waring, Gewissas, Ymbres or Ambrones, Wilsaete, Thornsaete, and others, are native names that no doubt came in with the settlers themselves. Others that are met with appear to have had their origin form topographical and other local circumstances. Few tribal names in use on the Continent survived as names for tribal areas of England, which shows that the provinces in England were not commonly settled by people of one tribe. New designations would thus become necessary for the people of various Continental tribes living in one English tribal area. These new names would thus become the collective names of people of various older tribal origins, and the older names would survive in England, if at all, not as tribal names, but as names of settlements, and in many instances of places that were called after the heads of families or small communities of people of the same kin. There is a list of Anglo-Saxon tribes preserved in the Harley MSS. Known as the Tribal Hidage, the earliest of which is of the tenth or eleventh century, but refers to a considerably earlier date. Some of these tribal areas were large and some small, and others are known to have existed, for they are mentioned in early records. They will be referred to later under the several parts of the country of which they apparently formed a part.

All the German nations anciently acted upon the principle of judging every man by the laws of his native country, for which reason the Franks allowed the differenttribes subdued by them to retain their own laws.(22) This general custom of the German tribes helps us to understand several matters concerning the Anglo-Saxons which would otherwise be very obscure. The existence of so many small hundreds in the South-Eastern and Eastern counties – and each hundred certainly had its own court – points to the settlement in these districts of many different tribes, each judged by its own customary laws. On the Continent,Franks, Burgundians, Alamanni, and others of whatever nation living in the Ripuarian country, were all judged, and dealt with if guilty, according to the law of the place of their birth.(23)

Ancient Norway was divided into districts called shires, and it is from this Scandinavian name the English divisional name was probably derived. The early shires or hundreds which are so clearly indicated in the North of England have left their traces also in other parts of the country. Among the probable survivals of their names are the old shires of Cornwall, and among others in old records are Pinnockshire, Blakebornshire,(24) and Kendalshire in the county of Gloucester ; Upshire in Essex ; and Chipshire in the north-west of Buckinghamshire. These primitive shires were early names of those districts afterwards called hundreds. The word scir in Anglo-Saxon nomenclature was also applied to ecclesiastical as well as to political divisions. Kirkshire in some parts of England appears to have been an early name for parish, and the possessions of the Archbishop of York are mentioned in Domesday Book as his scire. The name Sherborne survives in various parts of England. In Dorset the territorial district or diocese of the Saxon Bishop of Sherborne was called Selwoodshire.(25)

The districts of Northumberland, Yorkshire, and Lancashire which were in ancient time called shires, and in some cases still are locally so called, correspond to the hundreds or wapentakes of other counties. Wessex in the early period of its history comprised Hants, Wilts, Dorset, and Berks, and as time passed on, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall were added to it. Mercia , however, if we are to judge by the number of its later shires, had more primitive states than Wessex. There is no more reason to suppose that when the shires of Mercia were first recognised as counties these territories were thus all arranged for the first time than there is to suppose that the states, called later on Wilts, Dorset, and Somerset, did not exist before they were called shires. In Mercia we read of ealdormen of the Hecanas before we read of Herefordshire, and of the Hwicci before we read of Worcestershire. Every early state which later on became a county had its viceroy. Mercia, having so many states, would be likely to have more ealdormen or viceroys than Wessex on great occasions to witness the charters of the Mercian Kings. This is what we generally find as a comparison of the number of witnesses who sign as dux or comes in the charters respectively of the kings of Mercia and Wessex. When the Kings of Mercia were overlords of Kent and Surrey the number of their viceroys would be increased, and later on, when the kings of Wessex had acquired this supremacy, the number of their viceroys would be increased. In a charter by the Mercian King Kenulf in 814 relating to land at Chart in Kent,(26) there are sixteen witnesses who sign as dux or ealdorman. In Kenulf`s charter relating to the establishment of the Abbey at Winchcombe in 811 there are eleven witnesses similarly described.(27) The occasion on which this charter was signed was a very important one and many of the Mercian ealdormen were probably assembled. In another charter of the same King in 816, granting certain lands to the Bishop of Worcester, there are also eleven witnesses who are styled dux or ealdorman.(28) Some of these may have been the viceroys of more than one of the areas of administration or states, afterwards called shire or counties, but that eleven men of this rank should be witnesses of charters of the Mercian King shows that he had many of them, and as each had an area of administration, perhaps more than one, this number points to the existence in Mercian territory of more states than existed in Wessex. The greatest number of ealdormen who appears to have witnessed any charter by a King of Wessex is nine, and the occasion was the grant of land at Droxford in Hampshire in 826 by Egbert. He had, however, at the time become the overlord of much more of England than Wessex. Several of his charters concerning land in Wessex are witnessed by three ealdormen only, and important ones by Ethelwulf, hi son, are witnessed by only six.(29) Although territorial changes were in cases made, it is certain that the Old English counties arose from the primitive states.

One of the most important of the Old English local organizations connected with the shires and hundreds was that of defence. All freemen were under three general obligations, which were apparently of ancient date at the time when we first meet them in records – viz. : (1) They were obliged to take their part in military service for the defence of their state or the kingdom of which it formed part, the levies being made in each state, afterwards known as the county ; (2) they were under the obligation to assist in maintaining the local fortifications ; and (3) they were similarly obliged in the maintenance of bridges. The Liability for military service in case of urgent necessity still exists in our Militia Act ; the maintenance of bridges remains as a county charge ; but the liability for the repair of local defences has passed away. It is, however, interesting to us when studying the remains of these ancient fortifications which still exist in most parts of England. Some of them are great mounds of the later Saxon period, but many of them are old Celtic earthworks which the Britons made, and the Saxons adopted for their own defences. In some parts of the country, as on two hills close to Burghclere in Hampshire, the remains of two great British camps maybe seen, one of which, on Beacon Hill, was maintained apparently during the whole Anglo-Saxon period, and the other, on Ladle Hill, allowed to fall into disuse and decay, the banks being now almost obliterated, while the other is in a much more perfect condition. In the confirmation of Magna Carta by Edward I. We read that `no town nor freemen shall be distrained to make bridges nor banks, but such as of old time have been accustomed to make them in the time of King Henry our grandfather, and no banks shall be defended from henceforth but such as were in defence in the time of King Henry our grandfather, by the same places and the same bounds as they were wont to be in his time.` All freemen among our old English forefathers were trained to the use of arms, and were always ready to take the field or defend their fortifications. When the repair of these banks ceased there is, so far as known, no record, but from the above quotation it is certain that they must have kept up as local defences to be used in case of need for at least two centuries after the Norman Conquest. It is no doubt owing to the ancient local obligation to repair them that so many remain in a fairly perfect state. Maiden Castle, near Dorchester ; Uffington Castle in Berkshire ; and Painswick Castle in Gloucstershire, are other examples of earthworks that were probably kept in repair until a late period.


1Adams, Henry, `The Anglo-Saxon Courts of Law.` `Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law,` Boston, 1876, p. i.

2Laws of Wihtraed, 8, and Seebohm, F., `Tribal Custom in Anglo-Saxon Law,` 46.

3Lingard, J., `History of the Anglo-Saxon Church,` ii. 135.

4Ibibd., ii. 136.

5Seebohm, F., `Tribal Custom of Wales,` 54.

6Young, Ernest, `The Anglo-Saxon Family Law.` `Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law,` 125.

7Bracton, H. De, `De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae,` i. 553.

8Young, Ernest, loc. Cit., quoting `The Sachsenspiegel,` I. 3, par. 3.

9Cart. Sax., i. 501.

10Laws of king Alfred, 27.

11Laws of Ine, 74, par. 2 ; AEthelstan, vi. 12, par. 2.

12Young, Ernest, loc. Cit., p. 140.

13Codex Dipl., Nos. 964, 209, 1094, 595, 589, and Dom. Bk.

14Laws of Aethelstan, vi. 12, quoted by Ernest Young, `Anglo-Saxon Family Law,` pp. 127, 128.

15Young, Ernest, loc. Cit., p. 133.

16Young, Ernest, loc. Cit., p. 144.

17Seebohm, F., `tribal Custom in Anglo-Saxon Law,` 385.

18Domesday Book, i. 213 b.

19Codex Dipl., Introd., i., p. iv.

20Seebohm, F., `Tribal Custom in Anglo-Saxon Law,` 367.

21Mallet, M., `Northern Antiquities,` translated by Bishop Percy, ed. 1847, p. 511, note.

22Menzel, W., `Hist. of Germany,` i. 162 ; Monumenta Germaniae, edited by Pertz, i. 2.

23Seebohm, F., `Tribal Custom in Anglo-Saxon Law,` 166, and Ripuarian Law, xxxi.

24Cal. Inq. Post-mortem, ii. 237.

25Ethelwerd`s Chronicle.

26Cart. Sax., i. 481.

27Ibid., i. 473.

28Cart. Sax., i. 498.

29Ibid., ii. 64, and ii. 94.


Taken from the book = `Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race.`

Author = T. W. Shore.