Family Settlements & Early & Later Organisation


Family Settlements Early & Late 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.





As a rule the invading English tribes avoided at first the walled towns of Roman days. By the beginning of the seventh century, however, they were drifting into many of these. Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester), Anderida (Pevensey), Verulamium (the Roman town hard by St. Albans), and Viroconium (Wroxeter) are still today grass-covered ; but Canterbury, Rochester, London, Chichester, Winchester, Leicester, Colchester, Bath, Exeter and others were reinhabited long before Alfred’s day. The dwellers within the earliest English villages and those within Roman walls were alike tillers of the soil and tenders of flocks and herds. Cows and sheep, loads of hay and grain, were driven alike through the gap in the earthen rampart or hedge that surrounded the English village, and through the stone archway in which Romano-British engineers had once swung their town gates.

But some of these communities began to feel other influences of government, of trade and traffic, of religion and of war, by means of which they ceased to be merely collections of tillars of the soil. In the first place, kings visited some of them and added to their importance. In Anglo-Saxon times kings had no fixed capitals in which the royal work of government was done, where their servants always lived, and to which their taxes were sent. They travelled much up and down their realms, and where they were living for the moment there all royal business was transacted. On their journey they moved from one royal estate to another, taking a large retinue with them of thanes and their followers, chaplains, clerks, cup-bearers, queens, women servants, royal nurses, reciters, harpers, pack-horses, and riding-horses, stable boys, dogs, kennel-men, falcons and falconers. On each royal estate lived a royal steward, called a reeve. this official, in anticipation of the king’s visit, collected taxes in the shape of beef, beer, swine, cheese, eels, salmon, honey, eggs, candles, horses, hunting dogs, falcons, loads of rushes and of firewood. These came not only from tenants of the royal estate, which the reeve managed, but also from the dwellers in the villages of the surrounding countryside. They were collected in the barns, stables, cowhouses, kennels and pantries which were attached to the royal hall. For days and weeks before the royal arrival there must have been a vast amount of running to and fro with horses, carts and loads of provender, and much keeping of accounts by the reeve as he checked the incoming supplies. Carpenters and other servants must have been engaged in preparing the king’s apartments, his queen’s bowers, and his thane’s sleeping quarters, in mending roofs and chairs and beds, and in patching up all the barns and other outhouses. For such work many a load of timber must have been necessary, as well as cloth and skins.

The king on arrival settled down to work and to sport for as long a time as the supply of provisions allowed, perhaps only two days, perhaps for a week or a fortnight. For the remainder of the year the village sank back into comparative quiet, until once more a fever of preparation began to arise in anticipation of another visit.

King’s naturally loved one estate more than another. For some reason or other Tamworth, in the rolling red-sandstone country of Staffordshire, seems to have been a favourite home of Mercian kings. Kentish kings lived for the most part at Canterbury. Alfred’s father seems to have liked his village of Wilton ; at any rate, we know that he did a god deal of business there with his clerks. Southampton and Somerton were other spots which he may have frequented. Royal retinue need considerable accommodation and service, and therefore some, at any rate, of the royal estates must have gathered together and housed a considerable population for those days, and been on a fair way to become towns.

A second influence was that of traffic, which still makes big cities in our own time. London before Alfred’s day must have flourished on trade. It was there that travellers could cross the Thames. And below the bridge London Pool was the anchorage of ships from Flanders, Rouen, Poitou and elsewhere, bringing wine, fish, timber, and cloth, and buying provisions and cargo in the London market. And always on the spot where the royal officials, collecting dues in halfpennies, pennies, fourpences and shillings, and levying market tolls on pig dealers, on women selling butter, poultry and eggs to sailors and others. Similar tolls must have been levied at Dover, Southampton and other ports along the coast. Traders and tax-gatherers must have settled at other centres, for example, at crossing places of the Thames, such as Oxford and Wallingford, or at places such as Guildford, where travellers could pass through the gap in the North Downs, as our railways and motors do today. Possibly little Mortlake, Southwark and other Thame-side villages were thriving on their eel fisheries, and Droitwich on its salt mines.

Religion stimulated town life. Bishops and monks made business ; villages, workshops and markets grew up outside their doors. Winchester, Malmesbury, Bath, Canterbury, Rochester, Worcester and other places must have owed their importance largely to their bishops. Melrose in the Scottish Lowlands, Lastingham in Yorkshire that was “more like a lurking place for robbers and a retreat for wild beasts than a human habitation,” Medeshamstede (Peterborough) in the Fens, and many other spots owed their first settlement to monks. Under similar patronage other spots became more populous and busy.

But all such centres of government, trade and religion were rather big villages than towns ; town life in the real sense was the result of the inroads of the Northmen and of the efforts of Wessex first to resist these dreadful foes and then to dispossess them of the parts they had conquered. A nation passing through a crisis such as Wessex experienced in the late ninth century has to work and fight for its life ; it has, therefore, to make full use of all fighting men and of the labour, food and money of the rest ; and it must have peace and order within. So it suddenly finds that it needs more officials whose duty it is to make Englishmen work harder, fight better, and behave decently. In our scanty records of the ninth and tenth centuries we can see Wessex waking up to al this, and producing in consequence for the first time communities which we can call towns.

The royal officials who stirred Englishmen up to greater energy lived for the most part in the burhs. These communities, therefore, were perpetually busy about government. Several times a year it seems that the thanes, who owned hagan, had to meet at their burhs, and provide for the maintenance of their defences. That this was an important gathering is evident from Athelstan’s law, that if a man failed to attend it on three occasions, and did not pay the fine imposed in consequence, the chief men of the burh were to ride to his place and seize his goods. The kings of Alfred’s house were determined at al costs to make thanes do their duty. Possibly the members of this gathering saw to it that supplies of food came in regularly to the hagan from the toiling peasantry of the surrounding estates. Crime was punished more severely in burhs and on roads leading to them than elsewhere ; nothing must interfere with the discipline of the garrison or with the regular arrival of its rations. King Edward seems to have forbidden trade to take place outside the burhs. In this his chief object was good government. The giving and taking of receipts in those days were unknown, and yet it was of vast importance to every purchaser to be able to prove that such purchases as cattle or food were honestly paid for. It was probably for this reason that Edward confined trade to burhs ; there were plenty of official witnesses there, before whom business could be done. The absence of witnesses in the open countryside must often have been a check on trade except between men well acquainted with one another and confident of each other’s honesty. Now that buying and selling were only possible within burhs, kings probably saw to it that official witnesses could always be found. Thus buying and selling with safety were always possible. On every purchase the king’s official levied toll, perhaps a measure of herrings or honey, or a number of eggs or chickens from dealers in such things. In return the king’s government gave peace and protection.

Within the burhs mints were established, and the coiners paid for the licence to coin, and bought a fresh one every time they changed or renewed their dies. There had been mints in England in early Anglo-Saxon days, but with the increase of commerce more money was needed, and the obvious places in which to coin it were burhs, which were well defended, garrisoned, and kept in order.

Thus in the tenth century town life was growing up ; town populations of 1000 or 2000 or more souls were appearing in such places as Winchester, Hertford, Bedford, London, and elsewhere. It was not quite what some of us understand today of town life. In London, Liverpool, Manchester and other great populous modern centres we scarcely ever see a cow or a load of hay ; the streets are full of business men only. But in the tenth century farmers, government officials, merchants, smiths, butter women, cows and swine, and loads of hay all jostled together in the market-places and narrow streets.

Some of the energy which Alfred and his descendants infused into English life through the burhs weakened in the reign of Edgar the Peaceful (958 to 975 A. D.), and very nearly disappeared altogether in the appalling times of Ethelred the Redeless, when the Northmen invaded England a second time, and found no Alfred to face them. But though lacking in the vigorous life of Alfred’s day the burhs survived to find a place in William the Conqueror/Crusader’s “Domesday Book,” and, in many cases, to become the boroughs of mediaeval England.

In Anglo-Saxon times, however, a very small proportion of English people lived in towns ; by far the greater majority lived in country villages.

By way of showing what can be learned from “Domesday Book” (Siward, the hunter, holds of the king 2 1/2 hides in Chadlington. there is land for two ploughs. He has these in demesne with one serf and three bordars. There are 3 acres/1.2ha of meadow. It was worth and is worth 40 shillings. Siward himself held it freely in the time of king Edward.

The archbishop of Canterbury himself holds Mortlake in demesne. In the time of King Edward it defended itself for 80 hides. The Canons of St. Paul’s hold 8 of these hides, which have paid and do pay geld with these. Altogether it now pays geld for 25 hides. There is land for 35 ploughs. In demesne there are five ploughs. And there are 80 villeins and 14 bordars with 28 ploughs. There is a church there and 16 serfs and 2 mills of a 100 shillings in value. There are 20 acres/8ha of meadow. From the wood come 55 swine by way of pannage. In London there are 17 houses paying 52 pence. In Southwark there are 4 houses paying 27 pence. And from the township of Putney comes 20 shillings worth of tolls. And there is a fishery, which is paying no rent. Earl Harold had this fishery in Mortlake in the time of King Edward. Stigand, the archbishop, had it for long in King William’s time. And yet they say Harold constructed it by force in the time of King Edward in the land of Kingston and in the land of St. Paul’s. The whole estate in the time of King Edward was worth 32 pounds, afterwards 10 pounds, now 32 pounds.)

Remembering that these passages describe chiefly a condition of things existing in 1086, we have to ascertain what we can from them as to village conditions in the reign of Edward the Confessor, the last king of Alfred’s house. We cannot learn much. for “Domesday book” is concerned with taxation only ; and it is a difficult book for us to understand. Scholars have studied it very carefully for many years, but there are problems in it which are still unsolved.

Chadlington was clearly a small place in the eleventh century as it is today. Siward the hunter, says the last sentence of the record, held it “freely” in Edward the Confessor’s time. The interpretation of this word “freely” is one of the many problems which meet us in the pages of “Domesday Book.” Possibly it means that Siward, before the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade was the absolute owner of Chadlington ; he could give it away or sell it, if he liked ; he paid rent or services by way of rent to none ; he owed only his taxes to the king. After the Conquest/Crusade his position was changed. He was no longer absolute owner of Chadlington. King William owned it ; Siward was his tenant, and could no longer sell it or give it away without the king’s permission. But Siward was a lucky man, for, unlike many an Englishman, he was still holding and farming the lands he had owned and framed before the Conquest/Crusade. “Domesday Book” does not tell us why King William was generous in his case ; perhaps as a sport-loving king he had an eye to future sport at Chadlington, and thought a hunter was a good man to leave there as gamekeeper.

“Domesday Book” says that Siward held 2 1/2 hides. The hide was an Anglo-Saxon measure of land which scholars think works out at 120 acres/48.8ha. At first sight, therefore, it seems that Siward held 300 acres/121.4ha of land. But “Domesday Book” does not mean this at all. By the labours of scholars it has been proved that there the hide is not a unit of measurement but of assessment. Siward probably held much more than 2 1/2 hides in Chadlington, but when the tax-gatherer collecting Danegeld came along, he pretended that there were only 2 1/2 hides there. So if Ethelred the Redeless or William the Conqueror/Crusader was collecting Danegeld of 2 shillings on each hide, then at Chadlington Siward’s forerunners, or Siward himself, would pay 5 shillings. In other words, Danegeld was levied on the rateable area of Chadlington, 2 1/2 hides, not on its actual area.

“Domesday Book” then says ; “There is land for 2 ploughs.” This would enable us to learn how much arable land Siward lad if we knew how much land one plough could cope with in Anglo-Saxon times. It is generally believed that the plough of those days was drawn by a team of eight oxen, but we cannot be sure of this, for there are early pictures showing ploughs drawn by two. Scholars think that a plough and eight oxen to draw it formed a normal equipment for a man who owned and farmed 120 acres/48.8ha, i.e. 1 hide (but this could vary as it was the amount of land needed to feed a family which includes everyone). If Siward’s ploughs were drawn by eight oxen, then he may have had 240 acres/97ha of arable land. We cannot tell for certain. Of these 240/97ha only 160 acres/64.7ha would be under crops at any one time, for one of the three big fields would be lying fallow in each year.

The record adds that Siward had these ploughs “in demesne.” This means that they were Siward’s own private property. No one else in Chadlington had a plough.

To help him on his farm he had one serf and two bordars. The serf was a slave who worked for his keep. He probably got no wages. He did any job he was given, acting as a ploughman, thatcher, milker, herdsman, as occasion required. He probably lived in some outhouse or hovel attached to Siward’s own dwelling. The two bordars may have had little houses of their own, and perhaps each had five acres/2ha of arable land in the three open fields, on which, working with a spade and hoe, they could grow a little corn. Perhaps, however, Siward lent them a plough in the ploughing season. They probably also possessed a few cows and pigs. For the most part they laboured under Siward’s orders, and in return he probably gave them something wherewith to eke out a living.

There were 3 acres/1.2ha of meadow land. This was valuable property. On the hay raised from it Siward would feed his plough oxen, possibly sixteen in number, in the winter-time. It surely lay along the river Evenlode, and was enriched by the floods of early spring.

The whole estate was worth 40 shillings a year. Possibly this means that after Siward had fed his serfs and his bordars, and maintained his plough oxen, and allowed something for repairs to ploughs and buildings, he had 40 shillings worth of goods on which to maintain himself. “Domesday Book” says nothing about the numbers of Siward’s family, or of the families of his serf and bordars. It says nothing of cows, swine, sheep, goats, horses, and yet there must have been more beasts on the estate than the sixteen possible plough oxen, and the supervision of these must have called for more labour than that of Siward and of his three men. Possibly women and boys lent a hand, and the total population of the estate may easily have been twenty-four in all.

Possibly, the original return sent in about Chadlington contained information on these and other points, but this has been lost for ever. On thee other hand, the original return may not have contained much more than “Domesday Book” has preserved. When the commissioners entered Oxfordshire and summoned the meeting at which they collected information about Chadlington and the neighbouring villages of the hundred, Siward would certainly have attended. And when he had heard the questions of the commissioners and the replies, he may have gone home quite happily, feeling that the king had not learned quite everything about Chadlington. Our feelings today are usually different. As we survey our assessment to income tax, we feel that the government knows too much about us.

When we read what “Domesday Book” has to say about Mortlake we realise that is was a vastly bigger, richer and more populous place than Chadlington. Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury in Edward the Confessor’s time, owned Mortlake. He continued to be archbishop after the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade, till he was deposed in 1070 and imprisoned where he eventually died, and Lanfranc put in his place. The “Domeday Book” entry says the Archbishop of Canterbury, both before and after the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade, held Mortlake in demense. This means that he held it as a tenant of the king, and that the produce of it went into the barns of his archiepiscopal palaces or towards the maintenance of his numerous retinues. He did not put in a tenant who was to come up for military service when called, and in return have the right to consume al the produce himself.

In Edward the Confessor’s reign Mortlake “defended itself for 80 hides.” This simply means that the whole estate was rated or assessed at 80 hides, and that when Danegeld was levied at 2 shillings on the hide it paid 160 shillings. The sentence must not be taken to mean that there were 80 times 120 acres/48.5ha in Mortlake.

Then “Domesday Book” goes on to say that in Edward’s reign the canons of St. Paul’s Cathedral were responsible for the geld due from 8 of these 80 assessment hides. Thus the archbishop before 1066 paid only on 72 hides. We know from another entry in “Domesday Book” that these 8 assessment hides lay at Barnes, about a mile/1.6km further down the river, where the canons of St Paul’s had a small estate. Why their tax was lumped in with that paid on 72 hides at Mortlake by the archbishop does not appear in “Domesday Book.” All that we can see is that in the eyes of the government Mortlake and Barnes were one estate, when it was a matter of collecting geld.

The next sentence (“altogether it now pays geld on 25 hides”) means that the assessment of Mortlake by the year 1086 has dropped from 80 to 25 hides, and it is clear that in1086 eight of the 25 hides had still their tax paid by the canons of St. Paul’s. This reduction in the assessment of the archbishop’s estate at Mortlake from 72 to 17 hides (leaving out the eight assessment hides at Barnes on which the canons of St. Paul’s paid tax) is an extraordinary and interesting one, to which further reference must be made later.

It must be noted that the record says there was land for 35 ploughs, and yet it only mentions 33 ploughs as existing, 5 belong to the demesne and 28 to the villeins and bordars. Evidently the commissioners saw a chance of the estate producing more grain in the future, and having more villeins and bordars on it, when the possible extra 2 ploughs were set to work. So they noted this, and “Domesday Book” as a tax-book has preserved their note. No doubt the archbishop’s agent at Mortlake was not too pleased when he heard the commissioners get hold of that bit of information and write it down.

In Mortlake, then, there was arable land sufficient to keep 35 ploughs at work. now if each of these ploughs had a full team of 8 oxen, and if each plough was the natural complement of 120 acres/48.5ha (ploughing 80 acres/32.3ha in a year, and leaving 40 acres/16ha to lie fallow) then there may have been 35 time 120 acres/48.5ha of arable land in Mortlake, i.e. 4200 acres/1699ha. This causes a difficulty, for Mortlake nowadays covers only 1554 acres/628ha altogether. Possibly its lands were more extensive in those days than now. It is very doubtful, therefore, whether we can draw conclusions as to the amount of arable land in Mortlake from the number of ploughs which were there, or could be there.

Only five ploughs belonged to the archbishop. The demesne on which farm, and lived with their families in some outhouses. They certainly held no land, and they received nothing but their keep.

The two watermills (windmills were unknown) brought 100 shillings annually into the archbishop’s pocket. His villain and border tenants probably had to grind all their corn there, and leave a quantity behind in payment, or pay a money fee. Somehow or other, either in corn or hard cash, the mills were worth 100 shillings a year, so William’s commissioners made a note of that.

There were 20 acres/8ha of meadow, which can only have supplied a very scanty lay allowance for the winter feed of the plough oxen. Hay was always a difficulty in Anglo-Saxon and French-Norman times. The 20 acres/8ha in question probably lay along the river bank, and received a certain richness from the materials deposited by the Thames in flood times. The modern practice of sowing hay seed was unknown, and the hay crop would be judged short and thin by modern standards.

The archbishop evidently had a wood at Mortlake, in which his own and the villeins’ and bordars’ swine lived. By way of recompense he levied on his tenants an annual toll of fifty-five swine called Pannage. Anglo-Saxons were great eaters of swine flesh, slated down at the great pig-killing in the autumn.

The houses mentioned in the record as lying in London and Southwark seem to have been originally hagan, maintained by the estate of Mortlake, and occupied by some of the burhware, which defended those burhs, when the scheme of Alfred and his son Edward for the defence of Wessex was in working order. The archbishop in 1086 still owned those houses, but he seems to have let them for a total rent of 79 pence. And we suspect that he has let them to peace-loving citizens, and not to soldiers. The old scheme for maintaining burhwares in London and Southwark had probably died out.

Putney, in those days, like Barnes, was evidently part of Mortlake, and paid 20 shillings in tolls. There is no indication whence the tolls came. Perhaps there was a ferry there which the archbishop maintained and got the profits of; or the tolls may have come from buying and selling at Putney. The ferry, if there was one, working where the bridge is now, would bring customers making their way, perhaps, up Putney Hill to Wimbledon or Kingston-on-Thames.

Then we get hints of a curious story, illustrating some illegality against the Church by no less a person than Earl Harold, who fought William for the crown of England at Hastings/Senlac Ridge in 1066. The record says there was, in 1086, a fishery at Mortlake that was paying no rent. The commissioners naturally noted this; but the curious point is that although Mortlake belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Earl Harold had constructed the fishery there by force, and evidently without the archbishop’s consent. The passage is too condensed to tell us a clear story. The fishing at Mortlake must have been good in those days, or else Harold would not have made the fishery. Besides eels and lampreys there were no doubt salmon in the Thames. They were caught in constructions of reeds and wickerwork built out from the bank into the stream.

finally we read that the estate in king Edward’s day was worth 32 pounds. Afterwards (in “Domesday Book” this means in 1066) it was only worth 10 pounds. In 1086 it was worth 38. These figures represent the money value to the archbishop of the proceeds of the estate. The drop in 1066 was probably due to the ravages of William’s soldiers, when the marched up the south bank of the Thames to cross it at Wallingford on their way to London after the battle of Hastings/Senlac Ridge. It was probably owing to the ravages that the assessment of the estate dropped from 80 to 25 hides. despite the increase in revenue, which had taken place by 1086, the assessment still remained at the lower level. No doubt the increase was due to restocking of lands, rebuilding of barns, and an addition both to the number of ploughs at work and to the number of inhabitants. But, knowing the French-Norman business man, we may assume that villeins and bordars were working a great deal harder and contributing a great deal more from their own lands to the barns, pantries and mills of the archbishop. Even bishops were hard task masters in the days following the French-Norman Conquest/Crusade, especially if they were building new cathedrals, as Lanfranc was doing at Canterbury.

Chadlington and Mortlake are but two examples of an infinite variety in “Domesday Book.” In them we have caught a glimpse of the different classes of Englishmen who lived in the country places in the eleventh century, such as villeins, bordars and serfs. But the three passages already quoted do not bring before us another and very important class of Englishmen who is frequently mentioned in other passages, namely the freemen. Here is a quotation from “Domesday Book,” taken from a passage dealing with Halstead in Essex.

“In Halstead William de Gare holds two hides all but 4 acres/1.6ha. these lands were held in the time of Edward by 30 free men.”

The interpretation of the words “free men” is one of the greatest difficulties in “Domesday Book.” It seems that at Halstead in Edward the Confessor’s time these thirty free men were the owners, and not merely the tenants of the lands in question. They could sell them or give them away without asking any one’s permission. Thus Siward, the hunter, who held Chadlington “freely” in the time of Edward the Confessor, was evidently a free man. But “Domesday Book” is full of free men of another kind, who in Edward’s time were not owners of the lands they tilled, but were tenants of some one else who owned them. These free men were not so free that they could give away their holdings or sell them. And yet they were free men.

even when we have added the two kinds of free men to the other classes already mentioned, we have not exhausted the various kinds of people who lived in England in the eleventh century.

Much of all this is very dry bones. Perhaps a little life can be given with the aid of a document called ‘Rectitudines Singularum Personarum’ or ‘The Rights and Duties of Each Person,’ which it is thought was written about 1025 A.D. Its author probably knew a great deal about the management of some estate, and about the various classes who lived on it. He set out to make a record of the rights and duties that ought to belong to these classes, but he points out that it is very difficult to do so, because the customs of estates differ very considerably. We are faced with another difficulty ; in mentioning classes on the estate the writer use names which are not those of “Domesday Book.” The French-Norman record uses Latin forms of French words, such as villeins and bordars ; the ‘Rectitudines,’ etc., uses Anglo-Saxon terms, and so it is not easy to compare them with the French ones.

The Anglo-Saxon document first mentions the thane or landlord of the estate in question. The thane was entitled to the lawful possession of his land ; possibly he had received it from a king, and must in return for it do military service, help to repair the neighbouring burh, and to maintain bridges. The writer says that the owners of many other estates have much more than this to do at the king’s command. If close at hand there was a royal estate, they must maintain the hedges that confine the deer on it. If they live near the sea they must guard the coast. Sometimes they must attend court, and act as bodyguard to the king. They also had to contribute to the support of the church, and do “many other diverse things.”

Secondly, the writer mentions “Geneats’ Service.” Possibly geneats were free men, who did not own land owned by the thane. “Geneats Service,” says the document, “varies according to the custom of the estate.” A geneat paid rent in food and services for his tenancy. He gave swine to the thane in return for the thane’s permission to pasture his swine on the waste land of the estate. He carried the thane’s massages on horseback. He did carting work. He reaped and mowed for the thane, and cut the king’s deer hedge on the thane’s behalf, and maintained the hedge which surrounded the thane’s house. He protected the thane, and looked after his horses. He also helped to maintain the priest and his church. There is no hint in our document as to the amount of land normally held by a geneat. No doubt the amount varied from estate to estate.

Next mentioned are the cotsetle or cottars. The cottars’ services also varied according to the estate. On some estates cottars worked for the thane on Monday throughout the year ; in harvest-time, however, they worked for him on three days a week. On some estates they worked for the thane on every day of the week in harvest-time, and were supposed as a fair day’s work to reap an acre/0.4ha of oats ; in return they got a sheaf for each day’s labour from the thane’s steward or reeve. They did not pay rent for land. This seems to imply they had no arable land in the three open fields. But the document says that each ought to have 5 acres/2ha of ground ; apparently these formed little enclosures or paddocks which were attached to the cottar’s houses, and on which they raised with spade and hoe such crops as they could be called on to assist in repairing the king’s hedge for their master, and to do coastguard for him. They paid dues to the church like the geneat and thane.

The document next mentions the Geburs. From the description of their duties that follows, they look like free Englishmen, who from some reason or other have lost all their own property and have been accepted as tenants by thanes, and have received from them an outfit in land, cattle and furniture, on condition of giving labour, money, and goods in return. They have declined so far in the social scale they have ceased to be free, and become serfs.

On some estates geburs’ services were heavy, and on others light. It was usual for a gebur to work for his thane on two days a week. In harvest-time, however, and from February 2 to Easter, he worked for the thane on three days a week. He and his horse did carrying work for the thane. On Michaelmas, September 29, he paid ten pence by way of rent. On Martinmas Day he gave the thane twenty-three sesters of barley and two hens. At Easter he gave a young sheep or else two pence. From Martinmas to Easter “he must lie at the lord’s fold as often as his turn comes.” Probably this means that he had to fold his sheep at night at some spot on the thane’s land on order that the thane’s crops might receive the benefit of the manure. From the time when ploughing began till Martinmas he had to plough every week an acre/0.4ha of the thane’s land, and sow it with the thane’s seed. As an extra gift to the thane he had to manage to plough another 3 acres/1.2ha as well. By way of rent for the acres which he held as tenant he had to regard the produce of three of them as belonging to the thane, and had to plough these with his own plough, and sow them with his own seed. He and another gebur had to join in feeding one of the thane’s hunting dogs. When the swineherd took out the swine to feed on the beech-nuts and acorns he had to give him six loaves of bread ; probably these were more of the size of big buns than loaves. He also had to pay church dues.

Each gebur received from the thane an outfit of two plough oxen, a cow and six sheep, and 7 acres/2.8ha of his land were sown for him in his first year with the thane’s seed. Thereafter all the above-mentioned duties fell upon him. He also received a certain outfit of tools and utensils for his house. At his death his whole outfit returned to the thane, and his son, if he wished to be a gebur on the same estate, had to buy them back.

On some estates geburs had to give the thane a proportion of meat, honey and ale. The document does not say how much land a gebur usually held ; possibly it amounted to 30 acres/12ha.

Then the document enumerates the rights and duties of many other people on the estate, such as the beekeeper, who must pay the thane five sesters of honey in return for the hives of bees which the thane had given him, and do many jobs at the thane;s bidding, such as ploughing and reaping, and, if he had a horse, carrying loads and “many things that a man so placed must do ; I cannot tell all.” The swineherd gave fifteen swine to the thane, sometimes more, sometimes fewer, according to the custom of the estate. After killing them he singed and otherwise prepared the carcases, and if he did his job well he got their entrails. He was also allowed one or two young porkers for himself ; but he had to be ready for many other jobs like the beekeeper. The oxherd was allowed to pasture two oxen along with the thane’s. The cowherd was allowed milk. The shepherd was entitled to twelve nights’ manure from the herd for the benefit of hos own plot of land, and got a lamb, a fleece and some ewe’s milk. The women who made cheeses kept some for herself, and had a share of the buttermilk.

Out of “Domesday Book,” and out of the Rights and Duties of Each Person, a picture with the indefiniteness of a dream can rise for us of English village life of the eleventh century. We need not think of the landowner as grinding the faces of the poor, nor of his tenants as thirsting for freedom. In those days people demanded protection, not freedom.

The lord’s steward must have been a man of business capacity, receiving the geburs and others as they appeared for orders at his office the thane’s hall, and sending one to the threshing floor, another to the king’s deer hedge, another to the thane’s plough land, and others elsewhere, going his rounds daily to watch them at work and to keep them to it, keeping an eye on the hives of bees, watching for outbreaks of cattle plague, checking accounts in his office of the measure of honey and quantities of other produce handed in by the tenants to the thane\s pantries and barns, and ordering repairs to buildings and farm implements. We can imagine him as just, but scarcely as popular.

Into the minds of the tenants we cannot penetrate ; a thousand years separate us and them. To us they are silent figures. Their life was not idyllic ; England in those days was no paradise. Cattle plague, bad harvests, human pestilence and war might quickly reduce a village to starvation or completely extinguish it. In the spring, even of normal years, there must have been anxious times when the produce of the previous year’s harvest and pig-killings was sinking low in meal-tubs and salt-barrels, and flocks and fields had not yet given their new increase. Farmers in those days had little skill. Cattle, judged by our standards, must have been woefully thin and small. Their food was scanty, consisting in autumn of the stubble left after the harvest or of what herbage they could find on the waste or on the fallow field. In winter there was a very scanty ration of hay. Winter feed, such as turnip and mangold-wurzel, was unknown. Most cattle and sheep must have suffered from starvation in hard winters. An ox probably weighed about 400 pounds/181kg ; an  average ox, which is three years or more old, may today weigh 2200 pounds/997.9kg or more, and a cow of similar age 1600  pounds/725,7kg or more. Sheep were small, being about 40 pounds/18.1kg in weight, and producing a fleece of about 1 1/2 pounds/680gm. A full-grown Cheviot sheep today may easily weigh 200 pounds/90.7kg or more, and carry a fleece of 5 or 8 pounds/2.2 or 3.6kg.

Crops in the eleventh century were pretty poor also. An average crop was about 6 bushels an acre, and as an acre took 2 bushels of seed at sowing-time that gave a clear profit of only 4 bushels. The twentieth-century farmer is accustomed to more than 30 bushels from an acre. A man and his wife and children in the eleventh century could live on a yearly supply of about 40 bushels, but a good many of these 40 went in brewing ale. When each family needed 40 bushels a year, and each acre only produced on an average a profit of 4 bushels, it is clear to us that every village needed very wide stretches of arable land. Every man must have had an average of at least 10 acres/4ha under crops in each year, if he wished to be even moderately well fed. But as he had to give tithe to the priest, give supplies of grain to his landlord, and sometimes give a little corn to his hardworking plough oxen in winter-time, when hay was short, each man ought to have had an average of at least 15 acres/6ha of ploughed land under seed in each year. It seems poor farming to us.



“Domesday Book”

“Domesday Book” is the source of most of our knowledge of town and village life in the eleventh century. It contains in a very condensed form the information gathered in 1086 by seven or nine sets of commissioners, who were sent out by William the Conqueror/Crusader to survey the realm. the k1ng’s chief object was to ascertain the capacity of the realm to pay geld, that is, the old tax known as Danegeld. In the days Danegeld, the bribe with which Ethelred the Redeless so often persuaded the Danes to cease from ravaging, was levied even when no Danes invaded the land. William instructed his commissioners to ascertain and set down the assessment, or, in other words, the geld-paying power of the realm, both in town and country. Our government is constantly doing a similar thing today ; it knows the power of each citizen to pay income tax ; in other words, it knows his assessment to income tax. Our counties, cities and boroughs tax their inhabitants ; their authorities know the capacity of each resident and property owner to pay rates ; that is, they know their rateable assessment ; in every county, borough and city there is a rate-book in which the rate due from each property within the county, city or borough boundaries is set down. William the Conqueror/Crusader desired to be equally business-like. He wanted to know the assessment of the country.

But he wished to learn more than that. Assessments grow antiquated with time, as our present-day government knows. Most of us are assessed afresh each year for income tax purposes. Counties, cities and boroughs today every five years revise the assessments of properties within their limits. William evidently considered that revision was necessary. Consequently he further ordered his commissioners to collect and send him other information, not as to mere assessment of each estate but as to the wealth actually existing there. So in their travels they noted in addition to geld assessments the number of ploughs on each estate (for it is with the help of ploughs that the earth yields its increase), the manner in which an  estate was divided between the lord and the other residents, the extent of the woods on it, how much meadow land and pasture it had, how many swine and other animals fed on it, what mills, fisheries, salt pans and other sources of wealth were situated on it, and how much the estate was worth annually to its owner in Edward the Confessor’s reign, and at the date when the owner received it from King William, and in 1086. In 1086 each set of commissioners visited the counties assigned to it. Counties are divided into districts called “hundreds.” It seems that the commissioners visited each hundred in their counties and called together there a meeting, and by the priest, reeve and six villeins of each township. In this meeting the commissioners asked the appointed questions  and heard the answers given by those acquainted with the facts. But answers given in this way were not regarded as sufficient ; they had to be given an oath. So from those in attendance in each meeting of the hundreds eight men were selected to swear on oath that the answers given to the commissioners by the meeting were true. These eight men were called juratores, or swearers. We may be sure that answers given and supported in this way were accurate. They were taken down in writing in the meeting, and at the head of them were put the names of the jurators. They were then sent by the commissioners to King William, probably to Winchester.

They would have been invaluable to us, but all the originals have been lost ; only one or two copies of them survive. Whem William’s officials at Winchester got hold of them they condensed their contents into the two volumes known as “Domesday Book,” the book of dooms or decisions, and with that condensed account we must be content. While the officials condensed the material supplied by the hundreds, they also altered its arrangement. If we examine “Domesday Book,” say for the county of Oxford, we do not find the available information arranged under hundreds, as in the original returns, but in quite a different way. For instance, in the case of Oxfordshire the Winchester officials first put down at the beginning of the county record a condensed account of the information they had received about the borough of Oxford. Then comes a list and description of the lands held by king William himself. Then follows a list of the Oxfordshire tenants-in-chief, or men to whom King William had given land in Oxfordshire, beginning with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Under the names of these tenants their Oxfordshire estates are described.

So any one wishing to read what “Domesday Book” says about an Oxfordshire village must know who held it in King William’s time if he wants to find the account quickly. Otherwise he must hunt for it throughout the whole Oxfordshire entry.

This great record, then, is a tax-book ; it shows England assessed for Danegeld, and indicates the sources of her wealth. It is a book of business, and looks what it is. Its pages have none of the lavish decoration in colour and design which adorns the “Lindisfarne Gospels.” They were written plainly in mediaeval Latin, the words of which are very much abbreviated. The book now lies in the Public Records Office in Kew Records Office, Kew, Surrey.