Sources of English Constitutional History: Chapter 5

5. DOOMS OF ALFRED (871-901)

I, then, King Alfred, have collected these [dooms] and ordered [them] to be written down — [that is to say,] many of those which our predecessors observed and which were also pleasing to me. And those which were not pleasing to me, by the advice of my witan, I have rejected, ordering them to be observed only as amended. I have not ventured to put in writing much of my own, being uncertain what might please those who shall come after us. So I have here collected the dooms that seemed to me the most just, whether they were from the time of Ine, my kinsman, from that of Offa, king of the Mercians,[1] or from that of Aethelberht, the first of the English to receive baptism; the rest I have discarded. I, then, Alfred, king of the West Saxons, have shown these [dooms] to all my witan, who have declared it is the will of all that they be observed....

4. If any one plots against the king's life, either by himself or by harbouring outlaws or their men, he shall forfeit his life and all that he has.[2] If he wishes to clear himself, he must do so through [an oath equal to] the king's wergeld. So likewise we command with regard to all ranks of men, eorl or ceorl: he who plots against the life of his lord shall forfeit his life and all that he has, or else clear himself through [an oath equal to] his lord's wergeld....

7. If any one fights or draws his weapon in the king's hall (healle) and is then caught, at the king's judgment he may be put to death or allowed his life in case the king is willing to forgive him....

15. If any one fights or draws his weapon in the presence of an archbishop, he shall pay 150s. compensation; if this happens in the presence of some other bishop or in that of an alderman, he shall pay 100s. compensation....

22. If any one at the popular court (folces gemote) brings an accusation [for theft] before the king's reeve and wishes to withdraw it, let him make his complaint against the right person if he can; if he cannot, he shall lose his angyld[3] and also pay a fine....

34. It is further ordained with regard to traders that they shall bring before the king's reeve at the popular court all the men whom they are taking with them, declaring how many there are. And they should take with them such men as [when necessary] they can later bring to justice in the popular court. And in case they need more men with them on their journey, as often as such need arises, a similar declaration must be made to the king's reeve in the popular court.

35. One who binds an innocent ceorl shall pay [him] 10s. compensation. One who flogs him shall pay [him] 20s. One who puts him under duress[4] shall pay [him] 30s. One who, as a shameful insult, cuts his hair shall pay [him] 10s. One who shears him like a priest, but without binding him, shall pay [him] 30s. One who cuts off his beard shall pay [him] 20s. One who binds him and then shears him like a priest shall pay [him] 60s....

37. If any one wishes to go from one settlement[5] into another to seek a lord, he must first have as witness the alderman in whose shire he was at first a follower. If he does so without such witness, the lord who takes him as a man shall pay a fine of 120s., dividing his payment so that the king will get half in the shire where the man was at first a follower and half in that to which he comes....

38. If any one fights at a court before the king's alderman, he shall pay whatever wergeld and fine (wer ond wite) may be due, but before that [he must pay] 120s. fine to the alderman. If he disturbs the court by [merely] drawing a weapon, [he shall pay] a fine of 120S. to the alderman. If anything of the sort occurs before a subordinate of the king's alderman, or before a priest of the king, 30s.. fine shall be paid.

39. If any one fights in the house of a ceorl, he shall pay the ceorl 6s. compensation. If he draws his weapon but does not fight, the compensation shall be half as much. If either of these offences is committed in the house of a six-hundred man,[6] the compensation shall be three times that paid to a ceorl; if in the house of a twelve-hundred man, the compensation shall be twice that of the six-hundred man.

40. [Compensation for] burhbryce[7] of the king is 120s.; of an archbishop 90s.; of any other bishop or of an alderman 60s.; of a twelve-hundred man 30s.; of a six-hundred man 15s. [Compensation for] breaking through the hedge of a ceorl [is] 5s. If any of these offences occurs while the army is in the field or during the fast of Lent, the penalty shall be doubled....

41. We now ordain that any one who has bookland[8] left him by his kinsmen is not to give it outside his kindred if there is written or oral evidence (gewrit oððe gewitnes) that to do so was forbidden by the man who originally acquired it or by those who gave it to him. And this should be proved in the presence of the kindred, and with the witness of the king or of the bishop, by any one [wishing to annul such an alienation ].

42. We also command that any one knowing his enemy to be at home shall not fight him before demanding justice of him [in court]. If [the accuser] has strength to surround and besiege his enemy inside [the latter's house], let him be held there seven nights and not attacked so long as he will remain inside. Then, after seven nights, if the [besieged] enemy will surrender and give up his weapons, let him be kept unharmed for thirty nights while news of him is sent to his kinsmen and friends.... If, however, [the accuser] lacks the strength to besiege his enemy, he shall ride to the alderman and ask him for aid; if the latter refuses him aid, he shall ride to the king before beginning a fight.... We declare furthermore that one may fight for his lord without incurring blood-feud,[9] if the lord has been attacked. So also the lord may fight for his man. In the same way one may fight for his blood-relative, should the latter be unjustly attacked, except against his own lord — that we do not permit....[10]

(Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., I, 46 f.

[1] The dooms of Offa have not come down to us.

[2] This crime may be called treason, but it should be noted that no idea of lèse majesté appears in the doom. As yet the king is treated like any other lord, and he has a wergeld like any other freeman.

[3] See above, p. 8, n. 12.

[4]On hengenne — e.g., locks him up or fastens him in stocks.

[5] Cf. Ine, 39 (above, p. 9).

[6] One whose wergeld is 600s.

[7] Cf. Aethelberht, 27, and Ine, 45 (above, pp. 3, 9).

[8] Land held by book, that is to say, by charter; see the examples under no. 15, below.

[9] The lawful vengeance of the kindred.

[10] Here follows in the text a detailed schedule of compensations for physical injuries: e.g., an ear, 30s.; an eye, the tongue, a hand, or a foot, 66s. 3 1/3d.; the nose, 60s.; a front tooth, 8s.; a molar, 4s.; an eye-tooth, 15s.; a thumb, 30s.; a thumbnail, 5s.; a first finger, 15s.; its nail, 3s.; a little finger 9s.; its nail, 1s.; a big toe, 20s.; a little toe, 5s.

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