8. ANONYMOUS DOOMS[1]

(A) Concerning Incendiaries and Murderers

With regard to incendiaries and murderers,[2] we have ordered that the difficulty of their oath shall be tripled;[3] likewise the iron for [trying such persons by] ordeal shall be brought up to three pounds in weight. The accused must go to the ordeal himself, and the accuser shall choose either ordeal by water or ordeal by iron, whichever he may prefer. If [the accused] fails in such oath and so is proved guilty, the chief men who belong to the borough[4] shall decide whether or not he shall be permitted to live.

(Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., I, 388.

(B) Concerning Ordeals

And with regard to the ordeal, according to the commands of God and of the archbishop and of all the bishops, we order that, as soon as the fire has been brought to heat the [iron or water for the] ordeal, no one shall come into the church except the priest and the man to be tried. And [if the ordeal is by iron,] nine feet, according to the feet of the man to be tried, shall be measured from the [starting] post to the [final] mark.[5] If, on the other hand, it is to be [ordeal by] water, that shall be heated until it becomes boiling hot, whether the kettle is of iron or of brass, of lead or of clay. And if the process is "single," the hand shall be plunged in for the stone[6] up to the wrist; if it is "threefold,"[7] up to the elbow. And when the [water for the] ordeal is ready, two men from each party shall go in, and they shall agree that it is as hot as we have ordered.

Then an equal number of men from both parties shall go in and stand along the church on each side of the ordeal, and all of them shall be fasting and shall have held themselves from their wives during the previous night. And the priest shall sprinkle them all with holy water and give them to taste of the holy water; and he shall give them the Book to kiss and [shall make over them] the sign of Christ's cross. And no one shall build up the fire any more after the consecration has been begun, but the iron shall lie on the embers until the last collect. Then it shall be laid on the [starting] post. And nothing else shall be said inside the church except a prayer to God Almighty that He disclose the fullness of truth. And [after the man has undergone the ordeal,] his hand shall be [bound up and] sealed; and after the third day it shall be inspected to see whether, within the sealed wrapping, it is foul or clean (ful swa claene).[8] And if any one breaks these provisions, the ordeal shall be [counted] a failure for him, and he shall pay a fine of 120s. to the king.

(Anglo-Saxon) Ibid., I, 386.


[1] To judge from both the language and the subject matter, the two following dooms date from the time of Aethelstan.

[2] Mor■slyhtum, those who slew by stealth or tried to conceal their offense. cf. the later murdrum (below, p. 36, n. 2).

[3] That is to say, the required number of oath-helpers is to be tripled.

[4] Cf. Aethelstan, 20 (above, p. 15).

[5] It is stated below that the iron, when heated, was to be laid on the post. The accused picked up the iron in his bare hand and carried it for the specified distance.

[6] The one placed in the bottom of the kettle for this purpose.

[7] Cf. the previous doom.

[8] The cleanness of the hand was probably determined by its freedom from infection.


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