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The laws of all nations which have developed steadily and in their own seats, with little or no intermixture of foreign elements, are generally perpetuated by custom and oral tradition. Hence the earliest written laws contain amendments of older unwritten customs, or codifications of those customs when they are gradually wearing out of popular recollection. Such documents are then generally obscure, requiring for their elucidation a knowledge of the customs they were intended to amend, which is not easily attainable; and where they are clear, they will be found frequently to contain little more than assessments of fines for offenses and injuries, with very scanty indications of the process by which the laws are made or the fines exacted. Nor is the case much better where codification is attempted; for the diversity of customs being very great, and the code not intended to supersede but to perpetuate them, the lawgiver is apt to become didactic, and to enunciate principles drawn from religion or morality, rather than legal definitions. The following extracts from the Anglo-Saxon Laws and Institutes may seem a very small residuum, after the winnowing of a very bulky 'Corpus Juris.' But they will be found to contain nearly every mention that occurs in the Collection of our Laws of such matters as public assemblies, courts of law, taxation, or the legal machinery on the carrying out of which the discipline of self-government is based. The great bulk of the laws concern chiefly such questions as the practice of compurgation, ordeal, wergild, sanctity of holy places, persons, or things; the immunity of estates belonging to churches; and the tables of penalties for crimes, in their several aspects as offenses against the peace, the family, and the individual. These, as touching Constitutional History in a very indirect way, are here excluded.
Of the existing Anglo-Saxon laws, those of Ethelbert, Hlothere and Eadric, Wihtred, Ine, Edward the Elder, Athelstan, Edmund, and Edgar, are mainly of the nature of amendments of custom. Those of Alfred, Ethelred, Canute, and those described as Edward the Confessor's, aspire to the character of codes; but English law, from its first to its latest phase, has never possessed an authoritative, constructive, systematic, or approximately exhaustive statement, such as was attempted by the great compilers of the civil and canon laws, by Alfonso the Wise or Napoleon Buonaparte. The translation of the following extracts is that of Mr. Benjamin Thorpe, in the Ancient Laws and Institutes of the Anglo-Saxons.
A. D. cir. 680. Kent. HLOTHAERE AND EADRIC; cap. 8. If one man make plaint against another in a suit, and he cite the man to a 'methel' or to a ' thing,' let the man always give 'borh' to the other, and do him such right as the Kentish judges prescribe to them.
A. D. cir. 690. Wessex. INI; Preamble to Laws. I, Ini, by God's grace king of the West Saxons, with the counsel and with the teaching of Cenred my father, and of Hedde my bishop, and of Eorcenwold my bishop, with all my ealdormen and the most distinguished 'witan' of my people, and also with a large assembly of God's servants, have been considering of the health of our souls and of the stability of our realm; so that just law and just kingly dooms might be settled and established throughout our folk, so that none of the ealdormen nor of our subjects should hereafter pervert these our dooms.
Cap. 8. If any one demand justice before a 'scirman' or other judge and cannot obtain it, and a man (the defendant) will not give him 'wedd,' let him make 'bot' with xxx. shillings, and within vii. days do him justice.
Cap. 11. If any one sell his own countryman, bond or free, though he be guilty, over sea, let him pay for him according to his 'wer.'
Cap. 36. Let him who takes a thief, or to whom one taken is given, and he then lets conceals the theft, pay for the thief according to his 'wer.' If he be an ealdorman, let him forfeit his shire, unless the king is willing to be merciful to him.
Cap. 39. If any one go from his lord without leave, or steal himself away into another shire, and he be discovered, let him go where he was before, and pay to his lord lx. shillings.
Cap. 45. 'bot' shall be made for the king's 'burg-bryce' and a bishop's, where his jurisdiction is, with cxx. shillings; for an ealdorman's, with lxxx. shillings; for a king's thegn's, with lx. shillings; for a 'gesithcund' man's, having land, with xxxv. shillings, and according to this make the legal denial.
A. D. cir. 890. Wessex. ALFRED; Preamble....They then ordained.... that secular lords, with their (the bishops and witan) leave might without sin take for almost every misdeed, for the first offence the money 'bot' which they then ordained; except in cases of treason against a lord; to which they dared not assign any mercy.... I, then, Alfred, king, gathered these (laws) together, and commanded many of those to be written which our forefathers held, those which to me seemed good; and many of those which seemed to me not good I rejected them, by the counsel of my 'witan' .... I, then, Alfred, king of the West Saxons, shewed these to all my 'witan' and they then said that it seemed good to them all to be holder.
Cap. 4. If any one plot against the king's life, of himself, or by harbouring of exiles, or of his men; let him be liable in his life and in all that he has.... He who plots against his lord's life, let him be liable in his life to him, and in all that he has. . .
Cap. 22 If any one at the folkmote make declaration of a debt, and afterwards wish to withdraw it, let him charge it on a righter person, if he can; if he cannot, let him forfeit his 'angylde,' and [let the reeve] take possession of the 'wite.'
Cap. 27. If a man, kinless of paternal relatives, fight and slay a man, and then if he have maternal relatives, let them pay a third of the 'wer;' his guild-brethren a third part; for a third let him flee. If he have no maternal relatives, let his guild-brethren pay half, for half let him flee.
Cap. 28. If a man kill a man thus circumstanced, if he have no relatives, let half be paid to the king, half to his guild-brethren.
Cap. 38. If a man fight before a king's ealdorman in the 'gemot,' let him make 'bot' with 'wer' and 'wite,' as it may be right; and before this, cxx. shillings to the ealdorman as 'wite.' If he disturb the folkmote by drawing his weapon, cxx. shillings to the ealdorman as ' wite.' If aught of this happen before a king's ealdorman's junior, or a king's priest, xxx. shillings as 'wite.'
Cap. 41. The man who has 'boc-land,' and which his kindred left him, then ordain we that he must not give it from his 'maeg-burg,' if there be writing or witness that it was forbidden by those men who at first acquired it, and by those who gave it to him, that he should do so; and then let that be declared in the presence of the king and of the bishop before his kinsmen.
A. D. 879. ALFRED AND GUTHRUM'S PEACE. This is the peace that King Alfred and King Guthrum, and the 'witan' of all the English nation, and all the people that are in East Anglia, have all ordained and with oaths confirmed, for themselves and for their descendants, as well for born as for unborn, who reck of God's mercy or of ours.
1. Concerning our land boundaries; Up on the Thames, and then up on the Lea, and along the Lea unto its source, then right to Bedford, then up on the Ouse unto Watling Street.
2. Then is this: If a man be slain, we estimate all equally dear, English and Danish, at viii. half marks of pure gold; except the 'ceorl' who resides on 'gafol' land and their 'liesings;' they also are equally dear, either at cc shillings.
3. And if a king's thegn be accused of man-slaying, if he dare to clear himself, let him do that with xii. king's thegns. If any one accuse that man who is of less degree than the king's thegn, let him clear himself with xi. of his equals and with one king's thegn. And so in every suit which may be for more than iv. mancuses. And if he dare not, let him pay for it threefold, as it may be valued.
4. And that every man know his warrantor for men, and for horses, and for oxen.
5. And we all ordained on that day that the oaths were sworn, that neither bond nor free might go to the host without leave, no more than any of them to us. But if it happen that from necessity any of them will have traffic with us or we with them, with cattle and with goods, that is to be allowed in this wise: that hostages be given in pledge of peace, and as evidence whereby it may be known that the party has a clean back.
A. D. cir. 920. Wessex. EDWARD; cap. 4. King Edward exhorted his witan, when they were at Exeter, that they should all search out how their 'frith' might be better than it had previously been; for it seemed to him that it was more indifferently observed than it should be, what he had formerly commanded. He then asked them who would apply to its amendment, and be in that fellowship that he was, and love that which he loved, and shun that which he shunned, both on sea and on land. That is, then, that no man deny justice to another; if any one so do, let him make 'bot' as it before is written: for the first offense, with xxx. shillings; and for the second offense, the like; and for the third, with cxx. shillings to the king.
Cap. 11. I will that each reeve have a 'gemot' always once in four weeks, and so do that every man be worthy of folk-right; and that every suit have an end, and a term when it shall be brought forward. If that any one disregard, let him make 'bot' as we before ordained.
Thus shall a man swear fealty oaths. By the Lord before whom this relic is holy, I will be to A. faithful and true, and love all that he loves, and shun all that he shuns, according to God's law, and according to the world's principles; and never, by will nor by force, by word nor by work, do aught of what is loathful to him; on condition that he me keep as I am willing to deserve, and all that fulfil that our agreement was, when I to him submitted and chose his will.
1. It was whilom, in the laws of the English, that people and law went by ranks, and then were the counsellors of the nation of worship worthy, each according to his condition, eorl and ceorl, thegen and theoden.
2. And if a ceorl throve, so that he had fully five hides of his own land, church and kitchen, bell-house and burh-gate-seat, and special duty in the king's hall, then was he thenceforth of thegn-right worthy.
3. And if a thegn throve, so that he served the king, and on his summons rode among his household; if he then had a thegn who him followed, who to the king's 'utware' five hides had, and in the king's hall served his lord, and thrice with his errand went to the king, he might thenceforth with his 'foreoath' his lord represent at various needs, and his plaint lawfully conduct, wheresoever he ought.
4. And he who so prosperous a vicegerent had not, swore for himself according to his right, or it forfeited.
5. And if a thegn throve so that he became an eorl, then was he thenceforth of eorl-right worthy.
6. And if a merchant throve, so that he fared thrice over the wide sea by his own means, then was he thenceforth of thegn-right worthy.
7. And if there a scholar were, who through learning throve, so that he had holy orders, and served Christ, then was he thenceforth of rank and power so much worthy. as then to those orders rightfully belonged, if he himself conducted so as he should; unless he should misdo, so that he those orders' ministry might not minister.
8. And if it happened that any one a man in orders, or a stranger, anywhere injured, by word or work, then pertained it to king and to bishop, that they that should make good as they soonest might.
2. An archbishop's and an aetheling's wergild is 15,000 thrymsas.
3. A bishop's and ealdorman's, 8000 thrymsas.
4. A hold's and a king's high reeve's, 4000 thrymsas.
5. A mass thegn's and a secular thegn's, 2000 thrymsas.
6. A ceorl's wergild is 266 thrymsas, that is 200 shillings by Mercian law....
A. D. cir. 930. ATHELSTAN. Conc. Greatanlea.
2. Of lordless men. And we have ordained, respecting those lordless men of whom no law can be got, that the kindred be commanded that they domicile him to folk-right, and find him a lord in the folk-mote; and if they then will not or cannot produce him at the term, then be he thenceforth a 'flyma,' and let him slay him for a thief who can come at him; and whoever after that shall harbour him, let him pay for him according to his 'wer,' or by it clear himself
12. And we have ordained, that no man buy any property out of port over xx. pence; but let him buy there within, on the witness of the port-reeve, or of another untying man; or further, on the witness of the reeves at the folk-mote.
20. If any one [when summoned] fail to attend the gemot thrice, let him pay the king's 'oferhyrnes,' and let it be announced seven days before the gemot is to be. But if he will not do right, nor pay the 'oferhyrnes,' then let all the chief men belonging to the 'burh' ride to him, and take all that he has, and put him in 'both.' But if any one will not ride with his fellows, let him pay the king's 'oferhyrnes.' . . .
ATHELSTAN. Conc. Exon.; cap. 1. And let there be named in every reeve's 'manung' as many men as are known to be unlying, that they may be for witness in every suit. And be the oaths of these untying men according to the worth of the property without election.
ATHELSTAN Judicia Civitatis Lundoniae; Preamble. This is the ordinance which the bishops and reeves belonging to London have ordained and with 'weds' confirmed, among our 'frith-gegildas' as well eorlish as ceorlish, in addition to the dooms which were fixed at Greatanlea and at Exeter and at Thunresfeld.
Cap. iii. That we count always x. men together, and the chief should direct the nine in each of those duties which we have all ordained; and [count] afterwards their 'hyndens' together, and one 'hynden man' who shall admonish the x. for our common benefit; and let these xi. hold the money of the 'hynden,' and decide what they shall disburse when aught is to pay, and what they shall receive, if money should arise to us at our common suit; and let them also know that every contribution be forthcoming which we have all ordained for our common benefit, after the rate of xxx. pence or one ox; so that all be fulfilled which we have ordained in our ordinances and which stands in our agreement.
Cap. viii. I. That we gather to us once in every month, if we can and have leisure, the 'hynden-men' and those who direct the tithings, as well with 'bytt-fylling' as else it may concern us, and know what of our agreement has been executed: and let these xii. men have their reflection together, and feed themselves according as they may deem themselves worthy and deal the remains of the meat for love of God.
2. And if it then should happen that any kin be so strong and so great, within land or without land, whether xii. 'hynde' or 'twy-hynde;' that they refuse us our right, and stand up in defence of a thief; that we all of us ride thereto with the reeve within whose 'manung' it may be....
It cannot be determined without question what is the historical connexion between the system of the Hundred, as exemplified in the hundred warriors and the hundred counsellors of the Germania, and the later institution of police organization and territorial division known under this name in England. The existence of a territorial subdivision intermediate between the vicus or township and the shire or under-kingdom, such as is known in various parts of England in the present day as the hundred, the wapontake, the lathe, or the rape, may be regarded as proved by numerous passages in Bede and the Chronicles; and this subdivision may be regarded as answering roughly to the pagus of Tacitus or the icon of Germany. But it is not equally clear when, how, or why the name of 'hundred' was first applied in the majority of the counties to this subdivision. It is sometimes stated that the hundred is a primitive subdivision consisting of a hundred hides of land, or apportioned to a hundred families: the great objection to plaice theory is the impossibility of reconciling the historical hundreds with any such computation. Another theory regards the use of the term as much more modern, and as arising from the police arrangement exemplified in the following document, and in two much earlier ones of Childebert and Clothaire, of the year 595, which exist among the Capitularies of the Frank kings. Upon this theory the 'hundred' was originally the association of a hundred persons for the conservation of peace and execution of law, parallel with the later institution of the tithing or association of ten freemen for a similar purpose. In process of time, the name of 'hundred' would naturally extend to the territory protected by this association, as the tithing itself became, in later times and in certain districts, a local division. This theory is more probable than the former, but requires to be adjusted in point of date and locality. We are not to regard the ordinances of Childebert and Clothaire, or this of Edgar, as the institution of an entirely new organization, and as creating the district as well as the police system from which it took its name. It would be as difficult to prove any historical connexion between the decrees of 595 and the ordinance of Edgar, as it would to trace either directly to the 'centeni' of the Germania. But it is extremely probable that both legislators utilised an existing machinery which was originally and closely allied to the centeni of Tacitus. There are thus three points: the existence of the subdivision of the shire, which is unquestionable; the existence of the machinery of the hundred for police purposes, which emerges in these ordinances, but which may fairly be presumed to be traceable to the analogy of the primitive usage, and which may have been customary for ages, during which there is no direct record of it; and, thirdly, the application of the personal name and organization of the hundred to the already existing territorial division, which occurs in Germany as well as in England. The last thus viewed becomes of minor importance; as the special names applied to the particular hundreds must in most cases have existed previous to the application. The hundred-court was the ordinary court of justice among the Franks and bore the name of mallus. The law of Childebert and Clothaire recognizes the existence of the territorial hundred even whilst instituting a new measure of police. The law of Edgar has a very much wider operation, regulating the practice of the hundred-court in other respects. The coincidence in the wording of the two documents is remarkable, rather as exhibiting the traces of ancient common institutions than as proving any direct connexion.
A. D. 959-975. EDGAR. This is the ordinance how the Hundred shall be held.
1. First, that they meet always within four weeks; and that every man do justice to another.
2. That a thief shall be pursued.... If there be present need, let it be made known to the hundredman, and let him make it known to the tithingmen; and let all go forth to where God may direct them to go. Let them do justice on the thief, as it was formerly the enactment of Edmund. And let the 'ceapgild' be paid to him who owns the cattle, and the rest be divided into two; half to the hundred, half to the lord, excepting men, and let the lord take possession of the men.
3. And the man who neglects this, and denies the doom of the hundred, and the same be afterwards proved against him, let him pay to the hundred xxx. pence; and for the second time lx. pence, half to the hundred, half to the lord. If he do so a third time, let him pay half a pound; for the fourth time, let him forfeit all that he owns, and be an outlaw, unless the king allow Him to remain in the country.
4. And we have ordained, concerning unknown cattle, that no one should possess it without the testimonies of the men of the hundred, or of the tithingman; and that he be a well trusty man; and unless he have either of these, let no vouching to warranty (team) be allowed him.
5. We have also ordained, if the hundred pursue a track into another hundred, that notice be given to the hundredman, and that he then go with them. If he neglect this, let him pay xxx. shillings to the king.
6. If any one flinch from justice and escape, let him who held him to answer for the offense pay the 'an-gylde.' And if any one accuse him of having sent him away, let him clear himself, as it is established in the country.
7. In the hundred, as in any other 'gemot,' we ordain that folk-right be pronounced in every suit, and that a term be fixed when it shall be fulfilled. And he who shall break that term, unless it be by his lord's decree, let him make 'bot' with xxx. shillings, and on the day fixed fulfil that which he ought to have done before.
8. An ox's bell, and a dog's collar, and a blast-horn-either of these three shall be worth a shilling, and each is reckoned an informer.
9. Let the iron that is for the threefold ordeal weigh iii. pounds; and for the single, one pound.
A. D. 959-975. EDGAR. Ordinance. This is the ordinance that King Edgar, with the counsel of his witan, ordained, in praise of God, and in honour to himself, and for the behoof of all his people.
1. These, then, are first: That God's churches be entitled to every right; and that every tithe be rendered to the old minster to which the district belongs; and that be then so paid, both from a thegn's 'in-land' and from 'geneat' land, so as the plough traverses it....
Secular Ordinance; cap. I. Now this is the secular ordinance which I will that it be held. This, then, is first what I will: that every man be worthy of folk-right, as well poor as rich; and that righteous dooms be judged to him; and let there be such remission in the 'bot' as may be becoming before God and tolerable before the world.
Cap. 2. And let no one apply to the king in any suit, unless he at home may not be worthy of law, or cannot obtain law. If the law be too heavy, let him seek a mitigation of it from the king; and for any 'bot' worthy crime let no man forfeit more than his 'wer.'
Cap. 5. And let the hundred gemot be attended as it was before fixed; and thrice in the year let a burh-gemot be held; and twice, a shire-gemot; and let there be present the bishop of the shire and the ealdorman, and there both expound as well the law of God as the secular law.
Cap. 6. And let every man so order that he have a 'borh'; and let the 'borh' then bring and hold him to every justice; and if any one then do wrong and run away, let the 'borh' bear that which he ought to bear. But if it be a thief, and if he can get hold of him within twelve months, let him deliver him up to justice, and let be rendered unto him what he before had paid.
Cap. 8. And let one money pass throughout the king's dominion; and that let no man refuse; and let one measure and one weight pass, such as is observed at London and at Winchester. . ...
Cap. 4. To every 'burh' let there be chosen xxxiii. as witness.
Cap. 5. To small 'burhs' and in every hundred xii. unless ye desire more.
Cap. 6. And let every man, with their witness, buy and sell every of the chattels that he may buy or sell, either in a burh or in a wapontake; and let every of them, when he is first chosen as witness, give the oath that he never, neither for money, nor for love, nor for fear, will deny any of those things of which he was witness, nor declare any other thing in witness save that alone which he saw or heard; and of such sworn men let there be at every bargain two or three as witness.
A. D. 978-1016. ETHELRED. I. This is the ordinance which King Ethelred and his witan ordained as 'frith-bot' for the whole nation, at Woodstock, in the land of the Mercians, according to the law of the English.
Cap. I. Of 'Borhs.' That is, that every freeman have a true 'borh,' that the 'borh' may present him to every justice, if he should be accused. But if he be 'tyhtbysig,' let him go to the threefold ordeal. If his lord say that he has failed neither in oath nor ordeal since the gemot was at Bromdun, let the lord take with him two true thegns within the hundred, and swear that never bath oath failed him, nor had he paid 'theof-gyld;' unless he have the reeve who is competent to do that. If then the oath succeed, let the man then who is there accused choose whichever he will, either single ordeal, or a pound-worth oath, within the three hundreds, for above thirty pence. If they dare not take the oath, let him go to the triple ordeal And let every lord have his household in his own 'borh.'
II. Cap. 6. If the frith-breach be committed within a 'burh,' let the inhabitants of the 'burh' themselves go and get the murderers, living or dead, or their nearest kindred, head for head. If they will not, let the ealdorman go; if he will not, let the king go; if he will not, let the ealdordom lie in 'unfrith.'
III. Cap. 3 And that a gemot be held in every wapontake; and the xii. senior thegns go out, and the reeve with them, and swear on the relic that is given them in hand, that they will accuse no innocent man, nor conceal any guilty one.....
Cap. II. And let no man have any soken over a king's thegn except the king himself.
V. Cap. 2. And the ordinance of our lord and of his witan is, that Christian men and uncondemned be not sold out of the country, especially into a heathen nation; and be it jealously guarded against, that those souls perish not that Christ bought with his own life.
Cap. 3. And the ordinance of our lord and of his witan is, that Christian men for all too little be not condemned to death; but in general let mild punishments be decreed, for the people's need; and let not, for a little, God's handiwork and His own purchase be destroyed, which He dearly bought.
Cap. 26. But let God's law be henceforth zealously loved, by word and deed, then will God soon be merciful to this nation: and let 'frithes-bot' and 'feos-bot' everywhere in the country, and 'burh-bot' on every side, and 'bric-bot,' and the armaments (fyrdung) also be diligently attended to, according to what is always prescribed when there is need.
Cap. 28. And if any one without leave return from the 'fyrd' in which the king himself is, let it be at the peril of himself and all his estate; and he who else returns from the 'fyrd,' let him be liable in cxx. shillings.
A. D. 1016-1035. CANUTE. Secular Dooms; cap. 17. And let no one apply to the king unless he may not be entitled to any justice within his hundred; and let the hundred gemot be applied to under penalty of the 'wite,' so as it is right to apply to it.
Cap. 18. And thrice a-year let there be a 'burh-gemot,' and twice a 'shire-gemot'; under penalty of the 'wite,' as is right, unless there be need oftener. And let there be present the bishop of the shire and the ealdorman, and there let both expound as well the law of God as the secular law.
Cap. 19. And let no man take any distress either in the shire or out of the shire, before he has twice demanded his right in the hundred. If at the third time he have no justice, then let him go at the fourth time to the ' shire-gemot,' and let the shire appoint him a fourth term. If that then fail, let him take leave either from hence or thence, that he may seize his own.
Cap. 20. And we will that every free man be brought into a hundred and into a tithing.... And that every one be brought into a hundred and in 'borh;' and let the 'borh' hold and lead him to every plea....
Cap. 21. And we will that every man above xii. years make oath that he will neither be a thief nor cognizant of theft.
Cap. 70. This then is the alleviation which it is my will to secure to all the people of that which they before this were too much oppressed with. That then is first; that I command all my reeves that they justly provide on my own, and maintain me therewith; and that no man need give them anything as 'feorm-fultum' unless he himself be willing. And if any one after that demand a 'wite,' let him be liable in his 'wer' to the king.
Cap. 71. And if any one depart this life intestate, be it through his neglect, be it through sudden death; then let not the lord draw more from his property than his lawful heriot. And according to his direction, let the property be distributed very justly to the wife and children and relations, to every one according to the degree that belongs to him.
Cap. 72. And let the heriots be as it is fitting to the degree. An eorl's such as thereto belongs, that is, eight horses, four saddled and four unsaddled, and four helmets and four coats of mail, and eight spears and as many shields, and four swords and 200 mancuses of gold. And after that, a king's thegn's, of those who are nearest to him; four horses, two saddled and two undo saddled, and two swords and four spears and as many shields, and a helmet and a coat of mail and fifty mancuses of gold. And of the medial thegns, a horse and his trappings and his arms; or his 'healsfang' in Wessex; and in Mercia two pounds, and in East Anglia two pounds. And the heriot of a king's thegn among the Danes, who has his soken, four pounds. And if he have further relation to the king, two horses, one saddled and the other unsaddled, and one sword and two spears and two shields and fifty mancuses of gold; and he who is of less means, two pounds.
Cap. 81. And I will that every man be entitled to his hunting in wood and in field, on his own possession. And let every one forego my hunting: take notice where I will have it untrespassed on, under penalty of the full 'wite.'
THE Charter affords a most important illustration of the policy of Canute with regard to his English subjects, and of the general spirit of his legislation after his rule was universally admitted. It probably belongs to the year 1020, in which the king returned from Denmark, as the earl Thurcyl, to whom it is addressed, was outlawed the following year. The laws of Edgar had been chosen by the Danes and English at Oxford in 1018. The document is published for the first time. (see also the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle : Eleventh Century; the years 1020-1022. Note added by the Avalon Project)
Canute, the king, greets his archbishops and his suffragan bishops, and Thurcyl the earl, and all his earls and all his people, twelfhynde and twyhynde, clerk and lay, in England, friendly; and I do you to wit that I will be kind lord and unfailing to God's rights and to right secular law. I took to my remembrance the writing and the word that archbishop Lyfing brought me from Rome from the pope, that I should everywhere maintain the glory of God and put down wrong, and work full peace by the might that God would give me. Now I shrank not from my cost whilst hostility was in hand among you; now I with God's help took away at my cost that of which men told me that it threatened us with more harm than well pleased us; and then went I myself into Denmark, with the men that went with me, from whence most harm came to you; and that have I with God's help taken precautions for that never henceforth should enmity come to you from thence whilst ye men rightly hold, and my life lasteth. Now I thank God Almighty for his help and mercy, that I have so allayed the great harms that threatened us, that we need expect Tom thence no harm, but to full peace and to deliverance if need be. Now I will that we all reverently thank God Almighty for the mercy that he has done for our help. Now I beseech my archbishops and all my suffragan bishops that they all be attentive about God's right, every one in his district which is committed to him; and also my ealdormen I command that they help the bishops to God's right and to my royal authority and to the behoof of all the people. If any be so bold, clerk or lay, Dane or English, as to go against God's law and against my royal authority, or against secular law, and be unwilling to make amends, and to alter according to my bishops' teaching, then I pray Thurcyl my earl, and also command him, that he bend that unrighteous one to right if he can; if he cannot, then will I with the strength of us both that he destroy him in the land or drive him out of the land, be he better, be he worse; and also I command all my reeves, by my friendship and by all that they own, and by their own life, that they everywhere hold my people rightly and judge right judgments by the shire bishops' witness, and do such mercy therein as the shire bishop thinks right, as a man may attain to; and if any harbour a thief, or neglect the pursuit, be he answerable to me as the thief should, unless he can clear himself towards me with full purgation. And I will that all people, clerk and lay, hold fast Edgar's law, which all men have chosen and sworn to at Oxford, for that all the bishops say that it right deeply offends God, that a man break oaths or pledges; and likewise they further teach us that we should with all might and main, alike seek, love, and worship the eternal merciful God, and eschew all unrighteousness; that is, slaying of kinsmen, and murder, and perjury, and witchcraft and enchantment, and adultery, and incest; and also we charge in the name of God Almighty, and of all his saints, that no man be so bold as to marry a hallowed nun or mynchen; and if any have done so, be he outlaw towards God, and excommunicated from all Christendom, and answerable to the king in all he has, unless he quickly alter and deeply make amends to God; and further still, we admonish that men keep Sunday's festival with all their might, and observe it from Saturday's noon to Monday's dawning; and no man be so bold that he either go to market or seek any court on that holy day; and all men, poor and rich, seek their church, and ask forgiveness for their sins, and keep earnestly every ordained fast, and earnestly honour the saints that the mass priests shall bid us, that we may altogether through the mercy of the everlasting God and the intercession of his saints come to the joy of the kingdom of heaven, and dwell with Him who liveth and reigneth for ever without end. Amen.
[York Gospel Book, MS.]
Select Charters and other Illustrations of English Constitutional History from the Earliest Times to the Reign of Edward the First.
Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1900.