note: Alfred, known as Alfred the Great, was King of Wessex from 871-901, and is still regarded as an important law-maker and teacher. These extant laws, along with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Asser's Life of Alfred give one of the most complete pictures of an Anglo-Saxon ruler in the British Isles.
The glossary may be a helpful thing to look at while reading this node.
The Lord spoke these words to Moses, and thus said: "I am the Lord your God. I led
you out of the land of the Egyptians, and of their bondage.
Of oaths and of weds.
1. At the first we teach, that it is most needful that every man
warily keep his oath and his wed. If any one be constrained to either of these
wrongfully, either to treason against his lord, or to any unlawful aid; then it is juster
to belie than to fulfil. But if he pledge himself to that which it is lawful to fulfil,
and in that belie himself, let him submissively deliver up his weapon and his goods to the
keeping of his friends, and be in prison forty days in a king's tun; let him there suffer whatever the
bishop may prescribe to him; and let his kinsmen feed him, if he himself have no food. If
he have no kinsmen, or have no food, let the king's reeve feed him. If he must be forced
to this, and he otherwise will not, if they bind him, let him forfeit his weapons and his
property. If he be slain, let him lie uncompensated. If he flee thereout before the time,
and he be taken, let him be in prison forty days, as he should before have been. But if he
escape, let him be held a fugitive, and be excommunicate of all Christ's churches. If,
however, there be another man's borh, let him make bot for the borhbryce,
as the law may direct him, and the wedbryce, as his confessor may prescribe to him.
2. If any one, for whatever crime, seek any of the mynsterhams to which the
king's feorm is incident, or other freehired which is worthy of reverence, let him
have a space of three days to protect himself, unless he be willing to come to terms. If
during this space, any one harm him by blow, or by bond, or wound him, let him make bot
for each of these according to regular usage, as well with wer as with wite:
and to the brotherhood one hundred and twenty shillings, as bot for the
churchfrith: and let him not have forlongen his own.
3. If any one break the king's borh, let him make bot for the
plaint, as the law shall direct him; and for the borhbryce with five pounds of maerra
pence. For an archbishop's borhbryce, or his mundbyrd, let him make bot
with three pounds: for any other bishop's or an earldormans borhbryce, or mundbyrd,
let him make bot with two pounds.
Of plotting against a lord.
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 with his life and in all that he has; or let him prove
himself according to his lord's wer.
5. We also ordain to every church which has been hallowed by a bishop, this fryth:
if a fahman flee to or reach one, that for seven days no one drag him out. But if
anyone do so, let him be liable in the king's mundbyrd and the churchfryth;
more if he there commit more wrong, if, despite of hunger, he can live; unless he fight
his way out. If the brethren have further need of their church, let them keep him in
another house, and let not that have more doors than the church. Let the churchealdor
take care that during this term no one give him food. If he himself be willing to deliver
up his weapons to his foes, let them keep him thirty days, and then let them give notice
of him to his kinsmen. It is also churchfryth: if any man seek a church for any of
those offences, which had not been before revealed, and there confess himself ill God's
name, be it half forgiven. He who steals on Sunday, or at Yule, or at Easter, or on Holy
Thursday, and on Rogation days; for each of these we will that the bot be twofold,
as during Lent-fast.
Of stealing in a church.
6. If any one thieve aught in a church, let him pay the angylde, and the wite,
such as shall belong to the angylde; and let the hand be struck off with which he
did it. If he will redeem the hand, and that be allowed him, let him pay as may belong to
In case a man fight in the king's hall.
7. If any one fight in the king's hall, or draw his weapon, and he be taken; be it
in the king's doom, either death, or life, as he may be willing to grant him. If he
escape, and be taken again, let him pay for himself according to his wergeld, and
make bot for the offence, as well wer as wite, according as he may
Of fornication with a nun.
8. If any one carry off a nun from a minster, without the king's or the bishop's
leave, let him pay a hundred and twenty shillings, half to the king, half to the bishop
and to the church-hlaford who owns the nun. If she live longer than he who carried
her off, let her not have aught of his property. If she bear a child, let not that have of
the property more than the mother. If any one slay her child, let him pay to the king the
maternal kindred's share; to the paternal kindred let their share be given. . . .
missing section of the manuscripts
Of those men who lend their weapons for man-slaying.
19. If any one lend his weapon to another that he may kill some one therewith, they may
join together if they will in the wer. If they will not join together, let him who
lent the weapon pay of the wer a third part, and of the wite a third part.
If he be willing to justify himself, that he knew of no ill-design in the loan; that he
may do. If a sword-polisher receive another man's weapon to furbish, or a smith a man's
material, let them both return it sound as either of them may have before received it:
unless either of them had before agreed that he should not hold it angylde. . . .
Of confession of debt.
22. If any one at the folk-mote 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 take possession of the wite. . . .
missing section of the manuscripts
Of kinless men.
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.
Of slaying a man thus circumstanced.
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.
Of hloth-slaying of a two-hynde man.
29. If any one with a hloth slay an unoffending twy-hynde man, let
him who acknowledges the death-blow pay wer and wite; and let every one who
was of the party pay thirty shillings as hloth-bot.
Of a six-hynde man.
30. If it be a six-hynde man, let every man pay sixty shillings as hloth-bot;
and the slayer, wer and full wite.
Of a twelve-hynde man.
31. If he be a twelve-hynde man, let each of them pay one hundred and twenty
shillings; and the slayer, wer and wite. If a hloth do this, and
afterwards will deny it on oath, let them all be accused, and let them then all pay the wer
in common; and all, one wite, such as shall belong to the wer.
Of those who commit folk-leasing.
32. If a man commit folk-leasing, and it be fixed upon him, with no lighter
thing let him make bot than that his tongue be cut out; which must not be redeemed
at any cheaper rate than it is estimated at according to his wer. . . .
missing section of the manuscripts
Of a holdgetael.
37. If a man from one holdgetael wish to seek a lord in another holdgetael,
let him do it with the knowledge of the ealdorman whom he before followed in his shire. If
he do it without his knowledge, let him who entertains him as his man pay 120 shillings as
wite; let him, however, deal the half to the king in the shire where he before
followed, half in that into which he comes. If he has done anything wrong where he before
was, let him make bot for it who has their received him as his man; and to the king
120 shillings as wite.
In case a man fight before an ealdorman in the gemot.
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
120 shillings to the ealdorman as wite. If he disturb the folkmote by
drawing his weapon, one hundred and twenty shillings to the ealdorman as wite. If
aught of this happen before a king's ealdorman's junior, or a king's priest, thirty
shillings as wite.
Of fighting in a ceorlish man's flet.
39. If any one fight in a ceorlish man's flet, with six shillings let him
make bot to the ceorl. If he draw his weapon and fight not, let it be half of that.
If, however, either of these happen to a six-hynde man, let it increase
threefoldly, according to the ceorlish bot to a twelve-hynde man, twofoldly, according to
the six-hynde's bot.
40. The king's burh-bryce shall be 120 shillings. An archbishop's, ninety
shillings. Any other bishop's, and an ealdorman's, sixty shillings. A twelve-hynde man's,
thirty shillings. A six-hynde man's, fifteen shillings. A ceorl's edorbryce, five
shillings. If aught of this happen when the fyrd is out, or in Lent fast, let the
bot be twofold. If any one in Lent put down holy law among the people without leave, let
him make bot with 120 shillings.
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.
42. We also command: that the man who knows his foe be homesitting fight not before
he demand justice of him. If he have such power that he can beset his foe, and besiege him
within, let him keep him within for seven days, and attack him not, if he will remain
within. And, then, after seven days, if he will surrender, and deliver up his weapons, let
him be kept safe for thirty days, and let notice of him be given to his kinsmen and his
friends. If, however, he flee to a church, then let it be according to the sanctity of the
church; as we have before said above. But if he have not sufficient power to besiege him
within, let him ride to the ealdorman, and beg aid of him. If he will not aid him, let him
ride to the king before he fights. In like manner also, if a man come upon his foe, and he
did not before know him to be homestaying; if he be willing to deliver up his weapons, let
him be kept for thirty days, and let notice of him be given to his friends; if he will not
deliver up his weapons, then he may attack him. If he be willing to surrender, and to
deliver up his weapons, and any one after that attack him, let him pay as well wer as
wound, as he may do, and wite, and let him have forfeited his maegship. We also
declare, that with his lord a man may fight orwige, if any one attack the lord:
thus may the lord fight for his man. After the same wise, a man may fight with his born
kinsman, if a man attack him wrongfully, except against his lord; that we do not allow.
And a man may fight orwige, if he find another with his lawful wife, within closed doors,
or under one covering, or with his lawfully-born daughter, or with his lawfully-born
sister, or with his mother, who was given to his father as his lawful wife.
Of the celebration of mass-days.
43. To all freemen let these days be given, but not to theow-men and esne-workmen:
twelve days at Yule, and the day on which Christ overcame the devil, and the commemoration
day of St. Gregory, and seven days before Easter and seven days after, and one day at St.
Peter's tide and St. Paul's, and in harvest the whole week before St. Mary-mass, and one
day at the celebration of All-Hallows and the four Wednesdays in the four ember weeks. To
all theow-men be given, to those whom it may be most desirable to give, whatever
any man shall give them in God's name, or they at any of their moments may deserve.
see the glossary, or
more Anglo-Saxon Laws and Customs