exercised the occupations of husbandry or the mechanic arts. " Yet the eorl possessed important advantages. In fact, he was also designated as twelf-haend-man, while to the ceorl was given the appellation of twi-haend-man, which would place their comparatire worth in the estimation of the Saxon law in the ratio of twelve to two, or six to one; ” and in certain judicial and other proceedings an actual advantage attached to the eorls in this ratio. The ceorl, however, was by no means a degraded person. He might raise himself by industry or enterprise to be an eorl. A merchant who went thrice across the sea in his own craft became an eor). Or, if a ceorl acquired five hides of land--about six hundred acres—having thereupon a church and mansion for his family, he too, became an eorl. Thus the distinction appears to have been chiefly honorary, though in certain matters evident advantages attached to the superior rank.

The sense of personal freedom and responsibility was strangely mingled in the Saxon mind with reverence for rank, which to the Saxon represented martial glory. Moreover, the notion of the family relation was extended to the tribe, of which the chief, whose office was elective, was the head and representative. Tacitus informs us that in his time the German chieftains were surrounded by bands of adherents or companions, who voluntarily attached themselves to their respective leaders. They were the chieftain's ornament and pride in peace; in war, the chief source of his power. The only tie which bound them to his person was that of honor and affection. He considered it his duty to reward their services; but his rewards were not regarded in the light of pay. The notion of obligatory or purchased service was repudiated by the chief no less than by his free companions. In such estimation was this institution held, that every freeman was, for a long time, required to be connected with some chieftain, who was called his hlaford, i. e. lord, although his choice was wholly unrestrained as to the particular chieftain under, whom he placed himself. The freeman did not become a vassal, and still less a slave, to his superior. Their connection was a simple social contract, freely entered into both by lord and man, and might be terminated at the choice of either. While it lasted, they were bound to mutual defence against all wrongs and enemies whatever. The lord was the man's legal surety and the champion of his man's right, and to fail in this regard was held to be dishonor. On the other hand, the man was present and took part in the lord's courts and councils, and attended him in war. Desertion of the standard of his lord in open fight was treason ; but he was at liberty at any other time to leave his lord and choose another.

Evidently this relationship of lord and freeman must have exercised a potent influence in the development of Anglo-Saxon institutions. The settlements of the Germanic tribes in Britain were effected at successive times, in different localities, and under different leaders, who established on the soil of Britain many tribes which, though of kindred blood and speech, were not identical. Eight independent kingdoms therefore soon appeared, in all of which the public polity was of the same free type, although their mutual independence necessarily prevented uniformity. Of the various steps whereby these different kingdoms were at length united under one crown, it is not our purpose now to speak at length. Suffice it, for the present, to observe that the union of the crowns did not at all imply a union of the kingdoms. These, as we shall see, remained distinct, and unless when voluntary coalitions were effected, they retained their own laws, with their independent witena-gemotes or parliaments.

In sketching such a simple system as the Anglo-Saxon, the most ready way of giving a complete view is to begin with the Individual. This we have already done, and shown sufficiently that every Saxon man was in the best and highest sense a freeman.

Slaves, among the Anglo-Saxons, were their subjugated enemies. We are now to show the various institutions and divisions of the people which made up the sum of the Anglo-Saxon government; and we shall find throughout the whole, that its one animating principle was that of Local SOVEREIGNTY. Consolidated power was totally unknown among them. From the least matters to the greatest, every right of jurisdiction vested in the local power alone, to the exclusion of all others whatsoever. In a word, the local powe"s were sovereign and independent in all local matters.'

The first and elemental division of the Anglo-Saxon people was

the TYTHING, with its officer and representative, the tything-man. It was founded on do territorial basis, but was simply the embodiment of every ten households or families of such freemen as were not in the “mund," or under the protection of a superior lord. It was a police division, in which each man of the ten became responsible in some degree for all the rest, under a kind of suretyship, called Frank-Pledge. If one of them committed a crime, it was the duty of the rest to produce him in justice, that the wrong-doer might make reparation by his own property, or by personal punishment. In case of his escape, the tything was allowed to purge itself of all participation in the crime and the escape; but, failing such an exculpation, if the malefactor's property proved insufficient for the payment of the penalty, the tything was compelled to make it good. The influence of such a local system of responsibility in rude times can be easily conceived. It was the interest of every man that each should keep the peace; and in this simplest distribution of the Anglo-Saxons, we perceive at once the presence of that principle of local unity and local supervision which becomes but clearer as we carry our investigations fartber.

Next in order to the tything was the HUNDRED, which was represented by its officer, the hundred-man. Concerning its organ. ization, antiquarians have bad much dispute—some holding it to be a territorial division of the country into tracts, containing each one hundred hides of land; while others with much plausibility maintain that hundreds, like the tythings, were numerically organized, containing each one hundred families. The truth is, both opinions are most probably correct. In the southern kingdoms of the Oc. tarchy, the hundred could not have been organized on the same principle as in the northern. Sussex, for example, was divided into sixty-five hundreds, and Dorset into forty-three; while Yorkshire had but twenty-six, and Lancashire not more than six. So wide a difference as this must have arisen from a difference of plan in the construction of the hundreds ; and as Alison observes, “ the divisions of the north, properly called wapentakes, were planted upon a different system [from the hundreds of the south], and obtained the denomination of hundreds incorrectly, after the union of all England under a single sovereign." However this may be, the

union of the Anglo-Saxon crowns produced no change in the local law, either in the northern or the southern kingdoms; and the wapentakes of the north, like the hundreds of the south, continued in the full enjoyment of their local customs. Every hundred held a hundred court once in each month, in which it took cognizance of causes both civil and criminal. The freemen of the hundred were at once the witnesses, the judges, and the jury in these courts. The hundred-man, with an ecclesiastic, aided them with his advice on points of law or right, but the decision rested absolutely with the freemen of the hundred. So closely did our Saxon fathers guard the sovereignty of their local institutions, that it is questionable whether an appeal was suffered to be made from the decision of the hundred court, unless where litigants were residents of different hundreds. Yet it seems but reasonable to suppose that such appeals were sometimes made to the superior county courts.

The Burgh was a hundred, or, perhaps often, a union of hundreds, surrounded by a moat, wall, or stockade. Its business was transacted in its burgh courts, which had jurisdiction over causes arising within their limits.

But the most important distribution of the country was into shires, or counties, which were strictly territorial divisions, and included within definite boundaries the freemen who composed the tythings and hundreds, lords with the men belonging to their "munds," burghs with their burghers, and religious houses with their tenants and dependants. In the shire courts, whose presiding officer was called an Ealdor-man, the most important judicial business of the county was transacted at half-yearly sessions. Of their importance, Hallam observes as follows: “It has been justly remarked by Hume, that among a people who lived in so simple a manner as the Anglo-Saxons, the judicial power is always of more importance than the legislative. The liberties of the Anglo-Saxon thanes (freemen) were chiefly secured-next to their swords and free spirits—by the inestimable right of deciding civil and criminal suits in their own county courts : an institution which, having survived the Conquest, contributed in no small degree to fix the liberties of England upon a broad and popular basis."? The procedure of the county court was summary and simple. It

was composed of all the freemen of the county who assembled at the regular time, or on a special summons if the court were held at any other time. The ealdorman, in later times, assisted by a bishop or other ecclesiastic, presided, and, no doubt, instructed these unlearned judges, but he had no power to force or overrule their verdict. The freemen of the shire decided the whole controversy. They judged the fact and applied the law. The only duty of the ealdorman was to execute their judgments. The following account from an old chronicle of the proceedings in an Anglo-Saxon shire gemote or county court, will illustrate the summary and informal judgments of the times : “To this gemote came Edwin and spake against his mother concerning some lands. The bishop asked who would answer for her. Thurcil the White said he would answer for her if he knew the complaint, but that he was ignorant of it. Then three thanes of the gemote were showed where she lived, and rode to her and asked what dispute she had about the land for which her son was impleading her. She said that she had no land that belonged to him, and was angry with her son. So she called Lleofleda her kinswoman, the wife of Thurcil the White, and before the thanes spake thus: Here sits Lleofleda my

kinswoman. I give thee both my lands, my gold, and my clothes, and all that I have after my life. Then said she to the thanes, Do thane-like, and tell well to the gemote before all good men what I have said, and tell them to whom I have given my lands and my goods, but to my son nothing; and pray them to be witnesses of this. And they did so, and rode to the gemote, and told all the good men there what she had said to them. Then stood up Thurcil the White in that gemote, and prayed all the thanes to give to his wife all the lands which her relation had given her. And they did so, and Thurcil the White rode to St. Ethelbert's church by all the folk's leave and witness, and left it to be set down in our Christ's book.” The decision of the shire gemote or county court was irreversible, unless by the great council of the kingdom. Appeal from it was not permitted even to the king. Persons, such as slaves, who were not law worthythat is, capable of bringing suits at law-or who could not obtain a hearing in their county court, might lay their cause before the king; but even Edgar, the most powerful of the Saxon

« ForrigeFortsett »