Selected Laws of Ine, 688-695

These laws survive because they are attached to the end of Alfred’s laws. They are the first surviving laws of Wessex, and again the role of the king is changing. Christianity is very new, and Ine, like other Anglo Saxon kings was to abdicate so that he could travel to Rome. These laws show how 7th century kingship changes to include a wider responsibility to maintain good law. 

The Laws of Ine (688-695)

I, Ine, by the grace of God King of the West Saxons, with the advice and instruction of Cenred, my father, of Hedde, my Bishop, and of Eorcenwold, my bishop, together with all my eaorldormen, the most distinguished witan among my people, and also a great assembly of God’s servants, have taken counsel concerning the welfare of our souls and the state of our realm, in order that just laws and just royal laws should be established and assured to all our people, and so that no alderman or subject of ours should henceforth pervert these our dooms.

6.       If anyone fights in the king’s house, he shall forfeit all his inheritance, and it shall be in the king’s judgment whether or not he shall lose his life. If anyone fights in a monastery, he shall pay 120s compensation [to the monastery]. If anyone fights in the house of an eaorldormen, or of some other distinguished statesman (witan), he shall pay 6os compensation [to the householder] and another 6os. as a fine [to the king]. If, however, he fights in the house of a rent-payer (gafolgeldan) or peasant (gebures), he shall pay 3os as a fine and 6s. to the peasant.

[the word gebures, a lowly social rank in Anglo Saxon times, leads to the word ‘boor’in modern speech…]

8.      If any one demands justice before any shireman (scirman),5 or any other judge, and cannot obtain it through default of a pledge [from the accused], he shall pay 305. compensation [to the plaintiff] and within seven nights do him proper justice.

9.      If any one wreaks vengeance [on his enemy] before demanding justice [in court], he shall give back anything he has seized together with as much again [to the injured party], and shall pay 30s. compensation [to the king]. . . .

12.    If a thief is captured [in the act of thieving], let him suffer death or redeem his life through payment of his wergeld.

13     By “thieves” (Peofas) we mean men up to the number seven; by “a band” (hloo) from seven to thirty-five ; by “an army” (here) above thirty-five.

14.    One accused of belonging to [such] a band shall clear himself through [an oath worth] 120 hides or pay an equal amount as compensation.

[According to this equation, the oaths of a ceorl, a six-hundred man, and a twelve-hundred man were computed respectively as 10, 30, and 6o hides. By this means any group of freemen could be quickly assessed at what may be called their swearing-worth. Note also that many dooms required the number of oath-helpers, or the total value of their oaths, to vary in proportion to the gravity of the offence. The determination of such matters was normally left to the doomsmen in the court]

15.    One accused of plundering with [such] an army shall redeem his ‘life through [payment of] his wergeld or shall clear himself by [an oath equivalent to] his wergeld. . . .

19.    A king’s geneat,8 if his wergeld is 1200S., may swear for 60 hides if he is a regular communicant [at church].

[The geneat is a person, who might enjoy relatively high or low status, but was always a man of honourable rank. As described in the later sources, his chief duty was that of riding on errands]

20.     If a man from afar, or a stranger, goes through the woods off the highway and neither calls out nor blows a horn, he may be considered a thief, to be slain or to be redeemed [by paying his wergeld].

21.     If then any one lays claim to the wergeld of the slain man, the slayer may prove [by an unsupported oath] that he slew the man as a thief; neither the geld-associates nor the lord [of the slain man] may avail themselves of an oath [to set aside such proof]. . . .

[Geld associates are those persons who might have to pay compensation for a man’s acts and so would have a claim on any wergeld that might be paid when he was slain.]

22.     Should your geneat steal and then escape you, you may claim the angyld from his surety, if you have one for him. If not, you must pay the angyld, but he shall not on that account be held guiltless.

[Angyld means a single one-off payment]

23. . . . [The wergeld of] a Welsh rent-payer [is] 120s, of his son 100. A Welsh slave [is worth] 60, or sometimes 50. A Welsh- man’s skin [is worth] 12.

[i.e. the Welsh slave could buy himself out of a beating with this sum, while flogging a Saxon ceorl involves the payment of 20s, compensation ]

25.     If a trader does business among the people throughout the countryside, he must do so before witnesses. If stolen property is found in the possession of a trader, and if he has not bought it be-fore good witnesses, he must pay a fine of 36s. or clear himself through [an oath equivalent to] the fine, swearing that he was neither the thief nor an accomplice. . . .

32.     If a Welshman possesses a hide of land, his wergeld 1S 120S., if only half a hide, 80s.; if no land at all, 60s.

33.     A Welsh horseman who rides in the king’s service has a wergeld of 200s. . . .

36.     If someone captures a thief or is given a captured thief [to guard], and then lets the thief go or conceals the theft, he shall pay the thief’s wergeld as compensation. If he is an eaorldormen, he shall lose his shire, unless the king will pardon him.

37.     If a ceorl has often been accused of theft, and is finally proved guilty, either through the cauldron [i.e. the ordeal of hot water] or through being caught in the act, he shall have his hand or his foot cut off.

38.     If a ceorl and his wife have a child, and the ceorl dies, the mother shall keep her child and bring it up. She shall be given 6s. [a year] for its care—a cow in summer and an ox in winter. The relatives shall keep the homestead until the child has grown up.

39.     If anyone leaves his lord without permission or steals away into another shire’, and if he is then discovered, he must go back to where he was before and pay his lord 60s.

40.     The landed property of a ceorl shall be fenced both winter and summer. If it is not, and if his neighbour’s cattle come through an opening that he has left, he shall have no claim to such cattle, he must drive them out and suffer the damage. . . .

42.     If free peasants have the task of fencing a common meadow or other land that is divided into strips, and if some have built their portions of the fence while others have not, and if their common acres or grasslands are eaten [by straying animals], then those responsible for the opening must go and pay compensation to the others, who have done their share of the fencing, for any damage that may have been suffered. . . .

45.     [Compensation for] burhbryce of the king, or of a bishop anywhere in his diocese, is 120s.; of an alderman 80s.; of a king’s thegn 60s.; of a landed nobleman (gesiacundes rnonnes) 35s and according to these values [accusations of such offences] are to be cleared by oath. . . .

[In future time, burgh will become a fortified town, but in these days it’s the fortified dwelling of an important man]

50.     If a nobleman comes to an agreement with the king or with the king’s alderman concerning the misdeeds of his dependents, or with his lord concerning slave or free, he shall have no share of such fines as they may pay through his own failure to restrain them from evil-doing at home.

51.     If a nobleman holding land neglects army service (fyrd), he shall pay 120S. and forfeit his land; one who holds no land shall pay 60s. ; a ceorl shall pay 30s. as fine for neglect of service (fyrdwite).

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