Dooms of King Athelstan
I, Aethelstan king, with the
counsel of Wulfhelm, archbishop, and of my other bishops, make known to the
reeves at each burh, and beseech you, in God's name, and by all his saints, and
also by my friendship, that you first of my own goods render the tithes both of
livestock and of the year's earthly fruits, so that they may most rightly be
either meted, or told, or weighed out; and let the bishops then do the like
from their own goods, and my ealdormen and my reeves the same. And I will, that
the bishop and the reeves command it to all those who ought to obey them, that
it be done at the right term. Let us bear in mind how Jacob the patriarch
spoke: "Decimas et hostias pacificas offeram tibi;" and how
Moses spoke in God's law: "Decimas et primitias non tardabis offerre
Domino." It is for us to think how awfully it is declared in the
books: If we will not render the tithes to God, that he will take from us the
nine parts when we least expect; and, moreover, we have the sin in addition
thereto. And I will also that my reeves do, that there be given the churchscots
and the soulscots at the places to which they rightly belong: and plow-alms
yearly, on this condition; that they shall enjoy it at the holy places who are
willing to serve their churches, and of God and of me are willing to deserve
it: but let him who will not, forfeit the bounty, or again turn to right. Now
you hear, says the king, what I give to God, and what you ought to fulfil by my
oferhyrnes. And do you also so that you may give to me my own what you for me
may acquire. I wil1 not that you unjustly anywhere acquire aught for me; but I
will grant to you your own justly, on this condition, that you yield to me
mine; and shield both yourselves, and those whom you ought to exhort, against
God's anger and against my oferhyrnes.
First: that no thief be
spared, who may be taken hand-haebbende, above twelve years, and above
eight pence. And if any one so do, let him pay for the thief according to his
wer, and let it not be the more settled for the thief, or that he clear himself
thereby. But if he will defend himself, or flees away, then let him not be
spared. If a thief be brought into prison: that he be forty days in prison, and
let him be released thereout with 120 shillings, and let the kindred enter into
borh for him that he evermore desist. And if after that he steal, let them pay
for him according to his wer, or bring him again therein: and if any one stand
up for him, let him pay for him according to his wer, as well to the king as to
him to whom it lawfully belongs: and let every man of those there who stand by
him pay to the king 120 shillings as wite.
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 folkright, and find him a lord in the
folkmote; 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.
And the lord who denies
justice, and upholds his evil-doing than, and the wing be applied to on that
account; let him pay the ceapgeld, and give to the king 120 shillings:
and he who applies to the king before he has prayed for justice, as oft it
shall behove him; let him pay the like wite that the other should if he had
denied him justice. And the lord who is privy to his theow's theft, and it is
made manifest against him, let him forfeit the theow, and be liable in his wer,
for the first time. If he do so oftener, let him be liable in all that he has:
and, also, such of the king s horderes, or of our reeves, as shall be
privy to the thieves who have stolen, let him be subject to the like. . . .
And we have ordained
respecting witch-crafts, and lybacs, and morthdaeds: if any one
should be thereby killed, and he could not deny it, that he be liable in his
life. But if he will deny it, and at threefold ordeal shall be guilty; that he
be 120 days in prison: and after that let kindred take him out, and give to the
king 120 shillings, and pay the wer to his kindred, and enter into borh for
him, that he evermore desist from the like.
Let incendiaries, and those
who avenge a thief, be worthy of the like law. And he who will avenge a thief,
and wounds no man, let him give to the king 120 shillings, as wite for the
And we have ordained
respecting the single ordeal, for those men who have been often accused, and
have been found guilty, and they know not who shall take them in borh; let them
be brought into prison: and let them be delivered out as here before is
And we have ordained:
if any landless man should become a follower of another shire, and again seek
his kinsfolk; that he may harbour him on this condition, that he present him to
folkright if he there do any wrong, or make bot for him.
He who attaches cattle, let
five of his neighbours be named to him; and of the five let him get one who
will swear with him that he takes it to himself by folkright: and he who will
keep it to himself, to him let there be named ten men, and let him get two of
them, and give the oath that it was born on his property, without the rimath;
and let his cyreath stand for over twenty pence.
And let no man exchange any
property without the witness of the reeve, or of the mass-priest, or of the
landlord, or of the hordere, or of other unlying man. If any one do so, let him
give thirty shillings, and let the landlord take possession of the exchange.
But if it be found that any
of these have given wrongful witness, that his witness never stand again for
aught, and that he also give thirty shillings as wite.
And we have ordained: that no
man buy any property out of port over twenty pence; but let him buy there
within, on the witness of the portreeve, or of another unlying man: or further,
on the witness of the reeves at the folkmote.
And we ordain: that every
burh be repaired fourteen days over Rogation Days. Secondly: that every
marketing be within port.
Thirdly: that there be one
money over all the king's dominion, and that no man mint except within port.
And if the moneyer be guilty, let the hand be struck off that wrought the
offense, and, be set up on the money-smithy but if it be an accusation, and he
is willing to clear himself; then let him go to the hot-iron, and clear the
hand therewith with which he is charged that fraud to have wrought. And if at
the ordeal he should be guilty, let the like be done as here before ordained.
In Canterbury seven
four the king's, and two the bishop's, one the abbot's.
At Rochester three; two the king's, and one the bishop's.
At London eight.
At Winchester six.
At Lewes two.
At Hastings one.
Another at Chichester.
At Hampton two.
At Wareham two.
At Exeter two.
At Shaftesbury two.
Else, at the other burhs one.
Fourthly: that no
shieldwright cover a shield with sheep's skin; and if he so do, let him pay
that every man have to the plough two well-horsed men.
Sixthly: if any one
take meed-money of a thief, and suppress another's right, let him be liable in
Seventhly: that no man
part with a horse over sea, unless he wish to give it.
And we have ordained
respecting a theowman: if he were guilty at the ordeal, that the ceapgeld
should be paid; and that he be scourged thrice, or a second geld be given: and
be the wite of half value for theows.
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 belongirg to the burh ride
to him, and take all that he has, and put him in bohr. But if any one will not
ride with his fellows, let him pay the king's oferhyrnes. And let it be
announced at the gemot, that the frith be kept toward all that the king wills
to be within the frith, and theft be foregone by his life and by all that he
has. And he who for the wites not desist, then let all the chief men belonging
to the burh ride to him, and take all that he has; and let the king take
possession of half, of half the men who may be in the riding; and place him in
borh. If he knows not who will be his borh, let them imprison him. If he will
not suffer it, let him be killed, unless he escape. If any one will avenge him,
or be at feud with any of them, then be he foe of the king, and to all his
friends. If he escape, and any one harbour him, let him be liable to his wer;
unless he shall dare to clear himself by the flyma's-wer, that he knew
he was a flyma.
If any one compound for an
ordeal, let him compound for the ceapgeld, as he can, and not for the wite;
unless he is willing to grant it to whom it may belong.
And let no man receive
another man's man, without his leave whom he before followed. If any one so do;
let him give up the man, and make bot the king's oferhyrnes. And let no one
dismiss his accused man from him before he has done what is right.
If any one gives wed for an
ordeal, then let him come three days before to the mass-priest who is to hallow
it; and let him feed himself with bread and with water, and salt, and herbs,
before he shall go to it; and let him attend mass each of the three days, and
make an oblation, and go to the house on the day that he shall go to the
ordeal: and then swear the oath that he is, according to the folkright,
guiltless of the charge, before he goes to the ordeal. And if it be water, that
he dive an ell and a half by the rope; if it be iron ordeal, let it be three
days before the hand be undone. And let every man begin his charge with a
fore-oath, as we before ordained: and be each of those fasting on either hand,
who may be there together, by God's command and the archbishop's: and let there
be on either side not more than twelve. If the accused man be with a larger
company than some twelve, then be the ordeal void, unless they will go from
And he who buys property with
witnesses, and if after obliged to vouch it to warranty, then let him receive
it from whom he before had bought it, whether he be free or bond, whichsoever
he be. And let no marketing be on Sundays; but if any one do so, let him
forfeit the goods, and pay thirty shillings as wite.
And he who shall swear
a false oath, and it be made clear against him; that he never after be
oath-worthy, nor let him lie within a hallowed burial-place, though he die,
unless he have the testimony of the bishop in whose shrift-shire he may be,
that he has made such bot as his confessor prescribed to him. And let his
confessor announce to the bishop, within thirty days, whether he would turn to
the bot. If he do not so, let him make bot in such wise as the bishop shall
prescribe to him.
But if any
one of my reeves will not do this, and care less about it than we have
commanded; then let him pay my oferhyrnes, and I will find another who will.
And let the bishop exact the oferhyrnes of the reeve for the first time five
pounds; for the second time, his wer; for the third time, let him forfeit all
that he has, and the friendship of us all. All this was established in the
great synod at Greatanlea: in which was the archbishop Wulfhelm, with all the
noblemen and witan whom King Aethelstan gather. . .
And concerning the
ordeal we enjoin by command of God, and of the archbishop, and of all the
bishops: that no man come within the church after the fire is borne in with
which the ordeal shall be heated, except the mass-priest, and him who shall go
thereto: and let there be measured nine feet from the stake to the mark, by the
man's feet who goes thereto. But if it be water, let it be heated till it low
to boiling. And be the kettle of iron or of brass, of lead or of clay. And if
it be a single accusation, let the hand dive after the stone up to the wrist,
and if it be threefold, up to the elbow. And when the ordeal is ready, then let
two men go in of either side; and be they agreed that it is so hot as we before
have said. And let go an equal number of men of either side, and stand on both
sides of the ordeal, along the church; and let these all be fasting,and
abstinent from their wives on that night; and let the mass-priest sprinkle holy
water over them all, and let each of them taste of the holy water, and give
them all the book and the image of Christ's rood to kiss: and let no man mend
the fire any longer when the hallowing is begun; but let the iron lie upon the
hot embers till the last collect: after that let it be laid upon the stapela;
and let there be no other speaking within, except that they earnestly pray to
Almighty God that he make manifest what is truest. And let him go thereto; and
let his hand be enveloped, and be it postponed till after the third day,
whether it be foul or clean within the envelope. And he who shall break this
law, be the ordeal with respect to him void, and let him pay to the king 120
shillings as wite. Walreaf is the nithing's deed: if any one
desire to deny it, let him do so with eight and forty full-born thanes.