Front Matter Early Times The Druids The Britons Caesar in Britain Queen Boadicea The Great Walls The Great Irish Saint The Anglo-Saxons Brave King Arthur The Laws of the Saxons The Story of St Augustine Three Great Men The Danish Pirates King Alfred and the Cakes Alfred conquers the Danes A King's Narrow Escape The King and the Outlaw The Monasteries An Unlucky Couple St Dunstan King Canute and the Waves A Saxon Nobleman Lady Godiva's Ride The Battle of Hastings The Conquest Lords and Vassals Death of William The Brothers' Quarrels Arms and Armour The "White Ship" Matilda's Narrow Escapes Story of Fair Rosamond Thomas a Becket Murder of Thomas a Becket Richard's Adventures Richard and the Saracens The Faithful Minstrel Death of Richard The Murder of Arthur The Great Charter The Rule of Henry III A Race Persecution of the Jews The Conquest of Wales A Quarrel with France The Coronation Stone The Insolent Favourite Bruce and the Spider Death of Edward II The Murderers punished The Battle of Crecy The Siege of Calais The Age of Chivalry The Battle of Poitiers The Peasants' Revolt Richard's Presence of Mind A Tiny Queen Henry's Troubles Madcap Harry A Glorious Reign The Maid of Orleans The War of the Roses The Queen and the Brigand The Triumph of the Yorks The Princes in the Tower Richard's Punishment Two Pretenders A Grasping King Field of the Cloth of Gold The New Opinions Death of Wolsey Henry's Wives The King and the Painter A Boy King Lady Jane Grey The Death of Cranmer A Clever Queen Elizabeth's Lovers Mary, Queen of Scots Captivity of Mary Stuart Wreck of the Spanish Armada The Elizabethan Age Death of Elizabeth A Scotch King The Gunpowder Plot Sir Walter Raleigh King and Parliament Cavaliers and Roundheads "Remember" The Royal Oak The Commonwealth The Restoration Plague and Fire The Merry Monarch James driven out of England A Terrible Massacre William's Wars The Duke of Marlborough The Taking of Gibraltar The South Sea Bubble Bonny Prince Charlie Black Hole of Calcutta Loss of the Colonies The Battle of the Nile Nelson's Last Signal The Battle of Waterloo First Gentleman of Europe Childhood of Queen Victoria The Queen's Marriage Wars in Victoria's Reign The Jubilee

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Laws of the Saxons

The Anglo-Saxons, having terrified the Picts, Scots, and Britons, so that they no longer dared come into the main part of the island, settled down quietly in the kingdoms they had founded. As there were generally seven of these kingdoms, they are known as the Heptarchy, or the Seven Kingdoms.

You must not imagine, however, that the Anglo-Saxons entirely gave up fighting, for they often quarrelled and waged war against one another. But whenever any great danger threatened them, the Seven Kingdoms united under the command of the bravest of their kings, who was given the title of bretwalda, or head of the army. Besides the king, there were the earls, noblemen who were the governors and judges of certain provinces; the thanes, who served the king; the churls, who were the farmers; and, the lowest and largest class of all, the slaves, or serfs.

The people believed that the Anglo-Saxon kings all belonged to the race of Woden, but the crown did not always pass from a father to his eldest son, as it does now. Whenever a king died, the principal men of the tribe assembled in a council which was called the Witenagemot, or assembly of wise men. Here they talked the matter over and elected a new king, who could reign only by consent of the people. The Witenagemot also met two or three times a year, to decide what had best be done, and what new laws should be made, or to judge any case which could not be settled by the earls.

Most of the Anglo-Saxon punishments were by fines, a larger sum being asked for the murder of an earl than for that of a churl, and the killing of a horse or a cow being rated higher than that of a slave. Each earl had a sort of court over which he presided, and when a man was accused of a crime, he could prove his innocence either by getting ten men of his own class to swear he had not done wrong, or by submitting to an ordeal.

Now, as you probably do not know what an ordeal was, I must explain to you that it was a test of some kind. For instance, there was the ordeal by water, in which the accused was forced to plunge his hand into boiling water. If, at the end of a certain number of days, his burns were healed, he was said to be guiltless; but if they were not well, he was condemned as guilty. Sometimes the accused had to pick up a bar of iron heated red-hot, or had to walk blindfolded over nine heated ploughshares, or to plunge his hand or foot into boiling oil or pitch. Of course, we know that it was impossible by this plan to find out whether a man was innocent or guilty; but the Anglo-Saxons fancied that God would plainly show them who was right and who was wrong.

In these trials by ordeal, if the accused was a friend of the executioner, or if he had given him a present, the iron, water, or oil was not heated so hot as when the accused was an enemy, or even a stranger. So while some of the old Anglo-Saxon laws have proved worthy of being preserved, no one can regret that the trial by ordeal has been long ago given up.