Book 2, Chapter 2, 597 AD to 827 AD – Ethelbert of Kent – Continued
The reign of Ethelbert lasted fifty six years. Before his death he published a code of laws to regulate the administration of justice. For this improvement he was indebted to the suggestions of the missionaries, who, though they had been accustomed to the forms and decisions of Roman jurisprudence, did not, in legislating for the Saxons, attempt to abolish the national notions of equity, but wisely retained the principle of pecuniary compensation, a principle universally prevalent in the northern nations. Those crimes which appeared the most repugnant to the wellbeing of society, were scrupulously enumerated, theft in its different branches, murder, sacrilege, insults offered to female chastity, and infractions of the peace of the king and of the church and to each was attached a proportionate fine, which rose in amount according to the dignity of the person against whom the offence was committed. From these laws it appears that all freemen were classed according to their property, and the offices which they held.
To each class was allotted its peculiar mund and were. The mund was the pecuniary mulct, which was intended to provide for the security of each individual, and of those under his roof. Thus the mund of a widow, if she were of the highest rank, was fifty shillings, of the second twenty, of the third, twelve, and of the fourth, six. The were, was the sum at which the life of each person was rated. If he was killed, the murderer paid it as compensation, to his family, if he himself transgressed the laws he forfeited it, in lieu of his head to the king. But murder was not only an offence against individuals it was also considered as an injury to the community, and the criminal was compelled to make what was esteemed compensation to the violated justice of his country as well as to the family of the deceased. For this purpose, besides the were, he paid an additional fine, called the wite, which was received by the king or the chief magistrate of the district. The same distinctions, and the same punishments with a few variations arising out of times and circumstances, were retained in all the laws of succeeding legislators. This code of Ethelbert’s, the first known code, is the primal root out of which grew all subsequent codes, modified according to the exigencies of the times and to the degrees of civilization.
Chapter 2, Ethelbert of Kent
Laws of Ethelbert of Kent
Chapter 2, Kings Alfred and Ethelbald
Chapter 2, King Egbert
Chapter 2, Invasion of the Northmen
Categories: Book 2