Modes of Punishment

Book 2, Chapter 2, 597 AD to 827 AD – Kings Alfred and Ethelbald – Continued

The most popular among Anglo Saxon modes of punishment were pecuniary mulcts, but the imperfection and in utility of these could not always be disguised, and as they were sometimes alike impunity to the rich, who could afford to pay, and to the poor, who had nothing to lose, other punishments were enacted, such as imprisonment, outlawry, banishment, slavery, transportation, whipping, branding, amputation of limbs, mutilation of the nose, ears, or lips, plucking out of the eyes, Ioss of the hair, stoning and hanging. Some of these modes of punishment sufficiently attest a barbarous age.

 In addition, there was the supernatural method of process, called God’s Dome, or, as it is generally known by the name of Ordeal, which in the Saxon language signifies the Great Trial. This trial was made either by fire or water that by fire was principally reserved for persons of rank that by water decided the fate of the vulgar sometimes the mode was at the choice of the party. A piece of iron, kept with a religious veneration in some monastery which claimed this privilege as an honour, was brought forth into the church upon the day of trial, and it was there again consecrated to this awful purpose by a form of service still extant. A solemn mass was performed, and then the party accused appeared surrounded by the clergy, by his judges, and a vast concourse of people, anxious for the event, all that assisted, purified themselves by a fast of three days, and the accused, who had undergone the same fast, and received the sacrament, took the consecrated iron of about a pound weight, heated red, in his naked hand, and in that manner carried it nine feet.

This done the hand was wrapped up, and sealed in the presence of the whole assembly. Three nights being passed, the seals were opened before all the people, if the hand was found without any sore inflicted by the fire, the party was cleared with universal acclamation, if on the contrary a raw sore appeared, the party, condemned by the judgment of Heaven, had no further plea or appeal. Some-times the accused walked over nine hot irons, sometimes boiling water was used, and into this the man dipped his hand to the arm. The judgment by water was accompanied by the solemnity of the same ceremonies. The culprit was thrown into a pool of water, in which if he did not sink, he was adjudged guilty, as though the element to which they had committed the trial of his innocence, had rejected him.

These methods of trial may be traced to that provided under the Jewish law (Numbers v.) though without its divine sanction and safeguards. It is easy to perceive that the Anglo-Saxon ordeal afforded easy means of collusion between the accused and the priest, and that it gave increased power and influence to the clergy, and it has been suggested by some authors who have treated upon this subject that in all probability methods were known and practised by which the skin could be sufficiently indurated to abide the test.

Chapter 2, Ethelbert of Kent

Ethelbert of Kent

Laws of Ethelbert of Kent

Union of Bernicia and Deira, as Northumbria

Reign and Wars of Penda

Chapter 2, Kings Alfred and Ethelbald

Alfred of Northumbria’s Contest with Wilfrid and the Pope

Contest for Supremacy Between Mercia and Wessex

Modes of Punishment

Chapter 2, King Egbert

History of Each Kingdom

Supremacy of Wessex Established

Chapter 2, Invasion of the Northmen

Invasion of the Northmen

Sketch of Their History and Character


Categories: Book 2

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