Book 2, Chapter 5, 878 AD to 901 AD – Saxon Laws
A hot controversy has been waged as to whether Alfred is entitled to the honour of introducing the practice of trial by jury into England, but, in fact, the jury appears to have been an institution of progressive growth, and its principle may be traced to the earliest Anglo-Saxon times. One of the judicial customs of the Saxons was that a man might be cleared of the accusation of certain crimes, if an appointed number of persons came forward and swore that they believed him innocent of the allegation. These men were literally jurators, who swore to a veredictum, who so far determined the facts of the case as to acquit the person in whose favour they swore. Such an oath, and such an acquittal, is a jury in its earliest and rudest shape, and it is remarkable that for accusations of any consequence among the Saxons of the Continent, twelve jurators were the number required for an acquittal. Thus for the wound of a noble, which produced blood, or disclosed the bone, or broke a limb, or if one seized another by the hair, or threw him into the water, in these and some other cases twelve jurators were required.
In the treaty between Alfred and Guthrun, more lights appear, “If any accuse the king’s thane of manslaughter, if he dares absolve himself, let him do it by twelve king’s thanes. If the accused be less than a king’s thane, let him absolve himself by eleven of his equals, and one king’s thane.” Here the number of twelve, and the principle of the peers, both appear to us.
This injunction seems also to provide a jury, On an accusation of idolatry or witchcraft, “if it be a king’s thane who denies it, let there be then named to him twelve, and let him take twelve of his relations, and twelve strangers, and if he fails, let him pay for the violation of the law, or ten half mares.” This seems a jury, twelve persons were to be appointed, and he was to add twelve of his kinsfolk, and this law concerning Northumbria, where they were chiefly Danes, as many foreigners were to be added. If they absolved him, he was cleared, if not, he was to be mulcted. It is one of the rules established concerning our jury, that a foreigner has a right to have half of the jury foreigners.
The following law of Ethelred has the same application, “Let there be gemots in every waepentace, and let twelve of, the eldest thanes go out with the gerefa, and swear on the relics, which shall be given into their hands, that they will condemn no innocent man, nor screen any that is guilty.” This passage seems to have no meaning but so far as it alludes to a jury.
Chapter 5, Alfred’s Fortifications
Chapter 5, Revolt in the Danelagh
Chapter 5, Alfred’s Educational Efforts
Chapter 5, Alfred’s Industry and Zeal
Chapter 5, Saxon Laws
Origin of Jury
Chapter 5, Summary of Alfred’s Character
Categories: Book 2