Treatment of Slaves

Book 2, Chapter 6, The End of the Ninth Century – Anglo Saxon Furniture

We learn nothing in the facts of history to the discredit of the Anglo Saxon character in general. As in other countries, in the same condition of society, they appear capable of great crimes, and of equally great acts of goodness and virtue. Generally speaking, their least amiable trait was the treatment of their servants or slaves, for this class among the Anglo-Saxons were in a state of absolute servitude, might be bought and sold, and had no protection in the law against their masters and mistresses, who, in fact, had power of life and death over them.

 We gather from the ecclesiastical canons that, at least in the earlier periods of Anglo Saxon history, it was not unusual for servants to be scourged to death by, or by order of, their mistresses. Some of the collections of local miracles, such as those of St. Swithin, at Winchester, (of the tenth century,) furnish us with horrible pictures of the cruel treatment to which female slaves especially were subjected. For comparatively slight offences they were loaded with gyves and fetters, and subjected to all kinds of tortures. Several of these are curiously illustrative of domestic manners. On one occasion, the maid servant of Teothic the bell maker of Manchester was, for “a slight offence,” placed in iron fetters, and chained up by the feet and hands all night. Next morning she was taken out to be frightfully beaten, and she was put again into her bonds, but in the ensuing night she contrived to make her escape, and fled to the church to seek sanctuary at the tomb of St. Swithin, for being in a state of servitude there was no legal protection for her.

The aptness with which the Saxon ladies made use of the scourge is illustrated by one of William of Malmesbury’s anecdotes, who tells us that, when king Ethelred was a child, he once so irritated his mother, that not having a whip, she beat him with some wax candles, which were the first thing that fell under her hand, until he was almost insensible. “On this account he dreaded candles during the rest of his life, to such a degree that he would never suffer the light of them to be introduced in his presence!”

Chapter 6, Ancient Towns and Highways

Domestic life of the Anglo-Saxons



Bells and Churches

Ancient Towns


Chapter 6, Internal Fittings of Houses



Chapter 6, Anglo-Saxon Furniture

Anglo-Saxon Furniture

Food and Drink


Furniture and Beds

Household Economy

Treatment of Slaves

The Toilette

Costume and Ornaments

Chapter 6, Anglo Saxon Hunting and Travelling


Travelling and Inns


The Calendar

Chapter 6, Anglo-Saxon Language

Anglo-Saxon Language

Local and District Courts of Justice


Categories: Book 2

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