Anglo Saxon Legal System Features

The different types of preserved secular legal declarations of the Anglo-Saxon period can be divided into three general categories according to the way they are published: in the eighth century, venerable Beda writes that King Æthelberht, “among all the other advantages he bestowed on his subjects through wise politics, appointed them with his Council of Sages, judicial calamities modeled on the Romans.” Iuxta exempla Romanorum is the Latin expression that Beda uses here; The significance of this statement has aroused the curiosity of historians for centuries. It was not, as with the continental Germanic tribes, that Æthelberht had the law written in Latin; On the contrary, unprecedented, he used his own mother tongue, Old English, to express the “falls” or laws and judgments that had force in his kingdom. Some have speculated that “following the example of the Romans” simply meant that Æthelberht had decided to put the law in writing, whereas previously it was still an unwritten tradition and custom, passed down from generation to generation by oral transmission and supplemented by the edicts of kings. As such, Æthelberht`s Code of Law represents a significant break in the tradition of Anglo-Saxon law: the body of Kent`s legal customs, or at least part of them, was now represented by a written declaration – firm, immutable, no longer subject to the whims of memory. The law was now something that could be emphasized and, significantly, disseminated with ease. Customs declarations contained a large number of rules recorded in collections proclaimed by kings; Most of the paragraphs of the laws of Æthelberht, Hlothhere and Eadric and Ine are popular legal customs that have received the stamp of royal authority by their insertion in the official codes. On the other hand, from the laws of Withraed and Alfred downwards, the element of passage through the central authority becomes more and more important. Kings, with the help of secular and clerical Witan, strive to introduce new rules and break the power of long-standing customs (e.g., the commandments on the observance of feasts, Edmund`s decrees restricting private revenge, and parental solidarity regarding quarrels and the like). However, there are no external signs that allow us to conclusively distinguish the two categories of laws in the codes, nor is it possible to draw a line between the permanent laws and the personal decrees of individual sovereigns, as has been attempted in the case of Frankish legislation. The colorful documents of early Germanic law (leges barbarorum) were in many ways the product of Roman influence. Throughout the early Middle Ages, when various “Teutonic” or Germanic tribes on the continent came into closer and more peaceful contact with the highly institutionalized civilizations around the Mediterranean – especially the Roman Empire – it was inevitable that they would be affected by the cultural influences of the South. Many Germanic tribes and nations then began to imitate the cultural and institutional facets of Roman civilization. Few of these imitations were as important or had such a profound impact on the nature of “barbaric” life as the adoption of Scripture, a technology that spread hand in hand with Christianity in the Germanic kingdoms, a religion based on literacy.

Until then, the laws or customs of the barbarian nations of northern Europe were essentially oral: they were sometimes recited publicly, relying on word of mouth for their continuation and perhaps a capricious memory of those whom he was responsible for remembering. With writing, however, it was possible to bring the ancient customs of Northern Europeans with ink and parchment into a permanent and more or less solid form. It was a general trend among the Germanic tribes of Europe that the adaptation of the Roman writing system was quickly followed by the production of a code of national law. It was also inevitable that by imitating the Roman practice of writing law, facets of Roman law and jurisprudence would influence these new Germanic codes. The many legal and customary declarations that make up the continent`s early written Germanic legal systems bear witness to the influences of the Roman language and Roman law, each written in Latin (a foreign language) and often significantly influenced by the great legal code of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Anglo-Saxon law (Old English ǣ, later lagu “law”; dōm “decree, judgment”) is a set of written rules and customs that were in force during the Anglo-Saxon period in England before the Norman Conquest. This body of law, as well as early Scandinavian law and Germanic law, come from a family of ancient Germanic customs and legal thoughts. However, Anglo-Saxon legal systems differ from other ancient Germanic legal statements – known as leges barbarorum, in part because they were written in Anglo-Saxon rather than Latin. The laws of the Anglo-Saxons were the second in medieval Western Europe after those of the Irish, expressed in a language other than Latin. The Anglo-Saxon legal system cannot be understood without recognizing the fundamental contradiction between the right of the people and privileges. The people`s law is the set of rules, formulated or latent, but capable of being formulated, which can be invoked as an expression of the legal conscience of the persons as a whole or of the communities that compose it.

It is tribal in its origin and differentiated, not according to the borders between the states, but according to the national and provincial lines. There may be the popular rights of the West and East Saxons, the Eastern Fishermen, the men of Kent, the Mercians, the Northumbrians, the Danes, the Welsh, and these main divisions of peoples` rights persist even when the tribal kingdoms disappear and people are concentrated in one or two regions. The main centers for the formulation and enforcement of peoples` rights in the 10th and 11th centuries were the Shire moots, while the Witans of the Empire generally placed themselves on the upper ground of state opportunism, although they sometimes used ideas about people`s rights. The old law on real estate, inheritance, contracts, the usual rates of fines, were mainly regulated by the rights of persons; The Prefects, who were hired by the king and the great men, had to take care of local and rural affairs according to popular rights. The law had to be explained and enforced by the people themselves in their communities, while the spokesmen of the people were neither democratic majorities nor individual experts, but a few prominent men – the twelve oldest Thanes or a similar college. However, people`s rights could be violated or altered by special laws or subsidies, and the source of these privileges was royal power. Amendments and exceptions have indeed been proposed by the interested parties themselves and, above all, by the Church. This created a privileged land ownership – the land of book; the rules governing the succession of parents were annulled by grants of testamentary power and the confirmation of concessions and wills; Special exceptions to the jurisdiction of hundreds of people and special privileges in the imposition of fines have been granted. Over time, the rights deriving from royal privileges prevailed, so to speak, over the right of the people in many ways and became the very starting point of a new legal system – the feudal system. However, the law of the people could be violated or altered by a special passage or concession, and the basis of these privileges was royal power, especially when England became a single kingdom in the 10th century. In this way, a privileged land property was created; The rules of parental succession were replaced by testamentary power of attorney grants and confirmation of concessions and wills, and special privileges were granted for the collection of fines. Over time, the rights deriving from royal privileges outweighed the right of the people in many ways and were the starting point of the feudal system.

But the kinship system did not even apply universally to all colonies from the beginning, and did so less and less over time; Therefore, at a later date, the joint responsibility of relatives gave way to the joint responsibility of the district or group of households that formed a tithe. Anglo-Saxon England was a very well managed kingdom. The king had the ultimate authority, but during the 9th and 10th centuries, a complex system of local government was developed to raise taxes and maintain law and order. These included horrific methods of deciding guilt or innocence, such as trials against fire and water, but also the development of fairer trials by jurors.