GCSE History Revision: Norman England: The Legal System
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Everything you need to know about Norman England: The Legal System!
In Anglo Saxon times, the king was responsible for maintaining peace and providing justice and the land was governed by a system which encouraged everyone to maintain law and order. All freemen had to pledge an oath at 12yrs of age to avoid involvement in any major crimes and to report any suspected crime. If you broke the oath, you were regarded as disloyal or dishonourable, the family could be blamed and punished, face possible exile and the victim’s relatives were entitled to compensation. This form of compensation was called ‘wergild’. The wergild emphasised the importance of status, placing a value on people’s lives with the cerol worth 20 shillings, a thegn worth 1,2000 shillings and an earl worth 3,600 shillings. Previously, if relatives thought justice had not been served, blood feuds could develop and if unresolved, could last for many years. These still occurred but were lessened greatly by the wergild.
There were tithings (groups of 10 families who lived in hides) who maintained order and enforced two main laws, murder and theft. A group of 10 tithings was called a hundred and these elected a constable in charge. Shires and Counties consisted of a collection of hundreds and these had a shire reeve (sheriff) and their own court of law controlled by an Earl. These Earls would have to pay 1/3 of any fines or taxes collected from these courts to the king. Fines were given for many reasons and a tithing could choose to take collective responsibility for the crime and share the consequences, usually a fine. Tithings were also responsible for raising the alarm, tracking down the criminal and bringing them to justice. This was called the hue and cry. Trials and punishment were often brutal, ranging from trial by hot iron to trial by cold water to trial by ordeal which usually involved pain and was used if the courts couldn’t decide on a person’s innocence or guilt.
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