The Northern Way

The Anglo-Saxon Dooms


The texts above contain a large number of unfamiliar Anglo-Saxon legal terms. Greg Rose provided further information on both the the manuscript history of the texts, and a glossary of the terms.

This glossary should be prefaced by noting that not all the definitions provided are uncontroversial, since a number of the issues underlying some of these terms are still very much a matter of scholarly debate (also, a number of the terms are combinations of modern English and Old English).

[Also see the more general list of

Medieval Terms

[At ORB] prepared by Prof. Arkenberg.]

aetheling: a king-worthy man of the extended royal family
aewdas: witness, usually by compurgation
aldor: elder, senior, lord (often in the form ealdor)
ambihtsmith: court smith, court carpenter, court handyman
angylde: compensation payment
bell-house: belfry
birele : cupbearer, steward
boc-lands: lands for which charters were held
borh: pledge, security, debt
borhbryce: breach of surety
bot: remedy, relief, compensation
burh: dwelling
burh-bryce: breach of a dwelling (i.e., "breaking and entering")
burhgate-seat: town or fortification gate
canne: cup
ceapgeld: market price, purchase price
cear-wund: badly (perhaps "mortally") wounded
ceorl: freeman (of the lowest class)
ceorlish: ceorl-like (note that "churlish" in modern English has a much more pejorative tone than ceorlisc)
churchealdor: Church-elder
church-frith: sanctuary, a special protection under ecclesiastical auspices
church-grith: sanctuary
church-hlaford: lord of a church
churchscots: church tax or payment
churchsocns: ecclesiastical jurisdiction, sanctuary
cynebot: royal compensation
cynedom: royal law, kingdom
cyreath: oath of compurgation undertaken by accused and compurgators
drihtinbeah: payment to a lord in compensation for killing his freeman
ealdorman: noble ruler of a county (and that sweeps under the rug one of
the most bitterly contested questions in AS history -- relative power of king and ealdorman.)
edorbryce: house-breaking
eorl: borrow-word from Old Norse jarl, often used in place of ealdorman in documents from Cnut's reign forward.
eorl-right: earl's right, right of an ealdorman
esne: slave, servant, retainer
esne-workmen: hirelings, mercenaries, day-laborers
fahman: foeman, usually the object of a blood-feud
feahfang: bribery (especially the act of taking a bribe)
fedesl: shouldn't this be "fedels" = feed, upkeep, fatted food animals?
feorm: provisions, foodstuffs, a grant of land in exchange for partial usufruct
fioh: cattle, chattel, money, riches, fee
flet: dwelling, hall
flyma: fugitive, outlaw, exile
flyma's-wer: legal value (wergeld) of an outlaw
folc-land: Eric John's work tries to clarify the meaning of this term, but I don't think anyone really knows precisely what it means
folk-leasing: shouldn't this be "folcleasung" = slander?
folkmote: folkmoot, meeting of a district (usually a hundred) for legal actions and to hear royal writs
folkright: common law, folk law
forlongen: ancient, long ago
frith-gewritu: peace agreement
frum-gyld: first installment of a payment
fryth: peace, restoration of rights, amnesty
fyrd: military expedition, royal levy (this is another complicated issue)
gaengang: return
gafol: tribute, tax, debt
gemot: meeting
gemot-terms: shouldn't this be "gemottermen" = term of the sitting of a district assembly or royal council meeting?
gesithcund: retainer-like, fit to be a thegn
hand-grith: security, surety given by the king's hand
hand-haebbende: a thief caught in the act (e.g., "red-handed").
heals-fang: a fine, a preferential share of a wergeld
hearm: damage, injury, tort
hloth: troop, band, gang (e.g., of thieves or robbers)
hloth-bot: penalty for being a member of a band or gang
hold: faithful, loyal; holder of an allod
hordere: treasurer, steward, hoarder
laadrinc: shouldn't this be "ladrinc" = escort?
laeth: landed property, a subdivision of the county
lah-slit: fine for breach of the law (used in Danelaw)
leod: man, people; wergeld for manslaughter
leodgeld: wergeld for manslaughter
leud-gelds: variant of leodgeld
light-scot: light tax (usually in support of lighting for a church or monastery)
lybacs: shouldn't this be "lyblac" = witchcraft, magic, sorcery or "lyblaeca" = sorcerer?
lyswe: corrupt, pustulent
maeg-burg: family, kinship group
maegship: kinship
maerra: is this "maerac" = boundary-oak, or "maere" = pure, sterling, well-known?
manwyrth: value or price of a man
morgengyftt: morning-gift
morthdaed: murder, mortal sin
morth-worker: shouldn't this be "morthweorc" = an act which causes death?
mund: protection, brideprice
mundbyrd : protection, patronage
mynsterham: monastery
nithing: coward, outlaw (severe term of opprobrium, often with overtones of sexual deviance)
oferhyrnes: disobedience (particularly disobedience of royal laws)
orwige: corwardly, unwarlike, free of liability for homicide
portreeve: shouldn't this be "portgerefa" = port-reeve, mayor?
riht hamscyld: legal means of protecting one's home
rimath: oath of compurgation
Rome-feoh: Peter's pence
Rom-feoh: Peter's pence
sac: dispute, jurisdiction, right to empanel a court
scaetts: shouldn't this be "sceatt" = coin, money, twentieth part of a shilling
sithcund: fit to be a thegn
six-hynde: pertaining to the class the wergeld of which was 600 shillings
socn: inquiry, right to collect fines
soulscots: shouldn't this be "sawolscot" = soulscot, payment to the church for burial
stapela: stake, post
stermelda: complainant, informer
thegn: retainer, minister
theoden: chief, king, God
theow-men: servants
theow-work: slave-work, servant-work
thrymsas: tremise (equal to three denarii)
tun: farm, manor, dwelling, village
twy-hynde: having a wergeld of 200 shillings
ut-ware: foreign defense, defense against outsiders
walreaf: the taking of spoils from the slain
wed: pledge, security, dowry
wedbryce: treachery
wegreaf: highway robbery
wer: man, money value of a man's life
wer-borh: pledge for the payment of wergeld
wergeld: money value of a man's life
wic-reeve: reeve of a wic (village, town), bailiff, tax-collector
witan: royal council
wite: punishment, penalty, contribution to the king
wither-tihtle: counter-charge

Manuscript History of the Texts

[The following note is by Greg Rose. It begins by address the relationship of the "North People's Law", the "Mercian Law", and the "Laws of Alfred, Guthrum and Edward the Elder", a relationship not entirely clear in the printed edition used for this etext.]

The manuscript history of these legal texts about which  is complicated, and I am not entirely certain whether you mean the Northhymbra preosta lagu or the Northleoda laga.  

The Laws of Alfred and Ine (ff. 9-32), the Mirca laga (ff. 38v-39v), and the Northleoda laga (ff. 93v-94) are found in the Textus Roffensis (s.xii1).   Alfred-Ine is also found in Cambridge, CCC 173, ff. 33-52v (the Parker Chronicle, s.x - s.xi), Cambridge, CCC 383, pp. 13-42 (s. xi/xii -- which also contains Alfred & Guthrum, Edward and Guthrum, and many other legal texts), and BL, Cotton Nero A.i, ff. 45-48 and 51-57v (s. xi med. -- contains many other legal texts as well), BL, Add. 43703, ff. 236v-255 (copied by Nowell -- original ms. BL, Cotton Otho B.xi was severely damaged in the 1731 fire).

The Mirca laga is extant in Cambridge, CCC 190, pp. 418-420 (s. xi1) and Cambridge, CCCC 201, pp. 102-103 (s. xi med.), and the Textus Roffensis.  The Northhymbra preosta lagu is found in Cambridge, CCC 201, pp. 43-46 and Brussels, Bibliotheque Royale 8558-63 (2498), f. 140r (s. xii in.)  The Northleoda laga is extant in Cambridge, CCC 201, p. 102.

The collection of the Laws of Alfred and Ine (which is itself a composite text), the Mirca laga, and the Northleoda laga in the Textus Roffensis is an editorial decision by a twelfth-century compiler.  There are good reasons for believing that these law codes were originally separate texts (as was the Northhymbra preosta laga). 

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