Termed from Old English lagu and dom meaning
‘law’ and ‘judgement’.
Anglo-Saxon law is a body of written rules and
customs that were in place during the Anglo-Saxon
period in England.
Anglo-Saxon laws were made up of three
The laws and collections promulgated by the king.
Authoritative statements of customs; and
Primate compilations of legal rules and enactments.
Primary emphasis was on criminal law than on
The Anglo-Saxon law rested on the fundamental
opposition between folk right and privilege. Folk right
is the aggregate of rules whether formulated or not.
There was a folk right of east and west Saxons,
Mercians, Northumbrians, Danes and Welshmen, and
this main folk right divisions persisted even after the
tribal kingdoms disappeared in the 8th and 9th
In this manner, a privilege land tenure was
The various types of secular, legal pronouncements
which survived from the Anglo-Saxon period can be
grouped into three categories:
Laws and collections of laws promulgated by
Statements of custom.
Private compilations of legal rules and
•The fourth group might be made up of the characters,
as they are based on Old English private and public law
and supply us with most important materials in regard
The oldest Anglo-Saxon law codes, specially in
Kent and Wessex, reveals a close affinity to the laws
of the North sea peoples – most of the Saxons,
Frisians and Scandinavians.
In subsequent history, there is a good deal of
resemblance between the capitualaries, legislation
of Charles Magne and his successors
on one hand, the Axe of Alfred,
Advert the Elder, Aethelstan and
Edgar on the other.
The Codification of Anglo-
Saxon Law under Ethelbert
(c. 600) by Lee Lawrie.
The direct influence of Roman law was not great
during the Saxon period. We noticed neither the
transmission of important legal doctrines, nor the
continuous stream of Roman tradition local uses.
The tribal law of real property was deeply
modified by the introduction of individualistic
notions as to ownership, donations, wills, rights of
Executive functions: Anglo-Saxon England did not have
had a professional standing law enforcement body like
our modern police. In general, if a crime was
committed, then there was a victim and it was upto the
victim, or the victim’s family, to seek justice.
Legislative functions: The Anglo-Saxon king legislated
back, then, sometimes with the council, but most of the
time he enacted laws himself. Also, codes of laws were
produced by a king at regular intervals.
Judiciary functions: The judiciary functions of the
Anglo-Saxon legal system was mainly practiced by courts
like nowadays. Once a charge had been brought, it had to
be heard by a court which would decide on the matter
and actions would be taken as such.
The Anglo-Saxons legal system can’t be
understood unless one realises the fundamental
opposition between folk right and privilege.
Another feature of vital importance in the
history of Anglo-Saxon laws is its tendency towards
maintaining and preservation of peace, which
naturally takes its course towards the strongest
ruler - the king.
We witness in Anglo-Saxon laws the gradual
evolution of more and more stringent and
complete rules in respect of the king’s peace and
The English dialect in which the Anglo-Saxon laws has
been handed down is in most cases a common speech
derived from west Saxon.
By the 10th century the west Saxon had become
predominant among the Anglo-Saxons kings and their
lands were home to some of the most developed
religious and monastic centres on the island .
As most of the surviving old English law courts are
only preserved in copies made during the 11th
century, the west Saxons dialect is predominant.
Traces of the Kentish dialect, however, can be
detected in quotes copied out in the Textus Roffensis, a
manuscript containing the earliest Kentish laws.
As distinguished from other barbarian laws, which were written
in Latin, Anglo-Saxon laws were written in Old English, they reveal
no Roman influence.
In the Kentian laws of Aethelbert (early 7th century),Hlothhers
and Eudric, and Withred (late 7th), the differentiation of society
into the nobility and the ordinary tribesman is already obvious.
The Wessex laws of Ine (late 7th century), testify to the growth
of the landholdings of the king, his servitors and the church, at
the expense of some of the commoners, who had fallen into
dependence on the aristocracy.
The laws of Alfred (Wessex, late 9th century), while observing in
part the features of a law code, were already a collection of royal
and church enactments having force for all the territory under
Trial By Ordeal: It’s probably the most entertaining part of the
Anglo-Saxons legal system. This method was considered to be
bringing an unresolved issue to the highest court they had- God.
Trial By Cold Water: Briefly stated, the accused was given holy
water to drink and then tossed into a river or a pond or other fairly
deep body of water. If the man was innocent , he’d sink to the bottom
and if he was guilty he would float.
Trial by Hot Water: In this method, a stone was placed in the
bottom of a Cauldron of boiling water. The accused would be
required to reach his hand in and retrieve the stone. The hand was
bandaged and examined in three days. If the man was healing
cleanly, then the man was presumed innocent. If the burn was
infected, then he was guilty and remanded for punishment.
Trial by Iron: An iron was heated until it was glowing and the
accused carried it for 9 feet. Again, the hand was bandaged and
examined for three days.