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Highlands Ranch High School - Mr. Sedivy
Highlands Ranch, ColoradoRise of Nation State England

Rise of Nation State England
Early English Life and Customs -
Thanes, Churls and Thralls, Wergeld, Folk-Moot

Early English Life and Customs
Monks who kept historical records usually wrote only about kings and churchmen. There are no pictures of them and little idea of what they were like as people.

King Athelstan and Bede
King Athelstan is portrayed presenting Bede's "Lives of St. Cuthbert" to the saint himself on a visit in 934. This is the earliest surviving presentation picture produced in England.

Beowulf was composed in England, probably some time in the eighth century. Beowulf is a excellent source for information about life during that time. Bede's history of the Christian kings of Northumbria portrays them as peace loving, saintly men. This is probably a little one-sided. From Beowulf, we get a more down-to-earth view of how kings were surrounded by their warriors.

The King's followers were known as "thanes." Thanes accompanied the king when he rode out to hunt the stag - like bodyguards. Thanes helped in war and helped keep law and order in the kingdom. A king's power depended on the loyalty, strength and courage of his thanes.

The Danish king, Hrothgar, had a banqueting hall, which was a large barn-like building made of wood. In return for their services, thanes expected to be given weapons horses, food and drink, other gifts, and the joys of the hall. The most valuable gift of all was land - the real basis for wealth and power. Once they had an estate, they could set up house and marry, but still always served the king. No king was strong enough to gain control of the whole country until the tenth century.

Churls and Thralls
The ordinary people in the English kingdoms farmed the land or worked in village trade. Most were freemen called "churls," but there were also "thralls" or slaves. Many thralls were from the unfortunate Britons. Other thralls were prisoners taken in wars between the kingdoms, or criminals unable to pay fines imposed on them. In very hard times, when people were dying of starvation, parents might sell their children into slavery.

Churls were mostly peasant farmers, owning a "hide" - a piece of land large enough to support a household. The size of a hide varied from place to place, but it was normally at lease 50 acres. They lived in simple huts made of straw.

The chief mark distinguishing the ranks of the thane, churl, and thrall was "wergeld." This was a man's "life-price" - the number of oxen or the sum of money that had to be paid to his relatives by anyone who killed him. Wergelds were fixed according to rank. In the laws of King Ine of Wessex (688 - 726), a nobleman's life-price was six times that of a churl. Fear of the victim's family helped to prevent crime. (Today it's prison, police, etc.) Back then you could take revenge on the person responsible or claim compensation based on the wergeld.

Kings and Church leaders encouraged the peaceful method of settlement, in money or goods. But if the wrongdoer would not, or could not pay compensation, vengeance ("the blood feud") was the only alternative. Some crimes, such as betrayal of one's lord, were so serious that compensation was not enough. If the accused failed to appear to answer the charges against him, he would be declared an outlaw and could be killed by anyone.

The Folk-Moot
The people held "folk-moots," open-air meetings. The defendant would swear a solemn oath of innocence and bring forward "oath helpers." The value of oath helpers depended on their rank. If they could not find enough oath helpers, they would use "trial by ordeal." A priest took charge and chose either iron or water. It was believed that the water would cast out the guilty, who floated, yet "receive" the innocent, who sank!

The defendant carried a red-hot iron bar a short distance. The hand was then bandaged. If the wound healed in there days without festering, the defendant was declared innocent. God would give a judgment by helping only the innocent.

Farming and Trade
Many of the English settlers took over lands cleared by the Britons. The chief crops were barley, rye and wheat. Bees were kept. Honey was important because in those days people had no sugar, so it was the only kind of sweetening. Most villages had a "lord," one of the king's thanes, whom the people looked to for protection. Besides giving this free labor, they paid regular "food rent" in wheat, pigs, and eggs.

Not all villagers farmed the land. Some carried on the necessary trades. Smiths made tools and other implements, including ploughs, shovels, pots and pans. There were also carpenters. Highly skilled craftsmen such as goldsmiths, stone-masons and weapons-makers were usually employed by kings.

They met most of their own essential needs. A few things were brought in from outside such as iron and salt. It was very dangerous for peddlers because there were outlaws in the woods.

King Ine's Law

"If a man from a distance or a foreigner goes through the wood off track, and does not shout nor blow a horn, he is be assumed a thief, to be either killed or redeemed."

They were forced to pay compensation across the Channel - mostly for expensive luxuries such as wine, weapons, and glassware for kings and nobles.

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Mr. Sedivy's Lecture Notes & Historical Info

The Celts
| Gallic He-Men | Celtic Culture, Trade, Religion, Women |
| Threat of the Celts - Celtic Battles and Conquests |

- Rise of Nation State England -
| Roman Conquest of Britain | Christianity in Britain |
| Customs: Thanes, Churls, Thralls, Wergeld, Folk-Moot |
| Dark Ages: Alfred the Great, Edward the Elder, Athelstan |
| The Return of the Vikings |
| Kings of Britain: Aethelred, Cnut, Edward the Confessor |
| Bayeaux Tapestry, William the Conqueror,
Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson, Harold II
| The Crusades: Richard Lion Heart, Pope Urban |
| King John, Innocent III, Archbishop Stephen Langton |
| Magna Carta / First Parliament |

Wales and Scotland
| Wales: Edward I, Llewellyn, Snowdonia |
| Scotland: Alexander III, John Balliol,
William Wallace, Robert Bruce, King Edward II

The 100 Years War
| Edward III, Longbows at Crecy, Edward IV, Black Prince |
| Henry V, King Charles VI, Battle at Calais, Treaty of Troyes |

More Information
| Other Kings of the Dark and Middle Ages:
William II, Henry I, Henry II
| The British Monarchy's Peerage: Dukes, Viscounts,
Marquess, Earls, Baronets, and Barons

Class Activities
Roman Conquest Comparison
Battle of Agincourt

Related Information
Mr. Sedivy's World History - The Middle Ages
The Complete Bayeux Tapestry
Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages / Crusades
The Hundred Years War
King Henry VIII
The Interesting Life of Elizabeth I
The Stuarts - James I, Charles I, Charles II, James II
Oliver Cromwell



Highlands Ranch High School 9375 South Cresthill Lane Highlands Ranch, Colorado 80126 303-471-7000

Mr. Sedivy's History Classes
| Colorado History | American Government | Advanced Placement Modern European History | Rise of Nation State England | World History |
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