James Wayland Joyce.

England's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic online

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Online LibraryJames Wayland JoyceEngland's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic → online text (page 19 of 83)
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enacted statutes which regulated the ecclesiastical, as well as
the civil government, and that those dangerous principles by
which the Church is totally severed from the State were
hitherto unknown to the Anglo-Saxons." Not, indeed, that
a full wittena-gemote decided upon questions purely spiritual ;
when these came under debate, the bishops and clergy went
apart ^ and deliberated by themselves. But on their return
their conclusions touching the law divine ^ were referred to
the full assembly ; and if assented to by all, carried with them
not only the authority of the Church, but became the law of
the land. As has been observed, the Wittena-gemotes were
usually held at the three high feasts of the Christian == year,
thus affording clear evidence that the solemnities of the State
coincided with the festivals of the Church; and suggesting
also matter for regret that holy and great interests, once so
intimately joined together, should in any measure or degree
have been put asunder.

These meetings were surrounded with all the circumstances
of splendour and solemnity which such high occasions de-
manded, when, according to ancient custom, the great men of
the realm were obliged to "attend on the king, as well to honour
his person and adorn his court % as to consult about the grand
affairs of the kingdom." The king appeared with his crown ^
upon his head, with his sceptre*' in his hand, and adorned with
all the ensigns'^ of majesty ; and this custom continued even
after the Anglo-Saxon period, and down as late as to the year
1158, when K. Henry II,, during the Christmas^ solemnities at
Worcester, divested himself of his crown and offered it upon

A.D. 804—

'* Spelm.
Cone. vol. i.
p. 182.

' Cone.
Mag. Brit,
vol. i. p. 58.

" Cone.
Mag. Brit.
vol. i. p.

V IbiJ. &
Hist. Anglo-
Saxons, vol.
iii. p. 15.0.
™ Hist. App.
No. 1.

^ Kennett's
Eccl. Syn.
p. 249. ■
Auth. pp.
158 et seq.
y Palgrave's
pref. 18.
^ Spelm.
Cone. i. 347.

* Spelm.
Cone. i. 347.
& Hody, p.

•> Spelm.

Cone. i. 347.

'^ Hody, 58,



d Hodr, p.


'^ Spelm.

Cone. i. 347,

note. &

Hody, p. 57.




A.D. 804—

f Sharon
Saxons, vol.
iii. pp. 187,


e Pal grave' 8
pref.l4— Ifi.
" Pal grave's
pref. 16.
I Ibid. 17.
J Sharon
Hist. Angio-
Saxons, vol.
iii. p. 73.
k See John-
son's Can.
vol.i. p. 355.
• Sharon
Sa.xons, vol.
iii. p. 73.
™ Palgrave's
pref. 17.
n Wake's
Princes, pp.

pref. 18—20.
P Vestitu
Hody, p. 58,

1 Cone.
Mag. Brit,
i. 316.

' Palgi-ave's
pref. 22.
' Cone.
Mag. Brit,
i. 316.
' Sharon
Hist. Anglo-
Saxons, vol.
iii. pp. 159.
162. 170.

" Sharon
Hist. Anglo
Saxons, vol
iii. p. 73.

the altar, from which time the ancient custom of wearing the
crown at those festivals ceased for a time. As the monarch
presided in the assembly, so sometimes^, if not always, he
addressed the members in a speech.

About the person of the king were the clerks ^ of the Royal
Chapel and the chief officers of state. Near them were placed
the bishops and abbots, habited in the vestments of their
respective orders, the principal places'* of honour being yielded
to the clergy by the " lewed-folk," or laymen. These prelates
had a double right to be present and to take part in the
proceedings, both in respect of their spiritual capacity as
teachers ' of the people, and also as being proprietors J of the
soil. For these were the two qualifications^ which secured a
seat in that assembly, noble birth' not being alone .sufficient
to confer that privilege, which was associated exclusively
either with clerkship or property; i.e. with such a character
for learning and such a station as was considered a guarantee
of personal merit, or with such a share in real property as
was deemed a security for good behaviour and a substantial
interest in the common weal. Near ™ the prelates were placed
the clergy " of inferior degree, each bishop bringing with him
a certain number of priests selected from his diocese '.

Beneath the clergy sat° the vassal kings, if any such
existed ; and on the same seats with them sat the aldermen,
or, as they were called in the later Anglo-Saxon times, the
eorls or earls of the shires, cladP in gilded robes, and dis-
tinguished by the ornaments proper to each respectively.

The next and lowest order enjoying the privilege of voting
in the wittena-gemote were the thanes'', who attended girt
with swords, as being the "king's ministers''," engaged to
defend him in time of war ; among ^ these probably were the
knicfhts\ if seats in this assembly are correctly assigned to
them. But all those claiming the right of giving their voices
at this august meeting were obliged to be landowners" ; for
no layman, however noble, could take his place there as a con-

^ In the charter of privileges given to Glastonbury by K. Edgar, in the mixed
Council of London, a.d. 'J70-1, we find this grant made to that monastery and its
subject churches — that neither the bishop nor his official should summon their
prcubyters to a synod, chapter, or auY parliament, "ad quodlibet placilzim." —
Spelm. Cone. i. 4!!5.



stituent member, unless entitled to land. There is reason to
suppose ^ that forty hides '^ of land, or an estate ^ of between
four and five^ thousand acres, was the amount generally
necessary to entitle the possessor to this honourable privilege,
though in Wessex a less quantity, perhaps five hides ^, or
betvv^een five and six hundred acres, was sufiicient.

In such assemblies, among our Anglo-Saxon forefathers,
were the laws made, and the necessary y business of the king-
dom transacted. On the same occasions also it was usual for the
king to hear^ and determine controversies'* between his great
men, to receive appeals from the folc-gemotes, to dispense his
munificence^, and to take care" that bishops were provided
for such districts as were in need.

It was customary also for the churls, or lower order of men,
to be present ; who, though having no votes in the assembly,
yet came together on these occasions ^ in vast crowds. And
notwithstanding they had no authority in the making of laws,
yet by their presence they testified a popular assent to the
proceedings, and were in the habit of crying out " Yea ! yea ! "
when the doom^ or enactment authorized by the witan was

VI The foic- The Circ-gemote and Wittena-gemote were the
gemote. ^^yo legislative assembhes of the Anglo-Saxons.

Their other assemblies were simply executive ; and first among
these stands the Folc-gemote, Shire-mote, or Gerefe-mote, i. e.
the "county court," or "shire-reeve's (sheriffs) turn." The
word folc-gemote in its generic sense signified originally any ^
assembly of the people ; but specifically, and in its more defined
sense, it was applied to the congress ^ of the freemen within
the limits of a county, and called therefore the shire-mote.
This assembly mef* twice a year in accordance^ with the
seventh canon of K. Edgar's laws, passed a.d. 958: first,
shortly after Easter (for J some time on ^Mayday) ; and,
secondly, shortly after ^ Michaelmas. In this court the
bishop \ together with the alderman ^ originally "^ presided ;

1 On this subject Mr. Sharon Turner has roundly contradicted himself, as may
be seen by comparing pp. 174 and 184 of his History of the Anglo-Saxons.

2 Johnson says that strictly the alderman was inferior to the earl; that his were-
gild was equal to that of a bishop, while the earl's equalled that of an archbishop ;
but that the titles alderman and earl were frequently confounded in ancient monu-
ments. Johnson's Can. vol. i. p. 335.

A.D. 804—

" Sharon
Hist. Anglo-
Sa.\ons, vol.
iii. p. 184.
" Hume's
Hist. App.
No. 1.
w Jacob's
Law Diet,
in verb. See
also Sharon
Hist. Anglo-
Saxons, vol.
ii. p. 564.
" Palgrave'a
pref. 22.
& see Johns.
Can. vol. i.
p. 355.
y Spelm.
Cone. i. 347.
^ Hody, p.

a Sharon
Hist. Anglo-
Saxons, vol.
iii. pp. 189,
190. 192.
^ Sharon
Saxons, vol.
iii. p. 187.
•^ Hody, p.

d Palgrave's
pref. 23.
e Ibid,
f Somner's
Diet, quoted
by Jacob in
? Jacob's
Law Diet,
in verbo.
•> Hume, p.

' Johns.
Can. vol. i.
p. 411.
J Kennett,
Eccl. Syn.
p. 220.
k Ibid. 237.
I Hume, 21.
" Vid. 7th
can. Edgar's
Laws, A. D.
958. Johns.
Can. vol. i.
p. 411.




A.D. 804-

n HumTTsi^.
o Johns.
Can. vol. i.
p. 3-2.5.
P Ibid.

1 Kcnnett,
Eccl. Syn.
p. 220.

■■ Keiinett,
Eccl. Syn.
p. 223. '

s Hume's
No. 1.

' Hume's
No. 1.

" Hume
Dissert, pp.

" Hume's


Hume, 21,

but Alfred appointed a sheriff" also in each county, some-
times called the lesser ° alderman, who might as the king''s
minister be some check upon the independence of the alder-
man, and " whose p office empowered him to guard the rights
of the crown in the county, and to levy the fines imposed,
which in that age formed no contemptible part of the public
revenue." The spring folc-gemote was a fuller assembly^
than the meeting held in the autumn ; and that for two
reasons : at the former, allegiance was sworn to the king by
his fealty-men who resided within the particular county in
which the court was held, and thus this was the more solemn
occasion of the two ; but another reason also tended to render
the former assembly more crowded, which was, that the
country people"^ were not much at leisure to attend the
autumn folc-gemote, as being held at a season when the
harvesting of their crops demanded peculiar care. In ad-
dition to the oaths of fealty taken to the king, causes* eccle-
siastical, as well as civil, were decided in these folc-gemotes ;
and appeals were received from the inferior courts, i.e. from
the hundred courts r.nd burg-gemotes. " Secular affairs* were
here decided in a summary manner, without much pleading,
formality, or delay, by a majority of voices, and the bishop or
alderman had no further authority than to keep order among
the freeholders, and to interpose " with advice." It of course
is to be presumed that ecclesiastical causes involving questions
purely spiritual were never introduced here ; but only such
as involved the temporal accidents of Church disputes. The
law spiritual was then, as it ever ought to be, dealt with in
the circ-gemotcs. When fines were imposed by the court, a
third went " to the alderman ; and as many of the fines were
pecuniary, the profits of his office were considerabl}' aug-
mented by this perquisite : the remaining two-thirds^ went to
the king.

From the folc-gemote there lay an appeal to tlie king in
council ; and it is said that in the time of Alfred the people
had such confidence in his wisdom and integrity that he was
overwhelmed witii appeals sent up from all parts of England ^.

The folc-gemotes represented our Lent and summer assizes,
for after the Conquest the mixed jurisdiction of the bishop
and alderman were divided, and tlie latter was replaced by




the " Count,'''' who was still to hold this assembly ', called in
later language the "sheriffs turn," twice a year. And more
recently, though the count's jurisdiction has remained with
the sheriff, yet the duty of trying causes has been transferred
to the Sovereign's judges of assize, persons learned in law ;
and the clamorous decisions of the collected Anglo-Saxon
freeholders have been replaced by the verdicts of juries, ordi-
narily reduced to the more reasonable and practicable number
of twelve Englishmen, an institution commended by the sixth
constitution of the great Council of Clarendon, a. d. 1164 y.

Nor by lovers of order can this change be lamented, as there
are reasons for supposing that the Anglo-Saxon folc-gemotes
were not always carried on with that respect to decorum which
the solemnity of the occasion, and the nature of the business to
be transacted, would seem to have required. We find, indeed,
a very strict law passed in K. Alfred's time against persons who
disturbed the proceedings in those meetings, as though such
events were not unusual ; and from the tenor of the law it
may be gathered that such disturbances were wont to be of
a somewhat tumultuous kind. It enacts that, " If men fight
before the king's alderman in court, let the satisfaction be made
as for blood, and a mulct be paid as right is, and before that,
120 shillings as a mulct to the alderman. If any one cause
disturbance in the county court by brandishing of weapons,
let him pay 120 shillings as a mulct to the alderman. If
somewhat of this happen before the king's lesser * alderman,
or the king's * priest, let thirty shillings be paid as the mulct ^."
VII. Tbehun- The next assembly in a descending order
died court. among the Anglo-Saxons was the hundred

court. This name was derived from the partition of the county,
over which the court exercised jurisdiction, for the counties ^
were subdivided into hundreds, and the hundreds into tithings ;
the hundred consisting of ten tithings, the tithing originally
of ten families or households. In the former, the hundred

a.d. 80


y Vid. Cone.
Mag. Brit,
vol. i. p. 435,
and note.

^K. Alfred's
Laws Eccl.
can. Ifi.
A.D. 877.
Johns. Can.
vol. i. p.

* Hume, p.

' "Vice-comes faciat" turnum " bis in anno, in loco debito et consulto, viz.
semel post Pascham et iterum post festum Sc'' Michaelis," is the usage declared
in very many charters. — Kennett, Eccl. Syn. 220.

* i. e. The sheriff.

' i. e. Probably the bishop's deputy. The crime of brandishing a weapon before
the bishop himself was dealt with in the ninth canon of the same code.




A.D. 804-

•> Jacob's
Law Diet,
voc. Hun-
<= Hume,
Ap|). No. ].
•1 Ibid.

e Hume, p.

Hist. Anglo
Saxons, vol
ii. p. 468.

e Sliarou
Hist. Anglo-
Sa.xons, vol.
ii. p. 467.
■i Hume, p.

constable \ or hundreder, was the chief officer ; in the latter,
the tithing-man, headburg, or borsholder. In the hundred
court such matters of dispute as were not deemed sufficiently
important to be carried to the higher tribunals were tried,
and '^ thus many civil transactions were concluded. " Here *
testaments were promulgated, slaves manumitted, and bar-
gains of sale ratified." To this court there lay an appeal ^
from the burg-geraote, the court of the " decennary," or
" tithing," and the original cause also was here tried in case of
any controversy arising between different decennaries.

The mode of proceeding in the hundred court is well worthy
of our especial regard, as hence arose our present institution
of ^ trial by jury, an institution the value of which we can
hardly estimate duly in times of internal peace, and in the
absence of secret designs and party intrigues ; but which is
the best bulwark against that flexibility of human judgment
so easily secured by the favour of the great and powerful in
every age. Twelve freeholders ^ were sworn, together with
the hundreder, "to administer impartial^ justice, and so they
proceeded to the settlement of such cases as fell within their
jurisdiction." The hundred was sometimes termed a wapen-
take, and its courts were monthly. The jurisdiction was
somewhat similar, at least as regards territorial extent, even
if it had not a more substantial resemblance, to our present
courts of petty sessions. The present liability in our own
days of the hundred to make compensation for the riotous
demolition of churches and some other specified buildings is
but a remnant of those Anglo-Saxon institutions, which
rendered persons living within the same districts responsible
for each other's behaviour ; and which practically taught the
wholesome lesson, that men may not live selfishly, intent only
upon themselves ; but that they must either provide, each
in his proper sphere, for the education and honest employment
of those about them and beneath them, or else justly bear
those common burdens, which the general prevalence of igno-
rance and idleness will inevitably entail. This principle has
been recognized during the reign * of our last sovereign but
one ; and it is not the only point in wliich we might very

* 7 and 8 Geo. IV. c. 31, regulating proceedings against the hundred in case of
riotous demolitions.



wisely and very beneficially imitate the example of our Anglo-
Saxon forefathers.

VIII The ^^^ lowest court was that of the " tithing" or

Burg-gemote. <■<■ decennary," called the Burg-geraote, and was
held thrice a year, as may be learnt from the seventh canon of
Edgar's laws \ a. d, 958. Each county, as has been remarked,
was divided into hundreds, from the hundred courts there lay an
appeal to the folc-gemote, or county court, and as the hundred
was divided into tithings, or decennaries, so from the courts
of this last division, the burg-aemotes, an appeal lay to the
hundred court. The tithing was originally composed of ten
families. The masters of tliose families formed a kind of
corporation, and " under J the name of a tithing, decennary, or
friburg, they were answerable for each other's conduct ; and
over them one person called a tithing-man, headburg, or
borsholder, was appointed to preside." Every man was obliged
to register himself within some tithing, and this precaution
was taken that, in the event of any offence being committed, the
guilty person might, without difficulty, be detected. In case
of flight, the borsholder and tithing in which the offender was
registered became liable to legal processes, and were obliged
to make satisfaction to the king according to the degree of
the offence, unless the borsholder of the tithing in which the
accused dwelt, together with two other members of his own
tithing, and three chief members from each of three neighbour-
ing tithings, making twelve in all, were prepared to swear that
the tithing was free from knowledge of the commission of the
offence, and from any collusion as regarded the escape of the
criminal. From this institution it was to the advantage of
every man to promote public virtue, and to repress crimes
among his neighbours ; and those are surely wise arrange-
ments which tend to create an indissoluble union between
private interest and public morality. When an offence was
not sufficiently grave to be carried at once before either of the
superior courts, "the borsholder summoned"^ together his
whole " tithing to aid him in giving judgment ; and in such an
assembly all those small differences were settled, which com-
monly arose within the community itself. His court, the Burg-
gemote. probably entertained, among others, such questions as
now in our own day frequently occupy the attention of the

,D. 80'


' Johns.
Can. vol.
p. 411.

J Hume,

•* Hume, p.



A.D. 804—



members at our courts-leet, where the state of the neighbouring
by-ways and condition of the foot-bridges become subjects of
discussion, together with such small matters as form the chief
part of parish poUtics.

IX Anglo- Such were the principal assemblies among

'rrheP^'of the Anglo-Saxons. In them we find the germ
the English. of that constitution under which we live. The

principles of our rough forefathers animate all the traditionary
institutions of our native land. On her soil their footmarks
are indelibly imprinted, and those traces have not been worn
away by the passage of centuries over them. It might be
that we should be wiser, if we followed more closely in their
track. Many who believe that this age has surpassed every
other in political wisdom, and outstripped all its predecessors
in the science of civil governm.ent, profess much gratification
in seeing the ancient principles of our constitution carried out
in adaptation to present circumstances, and (in their view)
amended so as to suit the exigencies of the present age. But
it may occur to some minds that an imputation would justly
lie not only against the political wisdom, but against the piety
of this generation, if all the ancient institutions of our native
land should prove objects of anxious solicitude and of at least
well-intended amendment, with the exception of those alone,
which are connected with the Church of God, and the defence
of the Christian faith.

X. Ecciesiasti- It wiU be observed that, during the period now
enacTed ''on 'The ^^fore US, by far the greater number of our public
same occasions. assemblies are specified in the tabular list as
mixed councils or wittena-gemotes. Very few national or pro-
vincial synods appear. And this may be accounted for by the
fact, that at this time, from the more complete consolidation of
the government, the Church and State had become so intimately
united, that questions relating to the general wellbeing of
the Church were almost invariably treated of at the same
time and place with the meetings of the mixed councils or
wittena-gemotes held for the regulation of the affairs of
the state. This was constantly the case, because the chief
clergy, as has been seen above, being members of the wit- [
tena-gemote, were gathered together at the meetings of that
assembly, and so took occasion at the same time to arrange




synodically any matters connected with the Church and reH-
gion which required their attention. It was also convenient
to transact ecclesiastical business at such times as the laity
were gathered together in council, and so were ready to
add legal sanctions to the recommendations and definitions of
the clergy.

It must again be repeated that during this period the clergy
were "alone and^ by themselves as the peculiar officers and
administrators of religion '"' in synods, they were in the mixed
councils and wittena-gemotes as "common subjects'" and one
state of the realm;" but although they were still admitted
to give their advice on all subjects, whether spiritual or tem-
poral, yet the laity were " not thought equal " judges in pure
spiritual matters," In all public matters indeed the clergy
then bore an important part. In the words of the learned
Spelman, "kings" at that time joyfully welcomed the whole
body of the clergy. Thence they selected such as should
preside in council, such as should undertake the chief offices
of state. For with them in that age resided the key of
knowledge ; and while the laity were devoted to war, as
the priests'' lips were the monitors of the people, so were
the bishops' of the king and of the commonwealth. In all the
assemblies and courts of the kingdom the bishops therefore
took precedence. In the royal palace the clergy were associated
with the chiefs of the kingdom, in the county court with
the earl, in the sheriffs turn with the sheriff, in the hun-
dred with the hundreder ; so that in the dispensation of jus-
tice the sword aided the sword ; nor was any matter trans-
acted without the clergy's advice, which as the ballast in a
ship maintained a just equipoise." This intimate association
of the clergy, with all the public assemblies and institutions of
our country at this period, is probably one chief cause, which
induced them to transact ecclesiastical business generally on
the occasions of the " mixed councils'''' and " wittena-gemotes.''''

In the following instances, among others, we may trace this
practice. At the mixed Council of Kingston, a. d. 838, we
are specially informed that the Archbishop Ceolnoth, with the
bishops, kings, and optimates, "all with? one mind and anxious
care investigated in common deliberation both spiritual and
secular requirements, in order that the peace and unanimity

A.D. 804


I Keniiett's
Eccl. Svn.
p. 214. See
also p. 249.
Auth. pp.
158 et seq.
"• Kennett,
Eccl. Svn.
p. 214. '
n Ibid.

Online LibraryJames Wayland JoyceEngland's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic → online text (page 19 of 83)