While most historians agree that the Anglo-Saxons had specific laws, most of the manuscripts which contained these laws have not survived to the present day. Because of this, many historians find it hard to get information on the legal structure of the Anglo-Saxon society. One thing that historians agree on is that Roman law played an important role in Great Britain before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. However, once the Romans left the region, their legal influence deteriorated. It is very likely that Anglo-Saxon laws were derived by rules that were used in Scandinavia. In addition to this, a Teutonic influence was present as well.
Anglo-Saxon laws can be broken down into three categories, and these are statements for customs, laws passed by a public authority, and a collection of rules that were used in private. Many of these laws were connected to the kings. Many of the kings in neighbouring regions would sign treaties that would allow their laws to be enforced. One good example of this is the treaty of Edward and Guthrum. The statement of custom can be found in documents such as the Doomsday Book. In most cases, these laws were used between the Welsh and the English. The Northumbrian priests would have promoted them as well. The third types of laws were referred to as being legal enactments, and would deal with oaths, marriage, and customs for rural communities.
In addition to the three primary categories of Anglo-Saxon law, Charters would also play an important role in its legal framework. All of the Charters were derived from Old English. It deals with both public and private laws. The kings of the time played an important role in the drafting of charters. The most popular laws would be stamped by royalty, and they may also have been placed in the official codes. The kings that came after Alfred would often seek to weaken customs that had been followed for a long period of time. An example of this would be holidays or feuds. Much like their language, Anglo-Saxon laws were influenced by a number of different sources.
Elements of Roman law are present in the Anglo-Saxon legal system, as well as Canon law, and the laws of the Frisians. There is also some evidence which suggests that the Franks played an important role in the legal development of the Anglo-Saxon system. Many of these laws also have a Scandinavian influence due to frequent Viking raids.
Original Authors: Stephen Palmer
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 15/07/2008