Laws of William the Conqueror

circa A.D. 1066

      William I of England (1027-87), also known as "The Conqueror" and "The Bastard," was the first Norman king of England (1066-87) and has been called one of the first modern kings. In about 1064, Harold, earl of Wessex, was shipwrecked on the Norman coast and taken prisoner by William. He secured his release by swearing to support William's claim to the English throne. When King Edward died, however, the royal council elected Harold king. Determined to make good his claim, William secured the sanction of Pope Alexander II for a Norman invasion of England. The duke and his army landed at Pevensey on September 28, 1066. On October 14th, the Normans defeated English forces at the celebrated Battle of Hastings, in which Harold was also slain. William then proceeded to London, crushing any resistance that he encountered along the way. On December 25th (Christmas Day) he was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey. The English struggled to accept foreign rule but to no avail. By 1070 the Norman conquest of England was complete. These laws were adopted soon after William's conquest of England.

Laws of King William I (the Conqueror) :

1.    First that above all things he wishes one God to be revered throughout his whole realm, one faith in Christ to be kept ever inviolate, and peace and security to be preserved between English and Normans.

2.    We decree also that every freeman shall affirm by oath and compact that he will be loyal to King William both within and without England, that he will preserve with him his lands and honor with all fidelity and defend him against his enemies.

3.    I will, moreover, that all the men I have brought with me, or who have come after me, shall be protected by my peace and shall dwell in quiet. And if any one of them shall be slain, let the lord of his murderer seize him within five days, if he can; but if he cannot, let him pay me 46 marks of silver so long as his substance avails. And when his substance is exhausted, let the whole hundred in which the murder took place pay what remains in common.

4.    And let every Frenchman who, in the time of King Edward, my kinsman, was a sharer in the customs of the English, pay what they call "scot and lot", according to the laws of the English. This decree was ordained in the city of Gloucester.

5.    We forbid also that any live cattle shall be bought or sold for money except within cities, and this shall be done before three faithful witnesses; nor even anything old without surety and warrant. But if anyone shall do otherwise, let him pay once, and afterwards a second time for a fine.

6.    It was decreed there that if a Frenchman shall charge an Englishman with perjury or murder or theft or homicide or "ran," as the English call open rapine which cannot be denied, the Englishman may defend himself, as he shall prefer, either by the ordeal of hot iron or by wager of battle. But if the Englishman be infirm, let him find another who will take his place. If one of them shall be vanquished, he shall pay a fine of 40 shillings to the king. If an Englishman shall charge a Frenchman and be unwilling to prove his accusation either by ordeal or by wager of battle, I will, nevertheless, that the Frenchman shall acquit himself by a valid oath.

7.    This also I command and will, that all shall have and hold the law of the King Edward in respect of their lands and all their posessions, with the addition of those decrees I have ordained for the welfare of the English people.

8.    Every man who wishes to be considered a freeman shall be in pledge so that his surety shall hold him and hand him over to justice if he shall offend in any way. And if any such shall escape, let his sureties see to it that they pay forthwith what is charge against him, and let them clear themselves of any complicity in his escape. Let recourse be had to the hundred and shire courts as our predecessors decreed. And those who ought of right to come and are unwilling to appear, shall be summoned once; and if for the second time they refuse to come, one ox shall be taken from them, and they shall be summoned a third time. And if they do not come the third time, a second ox shall be taken from them. But if they do not come the fourth summons, the man who is unwilling to come shall forfeit from his goods the amount of the charge against him, "ceapgeld" as it is called, and in addition to this a fine to the king.

9.    I prohibit the sale of any man by another outside the country on pain of a fine to be paid in full to me.

10.    I also forbid that anyone shall be slain or hanged for any fault, but let his eyes be put out and let him be castrated. And this command shall not be violated under pain of a fine in full to me.


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