Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Quick Facts About Thegns

Thegns in Anglo Saxon times were important nobles of different ranking.They were well equipped for war and would owe military service as part of their role. A law of Cnut's that shows the heriot of thegns of different status is as follows.
Cnut’s Secular Ordinance [II Cnut] (Liebermann 1903, 356-8)
clause 70: If a man departs from this life intestate, be it through his carelessness or be it through sudden death (ðurh færlicne deaþ), then the lord is not to take any more from his [movable] property (æhte) than his due heriot (butan his rihtan heregeate). But the property is to be shared most correctly according to his deliberation (be his dihte) by the wife, the children and near kinsmen – each in accord with the measure (mæðe) that belongs to them.
clause 71: And the heriots are to be determined (beo... gefundene) exactly as is appropriate (mæðlic):
- an earl’s as befits him: that is 8 horses (4 saddled and 4 unsaddled); and 4 helmets (helmas) and 4 bynies (byrnan); and 8 spears and as many shields; and 4 swords (swyrd); and 200 mancuses of gold.
- and then the heriots of the king’s thegns, who are nearest (nyxte) to him: 4 horses (2 saddled and 2 unsaddled); and 2 swords; and 4 spears and as many shields; and a helmet and a byrnie; and 50 mancuses of gold.
- and of the more ordinary thegn (medemra ðegen): a horse and its tack (gerædan); and his weapons or his healsfang in Wessex; and in Mercia £2; and in East Anglia £2.
- and the heriot of a king’s thegn among the Danes, who has his soke (socne): £4
- and if he has a closer relationship (furðor cyððe) to the king: 2 horses (1 saddled, 1 unsaddled); and 1 sword; and 2 spears and 2 shields; and 50 mancuses of gold.
- and for him who has less and is less close: £2.
clause 78: And the man who on a campaign (fyrdunge) falls in front of his lord, whether within the country (lande) or outside it, is to be forgiven his heriot and the heirs are to succeed (fon) to his land and movable property (æhte) and are to divide it very justly (swiðe rihte).
Thanks to Nicholas Brooks of the University of Birmingham: The Staffordshire Hoard and the Mercian Royal Court
The heriot would most likely have been presented to the king in a ceremonial style manner and after he had declared his loyatly to his sovereign or Lord, it was gifted back to him.
Even some more wealthy or important thegns who had service in the court of the King, could also have under him his own thegns who would have been quite distinguishable for the higher ranking peasantry. The minimum land holding for a thegn would have been 5 hides. One hide was the amount of land that a family would need to live on and was roughly around 120 acres. Essentially by the mid 11thc, many lesser thegns were also farmers, such as Wulfhere, the main character of the Sons of the wolf, who attends court with others on a rota basis. Wulfhere is a man of the Domesday book so was very real. Nothing is known of his true character or his doings in life, his story is my invention. It is an interpretation of how his life might have been.

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