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The Laws of Ine of Wessex

The Laws of Ine of Wessex

The Laws of Ine refer to a code of laws attributed to King Ine of Wessex, who ruled from around 689 to 726 AD. These laws are among the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon legal codes and provide valuable insights into the legal and social structures of early medieval England.

The Laws of Ine cover various aspects of society, including matters of crime, punishment, property rights, marriage, and inheritance. They reflect the societal norms and customs of the time, as well as the efforts of the king to establish order and justice within his realm.

Some key features of the Laws of Ine include:

  1. Crime and Punishment: The laws prescribe different penalties for various crimes, ranging from fines to physical punishment and even death in some cases. The severity of the punishment often depends on the social status of the victim and the perpetrator – an example being the fine for neglecting fyrd (military service) was set at 120 shillings for a noble and 30 shillings for a freeman.  

  2. Property Rights: The laws address issues related to land ownership, inheritance, and the transfer of property. They establish rules for resolving disputes over land and delineate the rights and responsibilities of landowners. The law specifically states that freemen can enclose common land and have an obligation to fence this – they are responsible for any damaged caused by escaped livestock.

  3. Marriage and Family: The laws regulate aspects of marriage, divorce, and family life. They specify the legal requirements for marriage, such as consent and dowry, and outline the rights of spouses and children within the family.

  4. Social Structure: The laws reflect the hierarchical nature of Anglo-Saxon society, with different rights and privileges accorded to individuals based on their social status. They distinguish between freemen, slaves, and nobles, each of whom is subject to different legal norms. The laws also differentiate between ‘Britons’ and the ‘English’ or Saxons and clearly favoured the latter. The weregild (man-price) paid for Saxons was double that of the Britons of the same class and the oath of a Briton was also of lesser weight.  

  5. Christianity: Ine was a Christian King and used his laws to encourage Christianity amongst his subjects. The Laws gave greater weight to the oath of a Christian than a non-Christian with obvious implication in legal disputes.

Overall, the Laws of Ine provide valuable insights into the legal and social framework of early medieval England. The text also give us a clue relating to the lack of integration between the Britons and the Saxon newcomers at this time. 

Parker Chronicle
A page from the 'Parker Chronicle' - the oldest copy of Ine's Laws


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