What age are you? When were you born? What year is it?
I was born in the year King Alfred of Wessex died, in the month of February. I am 30 years old now. It is the year 930.
When does the day start? When is the new year? How do you describe what year it is? What date it is?
The day starts at sunset, of course. Otherwise, would not All hallows day come before All hallows eve? The new year has just started, on the feast of All Saints, or Samhain in the old way. It is the fifth year of King Athelstan's reign, who is King of all England, or as the monks say, it is the 930th year after Christ.
Where do you live? What does it look like? Describe your locality (village, shire, barony, etc). Describe your home. Were you born there? Have you lived somewhere else? Do you have other homes?
I live in Ravenglas. In the old days, and in the monks Latin, it is called Glannaventa. It is a small port on the western coast of Northumbria. We hold a farm, or a small manor, there, half a ploughland or 4 oxgangs. We work our fields with our neighbour, who is a Danish Thegn and holds another 4 oxgangs. We have been talking about buying his lands, since he is thinking about moving south, but we have not yet decided. As well as coming up with the money to buy the land, we have to be able to pay our feorm for it yearly, and we don't want to end up in debt over it. Too many people do. We have just bought a haga in Hefreasham and built a house on it that we tenant to merchants, and if that gives a good return we might go ahead with the land. That would make our farm a manor, really, although we don't have a church or a bell house. It is fortified though. In these times, you have to make sure you can defend your land. Although it looks as if this peace might actually last, if the lords of Dublin can stay away.
There is a main hall, a kitchen, several bowers, a weaving house, barns and stables, pens, huts for the slaves, a bath house and an outside privvy, as well as the one attached to the hall. There is also a forge, some way away from the other buildings. We have 12 male slaves who work the land, I have one weaving woman, one house-servant, and four other women who milk and care for the housework. We also have a male house-servant, and we entertain five armed young men, for our safety and security.
Our hall is not very large, but it is well furnished. There are tables and benches, and we can feast half a hundred men easily. The hall is hung with weavings, and I am working on a second set of hangings for special occasions. If we get more land and higher status, then we might take on our own Thegns, and we'll need to entertain more.
Our bower is well furnished also, with hangings and bedcovers. We have several eider bolsters, and we are never cold at night. The bed is curtained with heavy hangings.
We also have tents and furnishings for them. We do travel a lot, both down to the Burgh, and across to Jarrow.
Describe your family. How closely connected are you? Have you got family obligations, alliances? How far do you count your family? Clan? Tribe?
My father was Irish, of the Maoil Mheaghna family. His father was lord of Magh Seireadh, and now my uncle is. I have another uncle who is Ollamh, or historian, to the Ua Cathain, who is their overlord. I do not count myself in obligation to him, since my father left Ireland before I was born, although if I visit my kin in Ulster, I bow to the Ua Cathain as well as the Ui Niall. My mother's kin is Danish, and her father Ulf is still lord of his lands near Jarrow. My uncle Kjetil is a ship captain, and a Thegn of the Northumbrian Eorl. I stand with my family for bond and law, and they with me. My husband too is Danish, and he stands with his kin. I count the children of my cousins as family, beyond that kin. I count kin on both my mother's and my father's side, unlike some people, I am told. The only difference is that the maternal side pays or receives a third of the fines, and the paternal side two thirds.
I hold a somewhat precarious position, since I have no paternal kin in this country. As a foreigner, my father technically was a hold of the King, but I am not. So I need to have powerful friends in case of oath taking. There is a thane's gild being started in the burgh, and I might join that, since one of the matters they have raised is to stand by each other, carrying blood feuds, and stand in place of kin.
Were you parents married when you were born? If so, by what rite? If not, what consequences does this have for you? Are your parents still living? Other family members? What contact do you have with them?
Are you married? When were you married? Why? How? Have you got children? How many? How old?
I was married late, mainly because my father would not marry me against my will and I had a strong one! My marriage was arranged by my uncle and grandfather, and the bridal price paid was a high one!
We were married (pledged) seven years ago, the bride price was paid and all terms were agreed between my husband and my uncle. My grandfather hosted the gifting, (bridal), with much feasting and ceremony. We were blessed Christian also, mainly for the sake of my father's kin.
We have no children, and some say it is because we are not good followers of Christ. But I think that it is not so. We have taken in a young orphan girl, and we are raising her as our own. She is fourteen years old now, and soon we will have to start thinking about a husband for her.
What clothes do you own? How many? Who made them? What material are they? Where did you get the fashion from? What do the peasants wear? The lords? The King?
I confess, I like clothes, and hoard them. I have five gowns, all of the finest wool. And I have a silk veil and one coif, and fine linen shifts. I made them myself, and most of the wool I've got from our lands. We raise fine sheep, and the wool I comb and spin finely. I sell some at the market in Hefreasham, and I have bought some there too, and the silk I was given by my uncle, Kjetil, who got it while raiding in Frankland. I mostly wear what the English wear, but when I go to visit Ulf and Kjetil I will sometimes wear the Danish fashion. I have not been to Ireland as an adult, and so I have no clothes of their fashion, although my husband wishes to meet my kin, so we may go there.
There is little difference in the style of clothing from a lord to a slave, but in material and age. I give my discarded clothing to my favoured servants, and they will hand it on further.
Who is your lord/overlord/baron/etc? What obligations do you have? What obligations does he have? Who is King? What is your relationship with him? How did they become rulers? Could you become one?
Constantine is my lord, Ealdorman of our area, whom I have commended to. A commendation is a ceremony where a Thegn swears his service1. Constantine is a Thegn of the Earl of Northumbria, who is our overlord. He in turn holds his lands by grant of King Aethelstan. My lord husband was a gesith of my uncle Kjetil when we met, and is still commended to him in soke. Constantine holds soke over me, sake over our land.
When you serve a lord, you have to perform certain services, go with him on the hunt, ride on his errands, and stand with him in occasion of war or justice. We also have to build and maintain bridges for the King. We have to attend courts, and are responsible for people in our household, as our lords are responsible for us.
In the town, we are responsible (along with the other burgenses) for the wall, bridges and general upkeep of the burgh.
Which country do you live in? Is it stable? What alliances does your country have? Enemies?
I live just south of Cumberland (it used to be that our lands belonged to the Cumry as well), which is ruled by the Eorl of Northumberland now, although when there was a King at York he claimed lordship here. The Eorl rules by the grace of the King of England, Aethelstan. It is sad to say that there is much trouble in our lands, and war is ever being fought. The northern part of our lands is ruled by Domhnall of Strathclyde, and to the south is Britain. There are many Kingdoms there. Ireland is the same, with many different Kings. There is no now Ard Rí in Ireland, although many claim the title. Aethelstan is King of all English and Danish too, and the Princes of Britain bow to him, as well as Domhnall and Constantine of Scotland.
Olaf Sictricson and his uncle Guthfrith still covet York, and although Aethelstan sent them both back to Dublin three years ago, I am told Olaf is highly thought of there. I think it is only a question of time before they descend on us. At the moment, though, it is peaceful.
Aethelstan works hard on keeping the peace and his Kingdom, and he also has business outside England. He has married his women far and wide. Sictric of York, Olaf's father, married a sister of his before he died. Another sister, Eadgifu I believe, was married to Charles of Frankland, who died in captivity this year gone. I hear tell their son now lives in Wessex with his uncle. The King of the Germans, the Fowler, I have heard tell is marrying one of the King's sisters also. And Aethelstan fosters Alan of Brittany, and the eldest son of Harold Fairhair, Hakon. They all plied the King with great gifts, Harold sent a ship with gilded stem and a purple sail, and the continental rulers sent relics. Our King is a great collector of such things, and will buy almost anything that a churchman tells him is holy... Perhaps he is trying to make up for his bastard birth, hmm?
What language(s) do you speak? Your neighbours? Your lord/ruler?
I speak Danish at home, but I know English, and a little Cumbrian and less Irish. Where I live most people are Danish or English, but up in the highlands there are people who speak nothing but Cumry, and Irish traders often visit. Constantine is of an ancient British line, or so he says, but he speaks English. There is more of the Strathclyde Cumbrian being spoken in Carlisle, these days, but I don't understand much, except that it is similar to Irish, and some words are like to Cumry.
Can you read/write? Who taught you? Why? What do you read? Where did you get the reading material? Who wrote it?
I can read a little, and sign my name. My father taught me, he was once a monk, and a learned man. I do not often use my skills, and they are ill maintained. I own a copy of a book by Boethius2, in English, and I read from it sometimes. It was a book my father brought with him from Jarrow when he first came here. King Alfred himself translated it from Latin, and he wrote some parts of it himself. He wanted to ensure that all free born men should know to read, and many can.
What were you trained for? How good are you at the things you can do? Did you end up doing whatever it was you were expected to do?
What is your religion? That of your neighbours? Is this the mainstream religion? What happens to people who don't share yours/the mainstream religion? How do you worship? Who/where is your ecclesiastical focal point?
If asked, I am a Christian. I care not much either way. But the lords have accepted Aethelstan, and he is a keen Christian who wants all other faith stamped out. We have a little father in the church that Constantine owns, and he says the prayers needed. I go to the church on the main holidays. We have some standing, being Thegns, and it is ill-seen not to attend the holy days. And my kin is living too far away to stand around me easily.
Hrothweard is the archbishop of Jorvik, or Eoforwic in English. We have to pay a tithe to our church, and also various fees for all services performed by the churchmen.
How do you sustain yourself? What do you eat? What do you/your neighbours grow? What is the main economy of your area?
We have a fine heard of cattle, and many sheep. We grow barley and corn on our fields, along with peas and flax. We fish in the sea and the river, and we keep pigs and hens. I grow some herbs by the kitchen, for the pot and for the cloth. We have many beehives, and we have no shortage of honey for our mead. This is the same as other folk in the area.
In addition, my husband is a skilled smith, and can make weapons fit for a King, although mostly he makes simple things, plough shares and spears.
Do you own land? How much? How do you count land?
Yes. I own the land in Glannaventa3. As I said, we have four oxgangs, or half a ploughland. An oxgang is enough land to keep one ox, and eight oxgangs make up a ploughland, which is as much land as you can plough with eight oxen. In the south the English count the land in 'hides' and 'yardlands', but it seems strange. A hide, I am told, and equal to four yardlands. A hide is roughly half a ploughland, so we own the equivalent of a hide. In your terms I believe that to be 120 acres.
In addition, we have swine pasture, woods, fields, a river with weirs in it, and fields by the sea.
My husband bought the haga, so that belongs to him.
What is your status? Is it related to land? Can it change, through marriage, purchase, service? In what way?
I am a Thegn (well, I would be if I was a man). It is a heritable rank, but it can also be obtained through wealth and service. A merchant, for example, if he has travelled overseas three times at his own expense, becomes a Thegn. A Thegn, in turn, can become a hold or Eorl, if he has enough money and does the King good service. But if you are a Thegn by birth, you don't lose the title if you don't have the wealth to go with it. If you are a ceorl with the wergild of a Thegn, your status is not inherited. Only after three generations have continuously held their higher wergild, does the title become herited.
As a Thegn, your status depends on the status of the lord you serve. Of all the Thegns in the realm, the King's dish-thanes are the highest in rank (the seneschals). They are followed by the wardrobe-thanes, or bower-thanes, (chamberlain), his butlers, stewards, and then others, such as horse-thanes (marshals). There are also Thegns of no particular office, usually the younger and unsettled ones, who have yet to serve long enough to be given their land and settlement. The offices at court are circulated, since the holders of them also have responsibilities of their own, usually much land, and Thegns of their own also. This same order is repeated down the scale, and the King's Thegns hold rank over an Eorl's Thegns. My uncle Kjetil, who is a Thegn of the Eorl of Northumbria, has higher standing than I, who serve the Thegn of Ravenglas. But our wergild is the same, 2000 thrymsa, which is to say 6000 silver pennies.
How do you get money? What do you spend it on? What coinage do you use? How do you count the currency?
We sell cattle and wool. We trade food with the traders who come here, although we might take it down to Hefreasham and trade it ourselves. We also gather salt, and fish from the sea and rivers. These we sell in Hefreasham, and we take good money for them.
We use whatever coins we can get, and weigh it to make sure it is worth what is claimed. For trading and justice, we count in ora, and one ora is 16 pennies. Eight ora make up a mark. Then there is the hundred of silver, that is to say, 120 ora.
A wey of wool brings in at least 120 pennies, so we can make a good amount if the year has been favourable. Trading must be done in the burghs, according to the King, but in these parts trading happens whenever people come together.
What do you do during the day? Do you have to do this?
I supervise the running of our household. Baking, brewing, spinning, weaving, all these things have to be done. While we have no children, we have taken on a fosterling, a girl, and she is my responsibility also. There is much to teach her, and I enjoy it.
What is your favourite pastime? Entertainment?
When we feast, the hall is hung with tapestries. Wandering minstrels ply their arts in our halls, and many boasts and oaths are taken, and stories told. This I very much enjoy, especially the stories.
We hunt, and hawk. I have several nice hounds sent to me by my kinsmen in Ireland, large hunting dogs, which are the envy of all who see them.
Who wrote your law? How is it enforced? Who do you talk to if you have a complaint against your neighbour? Who has ultimate jurisdiction? Is your family involved? What happens to an outlaw? What kind of punishment would a thief get? A murderer? An adulterer?
Constantine has sake of our lands, and soke over me. My lord husband answers to my uncle Kjetil. The local Thegn or Eorl holds the local courts, which everyone must attend or pay a fine. They are held three times a year. We are also responsible for enforcing the finding of the court. If we want to take a case to higher justice, we'd take it to the Eorl of Northumberland, who is now overlord over our lands. Beyond that, the King holds the ultimate justice. There are certain offences that the King only can pronounce justice over, too. They are the harbouring of outlaws, ambush, forcible entry into the King's house, or breach of the King's peace.
Anyone bringing an accusation against someone else must swear that he intends no ill, but only wishes justice. He may then speak, summoning the accused to justice.. If the accused is a man of good repute, and was not caught in the act of his crime, he is given the right to swear his innocence, along with those who swear with him. If his oath stands, then he is innocent. If there is much evidence against him, then he does not have the right to take oaths of innocence, and the accuser instead must take an oath that what he has accused the man of is true, backed by his followers. The value of the oath depends on the value of your life, and of those who stand beside you. The accused may still take the ordeal if he wishes to rid himself of the accusation.
Most crimes are atoned for by fines, set depending on the status of the victim, the criminal, and the gravity of the crime. If you cannot pay, and your kin cannot, you are given into slavery. If your kin does not redeem you within one year, you lose your wergild, and your right to freedom. Any children born in slavery are slaves also, independent of their parent's status. If one is given into slavery, and there is a wife or a husband, after a year they may marry again.
Certain crimes are punishable by death. Arson, house-breaking, open theft, murder, treachery, are such crimes. The King has issued new laws, saying that children who steal should not lose their lives, but I do not hold to that. Age should not hold justice at bay. On the other hand, the King has issued strong laws against cattle-thieving, and he has been successful in this.
In some cases, the guilty man can buy his life by his wergild. Sometimes the death penalty is lessened to mutilation. Fines are divided between the lord of the court and the King, and sometimes the church if the crime was of a kind which violates the law of the church as well as the law of the King. Others, such as the victim's lord, the man in whose house the crime took place, and so on, may also be entitled to compensation.
If a man defends his lord, his man or his kinsman from a wrongful attack, it is not homicide. However, the circumstances have to be proven in court. The same is true if you kill a man caught in the act of violating a wife, daughter, sister or mother, if he is killed there and then. Otherwise the case must be taken to court, and tried by oaths. The kin of a man who lost his life in this way, may not take revenge, unless they prove the accusation was wrongful.
If you were to fall ill, who would you call to see to you? What sort of treatment might you receive? Who would look after you? What might be wrong with you?
If I were to fall ill, I would try my own herbs first. Constantine's Mass-Thegn knows some of the leech-lore, and I might send for him if I can't help myself. Failing that, I'd have to commend myself to the Good Lord. Herbs in ointments and infusions are the best remedy, I think, to most things. Some of the priests are keen on leeches, and I expect they sometimes work, but if so, I've not seen it. Prayer seems more effective.
If you died, who would get your possessions? If your parents die, who would get their possessions?
Land is inherited by the sons, if there are any. If not, then the daughters. If no daughters, the land would go to the King (or the Eorl). When my father died, I was given the land unbroken, since I was an only child. In some families the land gets divided equally between the heirs, but that breaks up the land, and makes it smaller each time it is handed down. Thus there are Thegns with less land than the ceorls they hold soke over. Some try to keep the land whole, and rather buy land for their younger sons and give the hold to the older. It seems a wiser thing to do. If I were to die, my lord husband would hold the land. If he were to die, I get it, since we have no sons. If both of us die childless, the land goes to the Eorl. Our other possessions would be handed on by will, or if we had none, divided between our kin, except for the heriot, which would be owed to the King. It is the return of the weapons and equipment he gives to his Thegns, for the defence of his lands. On a Thegns death, it has to be paid back before the inheritance can be given out.
Do you have military obligations, directly or indirectly? To whom? What kind?
Why, yes. A Thegn has to stand by his lord, and we are no exception. If the King calls out the army, we have to send one armed man with Constantine. If there is a real threat to the land, the King can call out every man to service, but although I have heard of times when it happened, it never has in my lifetime. Once the army is called out, desertion is punished by 120 shillings for a Thegn, 30 for a ceorl, or if the King himself leads the army, by death or ones own wergild. And in addition, the normal fines for any other crime are increased greatly.
Have you travelled? Where? Why? When? With whom?
Hmm. Yes. I've been to Ireland once, as a child, we stayed with my grandfather for two years then before returning to Ravenglas. As an adult I regularly travel east to visit my kin in Jarrow, and I went south to Nottingham six years ago, to pay tribute to King Edward. When I travel now, I bring a woman to serve me, and all our armed men too, for safety. My husband usually goes with me, but not always. And of course, now that we've got a haga in Hefreasham, we'll be going there often enough. I would like to go south some time, to visit the King's court. I have heard so much about it, and I would very much like to see the King. He never travels unless he is at war, so I would rather go there! And my lord husband wants to go to Ireland, to meet my kin. We can't afford to do that just now, but if we make some money in Hefreasham, we might use it to rent passage on a ship.
What threats do you face? What do you fear?
Cattle-thieves are a big worry. It is very illegal, but it's still done. The Norse coming from Ireland seem to think that all they lay eyes on is fair game, and we often have to defend our herd by arms. The Irish, both Gael and gall, are constantly raiding the coasts.
If there is war, we have to hide our herds too. If an army comes near your lands, it may ruin you, because they take whatever they can find to feed their men. Fortunately, we are too much out of the way for that to be likely, but it's better to be prepared for the worst. Many years ago now, Athelflaed brought her army up from Mercia to harry, and we lost almost all our cattle, and many people died including my mother. That was in the days when there was a Danish King at York, and the English were trying to conquer it. When the Norse Kings took York, we switched allegiance to the English, because no true Dane wishes to be ruled by a Norwegian! I do fear the possibility of Olaf gathering an army to take York. I know he covets it, and he is already acting as if he were King of all the Norse in Ireland. It would make sense for him to take York, and if he does, it will not be well for us.
What can you look forward to? Where do you hope to be in 10 years? What will you be doing?
I think we will be higher Thegns in that time. I hope to serve the Earl of Northumberland then, if my uncle can help us. If all goes well, my lord husband and I will take over Constantine's lands when he dies, for he is childless, and we have done him much service. If so, we'll hold the land from the Earl, and it would improve our standing no end. The service due the Earl would take us to the King's court, and I would want that very much.
1 By the Lord, before whom these relics are holy, I will be loyal and true to Constantine, and love all that he loves, and hate all that he hates, in accordance with God's rights and secular obligation; and never, willingly and intentionally, in word or deed, do anything that is hateful to him; on condition that he keep me as I shall deserve, and carry out all that was our agreement, when I subjected myself to him and chose his favour.
2 Beginnings of English Society; p 93; 'And a casual reference to 'books and such small things' in a woman's will perhaps suggests that it was no remarkable thing for lay households to have some books.
3 BES; pp 94-95; 'The activity of an Anglo-Saxon lady was not confined to her own home. She could hold land in her own right, dispose of it freely, and defend her right in the courts. She could act as a compurgator in law-suits. She could make donations for religious purposes, and she could manumit her slaves. She was, in short, very much more independent than were women after the Norman Conquest. Thus we read in Domesday Book of a certain Asa in Yorkshire, who 'held her land separate and free from the domination and control of Beornwulf her husband, even when they were together, so that he could neither give nor sell nor forfeit it; but after their separation she withdrew with all her land, and possessed it as its lady'.'