chapter  1
1.4 Royal government
Pages 11

From the 8th century, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers increasingly to ealdormen, most frequently as the commanders of armies from specific districts or shires. Who were they?

Ealdormen were royal officials, and their office may pre-date the 8th century; the dux Berht who led a Northumbrian expedition to Ireland in the reign of Ecgfrith (670-85) is Ealdorman Briht in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.14 In Wessex, the ealdorman’s sphere of jurisdiction seems originally to have been the shire. He led the armies of his shire and also had responsibilities in the administration of justice; under the Laws of Ine, he is liable to be deprived of his shire if he allows a thief to escape,15 and the man who has a legitimate blood feud and lacks the resources to surround his enemy in his house may look to him for assistance.16 In return for his services, he received a portion of the fines due to the king,17 he may have had official lands, and the 10th century will of Ealdorman Alfred suggests that he had a wergild by virtue of his office in addition to his ordinary wergild as a thegn.18