The Kings and the Law, 1042–1066
DOI link for The Kings and the Law, 1042–1066
The Kings and the Law, 1042–1066 book
One of the principal duties of a medieval king, contemporaries thought, was the protection of his people. On one level this meant defending them from invasion and being successful in war. On another, it meant giving good justice, punishing wrongdoers and keeping the peace. This in turn meant that the king was expected to be both a lawgiver, obliged to keep good laws and abolish bad ones, and a judge with the task of giving judgments for, against and between his subjects. According to the Vita Edwardi, for example, ‘This goodly king abrogated bad laws, with his witan established good ones, and filled with joy all that Britain over which . . . he ruled’. And according to John of Worcester, on becoming king in 1066 ‘Harold immediately began to abolish unjust laws and to make good ones . . . But he treated malefactors with great severity, and gave general orders to his earls, ealdormen, sheriffs and thegns to imprison all thieves, robbers and disturbers of the kingdom.’1 That the king’s right to exercise authority through the making and enforcing of laws was acknowledged and accepted by his subjects provides another example of the power and extensive reach of the late Anglo-Saxon kings.