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Homicide required payment of the wergild, literally ‘man-price’, a sum which varied according to social class (see below, section 5).

The Anglo-Saxon settlers had brought with them the Germanic system of blood-feud, whereby the relatives of a murder victim were expected to avenge him, and one of the aims of the early laws was to reduce the number of revenge killings by substituting a scale of financial compensation.

The church’s influence was not always benevolent, however.

Laws on marriage were fiercely regulated to forbid unions between distant relatives or those connected through god-parents; and whereas a woman who committed adultery during the seventh century suffered only financial penalties, Cnut’s law-code directs that she was to lose her nose and ears.Anglo-Saxon kings were prolific legislators, and a number of law-codes survive from the seventh to eleventh centuries.The earliest have much in common with continental Germanic law, including a ‘personal injury tariff’ or schedule of compensation for various kinds of bodily injuries.Later laws reflect the growing influence of the church, as for instance with the introduction of fines for offences against ecclesiastical officials, and a preference for mutilation over the death penalty in order to give the offender time to repent.Laws were also issued to enforce religious practices such as infant baptism, fasting and Sunday observance; and practical benefits can be seen in the granting of religious festivals as holidays.This was a time of immense political and social upheaval which saw major changes in almost all aspects of everyday life.

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