Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Ealdormen and the Witenagemot

During the long fight with the Danes commanders were needed who could lead the forces of more than a single shire. Before the end of Eadred's reign there were ealdormen who ruled over many shires. One of them for instance, Æthelstan, Ealdorman of East Anglia, and of the shires immediately to the west of East Anglia, was so powerful that he was popularly known as the Half-King. Such ealdormen had great influence in their own districts, and they also were very powerful about the king.

The king could not perform any important act without the consent of the Witenagemot, which was made up of three classes—the Ealdormen, the Bishops, and the greater Thegns. When a king died the Witenagemot chose his successor out of the kingly family; its members appeared as witnesses whenever the king 'booked' land to any one; and it even, on rare occasions, deposed a king who was unfit for his post. In the days of a great warrior king like Eadward or Eadmund, members of the Witenagemot were but instruments in his hands, but if a weak king came upon the throne, each member usually took his own way and pursued his own interest rather than that of the king and kingdom.

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