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The Saxon Justice System Was Harsh and Primitive

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History Homework

The Saxon Justice System was Harsh and primitive”

How far do you agree? (16 Marks)

The Saxon Justice system was used until the Normans took over England in 1066. There were many different laws, trials and punishments but they were all affected by the Church. As religion was so important at the time, the church had a huge part in the way the country was run.

As there were no real police, a policing method they used was tithings. A tithing was a group of 10 men who were expected to meet and be responsible for each other’s behaviour. The idea was that the local community would be responsible for looking after each other. Most men were expected to join a tithing, so they would fear what would happen if they commit a crime. If a member of a tithing committed to crime they would go to court or be punished.

Another method where the community would help each other out was the hue and cry. When a crime was committed the victim was supposed to raise the hue and cry. The entire village would have sworn an oath to say that they would put down their tools and join the hunt for the criminal when the hue and cry was raised. If a person didn’t join in they would be fined.

A method that was used to determine whether somebody was guilty or innocent was trial by jury. This is similar to courts that are used today; however the jury was made up of members of the local community. They could sometimes be biased towards people they knew in the community that were put on trial. The accused people would recall the events and the jury would make a decision.

Some people would try to get into the church court, which was a bad system. Church courts would give punishments that were far less harsh and no crime was punishable by death. The idea was that no member of the church could be punished. In order to be put on trial at the church court the accused would have to read a verse from the Bible (very few people could read at the time). However, often the same verse of the bible was used so people could just learn it as way to escape harsher punishments.

Trial by ordeal was another type of trial used. As religion was so important at the time, God would decide if the jury couldn’t. There were different types of trial by ordeal such as trial by hot iron, trial by hot water and trial by bread. They were different trials which would be believed to always have the correct outcome as God would always make the correct decision.

The Wergild was a system that used fines as punishment. It was seen as compensation paid to the victim of the crime or their families. The price of the fine was very carefully worked out as it was a different amount depending on the level of the crime. For richer people this was a far easier punishment than what they would have otherwise got.

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