Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Advisor

Joëlle Rollo-Koster


Literally translated, Wergild is an Anglo-Saxon word that means “man-price.” Wergild can broadly be defined as the compensation owed for the injury of another. Wergild grew exponentially between the formation of the first written law code and those that followed. The later laws emphasized both material wealth as well as land ownership in the settlement of disputes. They also integrated oaths into the legal system. Later wergild laws also gave more power to the king within society, allowed the king to secure revenue through additional means, protected the population from decimation, prevented needless feuding over murder and assault, as well as act as a judge for some of the legal cases. Furthermore, wergild defined the various social boundaries and strengthened the divide between earls and freemen. The kings who came after the conversion to Christianity modified the laws to conform to their needs and specific traditions. The importance of these modifications that are represented in Anglo-Saxon law lies in the fact that they continue to impact England’s history of centuries. The social structure, emphasis placed on land, and importance of the king would be lasting characteristics in Anglo-Saxon England and would help to make the William or Normandy’s administrative conquest successful. Portions of the Norman administration were already present in Anglo-Saxon England and visible in the early law codes, such as the importance of the king, emphasis on landowner and land worker relations, and the value of land over the value of money.



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