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celebrated statesmen (Sir R. Peel, in a speech in Parliament), are proud that “the Danes tried in vain to overthrow the institutions of England, instead of securing them ;” and then reproach the Danes that, on the whole, they did not, after all their devastating expeditions, establish anything new, great, and durable.
The population of the heathen North, as was the case everywhere else at that period, was divided into serfs and freemen. Even after the introduction of Christianity, many centuries elapsed in all countries before thraldom was abolished, and the worth of man, as man, generally recognised. The serf was always regarded more as an animal than as a human being. The freeman, on the contrary, enjoyed a high degree of civil liberty. He was not only uncontrolled master in his own house, and among his nearest dependents, but likewise exercised an important influence on the management of the public concerns of his own district and of his country. He took part in the decision of law cases in the “ Thing," and gave his vote at the great “ Thing," where the election of a monarch, war, treaties of peace, and other important matters, came under consideration. Scandinavia was, besides, in ancient times, divided into a number of small kingdoms; and the smaller these were, so much the greater was the individual freeman's power and importance.
The old inhabitants of the North entertained, therefore, a sincere affection for those institutions which gratified their proud feeling of freedom. Personal participation in the administration of justice, at a time when written laws did not exist, must have made every freeman a lawyer and a zealous defender of existing institutions, especially so far as regarded the main point, namely, the freedom they ensured. A general knowledge of the laws was still further promoted by the innate love of the Northmen for disputes and law-suits. Respect for the law was speedily carried to such an extent, and in the administration of justice at the Things old established customs and usages were so strictly observed, that the slightest formal flaw was sufficient to ensure the rejection even of the most important cause. How deeply rooted the old national law was, is best shown by the fact that the Roman law, which had been adopted in the greater part of Europe, could never gain the supremacy in the countries of Scandinavia. The present Scandinavian law is by no means the offspring of any foreign code, but is founded on, and independently developed from, the law which already existed in the North in the days of heathenism.
The powerful warriors, who in those remote times emigrated from the North, were, for the most part, men no less high-spirited and fond of freedom than their fathers before them. The old chronicles state, that among the warriors who came over to England with the conquerors Svend and Canute, there was not a single serf. The history of Iceland shows, even at an earlier period, that most of the colonists who went thither were descendants of kings, jarls, and other of the most powerful freemen of the North. These emigrants did not leave their paternal home because they were dissatisfied with their ancient hereditary rights and liberties, but because those rights and liberties were gradually threatened with restriction, and even annihilation, by ambitious and absolute monarchs. It was this that led them to undertake the conquest of foreign lands, and thus to acquire a freedom which might indemnify them for what they had been compelled to relinquish.
It is therefore no wonder that the Scandinavian colonists introduced their national laws, which had always proved the surest defence of their liberties, at once and completely both into countries previously uninhabited, and into those from which the ancient inhabitants were expelled by their invasions. This was the case, for instance, in Greenland, the Faroe Isles, the Shetland Isles, and the Orkneys. But with regard to freedom they even went still further than in Scandinavia, and sometimes abolished the regal power, whose caprices and dangers they had learned to appreciate and fear, and founded republics in its place. Even in countries like France and England, where a large and civilized population, possessing a complete system of national law, previously existedand where the Scandinavian colonists, till they became strong enough to assume the authority of masters, were for a long time inferior both in numbers and power—they adhered immovably to their ancient legal customs, and caused them to be observed, in spite of Christianity, and of that foreign civilization which they themselves soon adopted. But it was at the same time a natural result of this state of things, that they were neither able to introduce into “such countries all the ancient legal usages of Scandinavia, nor, generally speaking, any law of a comprehensive character, without adapting it to the peculiar situation which they, as conquerors and strangers, now occupied in regard to the natives and their existing institutions.
A strong proof, not only of the affection of the Danes for their Scandinavian institutions, but of the complete settlement of that people in England at a very early period, is, that in the beginning of the tenth century, and consequently more than a hundred years before the time of Canute the Great, they had already established their own laws on the east coast of England, notwithstanding that Christianity, as before stated, had gained a footing amongst them. It appears, from the remarkable treaty concluded at that time between Kings Edward and Gudrum, that the Danes settled in East Anglia, and on the eastern coast of England, were not only placed on an equal footing with the English with regard to legal rights, but that it was also determined how disputes between the English and Danes should be decided, and what fine each people should pay for certain crimes. Thus the English were to pay " wite," or fines, according to the English law, in pounds and shillings; whilst the Danes were to make compensation for “lah-slit” (i. e., infraction of the law, from the old Norsk, lög, law, and slita, to rend in two, break), according to the Danish law, in “marks” and “ores.”
About the same time the chronicles testify that the “five burghs" occupied by the Danes in the heart of England, together with large districts both in the east and north, were subject to Danish laws. The Anglo-Saxon king Edgar (959–975) says, in a passage of his laws (cap. 12), which shows his partiality for the Danes, “ Then will I that with the Danes such good laws stand as they may best choose, and as I have ever permitted to them, and will permit so long as life shall last me, for their fidelity, which they have ever shown me." He likewise says in the next chapter, where mention is made of a fixed punishment: “Let the Danes chuse, according to their laws, what punishment they will adopt.”
From this state of things, it happened that four different sorts of law were in force in four different parts of the kingdom. Farthest towards the west, where the remnant of the ancient Britons dwelt, the Welsh law was in force ; among the West Saxons, the West-Saxon law; in Mercia, the Mercian law; and in the so-called Danelag, or country to the north-east of Watlinga-Stræt, the Danish law. Of these four systems of law, the Danish, beyond comparison, most prevailed. Its decrees were in later times constantly recognised, not only by Ethelred (not to speak of the Danish kings), but by Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror, whose laws usually treat of the “ Danes-law” (Dene-lahe), with its fines, or "lah-slit,” in marks and ores. Even in the laws promulgated by Henry the First (1100-1135), it is stated (vi. $ 1), that England is divided into three parts, Wessex, Mercia, and the province of the Danes. ("Regnum Anglie trifariam dividitur in regno Britannie, in Westsexiam, et Mircenos, et Danorum provinciam.") And it is further said (2), that the law of England falls into three parts, according to the above division, viz., the West Saxon, the Mercian, and the Danish law, or Denelaga. (“Legis eciam Anglice trina est particio, ad superiorem modum ; alia enim Westsexie, alia Mircena, alia Denelaga est.")
A cursory view of these different laws will soon show, both that Scandinavian words and juridical terms were employed in the Danelag, and that by degrees, but mostly in the time of Canute the Great and William the Conqueror, they were introduced into the common laws of England : as, for instance, “hor-qwene” (Hoerquinde; Eng., adultress),"nam," "halsfang," "heimillborch," (Hjemmelborg), “ husting,” and others. For the rest, it is natural that most traces of the old Scandinavian institutions should be found in the districts to the northeast of Watlinga-Stræt.
The Danes settled there had from the beginning several chiefs with the title of king, who were for the most part independent of the Anglo-Saxon kings, and reigned by means of their jarls and the chiefs to whom they had portioned out the conquered land. These numerous small kingdoms were afterwards subdued by the Anglo-Saxons, and converted into Earldoms. A peculiar sort of Danish chiefs or Udallers (“ holdas,” from the old Norsk hölldr), is mentioned in East Anglia, who, like the Norwegian “Höldar,” or “ Odelsmænd,” held their properties by a perfectly free tenure. It is probable that the original Udallers were the chief leaders, or generals, of the Danish conquerors settled in East Anglia. From the fines fixed for the murder of such “ holdas,” it is plain that they held a very high rank. The old Scandinavian name for a peasant, “ Bonda," was also disseminated in the north of England. There, as in Scandinavia, the peasants undoubtedly constituted the pith of the landed proprietary. The names of places in the north of England beginning or ending with garth (or Gaard), such as Watgarth (Vadegaard, on the river Tees), Grassgarth, Hall Gartb, Garthorpe, Garthwaite, and others, show that the peasants, as in Scandinavia, were settled in Gaarde, or farms, which belonged indeed to the before-mentioned “holdas ” (“ Odels