Свен Аггесен



The men of ancient times left many things to their posterity, for us to study with diligence (1), and they also took care to make provision for the unity and brotherhood of the court, lest undisciplined young warriors who were serving together (2) should enjoy too much freedom, and should be allowed to provoke each other with insults and escape punishment. To restrain the boldness of the unruly ones (3) they authorized and promulgated a law, which they called the Witherlogh (4) in their language. Although it is a less appropriate name, we can call it 'the law of the retainers and the knights' or 'the law of the court' in the Latin language (5).

As time passed, this law went out of date and was forgotten, because from then onwards there were very few who remem bered the achievements even of the glorious men of old. It was only Absalon, the illustrious metropolitan of the whole kingdom of the Danes (6), with his usual desire for knowledge and after careful and far-sighted consultation with his pupil (that is, with King Knut (7), son of the first Valdemar), who wrote it down in a document (8). For what is held to be out of date and antiquated can often be brought to life with the help of writing. So, as I had found this recorded very briefly in our own language, I approached my task without much confidence in my learning or ability, for I was always afraid that I should seem to have forestalled, with arrogant presumption, those with greater learning than mine. However, I will still attempt to the best of my ability to translate the matter into Latin, however inelegant the style, for the sake of those fine young men who are making a successful study of the rules of composition. And at the end of this little work I shall unravel the pedigrees of the kings and the order in which they reigned (9), as far as I have been able to trace them from what has been reliably handed down by aged men.

First, therefore, I will explain about the makers of the laws of the court: who made them? why? and where (10)?

[1] Knut, the son of King Sven Forkbeard, came into his ancestral inheritance like a raging lion (11), and by his undefeated endeavour he nobly enlarged the boundaries of his empire from farthest Thule to the empire of the Greeks, outdoing Geryon of Hesperus (12) by the force of his valour and almost equalling the great Alexander (13); for he had annexed England, Norway, Slavia, and Finland (14) to his own kingdom, and so increased his might and power with ample splendour. And when he had subjected all the surrounding countries to the government of his own kingdom, warriors came flooding in on all sides, their number comparable to the garlands of Dodona (15), on account of their reputation for courage and victory; and they impetuously vied with each other in doing him homage.

However, they came to him in so great a multitude that it became apparent that they were not all equally worthy, and in the end the king came to the following resolution. He decreed that, whereas his force of warriors had been thrown together, as it were, without any difference of rank, they were to be divided according to their merits and their proven virtue, and those of outstanding virtue were to be brought closer to himself. He wanted to be on more familiar terms with those who he knew were entitled to claim high descent and who rejoiced in plentiful wealth, so that those who came from the better lineages should try to excel in virtue; and they would not be embarrassed by lack of equipment for the wars inasmuch as they had been brought up in richer households (16).

[2] Therefore he published an order and proclaimed by a herald that only those men who honoured the king and adorned the force of warriors by shining resplendent with gilded axe- heads and sword-hilts (17) were to approach the clement king with the privilege of a closer association (18). For it would do honour to the prince if a lordly throng should escort him, attended by a guard of brothers-in-arms (19). And when this resolution had been published, those who were pressed by lack of private means decided that they would be out of place in the phalanx of the richer men.

And all at once, the cities echo with the sound of hammering from the smithies. For every ornament already made of shining gold is melted down to ingots by sweating smiths, so that the metal which the proud warriors formerly esteemed useless should be made to grace axe-heads and sword-hilts by the choice artistry of goldsmiths. So it happened that the human tendency (20) to ambition made them unwilling to spare any expense, and they attempted to outdo their companions in the more elegant workmanship of their weapons. For it is obvious that elegantly decorated weapons are appropriate for those who are brought up under more favourable auspices.

And when the numerous phalanx was gleaming with its new finery, it was decreed that the strength of this band should be fixed by a precise calculation of their number. The total was three thousand picked men. It was decided to name this body the Tinglith in their own language (21).

[3] Now he had brought together men of such divergent national customs into the one household, his task was this: how, within the army of so great a king, gathered, as it were, from various peoples (that is, from all the kingdoms which had been subjected to his authority) and with a variety of usages that jarred against each other (22), the warriors were to put their quarrels and differences to rest, forbear mutual wrangling, and serve together with equal devotion, as befits honest mess mates (23) with the same lord. Untainted by division, malice and envy, they must rather be ready with one accord to obey the commands of the king, like limbs subject to one head (24). As faithful men, they must conceive no hostile mistrust one of another. However, it was no easy matter to pacify a crowd of so many quarrelsome men unless he checked them by punishment from falling into misconduct, so that the correction itself should be severe enough to restrain their bold delinquency (25).

[4] Therefore, when the army was all assembled in England and the king was resting amid his warlike enterprises in the calm of peace (26), he sent for the wiser men; and those he had previously discovered to be wisest of all were Øpi the Wise of Sjælland and his son, Eskil (27). He had no fear of disclosing his own secret counsels to either of these men, because he had proof of their worldly wisdom (28) on account of his earlier choice of them as his privy councillors. With careful delibera­ tion he inquired how to check the unruliness of the young men by a discipline that would restrain their high spirits in future and deter any man, whomsoever he be, from annoying any other with insults. And since human nature is inclined to fall into wrongdoing (29), the task was to make careful provision so that appropriate remedies could be provided for every case of misconduct (30). So they decided to deal very minutely with the deterrence of lesser as well as of greater offences.

In order that we may move on more expeditiously to the harsher remedies, we will first consider the small ones (31). For in their wisdom the ancients tried to eliminate the smallest occasions of dispute, and they applied their best efforts to unite in the bond of brotherly love all those men whose spirits were seething with lust for combat.

[5] This then was the custom among the retainers of times gone by (they call them knights nowadays (32)): each man served the other alternately, and took turns in attendance without any squires or grooms. So they decided that, if a man should lead his comrade's horse to water with his own, he should ride the one horse going there and the other coming back. If it happened that he drove his own horse to water while riding another man's, whether it was work-horse, pony, hack or charger (33), and he was led by dishonourable meanness to come back riding the same horse, and if he was charged three times with the same dishonest offence and convicted on the testi mony of two fellow-warriors, it was decided that he should be seated one place downwards in the dining hall. For it was the custom that the warriors should sit in places assigned to them according to their claim to worth, whether by seniority in age or by the higher nobility of their descent, so that the elders and betters took the more honourable places (34). Clearly, therefore, no man could be moved from his usual seat without shame and dishonour.

A similar sentence befell any man who fed his own horse with his comrade's palfrey and on three occasions should be convicted by the testimony of two men, as above, of having offered the ears of com to his own steed. They also decreed that the same punishment should await any warrior who went upstream against the current while they were watering horses and disturbed the water so that the others could only drink muddy water – always provided that the same testimony es tablished that this had been done three times. He incurred the same sentence, because the same punishment befalls a similar fault (35).

Furthermore, if any man's persistent audacity should mark him as incorrigible after three offences, and he should refuse to come to his senses, they decreed that he should be seated last of all, and pelted with bones at any man's pleasure (36). More over, no man will share either food or drink with him. He is to be content with his own dish and cup, all by himself (37).

However, if his excellency the king should decide to pro­ tect (38) a man from prosecution, to the extent of placing him in the first seat and making him his own neighbour, they allowed him this as an act of clemency by the prince, but with this condition added: that he be entirely deprived of the support of his fellow-warriors and relieved of his former rights and duties under the law (39).

[6] But while the law had to be made to cover many matters, it came into being primarily as a result of the respect in which the prince was held. Just as he laid down the pattern and rule of obedience for his men, so his own conduct should be gracious and familiar (40). Therefore it was enacted that the king with an army in attendance (41), or anyone else entitled to the same honour, should himself display the loyalty he demanded from them. He should present a cheerful countenance, and deny none of them a courteous reception (42). He was also to give them the reward of their labour and pay his warriors their wages without delay or any kind of argument, whenever it was customary or when they were short of money. Once they had received their pay, the men would show the same goodness and generosity in return (43) towards their lords, and would be prepared to obey whatever commands they gave and not fail to carry out their orders. For the man who does not pay what he owes asks in vain for what he wants (44).

[7] The men of old did not forget to prescribe a method by which any man would be able to transfer his homage to another lord, while leaving the majesty of the prince unimpaired and the honour of the warrior undiminished. They decided that on the eve of the Circumcision, which is when the New Year begins according to the superstitious assertion of the gen tiles (46), it was proper for the tried warrior seeking a change of lordship to depute two of his comrades to go to the lord from whose lordship and authority he wished to be free, and they were to resign to him that man's homage and service. Thus it was agreed that he should be able to resort to another homage without any shaming reproach or disrespect to the lord (47).

[8] However, quarrels and insults stir up and encourage a general unruliness, and the men of old in their wisdom re solved to prevent the common bond of brotherly union from being disrupted by divisive anger and weakened by insults offered among the men. They therefore served up a magical antidote for cases of this kind (48), in order to anticipate the discord at source and so eliminate it. As Ovid puts it,

Stop! ere you start; med'cine's too late to stay

Sickness encourag'd by a long delay (49).

For those wounds, 'that by mere poultices will not be heal'd', must be lanced with the knife (50. And so it was decreed that, if any man were to abuse or insult his comrade or start any sort of quarrel by offering a visible affront (51), all his fellow-warriors were to be called together in the presence of the king, and the plea was to be heard in the meeting which is called Huskarla-stefna (52). Because if the plaintiff were able to prove with the witness of two of his fellow-warriors that his comrade was guilty of having insulted him as a Witherlogh man (53), and the witnesses confirmed their testimony with an oath sworn on the sacraments, then it was ordained that the convicted man should be seated one place downwards in the dining hall (54). And it was determined by a general ordinance (55) that all disputes arising between the warriors should not be ended or conducted anywhere except in that same assembly.

[9] It was also laid down by a general ordinance that all disputes arising between fellow-warriors over farms and fields (56), or even over robbery from houses, which is called Boran in our language (57), should be raised and settled within the assembly mentioned above. The man entitled by the judgment of his fellow-warriors to make good his claim to property (58) is obliged to prove that he has been in continuous occupation of the land with the help of six men drawn by lot from his company, that is from his Fjarthing (59), or that his prescriptive title is protected by the appropriate law (60).

Now it was decided to settle lesser disputes with the testi mony of two fellow-warriors, and by the old arrangement it was with the testimony of the two who in the dining hall sat on either side of the man concerned (61). However, the men of today decide that the rigour of the law ought to be softened in many respects, so that even in the matter dealt with in the present clause they bring the case to judgment with the help of two fellow-soldiers got from anywhere in the hall.

[10] The law had not been established for long when the one who lies in ambush for the blood of mankind, the hater of prosperity, the perverter of justice (62), made an attack on the high standing of the prince. He tried to persuade the king to evade the law, so that once the head had been infected with aconite, the corrupting poison would spread through the rest of the limbs (63). For while he was still in England, enjoying peace and tranquillity, the maker of the law, King Knut himself, fell into a passion (64) and drew his sword and killed one of his own warriors. At this, the whole phalanx was convulsed with rage; the legions came pouring in on all sides and ran to arms without delay. But when they discovered that the hand of the king had committed this killing, they gathered into a body and made careful inquiry into what they were to do.

For their opinions were divided, and their verdict was doubtful and uncertain: whether to punish the king with death on account of the novelty of the crime, or was he entitled to pardon (65)? For if the king were to undergo the prescribed sentence, they would be driven out of this foreign country as leaderless fugitives; but if they were swayed by their rever ence for the king, the example of their corrupt indulgence would enable others to commit the same offence.

In the end this sentence was passed by the whole cohort, and no wrong conclusion (66) was to be drawn from it thereafter. The throne was to be placed in the middle of the assembly, and his grace the king was to prostrate himself before it and there await a decision either for pardon or for severity. When that had been done and the king's grace had made atonement and all further consequences of the crime had been eliminated, they raised him up and pardoned him, and all together shouted their unanimous confirmation (67).

However, any man who committed this kind of misdeed in future was to be disqualified from any dispensation, nor was he to make compensation for the crime. He was to expiate the gravity of the offence by submitting to an inexorable sentence of death, or at least, were the law to be relaxed, he was to depart from the whole association of warriors as an exile and a fugitive and an utter outcast, named by the shameful word of Nithingsorth (68).

[11] After the great king had expiated the crime of which he was guilty in the manner recorded above, the code was loyally maintained and remained continuously unbroken through the reigns of eight kings. That is to say, during the time of old Knut, who was also the maker of the law, and of his son Knut, surnamed 'the harsh' or 'the hard' – although he never suc ceeded to the kingdom of his forerunner, he was a sort of helper during the time his father had command of the helm of state, as we shall explain more clearly afterwards (69). And then during the reigns of Magnus the Good and Sven Estrithsen and Harald Whetstone; and of Knut, who was crowned with martyrdom in the church at Odense, and of Olaf, his brother, and of Erik the Good; and it was not violated until the reign of the ninth king, that is of Nicolaus (70). Then Kristiarn Svensen (71) drew his sword and wounded Thuri Doki (72), and he was the first offender to break the law of the retainers and the knights after the king had made his amends.

After that, the king was faced by a difficult decision. For he thought it would be harmful to the authority of his government and would undermine its security, if Kristiarn were to be expelled from the court with the shameful name of Nithings orth. It would also offend all the man's kinsmen, who were the most powerful men in the realm, and all the more so because two of his brothers were greatly renowned bishops at the time. Asser, the elder, was the first archbishop of the see of Lund (73), and the second was Sven, bishop of Viborg (74). The other two brothers, Eskil (75) and Aggi, and their revered father Sven, son of Thrugot, were also respected in their day as foremost among the leaders of the kingdom (76).

These men were more concerned to preserve their honour than their wealth, and they decided that, however heavy the award, it was better to pay compensation for the crime that had been committed than to put their good name in jeopardy. So they made a careful investigation, and in their penetrating enquiries they consulted Bo Hithinsen from Vendel, both because he was very old and because he had been a famous warrior of old Knut, who is held to have made and published those laws (77). They also brought in the older men of the day, those who were used to committing the doings of past times to memory, and asked them whether any of them could remember any similar offence which had been made good by com pensation alone. And when they had made diligent inquiry and were unable to remember any similar breach of the law, that same Bo of Vendel replied with this advice: 'It has not been precisely settled by any man's estimate (78) hitherto. It is worth our trouble (79) to prescribe to our posterity a fixed method of compensation now. Therefore let a penalty be laid down so severe that it will deter all our successors from daring to break the law.'

And so, with the consent of the whole court and with the king's agreement, he promulgated a new ordinance, that 'hereafter whosoever shall dare to violate by his rash and presumptuous audacity the ordinance of the present law – that is, the Witherlogh – by inflicting a wound on his fellow- warrior shall make satisfaction to the king of forty marks, and shall appease the man he injured with another forty, adding as proof of his shame at his own misconduct two marks weight of gold – called Gyrsum (80) in our common speech – and he shall also hand over a third forty marks to all his fellow- warriors bound by the terms of the same law (81).'

However, the human condition is always prone to evil (82), and some time after this Aggi Thver (83) followed the corrupting example and wounded Esger Ebbesen, who had been the bailiff at Varde (84), while Esger was under the wing of King Nicolaus, in the house of Withi the Staller at Borg (85). When that happened, the king was enraged, and he ordered Aggi's arrest at the wish of nearly all his fellow-warriors, but Withi objected and spoke against it. Now he offered the same sort of compen sation and made the same amends as we recalled above that Kristiarn had made. And this is said to have happened in Lime (86) at Bo Ketilsen's house. After this, time passed and, with evil deeds growing more frequent (87), corruption gradually crept in and such payments became rather numerous, follow ing the example of the first payment in reparation for the above-mentioned crime.

[12] However, the inflexible rule of the old law was that, if any man should happen to strike his fellow-warrior in anger with a fist or with any weapon whatsoever, and the fact should be substantiated with the testimony of only two fellow-warriors, then no compensation was to be payable thereafter (88). It is the moderation of the men of today which has brought about the softening of this rule under a new law. Thus, if the fact is well established by evidence or testimony and the accused is unable to defend himself by any sort of denial, it is settled that he must kneel (89) at the feet of the man to whom he has given offence by his insult, so that the most abject shame may be duly expunged by the most humiliating form of reparation. However, if the plaintiff fails to convict the accused with witnesses, it is a general ordinance that this man who brought the charge may remove the infamy with the oaths of six of his fellow-warriors (90).

[13] Provocations to violence are as diverse as the suggestions of the Old Serpent. For it often happens that a man inflicts a wound on another man, either wittingly or in ignorance (91): sometimes he wounds his own comrade, whom he recognizes, but sometimes he thinks that his comrade is not his comrade. If any man ignorantly and unknowingly wounds his fellow- warrior while trying to wound another, or hurts him by accident, and is sued for it, he may vouch with two fellow- warriors (92) that he inflicted the harm in ignorance and unwill ingly. But if he fails at the oath-taking, he shall make satisfac tion by the procedure mentioned above (93).

But when a man wounds his fellow-warrior knowingly and deliberately but unaware that he is bound to that man by the law cited above, it was enacted that this kind of ignorance did not exonerate him from liability for the offence (94). For by the same law it was provided that (95) ... all disputes involving a legal hearing (96) are to be settled either with a group of six fellow-warriors, for the more serious, or, for those that are moderately grave, with two or three, as we have explained above.

[14] Now that we have run through the laws by which lesser disputes are to be settled, it remains for us to pass on to greater matters.

Seeing therefore that by his continual watchfulness the wily foe knows how to circumvent us, he leads us up the ladder of undutifulness to the last step of damnation (97). For while by his baleful suggestions he finds work for his followers in small matters, he is always urging them on to attempt greater infamy. Indeed, he who has been already trained to quarrel with his fellow-warriors at the risk of bloodshed proceeds at the last boldly to contrive the death or betrayal of his lord and prince (98). So if any man should incur this abominable disgrace, and should be stained with the curse of Judas the traitor (99) and commit a crime like his and be sentenced and condemned for making plans to betray his own lord, that man, they decreed, was to lose his life and all his property (100).

To this end they ordained that, if the king were to [accuse] any man of treason or of the crime (101) ... the wind should fill the sail and remove it out of sight of the onlookers; and if the West Wind's favour (102) was not granted, then he had to row across the sea until the oars were seen no longer, while they had to wait on the shore. So, while he was hidden far out to sea, they yelled three times as if giving a signal for battle, and it was decreed that the rights he enjoyed as a former confederate should be annulled (103).

Furthermore, if he should dishonour himself by the afore said crime while in his native land (104) and should be convicted of it, as above, the whole band of warriors was obliged to escort him to a dense wood and wait on the edge of the wood while he withdrew from them and pursued his course into some dark wilderness where he was unable to hear the din of their shouting (105). Then all his fellow-warriors are called to gether in a body, and with all their might they give their yell three times in unison. And after that they are held bound by this law: that whichever one of them meets that man thereafter and has the advantage of him by one man or one weapon at the least and does not attack him, then he shall incur the same penalty of ignominious discharge (106).

So far I have unravelled the law of the knights, albeit in a disjointed style, as far as I have been able to discover it by careful inquiry among old writers and old men. It remains for our posterity, whom one authority considers to be dwarves on the shoulders of giants (107), to beautify this treatise with rhetori cal figures and high-flown language (108) and to supply what is missing by bringing it to a conclusion in a style more elegant.


Hosted by uCoz