SUPPLEMENT TO LEX CASTRENSIS
The Old Danish Vederlov
The Witherlax ræt (see pp. 5-6 above) is here translated, with occasional light paraphrase, from the version in the Uppsala manuscript, De la Gardie 44, fol. 159 r, written in the first half of the fifteenth century. The edition followed is that by Erik Kroman in DR, 1-5. It begins: Incipit statutum Kanuti regis filii Waldemari regis et archiepiscopi Absalonis quod dicitur witherlax ræt. The page-numbers in brackets refer to the comparable passages in the LC translation above.
[pp. 31-2, 34] This is the Law of the Witherlag which King Knut, son of Valdemar, and Archbishop Absalon caused to be written down just as it was in Old Knut's days. Old Knut was king in Denmark and England and Norway and Samland and had a large hird gathered from the lands he was king over, and he was unable to keep them united and at peace unless there were strict justice for those who offended others. And for that reason he, and with him Øpi Snialli of Sjælland and Eskil Øpi'sson, made in England the Witherlag (1) severe and strict so that no man should dare to offend another, [p. 36] And he ordained first that the king, and other honour able men who might have a hird, should stand by their men and be kindly towards them and be prompt in giving them their pay (2). Men should show loyalty and service towards their lords, and be ready to obey all their commands, [pp. 42-3] If any man should become a bold and miscreant traitor and contrive Judas-work with evil plotting against his lord, then he has forfeited his own life and all that he owns, [pp. 36-8] If the king wishes to dismiss a man from the Witherlag, then in his household he should first get two men of the Witherlag to summon him, in his company and in his 'quarter' (3), to appear at a huskarlastefna, and announce to him the place and the day. If he does not come to the meeting, then the king shall have them go home to his house and summon him a second time, and tell him the place and the day. Should he not heed the summons, then he shall have him summoned a third time, at home at his house, and tell him when and where he shall attend. If he does not attend the meeting, then let him be condemned and flee the country and let the king take all that he owned. If he comes to the meeting, and the king, with the witness of two men of the Witherlag and with a sacred oath, can prove him guilty of the charge that he willed an attack either on his life or on his country, then he has lost his place in the Witherlag and forfeited his life. If men of the Witherlag do not dare to bear witness to that and to swear a sacred oath, then he shall be either lost or saved by God's verdict, that is by the ordeal of hot iron, according to the laws that Old Knut made, [p. 36] If any man should want to leave his lord's service, then he should get two men of the Witherlagto renounce his service on the eighth eve of Christmas (4). Then he may serve another lord thereafter.
[p. 42] If a man infringes the Witherlag by giving a blow or a wound, then he shall be driven from the king's household with the name of Nithing, and flee from all the lands that Knut was king over. And after that, any man of the Witherlag who meets him should attack him if he be one shield stronger than him, or else he shall be called Nithing without having offended by giving a blow or a wound.
[p. 37] If anyone complains that a man (5) of the Witherlag had done him wrong, then that should be prosecuted at the huskarla stefna. If he can prove it by the witness of two men of the Witherlagand with a sacred oath, then the other should sit one place farther out than he sat before. And all the disputes that arise between them shall be prosecuted at the huskarlastefna and nowhere else.
[p. 37] If there are disputes concerning property or seizure of household goods (6), then the one who is judged by the house carles to have the law more on his side shall bring as proof the oath of six men chosen by lot from his 'quarter'. Lesser cases shall all be settled by the oath of two men of the Witherlag, one who sits in from him and one who sits out from him.
[pp. 39-41] The Witherlag was faithfully accepted between lords and their men and stood thus unblemished through the days of eight kings – Old Knut, Harthaknut, Magnus the Good, Sven Estrithsen, Harald Whetstone, St Knut at Odense, his brother Olaf, and Erik the Ever-good – and it was not infringed before the days of the ninth king – that was Nicolaus. Then Kristiarn Svensen made an assault and used a weapon on Thuri Doki (7), and that was the first infringement of the Witherlag. Then both the king and Kristiarn's kinsmen thought it a bad thing to drive him away from the king's household with the name of Nithing, for two of his brothers were bishops, Archbishop Asser and Bishop Sven of Viborg, and two other brothers of his, Eskil and Aggi, and their father, Sven Thru gun's son, were chief men in Denmark, and these would rather let the case be settled by compensation. Then they inquired of Bo Hithinsen of Vendel, who had been a man of Old Knut's, and of others who were the oldest men in Denmark, if there were any instances when the Witherlag had previously been infringed and compensation paid afterwards; and they could find no precedents. Then Bo Hithinsen said: 'Since there is no precedent for such a thing before our days, then let us set a precedent to stand after our days: that is, that the man who infringes the Witherlag by giving a blow or a wound shall atone to the king with forty marks, and to all the men of the Witherlag with another forty marks, and to the man who was injured with forty marks, and give two marks of gold as gørsom (8).
After that, Aggi Thver used a weapon on Esger Ebbesen, the bailiff of Varde, at Withi the State's house at Borg, under the arm of King Nicolaus (9). Then the king and all the king's men wanted to seize Aggi, but Withi would not let him be taken, but stood in their way and offered compensation and guarantees in accordance with the precedent of the payment Kristiarn had made. And the compensation was paid at Bo Ketilsen's in Lime, and since then many compensations have been paid in accordance with the precedent of Kristiarn's payment.