Alfred The Great(849-899). Saxon king believed to have been born in 849. He was considered by his contemporaries and historians as a 'wise lawgiver". His reign was in south-western England.

Alfred was taught Latin (he visited Rome in 853 and 855) and implemented a number of important legal reforms which were later emulated in other parts of England.

He decided to, in his own words, "gather the old laws of the Saxons together and commanded many of those to be written which our forefathers held, those which to me seemed good" thus putting an end to the discretionary and, at times, corrupt justice then meted out by local priests/judges.

The influence of religion is obvious: his first attempt at putting the law to paper in England began with the Ten Commandments.

But he tempered the Biblical "eye for an eye" principles by proposing that a monetary compensation (wergeld) could go to the victim, much like his German-descendant peers such as Salic Laws, the Burgundian Code, Lex Rebvariaand Euric's Code. For example, a wound one inch long was compensated by a shilling; each broken tooth was worth six shillings and cutting off an ear, 20 shillings.

The exception was treason, though, to which there was to be no mercy.

Much as Iaroslav did in his 1016 Russian Pravda, Alfred also tried to stop the old ritual of blood feuds, endless cycles of vengeance between clans or persons. His laws required combatants to negotiate towards a truce for seven days before resorting to violence. Alfred introduced the notion that all crimes were an offence against the King himself, a tradition that continues today as crimes are prosecuted not by private citizens but by the government.

In his famous painting Divine Wisdom and Law, French artist Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse put Alfred front and centre in his portrayal of the receipt and advancement of law.

Part of the Law's Hall of Fame.


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