whole system of government worked downwards from the King himself who
had an assembly called the 'Witan'
(a word meanlng 'wise men') which
included among its number thanes, bishops and abbots. These would
travel with the king and discuss or make decisions on laws, gifts of
land, or major criminal cases.
the 10th century, following the conquest of the Danelaw lands, the
country was divided into 'shires',
usually centred around a large
town. The word 'shire' still survives and appears as part of many
counties today, and some also still have the boundaries set in Saxon
shire had its law court or 'Shire
Moot' which met twice a year and
dealt with the more serious crimes or disputes. The Shires themselves
were divided into smaller units known as 'Hundreds' which were based
on areas which could contain or support 100 hides (a measure of land
of about 100 acres) or households. Halesworth was situated within the
Blything Hundred, and these Hundreds survived as administrative units
into the 20th century.
Hundred also had its own Hundred Moot or court, which met monthly to
deal with local criminal cases, or to announce and carry out any
royal commands or instructions. There were also Burgh Moots in the
more established towns, and an early 16th century Moot Hall
can still be seen at Aldeburgh, where it is now
used as the Town's museum.
in a crime could depend on trial by ordeal. With this a priest would
be called to ask the defendant to choose between the iron or the
water ordeal. In the ordeal of water, the defendant would be thrown
into a pond or river, and if he floated he was guilty, but would be
declared innocent if he sank! In the ordeal by iron, he would have to
carry a red-hot iron bar for a short distance. If the wound healed in
three days he was innocent, sometimes the defendant had to pick a
stone from a bowl of boiling water without being scalded.