Revenue, Lordship, Kinship & Law

Vikings for all occasions, no plunder too small

Manaraefan Herred

Kings Revenue

The kings revenue comes from his Royal Estates scattered over the whole country and each controlled by a royal reeve, all servants on these estates take their pay before the residue is given up to the king.  Further revenue comes from the “kings farm”, a food rent paid in kind; a given area pays sufficient to feed the kings household for a night, the “farm of one night”.  Some times commuted to a cash sum but usually paid in ale and corn, malt, honey, dairy produce and live-stock.  Additional income came from the tribute of subject kings, inheritance of foreigners estates, from tolls, import-export duties, from fines and forfeitures incurred in the law courts.  The kings reeve presided over the latter and even when grants were awarded to the plaintiff some fines for serious offences were reserved for the king.


Comments on this site should be sent to Roger Barry


If a retainer/lord etc. personally surrenders any tax direct to his lord or the king he will include a personal gift, the king in turn will soften the blow of the tax by giving a fine gift to his man.  Each would speak to the other in formal terms of affection, the king would not wish to insult his man unless he had some grudge and wished to provoke disobedience that may then be punished.  If the king gave a warrior sworn to another lord a gift, that warrior would give that gift to his lord on his return and no doubt expect some compensation in turn.

If a lord is sent into exile his men would accompany him depriving the king of their service, should any not follow their lord the king would not use them anyway as their


After lordship kinship was the most important social glue and method of keeping the peace.  A man was duty bound to avenge his kin by birth and marriage and wage vendetta against the killer of his kin or the killers kin even if they were his friends.  A killer could be repudiated by his kin but they would then forfeit any compensation if the killer was killed. Weir gild was originally set in oxen but eventually had a cash value.  A vendetta could be ended by appropriate levels of compensation but only when both sides agreed.  Vendetta was legal and there were rules.  It was illegal to carry out vendetta against a man who killed when defending his lord, his man or his kinsman from wrongful attack or for killing a man he caught in the act of violating  his  wife, daughter,  sister or mother provided  he

Service in the army, building fortifications and maintaining bridges were a tax collected in labour and never exempted.  Other services may be exempted in return for cash.  Services required were the supplying of hospitality to the kings messengers, huntsmen and falconers and the feeding of his dogs and hawks.  Other services varied from place to place, ports for instance had to supply hospitality to ambassadors.  Some places had to provide special goods to the king, Norwich supplied a bear and six dogs for bear-baiting, some times a cash payment would be made instead.

A general cash tax was only made on all classes, clerical and secular, in time of great need, such as the paying of Danegeld.  At times there was a ship tax, in 1008 it was one ship per 310 hides and one “coat-of-mail” per eight hides, later this was a heavy cash tax.

loyalty would be in question.  Loyalty was personal and to a man’s lord not the state or head thereof. Warriors only fought for the king because their lord did so.  Warriors who did not die for a fallen lord were despised, if they slew all those who had killed their lord then living wasn’t a sin!

Hostages were not treated in the way we are used to today. A welsh hostage of king Cynewulf of Wessex fought in his hearth troop and only survived the death of the king because he was badly wounded and captured unconscious, the rest of the hearth troop died to a man.  Aescferth the hostage fought with Byhrtnoth at Maldon and was killed along with the rest of the hearth troop.

killed him on the spot.  Nor could you wage vendetta on behalf of a man convicted as a thief or some other capital crime.   Before vendetta commenced the guilt of the accused had to be proved in court, this could be done by the aggrieved party having more kinsmen appear in court to swear an oath against the accused than the accused could bring to court.  In our terms that would be as if a murder trial ends with the family of the victim being allowed to kill the murderer or one of the murderers family!  If a vendetta is to be resolved by compensation each family negotiates through intermediaries, it is expected that if the protagonists meet face to face prior to an agreement they would kill each other.

As with lordship kinsmen were responsible for their kin and had to ensure that an accused kinsman appeared in court, there they would take oaths in support of his innocence.  In some places men came together in associations of a semi-religious, semi social nature called gilds which reinforced kin relationships when enforcing vendettas.  If a gild member was killed the guild would carry out a vendetta on the same lines as the kinship.

A lord provides his men with horse and mail and more besides. On their death this “heriot” as it was known was returned in kind, the return gift was remitted if the warrior fell in battle. Land was the main gift a follower expected.

If a follower committed an offence the lord was responsible for getting him to court, representing him and paying his fine. This was true even in respect of crimes committed before the man was taken on, if the lord was unable to produce his man in court he would be prosecuted in his stead.

Loyalty to ones lord was set before loyalty to kin, if a man had to choose who to defend, kin or lord, it would always be his lord, anything else would be treachery of the worst kind. If a warrior kills a man at his lords bidding this was considered as strong mitigation and any penance would be slight, killing on behalf of kin is a lesser mitigation.


Full outlawry called Skogarmathr (Lit. man of the forest), for the most serious crimes.  The convicted man’s property was confiscated and no man was allowed to shelter him and it was a crime to help him leave the country, should he manage to do so he was not allowed to return.  In Iceland any man could kill him without retribution; abroad any Icelander may kill him.

Lesser outlawry was punishable by a fine, exile from the country within three summers and remains away for another three.

For the least of crimes the sentence was Herathssekt and entailed exile from a particular district for a particular length of time.

One other thing that must be remembered about Viking law, it was the preserve of men.  If a woman committed a crime she would be punished but her male relatives would represent her in court and would not be free from punishment or vengeance.  A man was responsible for the actions of the women of his household.


Viking Age Law

All societies have a code of ethics which are the basis of their law, for instance it is generally considered unethical to kill someone so society has a law against it.  How seriously the killing is considered will depend on the societies code of ethics and that in turn will be reflected in the punishment.  Today if someone kills another person by accident they will be punished by a short term of imprisonment or even a fine depending on the circumstances.  If the killing is premeditated we call it murder and the perpetrator will receive a life sentence.  There are of course a wide range of variables that affect each case but let’s keep this simple.

The Vikings didn’t think like us, they were pagans or Christians with a much more robust or black and white view of the world.  They didn’t live in a society tempered by five hundred years of humanism or guilt riven and shell shocked by the bloodiest century in human history.  They had a different code of ethics to modern Europeans.

Viking ethics were based on the difference between shame and honour; openness in all things was very important and formed the basis of their law codes.  For instance, a killing by night or in secret was considered murder but an open killing, one that was feely confessed was treated as manslaughter.  Having committed a killing the man or woman must declare it to the first person they come across for it to be considered manslaughter,  if the killer suspects that the occupant of a house is a relative or friend of the victim they may pass the first two residences but must stop at the third to declare the killing.  Manslaughter may be recompensed by paying a fine but murder will usually lead to a blood feud.

A thief caught in the act of stealing might legally be killed but a robber may not.  The logic being that a thief sneaks into a home to steal without honour while the bolder face to face act of robbery gave the victim a fair chance of preventing it. 

Communal responsibility is also of great importance to the Vikings and all persons that witness a killing must report to the family or heirs or face the chance of being accused of murder.  One Viking age law code states that all those that witness a killing in an ale house, whether by daylight or firelight must assist in apprehending the killer or face a fine.

A large number of witnesses were always required at a court whether for a civil contract or legal judgment; this keeps people honest and less likely to renege on any agreement.   In an age of very low literacy this was pretty much essential and it was common practice to have young children present as a means of transmitting the courts decisions and personal contracts to future generations.

Depending on the seriousness of the offence the accused person might be asked to give an oath in their defence in one of four grades requiring the support  of respectively one, two, five or eleven compurgators or supporters, if the charge is murder then twelve compurgators or supporters are required.  The accused and each supporter must make the same oath and any error will invalidate the oath thus implying guilt.

Punishment might also be a communal affair, a convicted thief had to run a gauntlet of stones and turf and anyone not throwing anything would be fined.

A common sentence was outlawry and there were three degrees of outlawry, but before we look at them it should be understood what being an outlaw meant.  Simply put an outlaw was outside the protection of the law, people could do things to the outlaw that they would be forbidden to do to someone within the protection of the law.  If we had the system today it could mean that having run someone down in your car you are informed the victim is an outlaw so no crime has been committed and you can drive off with a clear conscience!

Vike Weapons Law

Whenever a weapons thing is to be held, that is an army is to be raised, the Bailiff or local lord will give due notice in the autumn, and the weapon thing will be held in the following spring.

All free men of major age shall attend that weapon thing; that is all those considered old enough to fight; whoever fails will pay a fine of three oras (an ora is 20 silver pennies and each penny was reckoned to be worth £25 at 1980 prices so that’s a fine of £1,500 at modern(ish) prices). Now the men shall display their weapons as the law demands.

A man shall have a broad-axe or a sword, a spear, and a shield which at the worst shall have three small plates of iron laid across it and shall have the hand grip fastened with iron nails.

Now each of these three folk weapons, (if wanting) carries a fine of three oras.

The freemen shall provide one bow and two dozen arrows for each thwart (the seat on a longship); they shall pay an ora for every arrowhead that is wanting and three oras for the bow.