Placing oneself under the protection of a lord was a solemn and ceremonious affair. In England it took the form of a hold-oath, or fealty oath. The physical act of bowing was accompanied by the oath:
“By the lord before whom this relic is holy, I will be to N [name of lord] faithful and true, and love all that he loves, and shun all that he shuns, according to God’s law, and according to secular custom; and never, willingly or intentionally, by word or by work, do aught of what is loathful to him, on condition that he keep me as I am willing to deserve, and all that fulfil that our agreement was, when I to him submitted and chose his will.” 
Essentially this is a negative commitment, a promise not to act against the lord’s interests. Nevertheless, a personal bond of this nature carried with it certain positive obligations.
For the king’s thegn, lord and king were the same person. A thegn whose lord was not the king still had a duty to the monarch. (It should be remembered that the king’s title was “Cynehlaford” or lord-king.) Thegns in turn would have men who called them lord. The role of lordship entailed a dual responsibility, that of serving one’s lord, and that of protecting one’s men.
|The king with his witan|
The test of royal authority is how effectively it is felt in the localities. The law codes abound with directions to individual ealdormen to ensure that laws are enforced. King Edgar commands that:
“Earl Oslac and all the host that dwell in his aldermanry are to give their support that this may be enforced” and that “Many documents are to be written concerning this, and sent both to ealdorman Aelfhere and ealdorman Aethelwine, and that they are to send them in all directions, that this measure may be known to both the poor and the rich.” 
There is some evidence to suggest that the ealdormen disliked the king’s reeves (administrative officials.) A breach of the law by a reeve could only be dealt with by the king  and when Aethelred II adopted the policy of appointing reeves instead of ealdormen, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that in 1002 Ealdorman Leofsige slew Aelfric, the king’s high-reeve. The grant of Aethelred’s explains why these men were disliked. The reeve broke the law by giving Christian burial to those who had forfeited the right. Instead of punishing him, Aethelred granted the reeve their land. To the ealdormen it must have seemed that the reeves were above the law.
Naturally the king’s officials were instrumental in the enforcement of law and order, and their duties included presiding over the shire and hundred courts. The hundred ordinance  directs that the hundred court is to meet every four weeks. II&III Edgar acknowledges this and states that the borough court is to be held three times a year and the shire court twice a year. It also succinctly sets out the duty of those presiding over the courts:
“And the bishop of the diocese and the ealdormen are to be present, and there to expound both the ecclesiastical and the secular law.” 
The shire court was unspecialised in the tenth-century, and did not develop into a full royal court until after the Norman conquest. It had a variety of functions, including procedures in outlawry.  It was here that arrangements were made for the collection of taxes. It was in the interests of landowners to be represented, and the shire-reeve gradually became recognised at the chief executive royal officer.
The hundred court met on an appointed day, and anyone who failed to appear had to pay thirty shillings compensation. Each man was to do justice to another. Great concern was shown over theft. Compensation had to be paid to the victim; half of the offender’s remaining property went to the hundred, and half to the lord. Aethelred II’s reign saw an emphasis placed on the importance of oath-taking, and the origins of the jury of presentment.
“The twelve leading thegns are to come forward and swear on the relics … that they will accuse no innocent man nor conceal any guilty one.” He who pronounced a wrong judgement could forfeit his thegnly status, and “A sentence where the thegns are unanimous is to be valid.”
The importance of all courts was to provide a place where good witness could be obtained. King Edgar ordered thirty-six witnesses in each borough, and twelve in each hundred. 
|A charter of Aethelred II|
The nobility served the king, and were granted lands and privileges as a reward for that service. As lords they could expect service from their own men, and in turn they had a duty to protect those who called them ‘lord’.
(Next week - the obligations of military service)
 Origins of English Feudalism 59 p145 - Of Oaths (c.1920)
 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (E) 978
 IV Edgar 15. & 15.1
 EHD (English historical Documents) 117 p525
 This document is often called I Edgar, but was possibly written before Edgar’s reign. It was definitely in existence during Edgar’s reign.
 II&III Edgar 5.2
 HR Loyn - The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England p138
 III Aethelred 3.1 & 13.2
 IV Edgar 4. & 5.
 HR Loyn Op Cit p163. By 1086 approx. 130 hundreds were in private hands.
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