Wednesday, April 11, 2012

William the Conqueror's Slave Laws (Theonomy Applied)

William the Conqueror, king of England
from 1066 - 1087, enacted during his
reign laws against the slave trade, and
protections for manumitted servants.
William the Conqueror (1028 - 1087) was Duke of Normandy from 1035 - 1087, and the first Norman King of England (as William I) from 1066 - 1087.

He became king of England after defeating the English with a Norman army in 1066, and is known for being the last foreigner to conquer England.

During his reign, William enacted certain protections for his subjects in regards to slavery. For instance, after becoming king of England, William decreed the following against engaging in the international slave trade:
"I prohibit the sale of any man by another outside the country on pain of a fine to be paid in full to me." (Laws of William the Conqueror) [1]
After discovering that northern England and Bristol were involved in selling slaves, William further decreed the following in 1080 to protect Christians :
Let Christians not be sold outside of the land or to heathens:
41. Also we forbid any one to sell a Christian into a foreign land and especially to heathens. For let great care be taken lest their souls for which Christ gave His life be sold into damnation.[2]
[Note: while no true Christian can lose his salvation (we are not exactly sure what William means), it is indeed a vile thing to sell a Christian into slavery in a pagan society, and thereby subject him to a world of darkness.]

William also enacted a similar law to protect serfs:
Concerning serfs and their manumission:
15. And we prohibit any one to sell a man out of the country.[3] 
To this law William established protections for manumitted servants, namely, that their masters must both publicly declare them free, and provide them with arms for protection:
But if he, who wishes to make his serf free, hand him over to the sheriff by his right hand in full assembly, he must proclaim him quit of the yoke of his servitude by manumission, and show him free ways and gates and give him arms, viz., lance and sword; finally the man is made free.[4]


[1] Cited in  Paul Halsall, ed., "Laws of William the Conqueror," Internet Medieval Sourcebook (NY: Fordham University, Feb 1996). Retrieved April 9, 2012. [Note: we do not endorse Fordham University.]
[2] Benjamin Thorpe, ed., Ancient Laws and Institutes of England (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1840), 479, 493; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, eds., A Source Book for Medieval Economic History (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), 277-278. 
Cited in  Paul Halsall, ed., "William the Conqueror: Sale of Slaves in England, c. 1080," Internet Medieval Sourcebook (NY: Fordham University, Feb 1998). Retrieved April 9, 2012. [The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg]
[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics). 

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