Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum

The Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum is an agreement between Alfred of Wessex and Guthrum, the Viking ruler of East Anglia. Its date is uncertain, but must have been between 878 and 890. The treaty is one of the few existing documents of Alfred's reign; it survives in Old English in Corpus Christi College Cambridge Manuscript 383, and in a Latin compilation known as "Quadripartitus". The original was probably in Old English. All translations below come from Dorothy Whitelock, "English Historical Documents 500-1042".


A prologue begins the document, outlining that it is a treaty between "King Alfred and King Guthrum and the councillors ("witan") of all the English race and all the people which is in East Anglia".

The first point is the most famous. "First concerning our boundaries: up on the Thames, and then up on the Lea, and along the Lea unto its source, then straight to Bedford, then up on the Ouse to Watling Street". This has been used by many as the boundary of the Danelaw. However, there is no mention of this, and it appears to be primarily a political boundary, perhaps created in the wake of Alfred's taking of London.

The second article raises wergeld values to a considerably higher rate than would normally be expected. "This is next, if a man is slain, all of us, Englishman and Dane at the same amount, at eight half-marks of refined gold, except the "ceorl" who occupies rented land, and their [the Dane's] freedmen; these also are estimated at the same amount, both at 200 shillings." In the treaty, as noted by Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, a ceorl living on his own land was essentially treated as a noble. They argue that this discouraged killings, as it placed the price of compensation as too high. This presents two problems, according to Paul Kershaw: first, it assumes premeditation. Second, by placing too high a value of compensation, the treaty might actually discourage peaceful dispute settlement. Kershaw argues instead that this was merely a simplification of social structures over the border: Anglo-Saxon and 'Danelaw' social structures did not necessarily correlate, and so a carte-blanche simplification may have been the only way forward.

The third section sets out regulations on the number of oaths a plaintiff and defendant are required to produce in a case of manslaughter.

The fourth stipulates that a man must know his warrantor when purchasing slaves, horses or oxen.

The fifth sets out how the English and Danes could interact. "And we all agreed on the day when the oaths were sworn, that no slaves nor freemen might go without permission into the army of the Danes, any more than any of theirs to us. But if it happens that from necessity any one of them wishes to have traffic with us, or we with them, for cattle or goods, it is to be permitted on condition that hostages shall be given as a pledge of peace and as evidence so that one may know no fraud is intended."

ee also

*List of treaties


*"English Historical Documents c.500-1042", D. Whitelock, (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1955)
* Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge, "Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources", (Penguin, 1983)
*Paul Kershaw, 'The Alfred-Guthrum Treaty' in "Cultures in Contact: Scandinavian Settlement in England in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries". ed. D.M. Hadley & J.D. Richards, (Brepols, 2000)
*Patrick Wormald, "The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century", vol. 1, (Blackwell, 1999)
* [ Medieval Sourcebook: Alfred and Guthrum's Peace]

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