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Doom book


Doom book

The Legal Code of Ælfred the Great, by Milton Haight Turk, 1890

The Doom Book, Code of Alfred or Legal Code of Ælfred the Great was the code of laws ("dooms", laws or judgments) compiled by Alfred the Great (c. 893 AD) from three prior Saxon codes, to which he prefixed the Ten Commandments of Moses and incorporated rules of life from the Mosaic Code and the Christian code of ethics.

The title "Doom book" (originally "dom-boc" or "dom-boke") comes from dōm (pronounced "dome") which is the Anglo-Saxon word meaning "judgment" or "law" — for instance, see Alfred's admonishment: Doom very evenly! Do not doom one doom to the rich; another to the poor! Nor doom one doom to your friend; another to your foe![1] The following reflects Mosaic Law: "You shall do no injustice in judgment! You shall not be partial to the poor; nor defer to the great! But you are to judge your neighbour fairly!" ( Leviticus 19:15).

F. N. Lee extensively documents Alfred the Great's work of collecting the law codes from the three Christian Saxon kingdoms and compiling them into his Doom Book.[2] Lee details how Alfred incorporated the principles of the Mosaic law into his Code. He then examines how this Code of Alfred became the foundation for the Common Law. The three previous codes were those of Æthelberht of Kent (c. 602 AD), Ine of Wessex (c. 694 AD) and Offa of Mercia (c. 786 AD).

In his extensive Prologue, Alfred summarized the Mosaic and Christian codes. Michael Treschow reviewed how Alfred laid the foundation for the Spirit of Mercy in his code:[3] Treschow states that the last section of the Prologue not only describes "a tradition of Christian law from which the law code draws but also it grounds secular law upon Scripture, especially upon the principle of mercy".


  1. ^ Thorpe, Benjamin, ed. (1840). Ancient Laws and Institutes of England: Comprising Laws Enacted Under the Angl-Saxon Kings from Æthelbirht to Cnut, with an English Translation of the Saxon; the Laws Called Edward the Confessor's; the Laws of William the Conqueror, and Those Ascribed to Henry the First; Also, Monumenta Ecclesiastica Anglicana, from the Seventh to the Tenth Century; and the Anciety Latin Version of the Anglo-Saxon Laws 1. G.E. Eyre and A. Spottiswoode. p. 55. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "Alfred the Great and our Common Law" (html). Retrieved May 25, 2015. 
  3. ^ Michael Treschow, The Prologue to Alfred’s Law Code: Instruction in the Spirit of Mercy, Florilegium 13, 1994 pp79-110.

Further reading

  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the  
  • Alfred (1893). The Legal Code of Ælfred the Great. M. Niemeyer. 
  • Alfred; Turk, Milton Haight (Editor) (1973). The Legal Code of Alfred the Great. Ams Pr Inc.  
  • Alfred; Turk, Milton Haight (Editor) (2004). The Legal Code of Ælfred the Great. Lawbook Exchange.  
  • Wormald, Patrick (2001). King Alfred to the Twelfth Century: Legislation and its Limits. # Publisher: Blackwell Publishing, Inc.  
  • Knight, Alfred H. (1998). The Life of the Law: The People and Cases that Have Shaped our Society, from King Alfred to Rodney King. Oxford University Press, USA.  
  • The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.year=1907–21.  VI. Alfred and the Old English Prose of his Reign. § 4. Codes of Law.
  • Robin Fowler & [A.]H. Smith (ed.). The Parker Chronicle and Laws. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS. 173, facs. 

External links

  • VI. Alfred and the Old English Prose of his Reign. § 4. Codes of Law
  • Laws of Alfred: Medieval Sourcebook English translation (Partial, no preface etc.)
  • Alfred the Great: British Library Image
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