Witan


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Witan

An Anglo-Saxon term that meant wise men, persons learned in the law; in particular, the king's advisers or members of his council.

In England, between the sixth and tenth centuries, a person who advised an Anglo-Saxon king was called a witan, or wise man. A witan's basic duty was to respond when the king asked for advice on specific issues. A witan gave his advice in the Witenagemote, or assembly of wise men. This assembly was the forerunner of the English Parliament.

The Witenagemote was the great council of the Anglo-Saxons in England, comprising the aristocrats of the kingdom, along with bishops and other high ecclesiastical leaders. This council advised and aided the king in the general administration of government. The Witenagemote attested to the king's grants of land to churches or laypersons and consented to his proclamation of new laws or new statements of ancient customs. The council also assisted the king in dealing with rebels and persons suspected of disloyalty. The king determined both the composition of the council and its meeting times.

The Witenagemote generally met in the open air in or near some city or town. Members were notified by public notice or particular summons issued by the king's select council. When the throne was vacant, the body also met without notice to elect a new king.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the council was called the commune concillium, or common council of the realm. This was transformed into the Curia Regis, or King's Council, and by the late thirteenth century, it was called Parliament. The character of the institution also changed during this period. It became a court of last resort, especially for determining disputes between the king and his nobles and, ultimately, from all inferior tribunals.

Cross-references

English Law.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Verb Losses Adjectives Rate of loss in paradigm BERAN 102 123 82.9% CUNNAN 28 28 100.0% EADAN 26 35 74.2% GANGAN 27 27 100.0% HEALDAN 31 34 91.1% *LEOSAN 84 143 58.7% METAN 27 34 79.4% WEORDAN 55 101 54.5% WINDAN 28 86 32.5% WITAN 50 65 83.3% 2,526 lost Old English adjectives derive from categories other than the strong verb.
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On Wednesday, Titan made the 35-mile journey from the Thames Valley Police stables at Witan Gate, Milton Keynes, to the sanctuary.
He warns his audience that unless there is drastic moral improvement, a similar fate may befall them, because "wysrsan daeda we witan mid Englum ponne we mid Bryttan ahwar gehyrdan" [we know worse deeds amongst the English than we ever heard amongst the Britons] (Beth.XX.EI, 274-75).
GUIDE Though this word seems to speak for itself, I find it important to point out that its Proto-Germanic source, wit, meant "to know"; this turned into witan, "show the way," in the West Germanic Frankish language.
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Bishops here can be found administering justice, shaping law codes, promulgating more robust notions of sacral kingship, going on diplomatic missions, and fully participating in the life of the witan or council of royal advisers who helped prepare for war (ch.