THEGN, or Thane, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning an attendant, servant, retainer or official, and cognate with Gr.
Toller) describes a thegn as "one engaged in a king's or a queen's service, whether in the household or in the country," and adds, "the word in this case seems gradually to acquire a technical meaning, and to become a term denoting a class, containing, however, several degrees."
The precursor of the thegn was the gesith, the companion of the king or great lord, the member of his comitatus, and the word thegn began to be used to describe a military gesith.
The thegn became a member of a territorial nobility, and the dignity of thegnhood was attainable by those who fulfilled certain conditions.
Thus from a document of uncertain date, possibly about the time of Alfred the Great, and translated by Stubbs (Select Charters) as "Of people's ranks and laws," we learn:--"And if a ceorl throve, so that he had fully five hides of his own land, church and kitchen, bellhouse and burh-gate-seat, and special duty in the king's hall, then was he thenceforth of thegn-right worthy."
By his own means, then was he thenceforth of thegn-right worthy."
A king's thegn was a person of great importance, the contemporary idea being shown by the Latin translation of the words as comes.
But, like all other words of the kind, the word thegn was slowly changing its meaning, and, as Stubbs says (Const.
I.), "the very name, like that of the gesith, has different senses in different ages and kingdoms, but the original idea of military service runs through all the meanings of thegn, as that of personal association is traceable in all the applications of gesith."
The eorl of the old system would doubtless commonly become a thegn under the new, as the Roman patrician took his place in the new nobilitas; but others could take their place there also.
The English thegn sometimes yielded to, sometimes changed into, the Norman baron, using that word in its widest sense, without any violent alteration in his position.
The latter was held in the time of the Confessor by a thegn of St Petrock and at the time of the survey by Robert, count of Mortain, of the same saint.
Except in Kent his wergild was fixed at two hundred shillings, or one-sixth of that of a thegn, and he is undoubtedly the twyhynde man of Anglo-Saxon law.
- 690), also known as BlscoP Baducing, English churchman, was born of a good Northumbrian family and was for a time a thegn of King Oswiu.
The thegn was expected to fight for his lord, and generally to place his services at his disposal in both war and peace.
It is worth noting that in later times the heriot of an " ordinary thegn " (medema pegn) - by which is meant apparently not a king's thegn but a man of the twelfhynde class - consisted of his horse with its saddle, &c. and his arms, or two pounds of silver as an equivalent of the whole.
In a tertiary sense the word appears to have been occasionally employed as equivalent to the Latin miles - usually translated by thegn - which in the earlier middle ages was used as the designation of the domestic as well as of the martial officers or retainers of sovereigns and princes or great personages.
3 But the word thegn itself, that is, when it was used as the description of an attendant of the king, appears to have meant more especially a military attendant.
As Stubbs says " the thegn seems to be primarily the warrior gesith " - the gesithas forming the chosen band of companions (comites) of the German chiefs (principes) noticed by Tacitus - " he is probably the gesith who had a particular military duty in his master's service "; and he adds that from the reign of Athelstan " the gesith is lost sight of except very occasionally, the more important class having become thegns, and the lesser sort sinking into the rank of mere servants of the king."
4 It is pretty clear, therefore, that the word cniht could never have superseded the word thegn in the sense of a military attendant, at all events of the king.
In 874 Ceolwulf, a king's thegn or baron, was made king by the Danes, and definitely acknowledged their overlordship. In 877, after the second invasion of Wessex, the Danes seem to have taken the eastern part of Mercia into their own hands.
But the western half they handed over to an unwise thegn named Ceolwulf, who bought for a short space the precarious title of king by paying great tribute.
Preserved by the devotion of his thegn Lilla,Edwin vowed to become a Christian if victorious over his treacherous enemy.
Assuming, however, that knight was originally used to describe the military tenant of a noble person, as cniht had sometimes been used to describe the thegn of a noble person, it would, to begin with, have defined rather his social status than the nature of his services.
The thegn, the ealdorman, the king himself, fought on foot; the horse might bear him to the field, but when the fighting 2 Du Cange, Gloss., s.v.
In like manner a successful thegn might hope to become an earl.