In addition to the thegns there were others who were thegns on account of their birth, and thus thegnhood was partly inherited and partly acquired.
The increase in the number of thegns produced in time a subdivision of the order.
There arose a class of king's thegns, corresponding to the earlier thegns, and a larger class of inferior thegns, some of them the thegns of bishops or of other thegns.
After the Norman Conquest the thegns appear to have been merged in the class of knights.
The twelve senior thegns of the hundred play a part, the nature of which is rather doubtful, in the development of the English system of justice.
In this way the later nobility of the thegns was in England substituted for the older nobility of the eorls.
Stories like these prove even more than the real rise of Hagano and Eadric. In England the nobility of the thegns was to a great extent personally displaced, so to speak, by the results of the Norman Conquest.
In 785 he was surprised and killed, with all his thegns present, at Marten, Wilts (Merantune), by Cyneheard, brother of the deposed Sigeberht.
The lord, on the other hand, had to keep his thegns and reward them from time to time with arms and treasure.
The followers (called by Tacitus comites, in England " thegns," among the Franks antrustiones, &c.) were expected to remain faithful to their lord even to death; indeed so close was the relationship between the two that it seems to have reckoned as equivalent to that of father and son.
The fyrd was gradually superseded by the gathering of the thegns and their retainers, but it was occasionally called out for defensive purposes even after the Norman Conquest.
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."
But besides the king, the ealdormen, bishops and king's thegns themselves had their thegns, and to these it is more than probable that the name of cniht was applied.
In each county the list opened with the holding of the king himself (which had possibly formed the subject of separate inquiry); then came those of the churchmen and religious houses; next were entered those of the lay tenants-in-chief (barones);° and last of all those of women, of the king's serjeants (servientes), of the few English "thegns" who retained land, and so forth.