Thus the members of the witan were primarily counsellors.
His deposition has been ascribed to a formal act of the Witan, but this seems an antedating of constitutional methods and the circumstances point to a palace revolution.
WITAN, or Witenagemot (from O.
Witan, a wise man, and gemot, a meeting, from O.
In Anglo-Saxon England in the 7th and 8th centuries it seems certain that each of the larger kingdoms, Kent, Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria, had its separate witan, or council, but there is a difference of opinion as to whether this was identical with, or distinct from, the folkmoot, in which, theoretically at least, all freemen had the right to appear.
Evidence in support of this view is sought for in the accounts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and elsewhere, where the decisions of the witan were received with loud expressions of approval or of disapproval by an assembled crowd, and it is argued that this is a survival from an earlier age, when all the freemen attended the witan.
As the number of kings decreased the number of witans decreased, until early in the 9th century there was one king and one witan in all England.
The power of the witan varied according to the personality of the reigning king, being considerable under a weak ruler, but inconsiderable under a strong one.
Ine legislates "with the counsel and with the teaching of Cenred my father and of Hedde my bishop, and of Eorcenwald my bishop, with all my ealdormen and the most distinguished witan of my people" (Stubbs, Select Charters), and Alfred issues his code of laws "with the counsel and consent of his witan."
The witan was also a court of justice, Earl Godwine and many other offenders receiving sentence of outlawry therein.
The number of counsellors attending the meetings of the witan varied considerably from time to time.
In 1009, however, in accordance with a resolution made by the witan in the preceding year, !Ethelred collected such a fleet "as never before had been in England in any king's day"; but owing to a miserable court quarrel the effort came to nothing.
Sweyn died in February 1014, and Ethelred was recalled by the witan, on giving a promise to reign better in future.
The Danes went from the town and ravaged the neighbourhood, so that in the end the king and his witan agreed to give sixteen thousand pounds to be relieved of the presence of the enemy.
Three years after this, Ã†thelred died in London, and such of the witan as were there and the townsmen chose Edmund Ironside for king, although the witan outside London had elected Canute.
On his death the Witan which had attended his funeral elected to succeed him Harold, the foremost man in England, and the leader who had attempted to check the spread of the Norman influence fostered by the Confessor.
An instance of this is seen in the election of Edmund Ironside, although the Witan outside London had elected Canute.
There may be the folk-right of West and East Saxons, of East Angles, of Kentish men, Mercians, Northumbrians, Danes, Welshmen, and these main folk-right divisions remain even when tribal kingdoms disappear and the people is concentrated in one or two realms. The chief centres for the formulation and application of folkright were in the 10th and iith centuries the shire-moots, while the witan of the realm generally placed themselves on the higher ground of State expediency, although occasionally using folkright ideas.
Pontefract, in Yorkshire, where he received from Wulfstan, archbishop of York, and the Northumbrian "witan" confirmation of their submission.
The only other central authority in the state was the king's council or court (Pend, witan, plebs, concilium).
After much factious strife, and many stormy meetings of the Witan, Edward was murdered at Corfe in 978 by some thegns of the party of the queen-dowager.
The witan chose Edmund Ironside, the late kings eldest son, to succeed him, and as he was a hard-fighting prince of that normal type of his house to which his father had been such a disgraceful exception, it seemed probable that the Danes might be beaten off.
But ere the year was out Edmund died: secretly murdered, according to some authorities, by the infamous Eadric. The witan of Wessex made no attempt to set on the throne either one of the younger Sons of)Ethelred by his Norman wife, or the infant heir of Edmund, but chose Canute as king, preferring to reunite England by submission to the stranger rather than to continue the disastrous war, They were wise in.
William alleged that his cousin had promised to make him his heir, and to recommend him to the witan as king of England.
The witan cbose the earl as king without any show of doubt, though the assent of the Mercian and Northumbrian earls must have been half-hearted: Not a word was said in favor of the claim of the child Edgar, the heir of the house of Alfred, nothing (of course) for the preposterous claim of William of Normandy.
The witan met and hastily saluted the child Edgar A~theling as king.
\Vhen William of Normandy was crowned at Westminster by Archbishop Aldred of York and acknowledged as king by the witan, it is certain that few Englishmen understood the full importance of the occasion.
In 1062 he was chosen bishop of Worcester, and the choice was approved by the witan; with some reluctance Wulfstan accepted, and was consecrated at York in September.
The witan appears probably to have had no fixed place of meeting, and to have assembled around the person of the king, wherever he might be.