This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The private law of the Anglo-Saxon was a very different system from that which grew up after the Norman Conquest. The loose feudalism of the country had little or no influence upon its system of land ownership and the numerous complicated tenures of a later period were absolutely unknown. Land ownership was of two kinds; there was folc-land and boc-land. Much discussion has arisen over the nature of the estate in folc-land. Many writers translating the term too literally, have taken it as meaning land belonging to the public. Such an idea is undoubtedly erroneous. Practically all land granted out during the early Anglo-Saxon period was folc-land. Folc-land can probably be better translated as family land rather than public land. It appears to have been land in which all members of the family had certain rights and which could not be entirely alienated by the holder either by will or deed. Folc-land was not evidenced by written instruments, it was held by custom. Boc-land, was land granted by written instrument; it only becomes known in a later period of Saxon history and was at first only held by the church. Gradually, however, it came to be held by private persons. The control of the owner over boc-land was absolute. He could either sell it during his life or will it after his death. In the right of the owner to dispose of real property by will, and in the absence of any system of premogeniture, the Anglo-Saxon law much more closely resembles modern American law, than does the later Norman law.
Contract law among the Anglo-Saxon was almost entirely confined to the regulation of sales of personal property. Torts were still a branch of criminal law. In the same action the Court would impose the payment both of "wer" and "wite" upon the culprit; the wer going to the injured party, the wite to the State.
The main courts were the local county and hundred courts which all freemen were bound to attend.
"As to procedure, the forms were sometimes complicated, always stiff and unbending. Mistakes in form were probably fatal at every stage. Trial of questions of fact, in anything like the modern sense, were unknown. Archaic rules of evidence make no attempt to apply any measure of probability to individual cases. Oath was the primary mode of proof, an oath going not to the truth of specific fact, but to the justice of the claim or defense as a whole. The number of persons required to swear varied according to the nature of the case and the rank of the persons concerned. Inasmuch as the oath, if duly made, was conclusive, what we now call the burden of proof was rather a benefit than otherwise under ancient Germanic procedure. The process of clearing oneself by the full performance of the oath which the law required in the particular case is that which later medieval authorities call making one's law, facere legem. It remained possible, in certain cases, down to quite modern times. An accused person who failed in his oath, by not having the proper number of oath-helpers prepared to swear, or who was already disqualified from clearing himself by oath, had to go to one of the forms of ordeal in the later Anglo-Saxon period. Down to the ninth century the opposition of the church appears to have kept ordeal outside the recognized law."2
2 Pollock and Maitland's History of English law, Vol 1, p 15. 1st Edition.