General council of the Anglo-Saxon kings, also known as the Witan (Anglo-Saxon: wise men), that met to witness royal charters and other enactments of the king. The witenagemot (meeting of wise men) was made up of the leading nobles of the realm along with the leading bishops, abbots, and priests of the kingdom. The members of the council, however, were a relatively fluid group who came when called by the king.
   Although it was clearly an important institution in Anglo-Saxon England, the witenagemot's origins remain unclear and are known primarily from charter evidence, which becomes less available after the reign of Alfred the Great. No longer identified as the descendant of a Germanic institution or the precursor of the English Parliament, the witenagemot most likely evolved out of the king's need for advice and was based on his ability to call nobles and ecclesiastics to court. The witenagemot was a mobile assembly that came together before the king as he traveled throughout the kingdom. Members of the assembly were generally high-ranking clergy and nobility; thegns also participated, but only when the king's court was in the thegn's territory. When meeting in the council, the nobles and churchmen came not as representatives of any specific group, but as advisors to the king who knew the law and needs of the land. They worked together with the king to ensure that law and justice was executed throughout the realm. Although he could rule without the members of the witenagemot, the wise king considered consulting with them valuable and was careful to call the council to advise with him. The council did not meet at specific intervals, but was called to meet when the need arose, when the king needed its help to resolve some problem at hand.
   See also
 ♦ Loyn, Henry R. Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest. 2d ed. London: Longmans, 1991.
 ♦ ---. The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England, 500-1087. London: Edward Arnold, 1984.
 ♦ Lyon, Bryce. A Constitutional and Legal History of Medieval England. 2d ed. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1980.
 ♦ Stenton, Frank M. Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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