King Alfred Legal Code
It is important to know a little more about the two kings who promulgated these laws. One of them, Alfred, has proactively and no doubt enthusiastically published his Doombook. The other, John, had fought fiercely against the demands of the barons and had only agreed to sign the charter. At the same time, there were many similarities between the two kings. Remarkably, each was the youngest son of a king and did not expect (or expect) to become king himself.  Alfred`s father was King Æthelwulf and John was King Henry II. Both princes received special treatment from their fathers. John was his father`s favorite son. Alfred was allowed to visit Rome twice, once with his father for an entire year, while his brothers stayed put, attending to the serious affairs of the government and defending the empire against the Vikings.  Alfred`s code of law receives little attention in discussions about the nature of its rule. He lacks the unmistakable imprint of his other writings and actions. It is a conservative code that tries not to differ from previous codes, but to show continuity with them. This is another of many lists of indemnities that list a variety of crimes and misdemeanors, indicate the monetary value of their atonement, and also explain oaths and trials when and how they apply. Alfred`s Code of Law makes some changes and additions to the previous one, but does not stand out in any way.
Felix Liebermann, the editor of early twentieth-century Anglo-Saxon legal texts, explained that Alfred`s codex lacked distinctiveness because Alfred had to restrain himself; His advisers were far too conservative to reform the law (Bills 3 to 36). Patrick Wormald`s modern view seems to contrast sharply with Liebermann`s traditional understanding that real laws were at stake. Wormald almost completely dispenses with the concept of law when he argues that the laws of the early Middle Ages were little more than an exercise in the production of images (“Lex Scripta” 125, 133). More than a thousand years before the Magna Carta, centuries before the Angles and Saxons migrated from the continent to England, Tacitus wrote that the power of the Germanic kings was “neither unlimited nor arbitrary.”  While kings and chiefs could unilaterally make smaller decisions, more important issues had to be dealt with by the community as a whole.  We can see this limitation in the Magna Carta in the provisions requiring the Joint Council of the Kingdom when important matters are dealt with.  And John had indeed consulted his barons on important matters – their criticism was that he simply did not do so during the tax increase.  Magna Carta`s joint legal services were therefore neither new nor new at all. Instead, they demonstrate what had been the ever-diminishing and diminishing power of the empire`s common council, which would only regain strength with the growth of parliament after John`s death.  This long-standing Germanic tradition was found among the Anglo-Saxons in the form of Witan.  Like other English legal texts before it, Magna Carta goes back in time to gain legitimacy. King Henry I`s coronation oath took over and restored the old Anglo-Saxon laws of King Edward the Confessor.
Before him, Henry`s father, William the Conqueror, adopted the laws of Edward the Confessor as well as those of his newly conquered empire.  For Edward the Confessor, his legislation was itself a revival of King Alfred`s laws.  Even King Alfred`s Book of Destiny was a step back in time. The book of destiny is inspired by the Bible and the fall of Kings Ine, Æthelberht and Offa of Wessex, Kent and Mercia.  But Alfred`s Doombook was the first consolidated and comprehensive code of law in the continuum between the Anglo-Saxon era and the present. In the detailed prologue of the book, Alfred summarizes the mosaic and Christian codes. Dr. Michael Treschow, from the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at the University of British Columbia, provided an overview of how Alfred laid the foundation for the spirit of mercy in his code, explaining that the final section of the prologue not only describes “a tradition of Christian law from which the Code of Law is based, but also establishes secular law to Scripture. in particular to the principle of mercy”. It was not a situation where the barons were suddenly the first in England to have the idea that the law had to be applied in a predictable and fair manner. Alfred used this very idea as the glue that held his kingdom together as the world around and within him collapsed. In this context, Magna Carta becomes “of much greater political interest than of legal interest.”  Magna Carta has created very few new laws.
However, it was a powerful use of the old existing custom that the king had to rule by consent. In Anglo-Saxon times, a king was generally not recognized, crowned or obeyed without the consent of the “great council of the empire, the witena gemot”.  This tradition “kept alive the principle that the king should govern under council.”  The Normans were also of Germanic origin, but they spoke a dialect of French and had adopted many of the French customs and government practices. Thus, while the descendants of Hrolf and his group of Scandinavians were not entirely French, the Norman dukes nevertheless managed to circumvent much of the Germanic ruling tradition by consent.  The abolition of this practice must have seemed a flagrant injustice to their English subjects. But the English absolute monarch in 1215 was a fiction, as it had been for centuries, although John clearly thought differently when he thought, “Why don`t the barons ask my kingdom with these unjust demands?”  When merchants came from abroad to trade, they went to the king`s bailiff wherever they landed.  They told the bailiff who they were and what they had come.  Merchants were not allowed to provide more domestic assistance than was absolutely necessary, and even then they had to give assurances that they would not cause problems.  In a narrow sense, the Magna Carta was a disposable document in relation to many of its provisions – it was “restorative.”  Supplies of disposable chopsticks were numerous. There were those who brought about the release of all the English and Welsh hostages who had been captured during the fighting between the barons and King John.  Another provision forgave the “ill will, anger, and malice” that had been carried out throughout the rebellion against the king.
 Other provisions required the return of all lands taken by both parties to hostilities in England and Wales.  One section promised to dismiss some undesirable officials associated with Gérard d`Athyes, of whom the barons had had enough. Eventually, the king promised to expel all mercenaries who had come from abroad to England to fight in the conflict between John and the barons.   It is possible that Alfred produced different versions of his Doombook for Wessex, Kent and Mercia. The version of the laws of the king of Western Saxony Ine is said to have been used in Wessex. According to this theory, one version of the Doombook with Offa`s laws was sent to Mercia and another with Æthelberhts to Kent. See Benjamin Thorpe, Preface to Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, p. x (1840).  Henry II had left his children, Richard and John, an “excellent administrative apparatus” which, “in the absence of the king. in time of war or peace. under the burden of high and repeated financial demands. Arthur R. Hogue, Origins of the Common Law 45 (1966).
The Doom Book, Dōmbōc, Alfred`s Code or Legal Code of Ælfred the Great was the code of law (“Misfortunes” are laws or judgments) compiled by Alfred the Great (c. 893 AD). Alfred codified three earlier Saxon codes – those of Æthelberht of Kent (c. 602), Ine of Wessex (c. 694) and Offa of Mercia (c. 786). A.D.) – to which it preceded the Ten Commandments of Moses and incorporated rules of life from the Mosaic Codex and the Christian Code of Ethics. John did not act with the same good faith towards his brother Richard as Alfred did with his. John wielded considerable power, while Richard was on crusade as an absent king. Prince John had six counties in which he was the de facto ruler and also served as Lord of Ireland.  Prince John also played a role in securing his brother`s freedom by raising a huge ransom to free his brother from the clutches of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI.
 But John conspired at the same time with Philip II to France against his brother, although they eventually reconciled.   William the Conqueror considered himself the rightful heir to the throne of England and not a foreign conqueror. He “felt that he was preserving what he saw as his heritage” as King of England, rather than imposing foreign Norman rule on his island. H.G. Richardson & G.O. Sayles, The Governance of Medieval England 27 (1963) [hereafter Richardson & Sayles, Governance]. How is it that the laws of Alfred the Great have been forgotten while Magna Carta continues to live on as Magna Carta – the foundation of common law systems? Alfred`s Doombook, as a foundational document, had a much greater impact than the Magna Carta.