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The fyrd had begun under Alfred the Great

The fyrd had begun under Alfred the Great as a way of trying to deal with the invading Danish army. It was a kind of millitia requiring landowners to provide armed men for military service in defence of the realm; a kind of conscription of all able-bodied men between the age of 15 and 54.

This was a sophisticated call-up system for the army, where the raising of men was based on how much land was held and worked because of the rule of loyalty and duty, which ran all the way from the lowest peasant to the king - and back again.

Ceorls (churls) were free peasants who worked the land. A ceorl did not own much land, and the land he held, he had been granted by a thegn (thane). A thegn would hold much more land than a ceorl and with this extra wealth came extra responsibility. It was a minimum requirement of a thegn that he provide one armed man and the money to keep him for two months. The more land he owned, the more men he would have to supply, and the men of the wealthy thegn would probably train and fight together as a unit. A thegn held his land from and earl or monaster, often as a gift or reward for loyalty. Above the thegn, was the earl and he held his land from the king. The king held his land from God, or at least it was believed he held it by "God's grace".

Everyone was bound together by a bond of duty and obligation. The ceorl had an obligation of loyalty to the thegn, the thegn ot the earl, the earl to the king and all the way back again. If the king called, the earls came running, trailing everyone else in their wake. It was a two-way street. Those at the top expected loyalty from those below them, those at bottom expected protection from those above them.

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