This law-code is thought to be the one Bede attributes (Historia ecclesiastica, 2.5) to King Æthelberht of Kent (560–616). It has survived in a single manuscript written at Rochester in the early twelfth century. The code resembles most early Germanic law-codes, treating issues such as interpersonal violence, wergeld, rights and obligations, and the status of the king. It is thought to have been issued around the year 600.

Digital edition

Edited by Lisi Oliver



by Lisi Oliver

The only copies of the Kentish laws are contained in the twelfth-century compilation of Anglo-Saxon law known as the Textus Roffensis, literally, the 'Rochester text,' which Mary P. Richards calls, with some justice, 'the single most important manuscript produced at Rochester.'1 The Textus Roffensis belongs to the collection of the Rochester Cathedral Library, catalogued as ms. A. 3. 5, and is currently stored in the Medway Archive and Local Studies Centre. Folios 1–118 are a collection of Anglo-Saxon laws from Æthelberht to Henry I; folios 119–235 contain charters of the Rochester Cathedral priory. Peter Sawyer argues persuasively that the two halves, the laws and the cartulary, were originally separate volumes, and only later bound together.2 The manuscript is vellum, ca. 225 × 155 mm (8 7/8" × 6 1/8"). The leaves have clearly been cut, as shown by the prickings (incisions made down the sides of the page at regular intervals to allow the scribe to inscribe lines across the page to keep his writing straight), but it is hard to say by how much as this does not impinge on the text itself. A water stain can be seen on all the pages due to the misfortune that the volume was dropped into the Thames in the eighteenth century, but folios 103–16 suffered the most. The Kentish laws, contained on folios 1–6, remain clearly legible.


  1. 1. ^ Mary P. Richards, Texts and Their Traditions in the Medieval Library of Rochester Cathedral Priory (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1988), x.
  2. 2. ^ Peter Sawyer to Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile, Vol. VII: Textus Roffensis, Part I (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1957), 11.