REH Word of the Week: ceorl, carles and churls

(The Peasants Brawl, British Museum, 1547 Engraving)

noun

1. a free peasant that formed the basis of society in Anglo-Saxon England. His free status was marked by his right to bear arms, his attendance at local courts, and his payment of dues directly to the king. His wergild, the sum that his family could accept in place of vengeance if he were killed, was valued at 200 shillings. Although frequently represented as a typical peasant laborer in a kind of Anglo-Saxon democracy, he was a member of the peasant elite that was gradually extinguished between the seventh and the twelfth centuries. Also referred to as a churl or a carle.

[origin: before 12th century; Old English]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

“—A voice came out of the throng saying: ‘Good rede, good rede! Slay ye the Bishop!’ The bishop was forthwith slain.” —The Norman Conquest

“Good rede, good rede! Slay ye the Bishop!”
Roaring through the gloom like a rousing tiger’s snarl.
Bugle call and drum beat pale and fade before it,
Pale before the growl of a nameless Saxon carle.

Little love I bear for the surly ceorls of England—
A black blight befall them! The first of all my name
Breathed the breath of life in the grey Norse mountains,
Rode with Iron William when the Norman came.

Yet I burn again at that savage cry for freedom,
Roaring down the ages at the crozier and the crown;
All the pagan eons speak in that mad bellow:
“Slay ye the Bishop—the tyrant in the gown!”

Freedom, freedom, freedom! Oh, I hear the heathen ages
Loose their pent-up fury in that one red roar!
Symbol through all Eternity, their blind revolt shall guide us,
Who slew a Norman bishop in his own church door.

[from “The Cry Everlasting”; for the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 465; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 187; and A Rhyme of Salem Town, p. 87]