- The Anglo-Saxon national council or witenagemot.
- 1833: But in estimating the powers of the witan, we must not lose sight of the fact, that the king sometimes assumes a tone of superiority scarcely consistent with its independence. — SA Dunham, Europe in the Middle Ages (Green & Longman, p.48)
- The members of such an assembly.
Etymology 1Inflected forms.
- Plural of wita
Etymology 2From (present tense *wait-), from , originally a perfect form of *|u̯eid-. Cognate with Old Frisian wita, Old Saxon witan/ (Dutch weten), Old High German wizzan/weiz (German wissen), Old Norse vita/veit (Swedish veta), Gothic 𐍅𐌹𐍄𐌰𐌽/𐍅𐌰𐌹𐍄. The IE root is also the source of Latin videre, Baltic *waid- (Lithuanian vadinti), Slavic *vēde- (Old Church Slavonic вѣдѣти, Russian ведать).
Etymology 3From Old English witan, from Germanic *wit-. Cognate with Old Norse víta
- English wite
The Witenagemot (also called the Witan, more properly the title of its members) was a political institution in Anglo-Saxon England which operated between approximately the 7th century and 11th century. The name witenagemot derives from the Old English for "meeting of wise men" (wita, wise man or counsellor, nominative plural witan, genitive plural witena; gemot, assembly). It was the remnant of the ancient tribal general assembly, or folkmoot, which had soon developed into a convocation of the land's most powerful and important people including senior clergy, ealdormen and the leading thegns speaking to the king.
The witan had its origins in the Germanic assemblies summoned to witness royal grants of land. Before the unification of England in the 9th century, separate witenagemots were convened by the Kings of Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex. Even after Wessex became the dominant power in England, supplanting the other kingdoms, local witans continued to meet until as late as 1067.
Summoned by the king (and later by regional earls), witans would advise on the administration and organization of the kingdom, dealing with issues such as taxation, jurisprudence and both internal and external security. The witenagemot was also needed to approve the succession of each monarch. The new king could be whoever the witan decided would best lead the country, not necessarily the offspring of the previous monarch. Kings and earls could also be deposed by a witenagemot; Sigeberht of Wessex was deposed this way in 755, Ethelwald of Northumbria in 765.
The witenagemot was in some respects a predecessor to Parliament, but had substantially different powers and some major limitations, such as a lack of a fixed procedure, schedule, or meeting place. The witan could prevent autocracy and carry on government during interregnums. But while the king must answer to the Parliament, the witenagemot answered to the king. It only assembled when he summoned it, and its assembling without his approval could be considered treason. The witenagemot was more an advisory council. In some cases, weak kings (such as Ethelred the Unready) were dependent on the witenagemot, while others used it as simply a group of advisers. No rules as to who could join existed, though mainly it consisted of ealdormen, or local chieftains, the bishops, other high civil and ecclesiastical officials, and sometimes friends and relatives of the king. This latter was, however, rare.
Though no set date was ever in use, witenagemots met at least once a year, and commonly more often. There was no single seat of the national witenagemot. Generally, it followed the king, who typically had no single fixed court either. The witenagemot is known to have met in at least 116 locations, including Amesbury, Cheddar, Gloucester, London and Winchester. The meeting places were often on royal estates, but some witenagemots were convened in the open at prominent rocks, hills, meadows and famous trees.
The best-known sitting of the English witanagemot was that which on January 5 1066 approved the succession to the kingship of Harold Godwinson (Harold Godwin) following the death of Edward the Confessor. Fifty years earlier, in 1016, it had approved the splitting of the kingdom between the Saxon Edmund II and the Danish king Canute.
This arrangement ended when the Normans invaded in 1066, replacing the witenagemot with the curia regis, or King's court. However, in a sign of the witanagemot's enduring legacy, the curia regis continued to be dubbed a "witan" by chroniclers until as late as the 12th century.
References In literature
- The Wizengamot, a fictional organisation in the Harry Potter series of books written by J.K. Rowling, derives its name from the Witenagemot. In the books the Wizengamot is a wizard court of which Albus Dumbledore is the head, until he is thrown out when he speaks of Voldemort's return. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/ministry/wizengamot.html
witan in Catalan: Witenagemot
witan in German: Witan
witan in Spanish: Witenagemot
witan in French: Witenagemot
witan in Italian: Witan
witan in Hebrew: ויטנגמוט
witan in Romanian: Witanagemot
witan in Russian: Витенагемот
witan in Finnish: Witenagemot
witan in Swedish: Witenagemot
witan in Thai: สภาวิททัน
witan in Slovak: Witan