This is the second translation in a three-part series about the divine origins of Old Frisian law. The legend's pre-Christian elements become especially apparent in Part III.
PART II – KARL AND REDBAD
The Frisians asked King Karl to wait for their spokesmen, and he
granted his permission. On the second day, the king called them to go and come
back with their law. They came and chose their spokesmen, Twelve from the Seven
Sealands. [FN7] Then he ordered them to choose their law.
The Twelve yearned for a delay. On the third day, King Karl called them
to come before him. They pled a legal impediment. They did this on the fourth
day and the fifth day as well. These were the two delays and the three legal
impediments that Free Frisians could have through means of the law. [FN8]
On the sixth day King Karl ordered the Twelve to choose the law. They
said that they could not.
Then the king said, “Now I lay three choices before you: that you all
be beheaded, that you all be serfs, or that you be given a ship so firm and
strong that it can withstand the ebbs and flows, without any kind of rudder,
oar, or tackle.” [FN9]
They chose the ship, and it followed the ebbs so far out that they
couldn’t see the coast. And their hearts were troubled.
Then the first lawspeaker [FN10], who was of Widukind’s line [FN11], spoke: “I
have heard that our Lord God had twelve disciples when he was on earth and he
himself was the thirteenth, and he came to them through a locked door and
comforted them and taught them. Why don’t we pray that he send us a thirteenth
to teach us the law and conduct us to land?”
[FN7] The number twelve is
relevant to the history of English law as well, e.g., regarding jury sizes. On
a personal level, I do find it interesting that Gylfaginning, for example, lists twelve holy Gods
and notes that they meet in judgment. SeeGylfaginning 20, 15, and 42.
[FN8] Responding to unpleasant substantive questions with procedural objections is a strategy as old as law itself.
[FN9] Ain or ein, the Old
Frisian word that I am translating as “serf,” literally means “owned.”
[FN10] The Old Frisian word asega is often translated as “lawspeaker”
in English. An asega was an official
who provided advice on law and procedure but who was not quite the same as a
judge in the modern sense nor a lawspeaker in the former Icelandic sense. They were heavily tied up with the Frankish legal
system imposed by Charlemagne, which may be one of the reasons that the title
of this legend is sometimes rendered as an exchange between King Redbad and a
non-contemporary ruler. The skelta,
or “sheriff,” was also integral to the administration of law in Frisia at that
time. The two roles were later consolidated into one position. See, e.g., the Skout (Skelta) and Asega entries on the Frisian version of Wikpedia.
[FN11] Widukind lived at the same time as Charlemagne.