Jul 14, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: WITENAGEMOT

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

witenagemot (WIH-ten-EYE-yah-moat) n. a political body in Anglo-Saxon England that operated from approximately the late 6th century through the 11th century.

The term witenagemot is derived from the Old English phrase ƿitena ȝemōt ("meeting of wise men"). The witenagemot was an assembly of social and political elites served in an advisory role to the king. Members of the witenagemot were known as "witans," and the assembled group lacked the power to create legislation.

The king called the witenagemot as he saw fit, and the assembly possessed at most limited authority, ultimately answering to the monarchy. Weaker kings sometimes relied more heavily on the advice of the witenagemot, while more powerful kings called the assembly infrequently or even disregarded the advice of the witans. I suspect that the witans had little interest in life insurance without medical questions, either, but this is altogether another topic.

I possessed a fuzzy notion of the origin of the term prior to this afternoon, when I came across a reference to the witenagemot in the 1913 text The Constitutional History of England in its Origin and Development. Now, to form my own witenagemot, as I seek solutions to the male canines in my home who have recently engaged in nefarious behavior involving leg-lifting and a certain kitchen chair.


unmitigated me said...

This is also the origin of the "Wizengamot" from the Harry Potter stories, of which Dumbledore was the on-again-off-again Chief Wizard.

historymike said...

Meh - I am behind the times on all matters Harry Potter, Mary. The books appeared at times in my life when I had little free time, especially over the past decade as I pursued academic goals. Perhaps I'll pick one up after this term ends...