Medieval History

Selected Sources Full Text Sources Saints' Lives Law Texts Maps Medieval Films Search Help

Selected Sources Sections Studying History End of Rome Byzantium Islam Roman Church Early Germans Anglo-Saxons Celtic World Carolingians 10 C Collapse Economic Life Crusades Empire & Papacy France England Celtic States Nordic Europe Iberia Italy Eastern Europe Intellectual Life Medieval Church Jewish Life Social History Sex & Gender States & Society Renaissance Reformation Exploration
IHSP Credits

Fifth Council of Orleans:
Concerning Freedmen, 549

The Council of Orleans decreed the same things concerning freedmen for north-central France as the Council of Agde had done for southern France. The harshness of the masters was tempered by provision for an oath to be taken by the master for the forgiveness of his errant slave, but oaths were sometimes sufficiently indefinite in phraseology to permit evasions.

7. And because on the suggestion of many we have found for a certainty that those, who were freed from slavery in the churches according to the custom of the country, have been recalled to slavery again on the whim of all kinds of people, we have deemed it impious that those who have been freed from the yoke of servitude in the Church out of consideration for God should be disregarded. Therefore, because of its piety, it is pleasing to the common council that it be observed, that, whatever slaves be released from servitude by free masters, shall remain in that freedom which they then received from their lords. Also liberty of this kind, if it be questioned by any one shall be defended with justice by the churches, except for those faults for which the laws ordered revocation of the liberties conferred on slaves.

14. Concerning freemen who sell themselves for money or other things, or who have pledged themselves, it is our pleasure that if they can find the price, as much as was given for them, when the price is given, they shall be restored to their former status without delay, nor shall more be required than was given for them. And meanwhile, if one of them shall have married a free wife, or if one of them, being a woman, shall have taken a freeman as husband, the children who are born of them shall remain free.

22. But concerning slaves, who flee for refuge to the church on account of any offense, we decree that it should be observed that they be sent away certain of forgiveness, just as is acknowledged to have been written in ancient laws, after the lord, whoever he may be, has taken the oath to pardon the offense. For, if the lord, unmindful of his oath, shall be proved to have broken his promise, and the slave who accepted forgiveness shall be proved to have been punished in some way for that fault, the faithless lord shall be excommunicated. Again if the lord has taken the oath and the slave, though safe when pardoned, is unwilling to go and so seeks sanctuary because he might perish at the hands of his lord, then his master may seize the unwilling slave so that the Church might suffer no calumny nor molestation in any way whatsoever as if it had appeared desirous of retaining the slave; nevertheless the lord should by no means break his oath of forgiveness. But if he should be a gentile lord or one of another sect and be proved to be outside the pale of the Church and should seek the return of his slave, he shall have Christians as pledges of good faith who shall take the oaths to the slave on behalf of the lord; because they who fear ecclesiastical discipline for their transgression are able to keep what is sacred.


J. D. Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, (Paris: H. Welter, 1902), Vol. IX, pp. 130, 134; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, eds., A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 281-282.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, October 1998
[email protected]


The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 5 June 2023 [CV]