Humanities › History & Culture Thegn - Anglo-Saxon Thegn or Thane Share Flipboard Email Print Bálint Kiss - Portrait of a Thegn. Wikimedia Commons History & Culture Medieval & Renaissance History People & Events Daily Life American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Melissa Snell History Expert B.A., History, University of Texas at Austin Melissa Snell is a historical researcher and writer specializing in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. She authored the forward for "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Crusades." our editorial process Melissa Snell Updated August 29, 2018 In Anglo-Saxon England, a thegn was a lord who held his land directly from the king in return for military service in time of war. Thegns could earn their titles and lands or inherit them. Initially, the thegn ranked below all other Anglo-Saxon nobility; however, with the proliferation of thegns came a subdivision of the class. There were "king's thegns," who held certain privileges and answered only to the king, and inferior thegns that served other thegns or bishops. By a law of Ethelred II, the 12 senior thegns of any given hundred acted as a judicial committee that determined whether or not a suspect should be officially accused of a crime. This was evidently a very early precursor to the modern grand jury. The power of thegns declined after the Norman Conquest when lords of the new regime took control of most lands in England. The term thane persisted in Scotland until the 1400s in reference to a hereditary tenant of the crown who did not serve in the military. Alternate Spellings: thane Example: King Ethylgrihn called on his thegns to help defend against a Viking invasion.