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.