"The most prominent ranks were the king, the nobleman or thegn, and the ordinary freeman or ceorl." From an article in the Eastern Daily Press (Norfolk, England), October 11, 2012
"The status of a ceorl in relation to the nobility above him and the serfs beneath him can best be seen in the amount of his wergild ." From Peter Blair Hunter's 1956 book An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England
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In Old English, "ceorl" referred to freemen who ranked above the servile classes but below the nobility. In this sense, "ceorl" is now primarily encountered in historical writings where, to this day, it has maintained its Old English spelling. The word also evolved, however, into a form that will be more familiar to most English speakers today. In Middle English, "ceorl" took on the spelling "churl" (among others), and with that variant spelling it began to develop disparaging senses by the early 14th century. "Churl" can still be used to refer to the historical rank of ceorl or as a general term for a medieval peasant, but it is now primarily encountered in the senses of "a rude ill-bred person" or "a stingy morose person."
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