The gafolgelda or tributarius (tribute-payer) seems to have been a ceorl who possessed at least a hide, while the gebur was without land of his own, and received his outfit as a loan from his lord.
At all events it is certain that the ceorl was frequently a holder of land, and a person of some position, and that he could attain the rank of a thegn.
The document which defines their duties and privileges sets forth that every ceorl who throve so that he had fully five hides of land, and a helm, and a mail-shirt, and a sword ornamented with gold, was to be reckoned gesithcund.
In the course of time the status of the ceorl was probably reduced; but although his political power was never large, and in some directions his freedom was restricted, it hardly seems possible previous to the Norman Conquest to class him among the unfree.
It does not mean, of course, that their condition was practically the same, but in any case the fact testifies to the gulf which had come to separate the two principal subdivisions of the free class - the ceorl and the thane.
The form ceorl soon became cherl, as in Havelok the Dane (ante 1300) and several times in Chaucer, and subsequently churl.
It is characteristic in this connexion that the West Saxon laws do not make any distinction between ceorls and laets or halffreemen as the Kentish laws had done: this means that the half-free people were, if not Welshmen, reckoned as members of the ceorl class.