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The Gwentian Code of Law, in a Book of Welsh Laws

The Gwentian Code of Law, in a Book of Welsh Laws

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1285

Shelfmark: Harley MS 4353

Item number: f.16v

Length: 19.5

Width: 13

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

n the early middle ages Wales was divided in several kingdoms, each with its own laws. Hywel ap Caell, usually known as 'Hywel Dda' or Hywel the Good, who became king over nearly all of Wales in 942, is credited with having brought these different systems into a single body of law, although three different versions exist: for Venedotia (north Wales), Dimetia (south Wales), and Gwent (south-east). Expanded and re-edited over the following centuries, the laws of Hywel ap Caell became the standard of social relations thoughout Wales, although some local customs continued to exist. The Law continued in use in Wales until the union with England in 1536. The oldest and most important copy of the laws of Gwent, this manuscript is believed to have been written in south or mid-Wales, possibly at Neath, by the same scribe who wrote the Book of Taliesin, a book of some of the earliest poetry of Wales (now in the National Library of Wales). It was annotated in 1586 by Jaspar Griffith, a later owner. While it was written out by a professional scribe, the law book itself would have been compiled by professional lawyers. The laws in it deal mainly with punishments for offences and the obligations of individuals to the state. Books such as this are evidence of the early codification of law under royal authority.

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