Text: Cyfraith Hywel

According to tradition, the Welsh king Hywel Dda brought together lawmen to create a codification of Welsh law during the time that he had brought all of Wales under his control (942-50). No single, original source from that time survives, however: what we have now are manuscripts from the 13th century that represent how Welsh law was being developed by later kings and lawmen (“redactions of the law”). A few Welsh terms remain in this English translation:

  • galanas is the “life price” that a person’s life is worth, which is a function of his/her social rank. This is the amount paid in compensation if s/he is killed.
  • sarhâd is the fine paid for deliberately injuring a person. It is half of his/her galanas, and was paid as a compensation to their honour for that injury. If a person was a victim of premeditated murder, both galanas and sarhâd would be plaid to his/her family.

It must be remembered that Wales before the time of Hywel and after was not a single, unified kingdom but a region containing numerous kingdoms (even if a Welsh king could rule more than one kingdom). These laws operated independently in all of the Welsh kingdoms.

The following text was adapted by Michael Newton from Wade-Evans, Welsh Medieval Law, 145-9, 152-3.

§ Introduction: Hywel the Good, son of Cadell, king of Wales, was moved by the grace of God and fasting and prayer during his reign over Wales: namely, sixty-four cantrefs of Deheubarth, eighteen cantrefs of Gwynedd, and sixty trefs beyond the Cyrchell, and sixty trefs of Buallt. […]

There were bad customs and bad laws before his time. He therefore summoned six men from every cwmwd in Wales and brought them to the White House on the river Taf; and among them there were those who held croziers in Wales, including archbishops and bishops and abbots and good teachers; and also among those people, twelve of the wisest laymen were chosen, and the wisest scholar who was called Blegywyrd, to make good laws and to abolish the bad ones which existed before his time; and to replace them with good ones and to confirm them in his own name.

When they finished making those laws, they placed the curse of God, and a curse of the assembled company, and a curse of all of Wales, upon anybody who would break the laws.

§ 1. And they first began with the Laws of a Court as they were the most important and as they pertained to the King and Queen and to the 24 officers who accompany them, namely, the Chief of the Household, Priest of the Household, Steward, Judge of the Court, Falconer, Chief Huntsman, Chief groom, Page of the chamber, Steward of the Queen, Priest of the Queen, Bard of the Household, Usher, Doorkeeper of the Hall, Doorkeeper of the Chamber, Chambermaid, Groom of the Rein, Candlebearer, Butler, Mead-brewer, Server of the Court, Cook, Physician, Foot-holder, and Groom of the Rein to the Queen. All of these officers have the right to have woolen clothing from the King and linen clothing from the Queen three times a year: at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide [Pentecost].

§ 2. There are three ways in which sarhâd is done to the king: when someone violates his protection (someone under his protection is killed); when his wife (the Queen) is insulted; when he holds an assembly with another King and one of his men is killed (by the other King’s men). A hundred cows are to be paid as sarhâd to the King for every cantref in his kingdom […]

There are three ways in which sarhâd is done to the queen: when her protection is violated, when she is struck in anger, or when something is violently taken from her hand. In these cases, a third of the king’s sarhâd is paid to the queen, but without gold or silver.

The king should support 36 people in his retinue: 24 officers and 12 guests; and together with that, his household and his nobles, youths, minstrels, and paupers.

The heir-apparent is the most honorable after the King and Queen. The heir-apparent should be the brother, son, or nephew (brother’s son) of the king. […] The heir-apparent has the same sarhâd and galanas as the King, except for privileged gold and silver […] The heir-apparent is to sit in the hall opposite the king […] The King is to provide the heir-apparent with all of his financial needs honorably.

Whoever obtains the protection of the queen is to be conducted beyond the bounds of the territory without being pursued or interfered with. The chief of the household provides protection to the person as he is conducted beyond the bounds of the territory. […]

The sarhâd of all of the other officers, except the chief and priest of the household […], is six cows and six score of silver. For their galanas is paid 126 cows with three supplements. […] Whoever kills a person must first pay his sarhâd and then pay his galanas.

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