Welsh Law

A new website is the starting point for discovering more about Cyfraith Hywel, or the legal system in Wales in the middle ages.

Cyfraith Hywel  is a richly awarding new academic website examining all aspects of Medieval Welsh law. Including bibliographies, discussions, details about the manuscripts, sections on Ancient Laws, and much more, the  work is the result of a research project led by Dr Sara Elin Roberts, with Bryn Jones as a research assistant. The project has been funded by the Publications and Research Committee of the University of Wales, with the work of creating the website funded by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. The website also represents the work of Seminar Cyfraith Hywel, and announcements of the meetings of the Seminar and related matters will be included on the website from now on.


According to the website “Cyfraith Hywel, the Law of Hywel, was the system of law in use in Medieval Wales. A separate system to the English Common Law, and also separate to Canon Law, it was most probably a custom-based system. The law is named after Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good), or Hywel ap Cadell, a tenth-century Welsh king. He came to rule a large part of Wales through success in battle and marriage and had regular contact with Æthelstan of England. His later reign is generally considered to have been peaceful by the standards of the time; this may be why the Welsh laws were attributed to Hywel Dda. However, none of the existing Welsh law manuscripts date back to Hywel’s time, and there is no definite link between Hywel and any existing text or any sections of Welsh Law. However, the story in the prologues emphasizes his legal activity.”

The majority of the law manuscripts were written in Welsh. Hence a complex technical legal vocabulary was developed from an early stage. It is believed that the existing Latin manuscripts originated as translations of Welsh texts, as Welsh terms are often left within the Latin texts.  There are extensive sections in Welsh in the Latin manuscripts.

The website presents a very handy guide to the topic as well as an extensive list of every manuscript of Welsh law with detailed lists of their contents. Later a comprehensive description of the manuscripts and their scribes will be published by Mr. Daniel Huws.

As a very valuable feature, the website is providing a full bibliography referring to all sorts of works discussing Cyfraith Hywel on an academic level, including the main publications and the editions published in the 19th century by Aneurin Owen.

Dr. Sara Elin Roberts, who has planned and executed the website together with Bryn Jones currently writing his PhD at St. Andrews, is well known for her study of the Legal Triads of Medieval Wales, which was published in 2007, and which earned her a number of prestigious prizes. Her latest publication is Llawysgrif Pomffred: An Edition and Study of Peniarth MS 259B published by Brill in 2011.

Photo is of a manuscript which was put of for sale at Sotheby in 2012 and later acquired by the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The book was sold for £541.000.

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