Medieval Laws of Hywel Dda now online
Published: Tuesday 13th Aug 2013
Written by: The Wales Cottage Holidays Team
Last summer, the C14th Laws of Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) were bought by the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth for over half a million pounds. With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the book was saved for the nation and has now been rebound and its images digitised.
The pocket book is one of the first medieval manuscripts to be written in Welsh and was most likely taken to America by Welsh settlers in the C18th. It was sold by the Massachusetts Historical Society of Boston and now, after a year of painstakingly careful repair work, is available to view online. Hywel Dda was a Welsh ruler in the C10th and created the country’s first uniform legal system, with perhaps some surprising elements. For example, marriage was an agreement, rather than a holy sacrament and divorce was permitted by common consent. Illegitimate children had the same rights as legitimate offspring and, as long as the sole reason for doing so was to stay alive, there was no punishment for theft!
Unlike most other Welsh manuscripts from this period, the Boston Manuscript, as it’s known, has handwritten additions which show that it was used as a working text for the law. It is much closer to the actual practice of the law at the time. This treasure, the first of its kind to be auctioned for almost a century, will be back on show at an exhibition of early Welsh manuscripts at the National Library from 12 October, newly repaired and rebound. The long-term preservation of the manuscript has been secured and visitors to the Library and to their website will be able to share in this important insight into the period.