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[p. 156]

[p. 157] The Authors of Urban Records in Medieval Wales

This is apparently the first contribution by an historian of medieval Wales to the deliberations of the Commission internationale de Diplomatique. That is not wholly surprising. It is true that many of the surviving charters and deeds relating to the southern marcher lordship of Glamorgan were first published as long ago as 1885-93, and in recent years the acta of native Welsh rulers, prior to the final conquest of Wales in 1282-1283, have been catalogued, and the charters of the Cistercian abbey of Strata Marcella (or Ystrad Marchell, in eastern Wales) have been carefully edited1. Yet despite the quickening pace of study and writing about medieval Wales during the last half-century, little concerted attention has been paid to the forms, styles and relationships of the documents produced in Wales itself. As far as Welsh towns are concerned, it may be doubted whether much can be said about urban diplomatic. In the first place, the extent to which the Welsh towns and their communities themselves produced records before the sixteenth century has seemed uncertain. Secondly, as with England, the original records — as opposed to registered copies or later confirmations — of even the chartered boroughs of Wales have often not survived the neglect and destruction of centuries. To take one example : documents relating to the borough of Holt in north-east Wales which were kept in the castle’s Exchequer Tower were destroyed when Oliver Cromwell’s forces slighted the fortress in the mid-seventeenth century2. And the survival of those royal and seigneurial records authorised by English kings and the lords of the Welsh March — most of them English nobles — is patchy at best. That is the commonly held view.

Another problem is this. The idea — dare one say it, the myth ? — that the Welsh in the Middle Ages were an entirely rural people, spurning the towns founded by French and English invaders, has helped to deter historians from studying Wales’s early urban development in other than a modest way. [p. 158] The prolific writings of Gerald of Wales at the end of the twelfth century are largely responsible for this :

They [the Welsh] do not live in towns, villages or castles, but lead a solitary existence, deep in the woods. It is not their habit to build great palaces, or vast and towering structures of stone and cement. Instead they content themselves with wattled huts on the edges of forest, put up with little labour or expense, but strong enough to last a year or so.

They do not have orchards or gardens, but if you give them fruit or garden produce they are only too pleased to eat it. Most of their land is used for pasture. They cultivate very little of it, growing a few flowers and sowing a plot here and there …

And, again, ‘they pay no attention to commerce, shipping or industry, and their only preoccupation is military training’3.

We may smile at Gerald’s prejudices, written in about 1194, at the beginning of the most vigorous phase of Welsh town development before the Industrial Revolution. But it remains true that over the past century, only three significant books have been devoted to the medieval Welsh town : the pioneering study of The Medieval Boroughs of Snowdonia, by E.A. Lewis, was published in 1912 ; a collection of essays on eleven of the most important Welsh boroughs appeared in 1978, and a useful gazeteer of all medieval Welsh towns, by Ian Soulsby, in 19834.

Yet medieval Wales had as many as 100 towns, albeit small ones, the majority of them chartered boroughs ; that gave Wales a proportion of townsfolk in 1300, compared to the population as a whole, which was similar to that in England and Spain5. The study of the history of these towns — including their archives — has a contribution to make to the history of urban Europe : their privileges and obligations, the functions and activities of their communities, presuppose a written civic culture even in the predominantly pre-literate environment in which the towns developed vigorously before 1300. On reflection, therefore, it is possible to say [p. 159] something of value about the nature and authorship of urban archives in medieval Wales.

The growth of towns in Wales was part of the history of French and English immigration and conquest by Anglo-Norman and English kings and nobility, and the settlement and assimilation of several peoples from about 1070 onwards. This story of immigration, conquest and assimilation is reflected in the towns’ archives. A word is needed about the native, Welsh-speaking lords and princes of Wales whose families were eliminated or assimilated to the ‘new order’ by 1300. They had an interest in urban development, encouraging nucleated and commercial settlements, and emulating what they observed elsewhere ; but relevant archives are elusive. Indeed, did these Welsh lords and princes grant charters to their towns, or were they simply interested in enforcing regulations to gain profit from such places as Caernarfon in the north and Llanfaes in Anglesey ? Even at Llandovery and Cardigan in the south-west, towns of Anglo-Norman foundation where a Welsh lord, Rhys ap Gruffydd, ruled for more than a generation in the twelfth century, no charters seem to have been received from their Welsh lord. Rhys ap Gruffydd confirmed an earlier charter which granted Cardigan’s Benedictine priory to the English abbey of Chertsey in the Thames Valley, but he is not known to have granted any charter to the adjacent town of Cardigan, where he resided in the later twelfth century6. Among the 550 acta of Welsh rulers that have been identified from the century and a half between 1132 and 1283, there is only one charter of liberties granted to the community of a town ; and, instructively, that charter is in Latin, granted in the 1240s to the burgesses of Welshpool, a town close to the English border ; it was modelled specifically on the customs of the Norman town of Breteuil which were mediated to Welshpool — as to many other Welsh towns — by the customs of Hereford, themselves based on the customs of Breteuil ; and this charter was granted by a Welsh lord with close ties to English nobles of the Welsh March7. Welsh rulers frequently dated letters and charters at Welsh towns : they manifestly did not share Gerald of Wales’s opinion about Welsh people’s attitudes to [p. 160] town life8. But they appear not to have wished, or not to have felt the need, to grant formal charters to urban communities. This raises the question of the purpose of town charters in Wales.

The history of Welsh towns and their archives is the history of lordship and service, seigneurial authority and civic freedoms, of rights and obligations, and expressions of civic will. But it is not until the middle decades of the sixteenth century that surviving archives reflect some of these characteristics with clarity.

Military conquest and political settlement gave a great spur to urban development in Wales between 1070 and 1300, and especially in the thirteenth century ; the charters which invading kings and lords conferred on existing and new urban communities often survive, at least in copies or later confirmations like those of Brecon9. In some cases, as at Swansea and Haverfordwest, they have remained in the possession of the towns themselves until the present day, which suggests a habit of record-keeping and civic identity at quite an early stage10. Some charters are still coming to light. A copy of the charter granted by George Grey, earl of Kent, to the borough of Ruthin in 1496, including verbatim confirmations of earlier charters, was rediscovered as recently as 196811. Ten years later still, in 1978, the first charter granted to the town of Denbigh by Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, was identified. Dating from 1285, it relegated the undated charter that had previously been regarded as the town’s first to a decade later, when Denbigh town was reorganised. Both charters, like some others, include lists of named burgesses to whom privileges were given : they presumably were Henry de Lacy’s immigrant vanguard, in many cases enticed from England12. Such charters of liberties are invaluable historical sources, even if some of their clauses present [p. 161] a view of urban communities as though from the ‘outside’ and in prospect, rather than from the ‘inside’ and as things actually were.

The English urban institutional framework and the terminology of these charters give the impression that something entirely new was being introduced. Yet charters rarely marked the creation of towns in Wales : they were granted in order to confirm, refine or publicise townsmen’s privileges and, at the same time, promote urban activities and lifestyles under royal or seigneurial surveillance. In particular, charters of privileges were prospectuses to develop markets, and to recruit and encourage reliable settlers with trades and craft skills ; yet individual privileges were not always implemented, nor indeed were they always entirely appropriate to the towns that received them. Such charters were usually based on those of existing towns, and frequently on Hereford’s, directly or indirectly, perhaps because William Fitz Osbern, earl of Hereford (who died about 1071), a pioneer among the Norman invaders of Wales, had brought the portfolio of liberties of the Norman town of Breteuil to the centre of his new English earldom ; and perhaps because of Hereford’s unique position as a long-established episcopal, commercial and political centre at a convergence of routes leading into Wales and where immigrants could be recruited and assembled most conveniently. The links between Welsh towns and Hereford were maintained for long afterwards and may have been valued as much by Hereford as by the Welsh burgesses. Deputations from Rhuddlan, Dryslwyn, Carmarthen, Denbigh, Haverfordwest and Cardiff are known to have visited Hereford on occasion in the later Middle Ages in order to secure a copy of Hereford’s venerable customs, presumably to fortify their liberties13. Nor did an initial charter necessarily signal the foundation of a town at a location previously unoccupied by a community of one sort or another ; more often than not, charters were granted to towns whose sites had Roman, Christian or other associations worth exploiting by later planners. Even in Edward I’s reign, when rapid measures for security and control were required after the collapse of the native Welsh principality of north Wales in 1282-1283, it was relatively rare for a charter to inaugurate a Welsh town.

A few examples will illustrate these developments. Cardiff’s earliest known charter appears to have been granted by Robert, earl of Gloucester and lord of Glamorgan (died 1147), a generation after the Anglo-Norman town [p. 162] emerged on a site with a Roman and possibly Scandinavian past, rather than at the early religious centre of Llandaff which did not have immediate access to the Severn channel. The charter no longer exists. The earliest reference to it appears in the grant of privileges made by Robert’s son William, earl of Gloucester (died 1183), to Cardiff’s burgesses, including arrangements for the organisation of their commercial life. These privileges and customs were modelled on those of the earls’ English town of Tewkesbury, with the addition of certain of Hereford’s customs. They may have been specifically designed to encourage a town that was the caput of Glamorgan, the successor lordship of the Welsh kingdom of Morgannwg. They were less appropriate to the more exposed and smaller towns of Kenfig and Neath towards the western edge of the conquered kingdom, where a Roman fort (at Neath) and other evidence of pre-Norman occupation (at Kenfig) have been unearthed ; yet Earl William included both on the list of his towns in England and Wales to which he confirmed the detailed terms of Cardiff’s grant14.

Elsewhere, a new charter may have been accompanied by a change of site to accommodate a more thriving town in the changed political and demographic circumstances of the thirteenth century, as at Montgomery. At Montgomery, the Anglo-Norman castle mentioned in Domesday Book, and any associated settlement it may have attracted, were abandoned in the mid-thirteenth century in favour of Henry III’s new and larger fortress, begun in 1223 one and a half miles away. This dominated a substantial town which received its walls in the following decade and, in 1227, a charter whose terms were based on that of Hereford, though at first King Henry had thought to adopt as his townsmen’s privileges those of the English town of Shrewsbury which was nearer, and perhaps more conveniently situated for the recruitment of new burgesses for Montgomery15.

Following Edward I’s conquests in north Wales after 1277, it became common to associate town foundation with early charters, as in the case of Edward’s bastides at Flint and Harlech ; though once again, some of Edward’s foundations — Beaumaris, Caernarfon and Cricieth spring to mind — utilized sites which may previously have been occupied by clustered communities. At Beaumaris, Edward identified a more appropriate site on Anglesey’s [p. 163] south-eastern shore than the Welsh town inland at Llanfaes or the Welsh settlement at Rhosyr on the western shore, a site that could dominate the Menai Strait and be easily sustained from the sea. Beaumaris was the last of Edward’s foundations. It was situated half a mile from Llanfaes, which was patronised by the Welsh princes of north Wales in the thirteenth century, but to which they had apparently given no charter16. This older town was demolished and some of its inhabitants were transported to Beaumaris, to join other Welshmen who seem to have been already settled on the site. Work on the castle began in April 1295, and in September 1296 a charter based on Hereford’s privileges was issued for the adjoining borough. The remaining Welsh townsmen of Llanfaes, probably the majority, were moved some fifteen miles away, near the former princely settlement at Rhosyr which Edward I thereafter called ‘Newborough’. No castle was built alongside, but careful provision was made to enable the Welsh burgesses to continue to pursue an urban lifestyle, and in 1303 Newborough received a charter which adopted the privileges of Rhuddlan, granted also by Edward I twenty-five years earlier ; and these privileges in turn were derived from those of Hereford17.

Charters, therefore, indeed the majority of the archives of Welsh towns, were produced not in the towns themselves by their burgesses and communities, but by the administrative organisations and chanceries of kings and marcher lords, who had a range of motives in a colonial environment. These archives reflect, therefore, the administrative traditions of English kings, princes and noble families, who invariably retained a significant degree of control over the towns on their domains. They retained, too, an initiative in granting confirmations of charters and modifications of earlier charters. At the same time, we may reasonably assume that burgess communities came to develop wills of their own, in seeking both confirmations of charters and enhancements of their privileges, whether commercial, legal or administrative. The conceding of such enhancements — for the authority remained royal or seigneurial until at least the sixteenth century — depended on the personal and political circumstances of individual kings, princes and lords, as well as on the vigour of particular urban communities.

[p. 164] Occasionally, documents originating inside a town, written at its officials’ instructions and penned, perhaps, by clerks or scriveners who lived in the town itself, do survive. Witness the sense, if not necessarily the phraseology and diplomatic, of the French and Latin petitions (mostly the former) which town communities presented to the crown periodically : more than forty have been identified from the burgesses, communities or commonalties of Welsh towns between 1280 and 1509, the bulk of them before the crisis years of the mid-fourteenth century. Many of them secured positive responses to enable wall building, the collection of commercial dues, and extensions of the authority of town courts ; others secured confirmations of charters and even local responsibility for the management of town finances, all surely reflecting civic initiative and often civic ambition18. The formulation of complaints and the marshalling of arguments suggest a collective ability to discuss policies and ways of securing a sympathetic hearing. Those who led opinion or spoke for a town’s burgesses are very rarely identifiable, but in 1290 Nicole de Moleton and William de Picton wrote to the king and his Council on behalf of the burgesses and the entire community of Haverfordwest in order to assert the town’s judicial independence against encroachment by the earl of Pembroke and the bailiffs of the town of Pembroke19. Supporting documentation, drawn from a town’s archive, might be enclosed with a petition, as in the case of the Carmarthen burgesses’ submission to Edward II and his Council, asserting Carmarthen’s commercial privileges and attaching to the petition some earlier ordinances that might support their claim20.

A lord’s most compelling interest in his towns was financial, especially if he rarely lived in, or visited, the locality, as was the case with the crown and the marcher lords of Wales. Hence the most numerous genre among the surviving archives is the financial account presented by a town bailiff or reeve to the lord’s senior financial officials. Such accounts survive [p. 165] in comparative profusion from the late-thirteenth century onwards, although the series for any individual town has yawning gaps ; Swansea, a seigneurial town, has only three accounts surviving from the entire Middle Ages21. From the early fourteenth century, by which time the age of conquest had come to an end, the practice spread of farming the towns to their own communities or officials in return for an annual payment. This reflected the lord’s concern for a reliable financial return ; yet also — because such arrangements were sought by the townsfolk — it meant that towns kept their own records of income and expenditure, and gained a further measure of self-government22.

Numerous too are the surviving extracts from town court rolls, compiled after a town or hundred court had met. A detailed record of court proceedings rarely exists today ; rather do the extracts (or estreats) from such records list fines which a lord could expect from offenders judged in his town court, and in piepowder courts for town markets and fairs. Those who presided over such courts were answerable to the crown or the marcher lords, and the estreats were transferred to the royal or seigneurial archives. But court officials were generally townsmen by the fifteenth century, and the detailed record of proceedings may have been compiled by local clerks or scriveners, and the courts themselves were exclusively concerned with urban offences and mostly urban clients. Unique is the surviving sequence of court rolls of the town of Ruthin in north-east Wales, which extends from 1294 to the seventeenth century : they are curt memoranda of each day’s transactions, probably compiled on the spot, in the town where the transactions took place, at the actual moment when the reporter witnessed the proceedings ; and they were probably jotted down hurriedly amidst angry or excited voices. Inevitably, many errors could creep into the record, especially since its language is not the spoken language of the people attending the courts and taking part in the proceedings. The scribe, as he wrote or shortly afterwards, had to translate into Latin, a language with which he may not have been perfectly acquainted, even though he was likely to have been a clerk or a professional scrivener. The immediacy and vividness of the record are underlined by the fact that entries were added to when further results of particular cases were forthcoming, [p. 166] either at a later court or at some other time. The task of editing these unique court rolls is daunting, but a project is now presenting them as a database capable of providing detailed analysis of their content and diplomatic23. Most other series of estreats are more summary and less informative.

Surveys of a lord’s financial and wider seigneurial interests in towns were made periodically in rentals or extents. The expertise of Robert of Eggerley, a clerk from Shropshire, which was at the disposal of the earls of Arundel enabled the compilation of detailed surveys of the Arundel lordships in the early 1390s, including the towns of Oswestry, Chirk, Holt and Wrexham. Others included the mid-thirteenth-century surveys of Carmarthen and Cardigan, and the survey of Kidwelly made in Henry VII’s reign, early in the sixteenth century. These are mostly seigneurial documents for seigneurial purposes, but the claims of the townsmen are usually carefully recorded, most likely based on information provided to the surveyors by local witnesses24.

Surviving personal records of individuals and families from Welsh towns are not plentiful. Where they exist, they mirror the fluctuating fortunes of individual burgesses and townsfolk rather than the activities of the town as a corporate entity ; nevertheless, they are a direct link with the urban society that produced them. The sole surviving lay cartulary from Wales — of the Fort family from Llanstephan — includes among its eleven folios the record of land transactions concluded, dated and presumably recorded in the borough of Llanstephan as well as in the country districts roundabout from Edward I’s reign onwards, many of them witnessed by the town’s reeve and several burgesses25. In north Wales, an immigrant family from Lancashire had settled in the borough of Conwy and accumulated estates nearby ; their rental compiled in the mid-fifteenth century, and the property deeds that support it, survive as [p. 167] a notable archive of the landed achievement of an immigrant burgess family26. More numerous are the deeds recording land sales, mortgages and leases in other Welsh towns ; they are invaluable in plotting the accumulation and dispersal of burgage and other properties, in monitoring the topographical development of the towns of late-medieval Wales, and in revealing the role of civic officials and élites in recording and registering their neighbours’ transactions27.

In contrast to the lively Welsh tradition in poetry, prose and religious works, and in writing Welsh legal texts that seem to reflect verbal pleadings in Welsh, official town records were either in Latin or the immigrants’ tongues. There is some evidence from the later Middle Ages to suggest that Welsh was, if not a language of common literacy, at least used for private financial accounts and personal memoranda, including copies of property deeds. But it is difficult to gauge the extent of its use in an urban context. Town documents in Latin or French were common in professional contexts in the later thirteenth century, with some sign (as in England) of their replacement by English in the mid-fifteenth century, even in predominantly Welshspeaking parts of Wales28. English personal and street names were in use in thirteenth-century towns, and in the fifteenth century the English environment of Caernarfon was so firmly entrenched that its school taught not only Latin but also ‘the English tongue’29. Latimers or interpreters were well known in the twelfth century, and in the towns were doubtless frequently used in professional and administrative contexts to reduce multilingual reports, evidence and discussions to the formalities of French or Latin (and later English). Urban charters such as that granted to Welshpool in 1406 might sometimes decree that pleadings in town courts should only be allowed in English or in French ; but that was at the height of Owain Glyndŵr’s [p. 168] rebellion and it implies that even in a town close to the English border Welsh was in use at least as a spoken tongue30.

During the course of the fifteenth century, despite the continuing importance of Latin as the language of record, it is evident that English, rather than Welsh, was encroaching on its use, particularly in the towns and in both private and public contexts. A class of professional scriveners, closely linked with the towns and their royal or seigneurial administrative structures, emerged in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, even dynasties with scriptural skills ; one such scrivener, Richard Foxwist, whose family was noted for its penmanship, still has his memorial brass at Caernarfon dedicated to the memory of one ‘in whom the glory of writing outshone many’ ; it is engraved with an inkhorn and a pen-case, the likely symbols of his profession31. It is difficult to provide a secure context for the training and education of such scriveners and clerks. Some were doubtless trained in the course of their clerking work. However, aside from grammar schools that flourished at the four cathedral towns of Bangor, Llandaff, St Davids and St Asaph, schools are known at Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Haverfordwest, Radnor, Ruthin, Wrexham, Montgomery and Oswestry in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, several of them founded by educated laymen ; and in the border English shires, schools were especially numerous in Bristol and in the city and county of Gloucester to which promising Welsh youngsters could easily be directed32.

[p. 169] The inter-relationship of seigneurial will and civic ambition is evident in other archival contexts. The surviving collections of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century town ordinances, regulations and customs — the closest that Welsh towns come to having custumals — are not easy to interpret. Those of Cowbridge in Glamorgan were compiled in 1610-11 ‘worde by worde agreable to the oulde decaied Roule withe other more Ordinaunces added thereunto’ ; they are strikingly similar to the ordinances of Kenfig, not many miles away, which were copied, sometime after 1572, from an older roll which was then dated to 1330. When the ordinances of Neath, a little further still to the west, were written in 1542, no mention was made of an earlier collection, but the close resemblance between the ordinances of all three towns suggests that Glamorgan’s medieval boroughs modelled their ordinances on those of their neighbours, with only partial regard to their appropriateness. It suggests too that the initiative in compiling these ordinances came from the lord of Glamorgan himself, with amendments or omissions in each case perhaps prompted by the townsmen33.

Similar in nature were ordinances that regulated personal behaviour and public diversions in the town of Wrexham in north-east Wales. These were in operation in 1467 when we have a fleeting glimpse of one ordinance of which a resident of the town fell foul when he was accused of running ‘a common lodging house … for games of dice, cards and other things against the ordinances forbidding the same’. Wrexham was a villa mercatoria, a market town. It received a charter in 1380 from the earl of Arundel, the lord of the lordship of Bromfield and Yale, and the town’s court which administered the ordinance was the earl’s court ; the ordinance may have originated with one of the sterner earls of Arundel, possibly at the behest of the townsmen, some of whom were evidently enjoying the facilities afforded by the “common lodging house”34.

A century earlier, in 1364, fire ordinances were promulgated in an emergency at Ruthin, in order to limit the possibility of fire spreading from household hearths, bake-ovens, brew-houses, or stacks of fuel in closely built-up streets ; they provided for fire-fighting tools, a permanent water supply in large barrels set in each street and replenished by common water-carriers, the removal of dangerous stacks of fuel, and the monitoring of strangers and vagrants. The welfare of burgesses and other inhabitants was at stake, and the [p. 170] community of burgesses assented to these ordinances : perhaps they proposed them. But it was Lord Grey of Ruthin, the marcher lord, who authorised and issued them35.

The seals of Welsh towns reflect the same inter-relationship of lord and town36. The design of many of these seals, which date from the last quarter of the thirteenth century onwards, indicates that they were cast under the direction of the crown or the nobility, following the designs of seals elsewhere. The majority of Welsh urban seals show a fortified gateway or embattled building, or a ship at sea, or both, emphasising the nature of many Welsh towns as ports and protected, privileged communities. A number, like those of Brecon, Cardiff and Carmarthen, bear the arms or insignia of their respective lords, even in the mid-sixteenth century. However, a few carry such a distinctive image or legend as to suggest that the design originated in the town itself. For example, the seal of Cowbridge shows — somewhat unimaginatively — a cow ambling across a bridge. Some are rudely engraved, suggesting a local origin ; and Haverfordwest’s seal of about 1290 bore a distinctive legend that exudes urban pride : in translation, ‘Hail O Reader, May the Gates of Heaven open wide for you’. Or consider the late-thirteenth-century seal of Cricieth, a royal town ; it is crudely engraved, has a battlemented gateway with two towers (conventionally enough), but one tower is surmounted by a dragon with a firey tail, and the other by a man dangling his legs over the edge and blowing a horn. This hardly suggests a dignified, conventional royal seal from Edward I’s chancery, but rather the influence of burgesses in a settlement that pre-dated his conquests and doubtless retained some of its Welsh inhabitants.

These seals, including the earliest ones, were often identified as common seals, ‘used in the affairs of the borough’, to quote the charter granted to Llandovery by King Richard II in 1379 ; as seals of the commune de Cardiff, of the communitatis burgensium de Trellech, of the communitatis de Newborough, or of the commune burgensium ville de Swansea. It is worth noting that in the case of Cardiff, whereas two surviving thirteenth-century seals are the seals of the bailiffs of the town and of the porter of the town gate, officials in whose appointment the lord of Glamorgan had a significant role, from the last quarter of the century it was the commune, the community [p. 171] or body of burgesses, which was described as having the urban seal37. Seigneurial control persisted, but the study of the seals hints at other, communal influences too.

By the mid-sixteenth century, the formalities of royal and seigneurial authority in Welsh towns had atrophied. Urban liberties had been extended from the thirteenth century onwards, especially in towns that continued prosperous in the later Middle Ages. Their archives reflect this. Local engrossment of property deeds indicates a lively urban land market ; towns were described as communes or communities of burgesses ; burgesses made ordinances and agreements for their own welfare, and that may imply a common council or meeting, often in a town hall. Merchant guilds appeared by the fourteenth century, and in some larger towns so had craft guilds, keeping their own records38. Scholars, clerks and scriveners were a literate élite in some towns, albeit turning to English — virtually never to Welsh — as the language of governance. Among the 121 burgesses of Brecon listed in 1443, four were described as literate ; ‘they and their fellows were the predecessors of those scriveners who figure prominently in later records and who supplied the need for written record and literate governance’39. A literate or numerate élite, in the service of town and lord, and representing the interests of both, facilitated expressions of urban will from the later thirteenth century onwards, in petitions, under seals, and in phrases that occasionally betray depth of feeling, as when the burgesses of Harlech pleaded in 1328 for two annual fairs to boost their economy because ‘they are situated on a rock’40. At the end of the Middle Ages the privileges of towns fell short of full autonomy ; yet a study of their archives can tell us more about their internal affairs than is customarily thought.

[p. 172]
Some Towns of Medieval Wales
[p. 173]
Some Seals of Medieval Welsh Towns
243 Haverfordwest (obverse)
[p. 174]
Some Seals of Medieval Welsh Towns
244 Haverfordwest (reverse)
[p. 175]
Some Seals from Medieval Welsh Towns
236 Denbigh (obverse)
[p. 176]
Some Seals from Medieval Welsh Towns
282 Trellech

1 G.T. Clark (ed.), Cartae et alia Munimenta quae ad Dominium de Glamorgancia pertinent, 4 vols, Cardiff, 1885-1893 ; 2nd edn, 6 vols, Cardiff, 1910 ; K.L. Maund, Handlist of the Acts of Native Welsh Rulers, 1132-1283, Cardiff, 1996 ; G.C.G. Thomas (ed.), The Charters of the Abbey of Ystrad Marchel, Aberystwyth, 1997.

2 D. Pratt, The Medieval Borough of Holt, in : Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 14, 1965, p. 14.

3 Gerald of Wales, Journey through Wales and the Description of Wales, translated by L. Thorpe, London, 1978, p. 233 and 252-253.

4 E.A. Lewis, The Medieval Boroughs of Snowdonia, London, 1912 ; R.A. Griffiths (ed.), Boroughs of Medieval Wales, Cardiff, 1978 ; I. Soulsby, The Towns of Medieval Wales, Chichester, 1983.

5 R.A. Griffiths, Wales and the March, in : D. Palliser (ed.), Cambridge Urban History of Britain : the Middle Ages, Cambridge, forthcoming, ch. 22.

6 For Rhys’s charter to the priory, see E.M. Pritchard, Cardigan Priory in Olden Days, London, 1904, p. 28-29 and 143-146 ; and on Rhys in general, R.A. Griffiths, The Making of Medieval Cardigan, in : Ceredigion : Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, 11, part 2, 1990, p. 97-133, reprinted in R.A. Griffiths, Conquerors and Conquered in Medieval Wales, Stroud and New York, 1994, p. 277-302.

7 Maund, Acts of Welsh Rulers, n° 278 ; the charter is published, with an English translation, in : M.C. Jones, The Feudal Barons of Powys, in : Montgomeryshire Collections, 1, 1868, p. 303-308. See also R. Morgan, The Foundation of the Borough of Welshpool, in : Montgomeryshire Collections, 65, 1977, p. 7-23.

8 For example, Maund, Acts of Welsh Rulers, n° 190 (Llandovery, 1206), 5 (Llandovery, 1215), 19 (Rhaeadr, 1184), 133 (Caernarfon, 1221), 134 (Ruthin, 1225), 147 (Llanfaes, 1247), 229 (Oswestry, 1217), 108 (Rhuddlan, 1241).

9 W. Rees, The Charters of the Boroughs of Brecon and Llandovery, in : Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 2, 1923-1925, p. 243-261, supplemented by J.R. Alban, W.S.K. Thomas, Charters of the Borough of Brecon, 1276-1517, in : Brycheiniog, 25, 1992-1993, p. 31-35. The medieval charters themselves no longer exist but were copied in 1679 into the town’s register, which does survive.

10 Swansea’s medieval charters are deposited in the University of Wales, Swansea, those of Haverfordwest in the Pembrokeshire Record Office, Haverfordwest.

11 R.I. Jack, The Seigneurial Charters of the Borough of Ruthin, in : National Library of Wales Journal, 16, 1969-1970, p. 77-86.

12 D.H. Owen, The Two Foundation Charters of the Borough of Denbigh, in : Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 28, 1979, p. 253-266. A copy of the earlier charter was identified among the Duchy of Lancaster records in the Public Record Office, London, DL42/1, f° 30 v°-31 v°.

13 M. Bateson (ed.), Borough Customs, [Selden Society, 18], London, 1904, p. xiv and xxx-xxxiii. For the ‘chain of imitative endowments’ in the Breteuil tradition, see M. Beresford, New Towns of the Middle Ages, London, 1967 ; 2nd edn, Gloucester, 1988, p. 199 ; and D.G. Walker, Hereford and the Laws of Breteuil, in : Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, 11, part 1, 1970, p. 55-65.

14 For the charters, see Clark, Cartae … de Glamorgancia, 1, p. 94-97 and 104 ; 2, p. 248 ; J.H. Matthews (ed.), Cardiff Records, 6 vols, Cardiff, 1898-1911, 1, p. 10-11 ; and, most recently, W.R.B. Robinson, The Medieval Charters of Cardiff : Neglected Aspects, in : Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 28, 1980, p. 614-622. For the archaeological evidence, see P.V. Webster, The Roman Period, in : H.N. Savory (ed.), Glamorgan County History, 2 : Early Glamorgan, Cardiff, 1984, p. 287 ; and J.K. Knight, Glamorgan A.D. 400-1100 : Archaeology and History, in : Savory, Glamorgan County History, 1, p. 333-334.

15 Calendar of the Patent Rolls, 1216-1225, p. 414 ; Calendar of the Charter Rolls, 1, p. 10.

16 But for a hint c. 1381 that the Welsh princes had previously granted a charter to the burgesses of Llanfaes, see W. Rees (ed.), Calendar of Ancient Petitions relating to Wales, Cardiff, 1975, p. 82-83.

17 G.A. Usher, The Foundation of an Edwardian Borough : the Beaumaris Charter, in : Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club, 1967, p. 1-16 ; for Newborough’s charter, see H. Ellis (ed.), Registrum vulgariter nuncupatum The Record of Caernarvon, London, 1838, p. 178. See also Lewis, Boroughs of Snowdonia, p. 282-283.

18 Rees, Calendar of Ancient Petitions, passim. For a similar bill submitted by the burgesses of Kidwelly to John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, c. 1374, see John of Gaunt’s Register, part 1 (1371-1375), vol. 2, [Camden 3rd series 21], 1911, p. 238-239.

19 Rees, Calendar of Ancient Petitions, p. 88. They were probably two of the leading burgesses ; certainly the Picton family was prominent in Haverfordwest during the fourteenth century : Pembrokeshire Record Office, Haverfordwest Records, passim (I am grateful to Mr. Terry James for sight of his indices of the borough deeds). Compare Thomas Walter, bailiff of Brecon, who was ‘elected and chosen’ to represent the townsfolk of Brecon in a petition to the king in 1525 : T.B. Pugh (ed.), The Marcher Lordships of South Wales, 1415-1536 : Select Documents, Cardiff, 1963, p. 139-140.

20 In petitioning Edward I, the burgesses of Rhuddlan noted that they still had the king’s earlier sealed letter in their possession : Calendar of Ancient Petitions, p. 196-197 and 461.

21 The accounts of the reeve and catchpoll of Swansea for 1399-1400 and 1448-1449 are Public Record Office, SC6/1202/15 m. 1-2 and DL 29/651/10531 m. 1-2, with a further fragment for 1398-1399 in SC6/1202/12, n° 1. For discussion, see W.R.B. Robinson, Swansea in the later Middle Ages, in : T.B. Pugh (ed.), Glamorgan County History, 3 : The Middle Ages, Cardiff, 1971, p. 371-375 ; and An Analysis of a Minister’s Account for the Borough of Swansea for 1449, in : Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 22, 1967, p. 167-198.

22 The burgesses of Beaumaris petitioned the king c. 1305-1314 ‘that if he does not will to keep the town in his own hand, as in the past, that his Burgesses may hold it at farm’ : Rees, Calendar of Ancient Petitions, p. 295.

23 The rolls for Edward I’s reign, including those for the town of Ruthin, were edited by R.A. Roberts (ed.), Ruthin Court Rolls, London, 1893, with a vivid comment on their compilation (xiii-xv). See A.D.M. Barrell, R.R. Davies, O.J. Padel, L.B. Smith, The Duffryn Clwyd Court Roll Project, 1340-1352 and 1389-1399 : a Methodology and some Preliminary Findings, in : Z. Razi, R. Smith (eds), Medieval Society and the Manor Court, Oxford, 1996, p. 260-297, for the computerised analysis.

24 For a comment on Eggerley’s work, see R.R. Davies, The Revolt of Owain Glyndŵr, Oxford, 1995, p. 42 and 347, n° 6 and 8, and for the town of Chirk, G.P. Jones (ed.), The Extent of Chirkland (1391-1393), London, 1933, p. 1-5. The surveys of Carmarthen and Cardigan in 1268 are in Longleat MS. 624, and that for Kidwelly is edited by W.H. Morris, A Kidwelly Town Rental of the early Sixteenth Century (temp. Henry VII), in : Carmarthenshire Antiquary, 11, 1975, p. 55-87.

25 R.A. Griffiths, The Cartulary and Muniments of the Fort Family of Llanstephan, in : Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 24, part 3, 1971, p. 311-384, reprinted in Griffiths, Conquerors and Conquered, p. 193-253.

26 T.J. Pierce, The Gafael in Bangor MS. 1939, in : Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1942, p. 158-188, reprinted in T.J. Pierce, Medieval Welsh Society, edited by J.B. Smith, Cardiff, 1972, p. 195-227.

27 Haverfordwest has one of the largest collections of surviving property deeds, dating from the 1280s : see the catalogue compiled by B.G. Charles, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1960 ; and for the town’s later records, see B.G. Charles (ed.), Calendar of the Records of the Borough of Haverfordwest, 1539-1660, Cardiff, 1967.

28 The whole subject has been illuminated by L.B. Smith, The Welsh Language before 1536, in : G.H. Jenkins (ed.), The Welsh Language before the Industrial Revolution, Cardiff, 1997, ch. 1. Formal depositions in the canonization proceedings for Thomas Cantilupe, formerly bishop of Hereford, made in 1307 by residents of Swansea and Conwy were delivered in French (Smith, Welsh Language before 1536, p. 27-29).

29 Smith, Welsh Language before 1536, p. 31, quoting Sir John Wynn, The History of the Gwydir Family and Memoirs, edited by J.G. Jones, Llandysul, 1990, p. 49.

30 Smith, Welsh Language before 1536, p. 41, quoting the 1406 charter in Jones, Feudal Barons of Powys, p. 307. For the use of a translator (Latin walstottus, anglicised as walstot, derived from Welsh gwalstawd) in the courts held at Carmarthen, see R.A. Griffiths, The Principality of Wales in the later Middle Ages, 1 : South Wales, 1277-1536, Cardiff, 1972, p. 47-48, 69, 72 and 409-411.

31 Smith, Welsh Language before 1536, p. 43. The brass is described in J.M. Lewis, Welsh Monumental Brasses : a Guide, Cardiff, 1974, p. 40-41, and for scriveners more generally, L.B. Smith, Inkhorn and Spectacles in late-Medieval Wales, in : H. Pryce (ed.), Literacy in Medieval Celtic Societies, Cambridge, 1998.

32 The classic studies of Welsh schools remain those by L.S. Knight, Welsh Cathedral Schools to 1600 A.D., in : Y Cymmrodor, 29, 1919 ; Welsh Schools from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1600, in : Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1919 ; and Welsh Independent Grammar Schools to 1600, Newtown, 1926. See also G. Williams, The Welsh Church from Conquest to Reformation, 2nd edn, Cardiff, 1976 ; N. Orme, English Schools in the Middle Ages, London, 1973, p. 203 and 293-325 ; and N. Orme, Education in the West of England, 1066-1548, Exeter, 1976, p. vi (map) ; p. 35-42 (Bristol) ; p. 57-65 (Gloucester). For a grammar school in Ruthin as early as 1378, see J. Laughton, Aspects of the Social and Economic History of late Medieval Chester, 1350-c. 1500, unpublished University of Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, 1993, p. 342, n. 164, quoting Chester Record Office, SR84/1. For a grammar book, probably compiled by John Edwards of Chirk in the late fifteenth century, and including Latin works and others intended to instruct in English, see Smith, Welsh Language before 1536, p. 35-36.

33 For these ordinances, see P. Moore (ed.), The Borough Ordinances of Cowbridge in Glamorgan, Cardiff, 1986 ; W. de Gray Birch, A History of Neath Abbey, Neath, 1902, p. 260-265 ; Archaeologia Cambrensis, 4th series, 2, 1871, p. 246-256.

34 D. Pratt, Bromfield and Yale : Presentments for the Court Roll of 1467, in : Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 37, 1988, p. 43-53.

35 R.I. Jack, The Fire Ordinances of Ruthin, 1364, in : Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 28, 1979, p. 5-17.

36 This and the next paragraph are mainly based on an analysis of the collection of seals noted in : D.H. Williams, Catalogue of Seals in the National Museum of Wales, 1, Cardiff, 1993, p. 47-55.

37 Compare the ‘seal of the commune of the burgesses of Cardigan’ in the mid-fourteenth century : Griffiths, Making of Medieval Cardigan, p. 291 (from Carmarthen Museum).

38 For the ordinances of craft guilds at Cardiff and Ruthin, see R.A. Griffiths, The Study of the Medieval Welsh Borough, in : Griffiths, Boroughs of Medieval Wales, p. 6 ; D.G. Walker, Cardiff, in : Griffiths, Boroughs of Medieval Wales, p. 122 and 125-126 ; and R.I. Jack, Ruthin, in : Griffiths, Boroughs of Medieval Wales, p. 256, and references cited there.

39 R.R. Davies, Brecon, in : Griffiths, Boroughs of Medieval Wales, p. 60.

40 Rees, Calendar of Ancient Petitions, p. 271.