Thu, 10 Feb 11 14:09:00
The issue of law making powers for Wales is of topical interest in light of the referendum on the subject, which will be held on 3 March. However discussions on laws are not new to Wales. Several copies of the laws codified by King Hywel Dda a thousand years ago, are held at the National Library of Wales and one of the earliest and most interesting books of the Welsh Laws is now online.
The Laws of Hywel Dda are one of the jewels of Welsh civilization which bare witness to a developed and literate society in early medieval Wales. Although the images from NLW Peniarth 28 manuscript of the Laws are better known, the newly digitised NLW 20143A manuscript also includes interesting drawings. Unlike the Peniarth 28 manuscript is also in Welsh rather than Latin – enlightening us therefore to a wealth of legal words and concepts in the Welsh language.
The NLW 20143A manuscript dates from the middle of the 14th century and, according to expert Daniel Huws, it was written in an ecclesiastical centre in South Wales.
It includes many interesting illustrations, including a two-headed dragon, a mermaid and all kinds of animals. As well as being the early book of Welsh Laws in Welsh (others are in Latin) this is also a rare example of Welsh-language manuscript which includes illustrations. This probably means that the manuscript’s illustrator was specially commissioned to prepare this copy for a very important person.
The 'Laws of Hywel Dda' is the term applied to a system of native Welsh law named after Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good, who died in the year 950) who is credited with its codification at Whitland. None of the surviving Welsh law manuscripts, however, are earlier than the second quarter of the 13th century. Most of these books are small in size as is NLW 20143A (166 x 131 mm.). They were probably designed as 'pocket-books' to be carried about by lawyers rather than to be kept on library shelves.
The manuscript contains several interesting illustrations, many of them religious, including decorative letters and capital letters using the colours red and blue with a hint of green.
‘One of the striking features of this manuscript is that one of the images it contains is that of Christ on a very rustic looking Cross – a rather unusual image for a book of laws. The monk who transcribed the text combined secular and devotional elements to 'decorate' his work, which makes it today one of our most interesting Medieval manuscripts,' said Dr Maredudd ap Huw, Manuscripts Librarian at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
NLW 20143A Manuscript
NLW Peniarth 28 Manuscript
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