Background to the Penal Laws 1401 - 1414

From the English Parliament Rolls:

       A number of harsh laws were imposed on the people of Wales by the Westminster Parliaments of Henry IV and Henry V.

       Henry IV was crowned king of England shortly after usurping the throne of Richard II, and during his first parliament in October 1399. This parliament set out to reverse many of the ‘injustices’ of the final years of Richard’s reign, and to invest Henry’s eldest son as ‘prince of Wales’.

       Henry’s situation had worsened considerably by the time of his second parliament in January 1401, however: a group of conspirators had taken part in the ‘Epiphany Rising’ against him in January 1400; in August he had led an unsuccessful expedition into Scotland; and in September, Glyndŵr began his Uprising in North-East Wales.

       John Trevor (Ieuan Trefor), the bishop of St Asaph, warned the 1401 parliament about Glyndŵr’s popularity with his fellow countrymen, but the response was that it ‘cared naught for bare-footed buffoons’. Trevor knew that there was a growing unease amongst the Welsh, and that scholars from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge had already returned to Wales to join Glyndŵr’s cause, along with labourers who had left their jobs in England.

       In response to this, the first set of penal laws against the Welsh were issued:

* Marcher lords to accomplish the total destruction of all the Welsh instigators, plotters, contrivers and principal agents of the high treasons and insurrections.

* No other Welsh rebels to be granted a pardon, fine, or redemption for their treasons and rebellions until they had made amends for their arson and robbery.

* Any Welshman that enters English counties and burns, kills, rapes or commits any other felony or trespass in the same, and then returns to hide in Wales, shall face execution of the sentence by the lords and ministers in that part of Wales.

* Marcher lords to protect their Welsh castles and lordships so that no loss, riot, nor harm will come to the king and his realm, nor to any of his lieges, through the actions of their tenants, residents or any other Welshman.

* Anyone who accepts any Welshman as a tenant in England should take a pledge that he, and all those whom he will receive from the nation of Wales, will be loyal lieges to our lord the king.

* No full-blooded Englishman shall be convicted by any Welshman within Wales, except by judgment of English justices, English burgesses, or Englishmen of the lordships in which they were arrested.

* No Welshman is allowed to purchase lands or tenements within England, nor within the English borough towns of Wales.

* No Welshman should be accepted as a burgess, nor to any other liberty within the kingdom, nor within the aforesaid towns.

       The early years of Henry IV’s reign were dogged by financial troubles, and he called his next parliament in September 1402 primarily to raise tax revenue. Glyndŵr continued to enjoy success in his campaign, however, and he had managed to capture two English noblemen: Reginald de Grey in Ruthin in April; and Edmund Mortimer at the battle of Bryn Glas in June.

       More statutes were petitioned against the Welsh during this parliament which extended and enlarged upon those of 1401, although they also failed to curb Glyndŵr’s activities:

* No lords or others who have lands and possessions in Wales, or in the march of Wales, should be excused in any way from their services and duties due from their said lands and possessions.

* No English liege of our lord the king should be convicted by any Welshman within the land of Wales except by Englishmen.

* No lord of Wales should receive felons or malefactors from another lordship; they should be immediately arrested and sent back to the lordship where they committed the felony or trespass.

* No Welshman should receive any malefactor or foreigner for more than one night if he does not wish to answer for him and his deeds.

* No wasters, rhymers, minstrels or vagabonds should be tolerated in Wales for, by their divinations, lies and incitements, they are a cause of the present insurrection and rebellion in Wales.

* No Welshman should reside in any walled town, nor purchase lands, burgages or tenements in them, nor their heirs inherit lands within such English towns.

* No English burgesses who have married Welshwomen should hold any franchises with English burgesses.

* No assemblies or gatherings should be made or allowed to be made by the Welsh in order to take counsel or make proposals, unless they are held for an obvious reason.

* No Welshman henceforth should be armed, nor wear defensive armour in towns, markets, churches or gatherings, or on the highways.

* No English or Welsh man should send victuals or arms to any parts of Wales, unless it is to provision or stock English castles and towns.

* In every part of the Welsh march, and in market towns, there should be constables chosen to inquire and seize all such victuals and arms.

* The most important and sufficient Welsh persons from every lordship in Wales should be appointed and chosen to keep the peace within that lordship against robbers, thieves and malefactors, so that if any felony or robbery is committed within the boundaries of the said lordship they should be answerable for it.

* If any malefactor from Wales flees because of some misdeed and does not propose to keep the peace and law, but simply to remain in the mountains and the byways in order to commit robberies and other crimes in the country; let those who are       the most sufficient and closest in kinship of his kin-group be taken, arrested, and detained in a strong prison, until they have taken or arrested the aforesaid malefactors, as was accustomed to be done in ancient times in Wales etc. when the Welsh began to rebel and to disobey the law etc. as they are doing at present.

* No Welshman should hold any castle, fortress, or fortified house, either of his own or that of another, in his custody.

* No merchandise should be bought, sold, or exchanged for victuals or other goods by the Welsh in the country, but only in market towns.

* No Welshman, whether he is a bishop or not, should be a justice, chamberlain, chancellor, treasurer, sheriff, steward, constable of a castle, receiver, escheator, coroner, nor chief forester, nor any other officer, nor keeper of records, nor lieutenant in the said offices, in any part of Wales, nor of the council of any English lord.

* In crown cases in every lordship throughout Wales, the laws of England should be used everywhere, and not any custom that is contrary to the common law of England, as was ordained at the conquest of Wales by King Edward.

* The garrisons of the castles and walled towns in Wales should be adequately provided and filled with brave English persons, and not with any men of mixed blood from the said parts and lordships in Wales, or from the march.

       Henry IV called another parliament in January 1404, with its main purpose again being to raise taxes. Many debts needed to be paid: the garrison at Calais was owed over £11000 in wages; his own household had debts in excess of £6000; and money was still needed to pay for his costly campaigns into Wales.

       There had been French attacks on the south coast of England, and opposition from the Percy family had resulted in the battle of Shrewsbury in July 1403. Also, support for Glyndŵr had continued to increase, which led to a change in tack from Henry, with Welsh people being offered pardons to change their allegiance.

* No Welshman should remain around the person of the king.

* A pardon for all lieges of the realm of England, and of the country of Wales, and of the marches of Scotland, for treasons, insurrections, felonies and trespasses of all kinds committed or perpetrated by them.

       Unfortunately for Henry IV, the revenue raised from taxes from this parliament only reached about a quarter of that expected; very little was received from Wales for a number of years, and only then from the Englishries in the country.

       In October 1404 this led Henry to call another parliament in order to remedy the situation. His son, the future Henry V, had recently taken responsibility for campaigns in Wales, following the loss of Harlech and Aberystwyth castles to Glyndŵr and the signing of a treaty between the Welsh and the French. Representatives from France, Scotland and Castile had also travelled to Machynlleth to attend Glyndŵr’s first parliament, and this was all taking place during the ‘Great Schism’ in the catholic church:

* No Welshman should have licence to travel to the court of Rome during this time of rebellion.

       By the time Henry IV called his ‘Long’ parliament in March 1406, the situation in Wales had not significantly improved for him, and the commons were unhappy that large parts of the country were still closed to the English. The parliament probably sat for around 120 days between March and December, but John Trevor (Ieuan Trefor) and Lewis Byford (Lewis ab Ieuan), the bishops of St Asaph and Bangor, were not present as they had both declared for Glyndŵr by this time.

       The parliament of October 1407 was held in Gloucester so that Prince Henry could be better supported in his siege of Aberystwyth Castle. He had originally agreed its surrender with the castle’s keeper, Rhys Ddu, but Glyndŵr intervened and the siege continued whilst this parliament was in session. This served as a reminder to them that Glyndŵr had not been defeated, and more laws were enacted against the Welsh:

* With regard to felonies and robberies committed in South Wales, the people of the area should take the said felons and conduct them to the gaol of that area, in which they will be held.

* If any felony is committed within any royal lordship in Wales by any felon who then flees to another royal lordship, he should be seized there and conducted thence to the lordship where the felony was committed, and there brought to justice.

* No thief or felon in Wales who is openly known should be allowed by disclaimer to leave the lordship where the felony was committed.

* The officers and ministers of Ewyasland shall not seize any beast, or any other chattel which is found pasturing, straying, or in any other way wandering or roaming in the marchlands beyond the boundaries of the county of Hereford, or on the land which has been appropriated by them from the said county, or the land which in        ancient times was Welsh land.

* Marcher lords shall compel and force their officers to assist the lieges residing in the county of Hereford that have been seized and removed to various parts of Wales, by rebels and other thieves who had come into the aforesaid county.

* Thieves in Wales cannot disclaim tenancy of the lordship in which they have been arraigned, and should be made to answer in the same manner as native people in the same lordships in which they are taken.

* Any Welsh rebel who was seised of lands and tenements in fee held not directly from the king but rather from others, and is convicted or attainted of rebellion or of any other treason, and as a result of that conviction his lands and tenements are taken into the king's hands and given by patent to someone else by our said lord the king, then the services which were due before that conviction should be payable to the chief lords of the fee.

       By the time he called the parliament of January 1410, the situation in Wales had improved greatly for Henry IV: the castles of Aberystwyth and Harlech had both been recaptured; and the deaths of Louis, duke of Orleans, and the Earl of Northumberland meant that most of Glyndŵr’s foreign alliances had been broken. His forces were still posing a threat in the March, however:

* All the marcher lords, and others who have castles or towns in Wales or in the Welsh marches, are publicly charged and commanded to occupy and dwell in the said castles, lordships and towns, and to remain there in their own persons, at their     own risk, and to defend and preserve them.

       Due to his father’s ill health, Prince Henry had effectively ruled England for most of 1410 and 1411. By November 1411, however, Henry IV felt suitably recovered to call a parliament in order to reassert his authority. This was his last parliament as he died in March 1413 and was succeeded by his son.

       Henry V called his first two parliaments in May 1413 and April 1414, respectively. When he called his third in November 1414, however, the Welsh Uprising was still causing him problems, especially through the abduction of English people in the border counties for ransom:

* Officers of the lordships where Welsh rebels have fled, after treacherously and feloniously taking many of the king’s faithful lieges from the counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and others adjacent to the same land, have power to seize the same outlawed people bodily as the law demands.

       The defining moment of Henry V’s reign was his victory in the battle of Agincourt in October 1415, and a parliament was called in his absence a few weeks later in November 1415. The people of Shropshire had continued to be raided from over the border, and so another piece of legislation was enacted:

* The sheriffs, mayors, bailiffs or stewards of the counties which adjoin the march of Wales should issue letters, under their seals to the lords or their officials who have administration of the lordships in which the malefactors are living, testifying to the grievances of people through any distraint made on oxen, mares, horses, cows, sheep, or any other goods by the people of Wales; or if any arrest is made by the said people of Wales of people of the said counties who come with their merchandise or other goods, or make plaints against them of debt, covenant, trespass or other actions in which they are not parties or pledges.

       Owain had most probably died by this time, although his son, Maredudd, had led the Uprising since 1412. It was Maredudd that finally accepted a pardon from Henry V in May 1421.


End note

       At the start of the Uprising, Glyndŵr’s lands had been confiscated by Henry IV and given to Henry’s half-brother, John Beaufort, earl of Somerset. John’s second son (also John) became earl of Somerset in 1418, but was captured in France in 1421 and imprisoned there until his ransom was eventually paid in 1438.

       In 1433, Owain’s daughter, Alys, and her husband, John Skydmore, laid claim to these lands. This resulted in a petition to the parliament of July 1433 on behalf of John Beaufort, in his absence. The claim related to:

* The manor and lordship of Glendower (Glyndyfrdwy) with their appurtenances in Edernyon (Edeirnion), the manor and lordship of Sawarth (Sycharth) with their appurtenances in Kentlith (Cynllaith) in north Wales, the manors and lordships of Hiscote (Iscoed) and Gwinioneth (Gwynionydd) with their appurtenances in south Wales, among other lordships and manors, by the name of all the manors, lands and tenements which were Owen Glendower's (Owain Glyndŵr’s), both in south Wales and in north Wales.

       Not only was Beaufort’s claim upheld by the then king, Henry VI, but in the very next petition it was reaffirmed that:

* No Englishman married to any Welsh woman of the friendship or alliance of Owen Glendower (Owain Glyndŵr), should hold office in Wales, nor in the marches. [From the Penal Laws of 1402]