Byline: DARREN DEVINE
THEY are among the jewels of Welsh civilisation and were a crucial symbol of national identity in the face of English oppression.
They were laws framed in the name of a medieval Welsh king that one of the nation's last princes fought to maintain when their supremacy was threatened by the English.
And now a fragile, almost 700-year-old manuscript detailing "The Laws of Hywel Dda" is to go on sale at auction next month.
The 14th-century pocket-sized book, written in medieval Welsh, is the earliest manuscript of its kind ever offered in a public sale.
Several other copies of the laws, some of which also date from the 14th century, are held by the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth.
Both the Library and the National Museum Wales have declined to comment on whether they will bid for the manuscript, anticipated to fetch up to pounds 700,000, but neither institution ruled it out.
Dr Diana Luft, of Cardiff University's School of Welsh, believes the manuscript being sold at Sotheby's, should be saved for the nation.
She said: "It's extremely important for scholars here to have access to it and even members of the public who might want to come in and see it if it gets put on display."
The system of native Welsh laws named after Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good, who died in the year 950), which testify to a developed and literate society in early medieval Wales, was codified on the instructions of the Welsh king.
Dr Luft said the laws, though brought together in Hywel's name, were almost certainly not the work of the Welsh regent.
She added: "The story of the way the laws were put together is not that he was directing the laws. …