KING, QUEEN, AND EDLING IN THE
LAWS OF COURT1
ROBIN CHAPMAN STACEY
THE tractate on the Laws of Court that opens the principal redactions of the Welsh lawbooks is a very strange animal indeed. Perhaps 'mythical beast' might be closer to the truth, for while it purports to be an account of the structure of royal government in medieval Wales, in fact it is one of the best arguments that exists against the notion that the boundary between history and literature is at all hard and fast. No purely literary source could possibly do a better job recreating the atmospherics of an early medieval court. Insolent falconers swagger off into the bushes to relieve themselves knowing that the king must by custom hold their horse for them until they return; female bakers hurl kitchen tools into the air to determine the extent of the sanctuary they are permitted to offer. Footholders vigorously massage the royal toes, while huntsmen and stewards scrupulously parcel out animal body parts among the officers of the court. This text is stylized, outrageously artificial, and even funny.2 What it is not is reflective to any easily appreciable degree of the historical realities of medieval Welsh courts: to read it side by side with David Stephenson's The Governance of Gwynedd is a highly disorientating experience.3
It seems likely that some medieval jurists also were baffled or put off by elements of this text. Certain of the Latin Redactions, confused or perhaps embarrassed by the archaic-sounding silver rod and golden goblet with a cover as broad as the king's face named in their original as the insult payment of a king, joined the two together in their version to form a more evidently
1 I would like to thank John Koch, Charles MacQuarrie, Joseph Falaky Nagy and Robert Stacey for
their advice and assistance on various aspects of this chapter.
2 On legal burlesque in the 'Laws of Court' see Nerys Patterson, 'Honour and Shame in Medieval
Welsh Society: A Study of the Role of Burlesque in the Welsh Laws', (1981–2) 16/17 Studia
3 David Stephenson, The Governance of Gwynedd (Cardiff, 1984).
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Publication information: Book title: The Welsh King and His Court. Contributors: T. M. Charles-Edwards - Editor, Morfydd E. Owen - Editor, Paul Russell - Editor. Publisher: University of Wales Press. Place of publication: Cardiff, Wales. Publication year: 2000. Page number: 29.
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