Native Law and the Church in Medieval Wales

Native Law and the Church in Medieval Wales

Native Law and the Church in Medieval Wales

Native Law and the Church in Medieval Wales

Synopsis

This is the first full scholarly study of the relationship between native secular law and the church in medieval Wales. The interaction was close, despite Archbishop Pecham's condemnation of native law as the work of the devil. Huw Pryce assesses the influence of the church on Welsh law, examining the participation of churchmen in the composition of lawbooks and the administration of legal processes and analyzing ecclesiastical criticism of native customs, notably those concerning marriage. He considers the extent to which Welsh law defended the authority and possessions of the church, focusing in particular on the status of clerics and on rights of sanctuary and lordship. The book throws revealing new light on both the law and the church in Wales in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. As a study of the impact of ecclesiastical reform on a society perceived by some contemporaries as barbarian and immoral, this scholarly and lucid account makes an important contribution to medieval history.

Excerpt

By virtue of its content the native law of medieval Wales can justly be called secular law. Yet it was also a law devised by and for members of a Christian society in which the Church was well established. Indeed, both its textual redaction and its administration depended in important respects upon ecclesiastical co-operation. The role of the Church in the administration of legal processes is examined in the next chapter. Here attention will be focused on the clergy's involvement in the production of legal texts. The aims of the discussion are modest. It begins by identifying signs of ecclesiastical participation in, and influence on, the copying and composition of lawbooks, and then considers why clerics contributed to their compilation and transmission, suggesting that some must have done so in their capacity as professional lawyers. No attempt is made, however, to go further and assess how far the very commitment of Welsh law to writing itself depended on ecclesiastical skills and resources, or even resulted from ecclesiastical instigation, for this would require a thorough investigation of literacy in medieval Wales which would take us well beyond the scope of the present study. The chapter seeks rather simply to illustrate one aspect of cyfraith Hywel's debt to the Church.

Let us turn first to the evidence of the legal manuscripts. Of the forty or so of these which survive from the Middle Ages, almost all are unprovenanced and the identity of their scribes is in most cases unknown. It is often very difficult to be sure whether the scribe was a cleric or a layman. Much of the difficulty stems from the lack of clear palaeographical and codicological criteria for establishing the status of a scribe or the environment in which he worked. In particular, while it is possible to distinguish between professional and amateur scribes on the basis of a manuscript's script, this distinction cuts across that between clerics and laymen and is of only limited value in helping to decide whether a particular manuscript was copied by an ecclesiastic. What it can do of course is narrow down the number of manuscripts which could have been produced in monastic scriptoria, since these would . . .

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