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Peniarth 28: illustrations from a Welsh Lawbook

Daniel Huws

XKD 9430 H9B (4to)

Cyfraith Hywel, the law of Hywel, was the name by which their native law was known to the Welsh in medieval times. The law of Hywel lost its primacy after the conquest of Wales by Edward I and the passing of the Statute of Wales in 1284, but it remained an important ingredient of the law administered in Wales until the Act of Union in 1536. The extent of its use is reflected by the survival of as many as forty lawbooks dating from before 1536, most of them later than 1284.

Hywel Dda, 'Hywel the Good', died in 949 or 950. In the latter part of his reign he ruled over a greater part of Wales than any king before him, and almost any Welsh ruler after him. His reign was a peaceful one. Hywel was in a position to promote reform and uniformity in Welsh law; there seems no reason to doubt that the law which later went under his name contained a core of material which had been brought together in Hywel's time. That the written tradition was a long one, going back at least as far as the period of Hywel, is suggested by study of the texts of the lawbooks. Yet none of the surviving books is earlier in date than the second quarter of the thirteenth century. Besides a common core of early matter, all these manuscripts contain law which is manifestly of twelfth and even thirteenth century origin.

The first generation of the Welsh lawbooks, some written in Latin, some in Welsh, belongs to the middle decades of the thirteenth century. None of these manuscripts is dated. Most of them originate in Gwynedd, the homeland of the dominant Welsh rulers of the last hundred years of Welsh independence. Most of these books are small and well-used, practical books to be carried around by lawyers rather than books intended for libraries. Peniarth MS 28 in the National Library of Wales belongs to this first generation of lawbooks. It contains one of the Latin texts of the law of Hywel (one which is known to scholars as 'Latin Redaction A'). What sets it quite apart from all other Welsh lawbooks is the series of illustrations which is reproduced in this booklet.

Why Peniarth 28 should have been provided with illustrations is not clear. The likeliest explanation is that it was a book intended as a presentation copy for some person of importance. The fact that the text is in Latin suggests that the intended recipient may have been an ecclesiastic rather than a Welsh lawyer or layman. By about the beginning of the fourteenth century Peniarth 28 was in the library of the abbey of St Augustine's, Canterbury. But before that, it seems, this was the very copy of the law of Hywel which was cited by John Pecham, archbishop of Canterbury, when he wrote his denunciatory letter to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, last of the independent princes of Wales, in November 1282. How the manuscript came into Pecham's hands one can only guess. The evidence of the text points to south-west Wales as the likely area of origin.

By the thirteenth century illustrated manuscripts of Canon Law (the law of the Church) and of civil Roman law, produced for wealthy patrons, were no rarity on the Continent and in England. There are examples too of illustrated manuscripts of native law from England and from Germany. But it is hard to believe that the series of drawings in Peniarth 28 owes anything to any other sort of lawbook, other perhaps than the idea that illustrations might be appropriate in a de luxe copy of a book of law. Even within the general context of Welsh medieval manuscripts Peniarth 28 is a rarity. Very few of them have any illustrations at all as part of their decoration; fewer still have illustrations which show any great degree of originality. The Welsh tradition was poor in this respect.

Most medieval art depended heavily on imitation of earlier models, varying in the degree of its borrowing and originality. In Peniarth 28, the drawing of the king, the one drawing which must have had sophisticated antecedents, reflects a stereotype of a king of which surviving examples can be found in a variety of manuscripts, religious and secular, of late twelfth or early thirteenth century. But for the rest, the Peniarth 28 drawings have an air of improvisation, some looking more practised than others; for instance, one might suspect that the draughtsman had previously drawn a good many greyhounds (or else that he had a model by a better artist to copy from) while cows and bees were something of a novelty to him. What the drawings lack in skill they make up for in boldness. And there is reason to suppose that in their way they reflect careful observation (see the notes at the end of this booklet).

The ink used for the drawings of Peniarth 28 looks like that of the script. Possibly the illustrator and scribe were one and the same. Apart from the ink, two main colours were used: red and green. Now and again a thin yellow and a thin brown are used and once (for the deer) a thin reddish flesh colour. The green which was used (probably verdigris) had an unfortunate corrosive quality; at several points it has eaten through the parchment.

Most of the illustrations in Peniarth 28 fall into two series. From f. 1v to f. 6v there are pictures of the king and of some of the twenty four officials of his court. Particular interest attaches to these drawings as they are the only manuscript drawings of contemporaries by a thirteenth-century Welshman (supposing that the artist was not copying from an earlier exemplar). On f. 15v and 17v there are other drawings of people. Then, on f. 20v to 26r comes a series of drawings of birds, animals and things of legal value, marking the beginning of the sections in which the law relating to each of them is treated. Although a few of the drawings have suffered from damage to the manuscript, and others are somewhat trivial in their contents, each of them has been reproduced in this booklet, for the sake of publishing a complete record of them.


The text of Peniarth 28 is printed, together with those of the other Latin redactions and a fundamental study of the manuscripts and texts, in H.D. Emanuel, The Latin Texts of the Welsh Laws (Cardiff, 1967). The text is translated into English in Ian F. Fletcher, Latin Redaction A of the Law of Hywel (Aberystwyth, 1986). The indispensable guide for the English reader who wishes to learn more about the law of Hywel is Dafydd Jenkins, The Law of Hywel Dda: Law Texts from Medieval Wales translated and edited (Llandysul, 1986). A. D. Carr & Dafydd Jenkins, A Look at Hywel's Law (Hendy-gwyn, 1985) provides a good brief introduction. On the manuscript Peniarth 28 itself see Daniel Huws, 'Loges Howelda at Canterbury', National Library of Wales Journal xix (1976), pp. 340-4, and xx (1977), p. 95.

List of Illustrations

The three full pages (1-3 below) are reproduced in their original size.

  1. f. 1v. The King on his throne holding a sceptre. The leaf is slightly damaged.
  2. f. 4r. The hebogydd, falconer, a hawk or falcon on one hand and a perch in the other; the court judge in his chair, a lawbook in his hand.
  3. f. 6r. The gwastrod, groom, holding a saddle, and the cook killing fowl; the smith at work, wearing a 'Phrygian' cap.
  4. f. 3r. The penteulu, chief of household, seated in his chair and holding a mace. This leaf is stained.
  5. f. 4v. The pengwastrod, chief groom.
  6. f. 3v. The distain, steward, a dish in his hand. The two-coloured gown probably represents one associated with his office. The word distain, suprisingly, is borrowed from the English ('dish-thane'). By the thirteenth century the office of distain had in reality become that of the chief minister.
  7. f. 6v. The rhingyll, serjeant, holding the lance which pertained to his office.
  8. f. 5r. The pencynydd, chief huntsman, with his horn; a kissing couple, a scene suggested by the nature of the duties of the officials mentioned in the next section - the servant and maidservant of the chamber.
  9. f. 5v. The drysor, doorkeeper, and porthor, gatekeeper. One holds keys, the other a mace (a mace is mentioned in some texts in connection with the office of doorkeeper).
  10. f. 20v. On birds.
  11. f. 21r. Ond dogs.
  12. f. 22r. On bees.
  13. f. 23v. On swords and shields.
  14. f. 21v. The law of hunting.
  15. f. 22r. On trees. William Linnard 'Mân-ddarlun yn llsgr. Peniarth 28', National Library of Wales Journal xxiii (1984), pp. 422-2, shows that one tree (on the left) represents coppicing and the other lopping; these were the two traditional methods of managing woods.
  16. f. 26r. (a damaged leaf). On goats; on geese and hens. On this page there was also a drawing of a cat, now represented by the outline of a hole in the leaf where the green has eaten through the parchment.
  17. f. 25r. On pigs.
  18. f. 25v. On sheep.
  19. f. 23v. On oxen and cows
  20. f. 24v.On horses.
  21. f. 15v. Pulling hair, as an example of sarhaed (insult/injury), for which compensation was due.
  22. f. 17v. A woman with a dish. The beginning of the section on the law of women.
  23. f. 11v. A decorated letter C at the beginning of a section on the law of land.

Further reading