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Locality and Region Seminar: Tuesday, 17 December
17 December, 2013 - 17:15
University of London, Senate House, Room G34
Good Fences, Good Neighbours? Corn Damage in Medieval Welsh Law
Speaker: Dr Sara Elin Roberts
For our last seminar of 2013, Sara Elin Roberts will address one of the often overlooked elements of interaction between Wales and England before the sixteenth century: Welsh Law - Cyfraith Hywel/the Laws of Hywel Dda.
Medieval Welsh law was the system of law followed in Wales before the conquest of Wales in 1282. A volksrecht system, it was separate to English law and to Canon law, and functioned on a compensation-based model: individuals were expected to take responsibility for their own actions and compensate any injury or loss caused. Capital punishment was not a feature of the law, and was confined to severe cases of theft only; in cases of homicide, the killer would pay compensation to the extended family of the victim. Often criticized by Anglo-Norman writers for being contrary to canon law, the rules set out in the Welsh lawtexts are practical and often elegantly presented, and are specific to the situation in medieval Wales.
The focus of the paper will be the Corn Damage section in medieval Welsh law. The section (despite its title in the early manuscripts of the law) focuses not on corn damage per se but on how to deal with trespassing animals.
Looking at the different versions of the section, there is considerable development of the subject matter and the way the trespass is handled. The later versions of the tractate show much similarity with the self-help process of Distress Damage Feasant (under which, if a landowner found another's property causing damage on his land, he could seize it and withhold it from its owner until adequate compensation had been paid), in English law.
The Corn Damage section in Welsh law will be used as a case study to show how interest and influence in medieval Welsh law had moved from looking to the Celtic west, to looking at the new, stronger neighbour, England and the common law. As such, this seminar should be of interest not only to legal scholars but to anyone studying the counties of the Welsh borders or interested in cultural interaction in the middle ages.