Category Archives: Wales

Mirrors and Borderlands: some Lockdown reflections on a recent project

In what now seems like the very far-off pre-lockdown part of 2020, an article of mine was published, the culmination of a project I had been working on for two years or more, and had presented, at different stages in its development, to audiences at the International Medieval Congress in 2017 and the British Legal History Conference in 2019. Before the current crisis began, I had decided to write something about it for the Law School research blog. In this post, I will do that, but since this unexpected period of locked-down working has prompted more general reflections upon work and life, I will also offer some personal reflections on the project, and some of the more general thoughts about law, history and scholarship which are presenting themselves to me with some force at the moment.

I: The Article

Judging a Hereford hanging: Agnes Glover v. Walter Devereux, William Herbert and others (1457)[i] considered the events of a few days in the spring of 1456, when the English city of Hereford was taken over by a mixed Welsh and English force, led by notable men of south east Wales and Herefordshire. William Herbert and Walter Devereux, along with their kin and connections, the Vaughans. A member of the Vaughan family – Watkin Vaughan – had been killed in Hereford, slain with an arrow through the heart, as one record has it, and the Herbert-Devereux-Vaughan allies came to Hereford to seek justice or revenge for this outrage. They obliged local citizens to try and convict six Hereford men for the killing, then proceded to hang them. Legal action followed, as Agnes Glover, the widow of one of the hanged Hereford men attempted to prosecute the main offenders. The case went on for some legal terms, but, in the end, there was a spate of pardoning, and nobody was punished in accordance with the full rigour of the law.

Perhaps it may seem unremarkable that there would have been an episode of disorder at this point in time (as the ‘Wars of the Roses’ period geared up) or in this particular area (the English-Welsh border having a reputation for tension), and unsurprising that nothing much came of the widow’s attempts to bring to justice those who had caused the death of her husband (since so many medieval ‘criminal’ cases ended without conviction and punishment). Nevertheless, this incident and associated cases seemed to me to be worthy of further investigation, and discussion, partly because of the unusual nature of the available records, and partly because of some issues relating to ciminal law and ideas about law which were striking to a legal historian, but had been left out of political historians’ treatment of the Hereford incident.

 

i: The records

The documents in this case are much richer than those available in relation to many medieval offences. There are records from ‘the centre’ – the plea rolls and indictments which make a formal note of the (many) stages of legal proceedings. There are law reports in the ‘Year Books’. These were accounts of arguments in cases deemed to be of special interest, made and circulated by lawyers. Putting together report and record can really expand understanding of the proceedings, and it is always very satisfying to be able to match up the different sources. A great bonus in this case is that there is actually even more contemporary material besides these ‘legal’ sources. Most importantly, the incident and its aftermath have left a trail in Welsh poetry, and there is also a reference in an English source, the Paston Letters. Welsh poets of this, ‘the golden century of praise-poetry’ were predisposed to favour the Herberts and Vaughans, as powerful figures in Wales and the borderlands, and also important patrons of the Welsh bards. Perhaps not surprisingly, all things considered, the literary evidence proceeding from this school of poetry gives a positive spin on what might otherwise look like banditry. The relevant section in the English Paston Letters, on the other hand, shows considerable contempt for the Welsh, and ignorance of their language and customs.[ii]

 

From my own point of view, this was by some distance the best treasury of contemporary sources I have ever worked with in my legal historical investigations, and it was backed up by some very fine secondary scholarship. The work of Dylan Foster Evans and Helen Fulton on the relevant praise poetry, and on William Herbert, was essential.[iii] There was also the rewarding experience of working with an excellent thesis from the 1970s, on fifteenth century Hereford, which I had out on loan from Swansea University.[iv] Holding and reading that physical volume, typed on one side of the paper only and corrected with Tippex and painful care, and with a ‘borrowed by’ list at the front containing the signatures of several of the most prominent late-medievalists of the twentieth century, brought an unexpectedly vivid connection with more recent history, with things which have passed away in my own lifetime.

 

ii: Borders and centres

My research, particularly in integrating the law reports into the story, showed me that the common law struggled to fit cases like this – cases of wrongful execution following some sort of legal proceedings – into the available modes of prosecution. It seemed as if some sort of limit to the ordinary law of felonious homicide, centred around a simple ‘man 1 hits or stabs man 2, man 2 dies instantly’ paradigm, was being reached. The reports show lawyers grappling with whether this could really be treated just like any other killing, and whether someone like Agnes Glover should have a right to bring a criminal prosecution. In a criminal justice system which relied on private initiative for some prosecutions, and which had not wholly accepted that dealing with killers was the crown’s business alone, these questions could be troubling. Previous political historical treatment of the 1450s has tended to pass over this, its accounts of the weakness of central control emphasising local corruption and royal incompetence, but I argue that at least part of the problem was caused by the common law’s uncertainty and the flaws in its procedure.

 

In terms of geographical borders and centres, this research gave me much to consider in relation to the attitudes of different groups to the common law and its reach within the realm of the king of England. While the Herbert-Devereux-Vaughan faction were prepared to make some concession to co-operation with common law processes, their main strategy was forceful and extra-legal. It might be seen as inflected with a Welsh sensibility, given the particular emphasis placed upon the duty of kinsmen to respond to the death of one of their own which is to be found in native Welsh laws, but this distinction should probably not be taken too far: Cyfraith Hywel, the collected laws of the Welsh, did not favour forced show-trial and execution, and kin-vengeance was still part of the thinking behind some aspects of English common law procedure as well.

 

One of the additional perspectives which a legal historian can bring to this area comes from consciousness of the ‘time travelling dimension’of law reports, as they are handed on from one generation to the next, their arguments to be re-used and developed. When a case such as Agnes Glover’s appeal of Herbert and Devereux is made the subject of law reports, it takes on a life of its own, being cited in future legal works and cases, shedding what are considered unnecessary details and, in the process, changing in meaning. Within the common law tradition, the case soon dispensed with the need to name the claimant, and mangled some other names. It also cast off its geographical moorings, so that, in printed Year Books, it looks as if the location was Hertfordshire rather than Herefordshire. This may be a slip of just one letter, but it does demonstrate that the root of the dispute, in violence on the English-Welsh border, was not regarded as particularly crucial by the common lawyers in and around Westminster. Central control might not be terribly effective on the ground at this period, but it had a strong grip on the minds of the elite members of the legal profession.

 

 

II The Reflective Bit: the historical and the personal

In my early years as a lecturer and researcher, mentioning that my area of investigation held not only intellectual but personal fascination would have been unthinkable, so wedded was I to the idea of academic objectivity that any admission of emotional engagement with the subject of my research would have struck me as entirely unprofessional. I have learned since – from colleagues, from scholars I admire, from life – that detachment is not always the Holy Grail. Thus, I no longer have a problem with putting a few personal reflections ‘out there’ in this form (I did edit them from this for the Law School blog, mind you! Still some work to do …)

First of all, it’s worth explaining that I have particular reason to find all this interesting. The Herberts and their relations the Vaughans were based in what really is the ‘Land of My Fathers’. Places such as Abergavenny, Raglan and Tretower, which feature amongst the relevant locations of the raiders, are deeply familiar from childhood, and resonate from the parchment. The language of the poets resonates too, and presenting this paper to the British Legal History Conference was the first time I dared to recite a line or two of Welsh poetry in that decidedly Anglo-centric gathering. It felt a little like speaking the language of the Elven realm, if not in the land of Mordor (where the shadows lie), at least in the Shire. As J.R.R.T. had it in the 1950s, ‘Welsh is beautiful’.

The other thing I find extremely satisfying in projects like this is bringing to light the stories of women of the past. It was good to be able to bring Agnes Glover out into the open, and to show both her determination to try and do something about the loss she had suffered, and also what she was up against, in this attempt.

 

Concluding thoughts: moving on from Agnes, William, Walter and Watkin

As is so often the way, and despite the unusually full range of records relating to her case, Agnes Glover gives us the slip in the end, disappearing from the record as her litigation ground to a halt, and Herbert and Devereux, pardoned, lived to raid on other days. Watkin Vaughan was commemorated by praise poets and avenged with impunity.[v] It feels a little ungrateful, having got a couple of conference papers and an article (as well as some good teaching material for the undergraduate Legal History unit) out of these characters, to bid them farewell, now, but it is time to move on. I will, however, be expanding on two of the themes raised in this research in future projects, currently at an early stage, one on wrongful execution, and the other on insulting the Welsh, so Agnes, William, Walter and Watkin may be back for the odd cameo appearance.

Gwen Seabourne

May, 2020.

[i] Midland History 45:1 (2020) 2-17 https://www-tandfonline-com.bris.idm.oclc.org/doi/abs/10.1080/0047729X.2020.1712077

[ii] N. Davis (ed) Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century vol. II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 172.

[iii] H. Fulton, ‘Guto’r Glyn and the Wars of the Roses’, in ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’ Ysgrifau ar Guto’r Glyn a Chymru’r bymthegfed ganrif; essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-Century Wales, ed. D. Foster Evans, B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen (Aberystwyth, 2013), c.2; D. Foster Evans, ‘William Herbert of Raglan (d. 1469) family history and personal identity’, same volume, c. 4; D. Foster Evans, ‘Murder in the marches: poetry and the legitimisation of revenge in fifteenth century Wales’, Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium 18/19 (1998-9), pp. 42-72.

[iv] A. E. Herbert, ‘Public Order and Private Violence in Herefordshire, 1413-61’, M.A. Thesis, University of Wales, Swansea 1978.

[v] Elegy to Watkin Vaughan of Bredwardine. Foster Evans, ‘William Herbert of Raglan’, p. 100; D. Foster Evans (ed.), Gwaith Hywel Swrdwal a’i Deulu (Aberystwyth 2000), poem 23

Top Ten Gwens: a mostly trivial list

Named after my grandmother, and as an embodiment of Welsh heritage, I have always been proud of my name (it’s the sort of bone-headed pride which comes despite not having a hand in the choosing of it). Today, this splendid name seems to be in something of a decline – even on the lists of Welsh baby names (it’s all about Seren, apparently). So here, to assist in the Gwenaissance, is a list of fabulous Gwens of past, present and the imagination…

  1. Gwen Cooper (Torchwood) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYxWY1r7BiM (she’s not English, you know) See the source image
  2. Gwenllian ferch Gruffudd https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd (definite Xena, Warrior Princess vibe) See this rousing trailer: https://twitter.com/BBCWales/status/1264605832081072136 – I’m not the only one who thought Xena.
  3. Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn (tragic stolen medieval baby princess, but has her own society) http://www.princessgwenllian.co.uk/
  4. Gwen John (artist) https://biography.wales/article/s3-JOHN-MAR-1876 (talented, slightly scandalous).
  5. Gwen Guthrie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwen_Guthrie (nothing going on but the rent: first non-British Gwen I ever came across: international Gwen-solidarity)
  6. Gwen(ffrewi) St Winifred – she of the bouncing head, decapitation/stiched back on miracle: well, well … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Winifred https://www.stwinefrideswell.org.uk/
  7. Gwen(doline) Mary Lacy, from Malory Towers. Misunderstood and misrepresented by her goody two-shoes over-privileged boarding school nemesis, Darrell Rivers. Quite right not to like lacrosse.
  8. Gwen from the film Gwen (a bit scary, but nice big GWEN on the poster – good for Gwen-awareness… https://www.empireonline.com/movies/news/exclusive-new-trailer-and-poster-for-dark-drama-gwen/ )
  9. Gwen Stefani (what is she up to? Deserves her place for barking brilliance of Rich Girl)
  10. Gwen Torrence (official fastest Gwen in the Gwenlympics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwen_Torrence )

Go Gwens!

GS

16/5/2020

And hello to a new Gwen

New to me at least – check out this piece on Gwen Farrar – a vintage comedic Gwen (category: Gwentertainment)  https://womenshistorynetwork.org/partners-and-pals-by-alison-child/

18/9/202

A blow to Gwen-awareness

This week, like much of academia in the UK and elsewhere, I have been in recording and captioning mode, as we prepare for the new Blended Learning World (the sensible bit  – online learning – rather than the ludicrous face to face during a pandemic bit) and I have learned a terrible truth: the captioning software does not recognise the name Gwen. I am therefore ‘when seaborne’ … Not so bothered about the second bit – in fact my family did spell it without the u until c. 1900 when they decided Seabourne was posher, or something. But not recognising ‘Gwen’ – clearly an outrage!

Historical Gwen Injustice

This one is not at all trivial. The first woman executed in Wales for witchcraft, during the reign of Elizabeth I, was, apparently, a Gwen: Gwen ferch Elis to be exact: https://parish.churchinwales.org.uk/a065/history-en/gwen-ferch-elis-1542-1594/

An injustice at more than one level.

Gwens in space …

Watched an old favourite tonight – Galaxy Quest, I had forgotten its Gwen-relevance, with Sigourney Weaver as Gwen Demarco: See the source image

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/74/a8/b2/74a8b2d4ffab5135dfd0e7136f983ea3.jpg

5/12/2020

This just in …

Loader Loading...
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Download

We have all dashed off a quick email and included a few typos, but … shocking lack of Gwen-awareness here.

 

Trais a Thonypandy

Just come across this from this week’s Guardian: Simon Jenkins on the recent flap about whether Churchill was a hero or a rotter.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/14/winston-churchill-history-brexit-john-mcdonnell

Much of it is very predictable, but in making the (stating the bleeding) obvious point that heroes v. villains history is generally juvenile, the writer throws in some offensive nonsense of his own. First, we have the use of rape as a metaphorical idea – here, a particular presentation of the past amounts to the ‘rape’ of history. Is this: (a) tasteless; (b) stupid; (c) inappropriate; (d) a pathetic attempt to intensify his comments; (e) all of the above? In doing this, he puts himself right down there with that great bard, Sting, in his epic work De Doo Doo Doo (the one about being raped by words … enough said).

And then there’s the throwaway insult to an entire people, in discussing what he sees as the exaggeration of Churchill’s sins in relation to Tonypandy, ‘In Wales, any myth is history if the English are involved.’ Jenkins has, I believe, some Welsh heritage. There is, however, no trace of sympathy with his semi-compatriots in these cheap words of DARVO sneering. Very poor and very disappointing that the Guardian let this pass. But – note – I am not even vaguely tempted to try and suggest that being wrong, and insulting, is in any way like rape, just to try and make myself look – what – edgy? macho? a proper writer?

Apparently, he has been writing a history of Europe, but does not think we should ‘rewri[te] old feuds’ in Britain (Scots, Welsh and Irish are all implicated here – but I am sure we could bring in some moaning and aggrieved former colonies). This, of course means that we stick with existing versions of events, which are, needless to say, utterly value-neutral. So take that pretty much all historians of the last several decades, and kneel before the deep thinking of S. Jenkins.

Who owned Wales?

There’s a great opportunity to help make a fantastic digital resource relating to land in Wales in the mid-19th century. Using tithe maps, the Cynefin Project is creating a picture of land ownership, occupation and use, as well as the increasingly unpopular tithing system, across the country. The documents are not too difficult to read, and there is a wealth of fascinating material here – about who did what, and who owned what. Once it is all done, this will be a really valuable resource, for those interested in particular individuals, places, industries. I have already noticed some interesting material on how much land was held on trust, and concentrations of ownership in particular individuals (and, in one I’ve just done, Eton College). Feeling more than a little Rebecca-Rioty about it all!

Find the project at: http://cynefin.archiveswales.org.uk/en/ and do a few pages!

[22/06/2016] Working my way through some parts of Monmouthshire. Fascinating material on use of Welsh and English in this border area. Mostly English personal names, but still a lot of Welsh names for fields. There’s a Ph.D. in there for somebody.

 

 

‘Friends and enemies: ‘suffragette’ incidents in Abergavenny, 1913’

Gwen Seabourne, ‘Friends and enemies: ‘suffragette’ incidents in Abergavenny, 1913’

(abstract of a paper given at the University of Bristol Law School, June 2014)  

The National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in Abergavenny in August 2013, and, leading up to it, there seemed to be particular reasons to suspect trouble: the militant suffragettes’ arson campaign was at its height. Wales, Abergavenny and the Eisteddfod had been targeted in the recent past, and two suffragette hate-figures, Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary (and north Monmouthshire MP) and Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, were expected. An anonymous Welshman threatened, in a letter to the press, to shoot any suffragette attempting to disrupt the Eisteddfod. Extra police were hired and other security precautions taken.

 

There was, in fact,  no direct attack on the Eisteddfod. Suffragettes were, however, reportedly present, leafleting. There was some apparently genuine destruction by ‘militant suffragettes’ in Abergavenny (the burning of a cricked pavilion and a hayrick), and also an case of a young man from Abergavenny creating a hoax ‘suffragette’ incident in nearby Llangattock shortly afterwards.

 

Until comparatively recently, there was an accepted narrative that suffrage campaigning, and particularly militant violence, was largely not acceptable to liberal, nonconformist Wales. It was not, however, entirely true, and it bears some reconsideration: see the painstaking work of Beddoe, Masson, Johns and Wallace,

 

The Abergavenny cases are good correctives to a too simple view of Wales as not interested or hostile to ‘the cause’ and the WSPU militants in particular as disruptive middle class English imperialists trampling all over cherished Welsh cultural institutions. It is worth considering why setting up this opposition was and has remained attractive.

 

‘Welshness’ is not and was not, in any case, an unproblematic thing, so that it is unrealistic to expect (or construct) a single ‘Welsh’ response to, or view of, suffragettes. And if Welshness in general is problematic, it is particularly so in Monmouthshire in general, and Abergavenny in particular: one only has to look at the Abergavenny Chronicle’s reports of wrangling over the holding and financing of the Eisteddfod there to see that that is true.

 

It is interesting to note, by way of postscript, that the version of Welshness of the Eisteddfod, with its emphasis on the language would have its own ‘militant’ phase, half a century and more later.

[I plan to publish a full – length paper on this topic in due course. For further reading, see, in particular, A.V. John, ‘Run like blazes: the suffragettes and Welshness’; and R Wallace, The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Wales, 1866-1928 (Cardiff, 2009).]

Recent read: D. Beddoe, Out of the Shadows

Not a new book, but one I’ve just got around to reading, Deirdre Beddoe’s Out of the Shadows: a History of Women in Twentieth-Century Wales (Cardiff, 2000) is well worth tracking down. A sweeping treatment of 100 years of women’s history, and discussion of the distinctive Welsh experience. I spent a fair bit of time nodding in agreement, and noting echoes of the life of my own grandmother – particularly in references to the iconic figure of the Welsh Mam.

11/4/2014.

Recent read: R Wallace, The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Wales 1866-1928 (Cardiff, 2009)

DRAFT

Yes, I know it’s not new, but I have just getting around to reading this. It was a pleasure to read something outside my usual historical period, to broaden out rather than going into ever greater detail. The book itself is clear, thorough and unquestionably filled a need. It is surprising, really, that the Welsh aspects of the suffrage campaign had not been treated in sustained form like this before 2009. Given the targeting of Lloyd George and McKenna (a Monmouthshire MP) by the WPSU and the complex interaction between nationalism, the language, trade unionism, nonconformity and the campaign for votes for women, it is a fascinating area. The chapter on anti-suffrage campaigning was particularly good, and, having seen many bone-headedly misogynist newspaper articles (and some truly Vogon-level anti- suffrage poetry) from Wales in this period, it was a revelation to me to learn about the enlightened pro-suffrage line of the Cambrian News.

GCS

13/3/2014

A Hereford hanging: lynching, lack of due process or lawful?

The Easter 1457 record and report of a Hereford appeal make intriguing reading.  I will be examining several aspects of this case in my forthcoming book on women in the medieval common law. It is also of great interest for the history of Herefordshire and the Welsh marches in this troubled period, for the history of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ and for the history of  subjects’ rights and due process of law. The case is Agnes Glover v Walter Devereux, William Herbert and others, YB Pasch. 35 Hen. VI f. 57b-58b; Seipp 1457.022. I identify this with KB 27/784 m. 85 (AALT image 180).

Agnes brought an appeal against Walter and several others (thirteen others are named in the plea roll) for the felonious homicide of her husband, John Glover, dyer.

The accused defended themselves by saying that the dead man had been convicted. at a session of the peace held at Hereford, of aiding and abetting ‘J.W.’, the murderer of one ‘J Vowant’, (who might, I speculate, be a Vaughan, connected with, or to be identified with Watkin Vaughan, killed in 1456). JW and the deceased husband were, they said, arrested tried, pleaded not guilty but convicted and hanged. The accused said that they were ready to show this and that they were not guilty of felony.

The Year Book dwells on the argument as to whether this was correct pleading, or whether they should just have pleaded ‘not guilty’. Were things different when someone in authority, as opposed to some stranger, had executed a man, and his widow claimed that this was done without proper process or warrant? There are some interesting discussions of the rights of widows and heirs of felons more widely, and of the scope of orders for execution.

The report gives more information about the accused – prominent men many of whom seem connected to the Herbert/Vaughan families. It also sets out Agnes’s case. She or her lawyer made the hanging of John Glover sound as much as possible like a lynching.

Most of the accused did not turn up. Matters dragged on and in the end, Agnes appears to have given up (or settled the case informally) and the accused were acquitted. We cannot know whether John Glover was indeed guilty, but, even if so, Agnes probably had little chance against the combined influence of the men she had tried to take on.

Gwen Seabourne

11/1/2014

Postscript

The case took a few more twists and turns as I pursued it backwards in the King’s Bench Plea Rolls. There are relevant entries on KB 27/781 Rex mm. 1d and 26d (AALT images 592 and 650) and KB 27/782 Rex m.22 (AALT image 299). The homicide in question was indeed that of Walter Vaughan. The part of Agnes in proceedings becomes more interesting – she was initially herself on trial as an accessory, but was acquitted because the indictment was insufficiently specific. There may have been some confusion about her husband’s name as well – some records call him John Dyer, others John Glover, Dyer. But he was accused as a principal not an accessory = the year Book report is confused on that point, perhaps because there were other accessory accusations in the case – with regard to Agnes, and with regard to the large group involved in John Glover’s hanging.

St David’s Day thoughts

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant hapus!

In celebration of St David’s day, I had a bit of a search for Cambrian-themed entries in the Old Bailey archives.

The archives give much evidence of the presence of a large and Welsh-speaking Welsh community in eighteenth and nineteenth century London. There are several early eighteenth century adverts for Welsh Books, particularly religious works. (e.g. OA17041220), evidence of Welsh charitable activity and organisations like schools and chapels (e.g. t17310428-16, t17910413-27, see also http://www.cymmrodorion.org/our-history). Community cohesion only went so far, however, and when a Welsh woman pleaded in Welsh for another Welsh woman to save her from being taken up for theft – she was unsiccessful (t17940219-31,)

There are numerous examples of individuals speaking Welsh only or having limited command of English. A prisoner might have to have an interpreter at his trial (t18890204-246). In one case, a man’s inability to speak English seems to have slowed down medical assistance, after he had been stabbed (t17381286-38). In 1746, Jane Evans’s lack of English told against her when she tried to argue that she had planned to buy the two English-language books (including Milton’s Paradise Lost) which she was accused of stealing (t17460226-17). Others were disbelieved when they claimed not to be able to speak English (see, e.g. t17800112-23 and t17870912-48, in which a rape complainant struggles with English and seems to be mocked or put down by Garrow).

Mockery and insult of the Welsh is not hard to find. The old Welsh woman murder victim in t17340227-51 seems to have been mocked by the murderer, and being Welsh was used as an insult or a matter for teasing in several cases (e.g. t17660514-25, t18210718-76, t18410614-1705). The barbarous nature of the Welsh was assumed by those buying Bibles to ‘make the Welsh and highlanders Christians’ (OA17450726). Even in 1910, we see being Welsh equated with being a liar (t19100718-35). Useful and often commercially successful as they were, the Welsh had much to put up with in the alien world of Llundain.