Tag Archives: Cyfraith

Gwilym Carreg Ddu, or Blackstone in the Welsh press

 I enjoyed reading this little curiosity in an edition of the Welsh-language paper, Y Drych, from 1886. Here it is, in my best effort at a translation.

Blackstone and the Welsh

Sir William Blackstone was born in London on the 10th July, 1723. Although he lost his parents while he was a child, he received a good education and had every opportunity to develop his various talents. When he was young, he studied architecture and composed poetry. In 1741, he started to study law, and did so with moderate  success, until he was elected to the chair in law at Oxford University. It was the course of lectures which he gave there on the common law of Great Britain [sic] which immortalised his name. He died at the age of 57.

In his lectures on the sources of the laws of England, and influences on their formation. Although he did not devote much space to the British/Brythonic influence, what he said about the Cymry, their land and their laws, was entirely respectful.

Perhaps he was not inclined to think thoroughly about the likely effects of the unwritten laws of the druids on the large corpus of the common law, or unwritten law of the kingdom, after the Saxons and the Normans occupied the island.

When talking about the complete union of Wales and England, in the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII, he said of our ancestors:

“Thus were this brave people gradually conquered into the enjoyment of true liberty.”

The learned lecturer admitted that the Welsh were the first of the peoples of Britain to share a deceased father’s land equally between all of his sons, as continues to be done in Kent.  The more recent and more unfair rule of the invaders made the eldest son heir to everything.  There was also the ‘Welsh mortgage’, a remarkably kind arrangement, and a just one. Its peculiarity was its ban on foreclosure, and the transfer of property to the creditor: any time he paid the money, the borrower could have his property back. In the meantime, the creditor could take all profits.

These examples of the old laws of our fathers are enough to make us regret greatly that we do not know more of them. They suggest that the Welsh had, from the time of the druids until Hywel Dda, strong ideas of fairness. It would have been a great blessing to the United Kingdom today if there had been fewer traces of the Normans, and more of the Celtic principles had remained in all of its institutions.



Well, it starts off with Blackstone, doesn’t it, but it ends up somewhere rather different and quite a lot more nationalistic. UK, be more Celtic! A fair number of druids floating around (though Blackstone does in fact get a bit druidy at times with some of his origin stories, e.g. in relation to burning women at the stake). Hywel Dda naturally present and correct. Perhaps more interesting is the enthusiasm for some more arcane aspects of Welsh property law. Very much of its time.




Photo by Catrin Ellis on Unsplash