Tag Archives: Welsh

Death and Doghethegy: homicide suits and dodgy spelling in medieval Herefordshire

Worth a brief note, I think, is a Herefordshire homicide case from the King’s Bench plea rolls of 1428 (KB 27/666 – the devil’s plea roll – mm. 81 and 81d). William ap Thomas ap Phelippe Vaghan of Talgarth in Wales, gentleman, and three other men, named in more-or-less Welsh fashion, John ap Jeuan ap Howell, Richard ap David Glyn and Jeuan ap Thomas ap Oweyn (all three of Talgarth, and each labelled ‘yeoman’), and a second list of one ‘gentleman’ and seven ‘yeomen’ of Talgarth (again, broadly Welsh-named) were attached to answer John ap Gwelym’s appeal concerning the death of Rhys [‘Resus’] ap Gwelym, his brother.

The allegation was (to summarise) that Rhys was attacked by the defendants, at Kivernoll, Herefordshire, on Wednesday 6th November, 1426, and killed (specifically, he was said to have been shot in the back and heart (x 2) with  arrows, bashed over the head with a pole-arm, and lanced in the chest and head). A bit ‘overkill’, it would seem, but this sort of account is common enough, perhaps reflecting a real series of events, perhaps semi-fictitious, as a way of tying various people into the killing.

William ap Thomas and most of the others said that they were not guilty, John ap Gwelym maintained his appeal, and everyone agreed to jury trial. So far so unexciting, from a legal historical point of view. One of the accused, however, tried a different strategy, and this is what interests me. Richard ap David objected that John ap Gwelym had no right to bring this appeal, because Rhys ap Gwelym had a wife, (and we are to understand that she ought to have brought the appeal).

I find this interesting, because the rules about appeal right are a little opaque. It is certainly clear that a wife could bring a prosecution against those she thought had killed her husband, but did that preclude others from doing so? This case seems to confirm that it did. So appeal-right by the blood, or through common law canons of inheritance,  did not trump, or sit on a par with, appeal-right by the former ‘joined flesh’ of matrimony. Interesting to ponder that. And yet, the other defendants did not go for the ‘he had a wife’ option – so was there some doubt as to the ‘trumping’ rule, or that the marriage would be found to have been valid, or did they have some other reason to prefer the straightforward ‘not guilty’ plea?

Making his argument that there was a wife, so the brother’s appeal was misconceived, Richard set things out very carefully. He noted promises to marry, from both sides, and banns, and a church-door wedding, and stated that the marriage had lasted for the rest of the life of Rhys (even if that was rather …. shortened), and that his wife was still alive, and in Kynardesley, Herefordshire. I have not seen this level of detail in such an allegation before, and it strikes me that it might have been a result of questioning, and suspicion with regard to the status of marriages amongst the Welsh, even those apparently resident in England. Could they be trusted to do the thing properly?

Anyway, whether because of this problem with his appeal or otherwise, John ap Gwelym did not see the appeal through, and it was left to the king to take up the matter. On it went, and after the usual delays, there was a jury trial. Richard and the others were acquitted. The switch to the king’s suit, rather than an appeal by a subject, would presumably put an end to investigation about the marriage of Rhys.

There is much here which is of interest beyond legal history, especially in relation to the Welsh in the very porous border area. Apart from their apparently fractious relationships amongst themselves, there is quite a lot which might be extracted, for those studying the cross-cultural aspects of border life. Possible issues about marriage I have mentioned. There is also some pretty glorious material on language. I am far from qualified to pontificate on this, but – hurrah – this is my blog, so I can do what I want, and I am going to give you a couple of quick thoughts:

  1. The names, or their recorded versions, show a fair amount of mixing of languages. I realise that I have ‘Englished’ the Latin recording of some of the names above – those are ones which were recorded just as they would be for an Englishman – i.e. ‘Willelmus’ as opposed to ‘Gwilym/ Gwelym’, unless the latter is written down, and so on. I do quite like the Latin-English-Welsh mash-up recording of the name of one of them: Mauricius Thomasservant ap Phelippe Vaghan [of Talgarth in Wales, yeoman].There is also a bit of French accent to some of these – ‘Phelippe’ for example. Truly a fun puzzle for a linguist.
  2. And then there is somebody’s apparent bewilderment as to how to deal with the name of Rhys’s wife – who, I assume, was called Dyddgu. In the plea roll, she becomes ‘Doghethegy’. It might be that this was a spelling given by Richard ap David, but my little mental reconstruction of how this ended up being the version of record is that it was the result of somebody who could pronounce it saying ‘Dyddgu’ very, very slowly to a clerk with no Welsh, and him slightly throwing his hands up in despair and slapping down the start and finish of the name, padding it out with a few extra letters and leaving it at that.[i] I suspect that anyone with this name would still be looked at with uncertainty once over Offa’s Dyke, but at least she would probably not end up being recorded with a set of letters which left Google offering a few pictures of dogs and then giving up.

GS

22/6/2022

[i] If nothing else, it shows that the clerk responsible was not familiar with his Dafydd ap Gwilym.

Image – near the site of the alleged murder. With genuine medieval vehicle.

Defamation with a Welsh accent?

‘Oh my country, my country! Her Majesty’s Commissioners say we are a drunken, lying and dishonest race – men without honour, women without chastity …’[i]

 

One of the projects I want to take off the back-burner in the next year deals with defamation in relation to Welsh, and the Welsh people. My initial interest was in the early period of common law actions on the case for defamation – which come to prominence, and show rapid development, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at a most interesting period for both Welsh governance and the Welsh language, and, as far as I am aware, there has not yet been a full consideration of the way in which actions on the case for defamation dealt with the bilingual reality of Wales. This is something of a stretch for me, in that this is not a period in which I would claim any great expertise, and there may be a need for a bit of hand-holding from those who know it better, but I am not sure that any individual has all of the various skills and knowledge relevant to this, so it does not seem totally out of order for me to have a go at it. At the moment, of course, it is difficult to make any progress, given the inaccessibility of archives. I decided to do a little exploration of such sources as are available to me, and am currently searching through the excellent Welsh Newspapers Online – Home (library.wales). This is proving interesting both in terms of what I have thought of as the ‘core’ of the project – the doctrinal development of defamation law in relation to Wales, Welsh and the Welsh – and also in terms of wider ways in which defamation might have had a distinct role, a distinct accent, for the Welsh, over a much longer period.

I had imagined that my main questions for the doctrinal core would be:

  • in what ways might calling somebody Welsh (alone, or in combination with something else) be defamatory?
  • when might an insult in Welsh be actionable?
  • how would such an insult be evaluated?

I have found some good material on some of these points in the archive in the past, and today turned up a nice quote relevant to the last point, from a letter in a newspaper in 1821:

‘ In cases of libel or defamation, which originated in the Welsh, and are now brought into Court to be tried in the English language, the parties are frequently foiled, and the ends of justice defeated. No language will admit of a literal translation, or is always capable of giving every word its full force and meaning in another.  The Judges are totally ignorant of the Welsh, the Barristers equally so, and the Attornies, not uncommonly without any knowledge of it. The issue of the whole matter then rests on the fidelity of the Interpreter, who is not, at all times, the most competent for his office. And how, I would ask, can justice and equity be administered in such a case?’[ii]

After starting to look at the newspaper archive, however, I have an additional question: how would it be ascertained whether a person alleged to have uttered an insult in Welsh could in fact speak Welsh? This came up in a report of 1808 from North Wales.[iii] The case was Williams (an infant) v. Read and his wife. How much of an ‘infant’ Williams was is not clear – and nor, sadly, though unsurprisingly, are the words, the nature of the alleged insult is not set out. We are told that Mrs Read tried to plead justification, and failed, and that then there was the issue of whether she could have said the words in question (those pleas seem rather contradictory to me, but perhaps I am missing something!). The point was made that Mrs Read came from Cheshire, and that, despite living for 30 years in what was a seriously Welsh-speaking part of the country she had not learned any Welsh, or at least not enough to speak the words in question (were they particularly challenging to a non-native speaker? Lots of Ll and Ch? Had she allegedly described young Williams as the worst thief in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch?). The jury didn’t accept this anyway, and Mrs Read was found to have defamed the infant Williams. (I am definitely going to have a poke about to see if there are other, more informative, reports: nothing so far!)

There are a number of leads like this to follow up, but also some wider contexts and trends to consider. I do wonder whether there is a particular vehemence to the condemnation of defamation in a community condemned in the way suggested by the quote at the head of this post, but which emphasises, in one of its central cultural institutions, the Eisteddfod, its own heroically truthful tradition: Y Gwir yn Erbyn y Byd (‘[The duty to uphold] the truth against the world’). It is interesting to note how regularly the Welsh language papers seem to leave ‘defamation of character’ in English – a nasty Saxon practice? Also, my superficial perusing has me musing (going a little bardic there?) about the regular mentioning of slander and defamation in relation to the bitter fighting over the position of the Anglican church, and native dissent, in the later nineteenth century and early twentieth century. From a modern, secular, viewpoint, this sometimes looks like a battle over trivial differences, but the feelings were very deep and real, and accusing the Tory/high church powers of defamation against the Welsh in general, and their dissenting churches and their ministers in particular, was a complaint which seems to have been something of a rallying cry.  One example gives a flavour – ‘The Church Times has out-Heroded HEROD in its superfluity of libellous traducement. We have occasinally noticed the sluice of persistent slander against the Welsh people which this High Church paper keeps continually open’.[iv]

Much to ponder, and to investigate further, when it becomes possible. I am encouraged, though, that there is something here. It just might be less the one painless article I had looked forward to, after more or less escaping the long pressure of the Women and the Medieval Common Law book, and more a set of linked pieces of a rather amorphous blobby nature. Ah well – Wales, Welsh and the Welsh never have been straightforward. Croeso i Gymru.

 

GS

7/2/2021

 

 

[i] North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality, 22nd February, 1848, p.2. Letter from ‘A Loyal Welshman’.

[ii] D.W., The Cambrian, 16th June, 1821, Letter, ‘The Welsh Language’, p.3,

[iii] North Wales Gazette, 24th November, 1808, p. 3, dealing with proceedings in ‘Carnarvonshire’ County Court.

[iv] South Wales Daily News, 22nd December, 1896, p. 4.

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

Gwentertainment continued … a long-lived and classy Gwen

Gwen Ffrangcon Davies (1891-1992): ‘legend’, it says! Good work!

Gwen Ffrangcon Davies (1891-1992) – Collections Online (museum.wales)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into a volcano … or the law reports

Inspired by the recent ‘Sharkano’ story (hammerheads surviving in an acidic volcanic crater – clearly a bad horror film waiting to happen – I am thinking Shannen Doherty in the lead role of misunderstood voice of reason, following her turn in the Killer Lampreys film: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/science/terrifying-heat-proof-sharks-found-living-6057016 ), I felt compelled to check out the role of sharks in legal history.

Hard to believe as it may seem, they do not feature in the Year Books (though there are many cases on fishing rights). I had been hoping for a neat Magna Carta link-up with a shark being caught in an illegal fish weir, but sadly no joy. So on to the English Reports. Not surprisingly, there is a ship called the Shark (most ER searches turn up at least one ship-name case for whatever is placed in the search engine) – Neptune the Second (1814) 165 ER 1380, the Shark coming in on p. 1381); see also 143 ER 303, 312; 144 ER 212; 156 ER 463 for this ship, or a similarly named one. There are also a number of parties to cases with the surname Shark.

At last, an actual shark appears in In re the ‘Eleanor’ (1809) 165 ER 1058, an appeal against condemnation for breach of the navigation laws. The shark is mentioned in the ship’s log book as having been caught by the sailors, and this is part of the case against the claim that the ship was forced into port by distress. No further details of our fishy friend, sadly.

More recent cases from England and Wales feature plenty of ‘loan sharks’, an idea which seems to go back some way – see e.g. the similar usage of ‘land sharks’ (and harpies) in a case of a sailor duped into signing a disadvantageous agreement: Taylour v Rochfort 28 ER 182. There are many tired metaphors involving ‘shark-infested waters’ and ‘swimming with sharks’ (for bullying business practices of various kinds, probably not involving sleek top-of -the-food pyramid predators), an intrigung disputed invention called the ‘flying shark’ (sounds a bit Sharknado to me), a shark trade-mark row, Then there is a family case in which part of the evidence was a child’s drawing of his father being eaten by a shark – W v. T [2007] EWHC 2312, and the spoilsport refusal of planning permission for a fibre-glass model of a shark crashing into the roof of a suburban house- Oxford CC v Heine 91992) 7 P.A.D. 481. There is one ‘murder by shark’ case, R v Clarke and King [1962] Crim. LR 836, in which the victim was thrown into shark-infested waters and not seen again. Looking further afield, there is an amazing murder case with a crucial role for a shark: the Sydney Shark case in S. Smith, Mostly Murder (1959) p. 222 ff. I won’t spoil it, but it involves a vomiting shark, and a theory that a man was murdered and his remains cast out to sea, only for some of them to come back inside the said vomiting shark.

To return to the shark as a metaphorical beast, one well-known association is, of course, between the shark and the lawyer – see the well-worn joke about sharks, lawyers and professional courtesy. This has long roots as well – a poetic guide to pleading of 1803 has characters called Hawk and Shark: J.J.S, The Pleader’s Guide (1803) Lecture III – and I am sure there will be earlier antecedents. Another one for the ‘to do’ list.

Photo by Jonas Allert on Unsplash

Addition, 9/4/2022

This is not very legal, and a bit of a non sequitur, I suppose, but rest assured there is a connection in my mind …

I am a huge fan of daft monster films, and especially enjoyed the extremely silly Sharknado ones. Bringing together a weather event and a monster/scary animal is a fabulous format for unchallenging entertainment (see also Ice Spiders …). Today, there was a story on the news about a tornado in Wales with consequences which really should be made into the Welshest horror film of all time – the wild weather lifted aloft not sharks but … lambs. Very nasty for the real farmer involved, of course, but imagine the potential fictitious chaos which could be plotted. Could also bring in a live action version of the fabulous Welsh idiom about raining old women and sticks. S4C, what are you waiting for?