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the castles in Wales should be garrisoned by Englishmen, and by such as were “estranges a les seignories ou les detz chastelx sont assiz.”
Such is the substance of the most important acts which were passed in the reign of Henry IV.: his successor added others not quite so rigorous, and certainly more beneficial. By the laws of Wales, the evidence of three hundred men was necessary for the acquittal of a foreigner accused of any crime or misdemeanor. This was called an Assach,* and as a twentieth part of this preposterous number of compurgators could very rarely be procured by an Englishman, the suspected criminal was liable to languish in prison for life. It was, therefore, enacted (1 Hen. V. c. 6.), that every attempt to enforce this law should be a penal offence; and the punishment consisted of two years' imprisonment, the payment of treble costs, and a fine and ransom,“ devaunt qu'il soit deliverez hors de prisone.'
These laws, like those enacted by Edward at the conquest, were abused in their execution to a most unjustifiable extent; and the condition of the Welsh, who were exposed, with very inadequate means of resistance, to the full brunt of revengeful power, became forlorn and miserable in the extreme. So wretchedly were they situated, that nothing was punished by law, whatsoever happened, neither could they obtain relief in any shape from the English justices. To remedy this transcendant evil, a few of the principal landholders in North Wales assembled in different parts of the principality, in order to enforce the observance of justice by their own influence, without any other legal sanction, and the following is a brief summary of the resolutions which they adopted. In the first place, it was agreed, that no cognizance should be taken of the offences committed during the actual period of the rebellion, but all wrongs inflicted before or after that turbulent time were to be redressed. Every one was to have his property restored to him without law-suit; and any goods detained after the promulgation of this enactment were to be considered as stolen;
* This law is not contained in the ancient national code of Hywel Dda, which did not, in any case, require more than forty-eight compurgators. It appears to have been enacted, we know not with what right, subsequently to the Conquest, for the purpose, no doubt, of retaliating upon the English for their oppressive conduct towards the Welsh. The literal meaning of the word assach seems to have mightily puzzled the learned. It was proposed as a query to the Society of Antiquaries, in the reign of James I., when a Mr. Jones, who was esteemed a good Welsh scholar, declared that he could not pretend to interpret the word. Richards, however, in his Dictionary, renders it “ oath.”
or, if they were sold, the seller was to be fined ten pounds, and restitution made to the right owner. If the refractory person died, the demand continued against his widow, heirs, or executors; but if they, or she, denied the demand, the plaintiff must procure six compurgators to swear to the right of his claim; but, like the English in cases of jury, the defendant was permitted to challenge any of the said compurgators. After this, follow various regulations for restoring the shattered government of the country, and several laws relative to waifs, and estrays, vagrants, bail, recovery of debt, manslaughter, murder, and theft. The code concludes with the valuation of the several goods and chattels in common use, more especially with reference to animals. For example, a horse, or mare, sound in wind and limb, was valued at ten shillings; a foal at twenty pence, an ox at a mark, and a cow at ten shillings. The hire of an ox and the milk of a cow were, also, valued : a ewe was reckoned worth sixteen-pence, her wool four-pence, her milk two-pence, and her lamb eight-pence. “ As a proof of the high value of arms,” says Mr. Pennant, "and that we had few manufactures of that kind, a two-handed sword was valued at ten shillings (the price of a horse or cow, be it observed ;) a single-handed one at six shillings and eight-pence; and a steel buckler at two shillings and eight-pence; but, what is very singular,” he continues, “a bow, which they could at all times easily make, was valued at sixteen-pence, and an arrow at six-pence.” The only penalty attached to a violation of these laws was the forfeiture of all claim to the benefit of the compact, which, in those unhappy and unsettled times, was probably a sufficient punishment, as it left the contumacious party unsupported and friendless.
But, after all, these regulations, judicious and salutary as they might be, were only serviceable to the Welsh themselves, they had no effect whatever on the English. In their relation to them, therefore, they were still exposed to manifold evils. Altogether deprived of the benefits arising from an impartial administration of justice; still pertinaciously attached to the unshackled customs of their ancestors ; holding in utter detestation the English and their country, and burning with an eager and unquenchable desire of revenge, their grand and almost exclusive object was to avenge the indignities, which had been so abundantly heaped upon them, and which they were daily receiving at the hands of their powerful persecutors. For this purpose, as well as for the purposes of actual subsistence, they plundered and laid waste the lordships on the confines of Wales with unceasing activity, and a species of petty warfare was established between the English and Welsh borderers, which was carried on with the utmost rancour and ani
mosity. Every thing like legal or moral restraint was wholly out of the question : the stoutest heart and the strongest arm carried the point in utter contempt of all alleged right, or reasonable remonstrance. This system of mutual robbery and rapine became generally prevalent throughout the whole line of the Marches, or borders; and it appears to have continued, without any material interruption, to a comparatively late period. These feuds became, at length, so destructive, that the most summary methods were resorted to by both parties, for the preservation of their lives and property. The dwellings of the English were surrounded by moats, and defended by palisadoes, and their cattle were driven every night into the fence thus constructed. For the intimidation of their predatory opponents, a gallows was erected in every frontier manor; and if any Welshman was unlucky enough to be captured beyond the line of demarcation between the two countries, he was immediately hanged upon the said gallows, and there suspended in terrorem, until another victim was ready to supply his place. Every town within the Marches had, also, "a horseman, ready equipped with a sword and spear,” who was maintained for the express purpose of apprehending these marauders. On the other hand, the Welsh trusted for their safety to their own hardihood and activity, to the intricate recesses of their deep woods, as well as to the ruggedness of the mountain-fastnesses ; and they did not fail to put in force the lex talionis, whenever opportunity occurred, to its fullest and most rigorous extent.
In addition to these self-constituted measures, more than one statute was framed by the English parliament, for the special purpose of repressing the turbulent audacity of the mountaineers ; but we cannot find that these had any influence upon their predatory habits; for, so late as the middle of the sixteenth century, the Welsh were actively exercising their marauding pastimes. About this time, the lieutenants of Oswestry and Powis Castles entered into a compact, to endeavour to restrain, within their own districts, these licentious and disgraceful practices. It was accordingly agreed, that if, after a certain day then specified, any person of either of these two lordships committed felony in another, he should be arrested, and sent to the lordship where the offence had been committed ; and that, if any goods or cattle were stolen from either lordship, and conveyed into another, the tenantry or inhabitants of that lordship should be made either to pay for the same within fifteen days; or, otherwise, four of their principal men should remain in bail, or mainprize, till the property was paid for, or recovered. It does not appear, however, that the exertions of these officers effectually annihilated these “ detestable malefacts," as they were called ; for, amongst the records of the
Drapers' Company, at Shrewsbury, there is the following minute :-" 25 Elizabeth, anno 1583. Ordered, that no draper set out for Oswestry Market on Mondays, before six o'clock in the morning, on forfeiture of 6s. 8d. ; and that they wear their weapons all the way, and go in company. Not to go over the Welsh bridge before the bell toll six." It is further recorded, that “ William Jones, Esq. left to the said company 11. 6s. 8d., to be paid annually to the Vicar of St. Alkmund's, for reading prayers on Monday mornings, before the drapers set out for Oswestry Market."
While the Welsh borderers were thus actively engaged in hostilities with their English neighbours, those in the interior of the country were occupied in that disgraceful contention, which we have already, in some part, described in the Article on the History of the Gwedir Family. The sanguinary turbulence, which then existed, was, no doubt, occasioned as much by the contumacious disposition of the Welsh, as by the absence of all formal legislational interference; and well may we apply to these ferocious mountaineers, at this unhappy period, the forcible description of the Roman annalist,—“Atrox præliis, discors seditionibus, ipsa etiam pace sævum." Yet, from the midst of all this barbarous contention, sparks of rude and savage heroism occasionally flashed forth, shining with redoubled lustre in the deep gloom from which they were emitted. Several intances of such gallantry we have already related, and the following display fine traits of an indomitable and hardy spirit. In a feud, between Howel Vaughan and Griffith ab Gronw, the latter surrounded his foeman's mansion with a numerous tribe of kindred and friends, and, after destroying the out-houses, commenced an assault upon the house itself
, setting it on fire, with bundles of ignited straw. The smoke of these combustible materials greatly annoyed the defendants, so that they crept under the tables and benches in the hall, nearly in a state of suffocation. During this scene of confusion and alarm, Howel Vaughan, then an old man, disdained to stoop his head, and stood valiantly in the middle of the hall, with his sword in his hand, and urging his panic-stricken men to fight. He bade them“ arise, like men, for shame! for he had known as great a smoke in that hall upon a Christmas Eve !" He was, however, overpowered by numbers, and compelled, at length, to capitulate. The castle of Harlech, in Merionethshire, was defended, on one occasion, against the English by a brave fellow, named David Ab Einion, and it being the last fortress in Wales that held out against the enemy, the English general sent to demand its surrender, anticipating the ready compliance of the Welsh
But David' was too sturdy a soldier to yield so quietly, and he determined to hazard a siege, although his gar
rison was miserably defective, in point both of numbers and provision. The king, therefore, dispatched the Earl of Pembroke with an army to subdue him. After many toils and difficulties, Pembroke succeeded in marching his troops into the heart of the principality, and again the surrender of the castle was demanded, when the following bold and energetic answer was returned :-“ No! we will not give up the castle; and you may tell your leader,” said David, “ that, some years ago, I held out a castle in France so long, that all the old women in Wales talked of it. I will now keep this Welsh castle so long that all the old women of France shall prate of it.” And he did “ keep” it, till all his provision was consumed, and famine was staring him, and his heroic band, in the face. He was then compelled to capitulate, but on honourable terms, the Earl of Pembroke engaging to use all his influence with the king for the safety of so brave a man. Camden has preserved the names of this heroic band; and it appears, that the garrison consisted of only fifteen men, which was the only human force opposed to an English army of upwards of three thousand men! “ He was a most goodly personage,” says the historian of Gwedir, speaking of David, “ of great stature, (as may appear by the Welsh songs made unto him,) and most valiant withal. Besides the turmoils abroad, he sustained deadly feud (as the Northern man termeth it) at home at his door, a war more dangerous than the other.”
A period at length arrived, when civilization began to spread itself even upon the wild and rugged mountains of Cambria ; and the union of Wales with England, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, prepared the way for the abolition of those dark and disgraceful practices, which had hitherto prevailed so destructively in the former. This union was founded upon principles equally advantageous to both nations. It gave the utmost advancement (to borrow the words of Mr. Justice Blackstone) to the civil prosperity of the Welsh, by admitting them to a thorough communication of the laws with the people of England; and the great circumspection which was used in the framing of the requisite ordinances, proved the real sincerity of the monarch's intentions. “ The king's highness," says the first statute, (26 Hen. VIII.) enacted for this purpose, singular zeal, love, and favour, that he bears towards the subjects of bis dominion of Wales, ordains, that his said country and dominion of Wales shall be for ever, henceforth, incorporated, united, and annexed to and with this his realm of England; and that all persons born, and to be born, in the said principality, country, and dominion of Wales, shall have, enjoy, and inherit all, and singular, freedoms, liberties, rights, privileges, and laws, within this his realm, as other of the king's