Friday, 17 September 2010
Long Before the Magna Carta!
Leaders (164 votes)
circa 890 AD – circa 950 AD
Welsh King of the early 10th Century who established Wales’ first formal legal system
Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) is one of the outstanding figures in the often- clouded early history of Wales. The grandson of Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great), he inherited the relatively small western kingdom of Seiswllyg in around 900 AD. By the time of his death half a century later, his domain had been extended to cover much of modern Wales.
His greatest achievement was the creation of Wales’ first formal legal system. The “Laws of Hywel Dda” remained a cornerstone of Welsh government and culture for several centuries and were a unifying force in an often bitterly divided land.
These laws were not Hywel’s invention, however. He is said to have brought together learned men from across Wales to Whitland in Pembrokeshire in around 930 AD. At Whitland, traditional rights and duties, some already dating back hundreds of years, were written down or “codified” for the first time.
Legal documents drafted according to the “Laws of Hywel Dda” survive to the present. One remarkable feature of these distinctly Welsh laws is their recognition of the legal status of women and children. Elsewhere in Europe women were regarded merely as the property of their men folk, a status that persisted for centuries.
This helps to explain Hywel’s appeal to later generations, though some historians have questioned how just how “good” he really was.There is evidence the young king ordered the murder of his brother-in-law, Llywarch, in order to take control of Dyfed. His close links with the English crown also aroused the suspicion of some contemporaries.
As John Davies writes in his History of Wales: “In the age of Hywel, the essential attribute of a state builder was ruthlessness”. Ruthlessness was, it seems, an attribute Hywel possessed along the goodness with which history has credited him