On this day in 1284 the Statute of Rhuddlan was enacted providing the constitutional basis for the government of the ‘Principality of Wales’ following it’s annexation by England. The Statute introduced English common law to Wales but also permitted the continuance of Welsh legal practices within the country.
In 1267 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Gwynedd had been recognised by the English Crown as Prince of Wales, holding his lands with the king of England as his feudal overlord. However, following the death of Henry III in 1272, the relationship between England and Wales broke down as the new and ambitious King Edward I pressed his ambition to master of the whole island of Great Britain. By 1276 Llywelyn had been declared a rebel and diplomatic pressure was followed by a massive invasion force the following year. Edward forced Llywelyn into submission, confining him to lands above the Conwy.
In 1282 however, many of the lesser princes who had supported Edward against Llywelyn in 1277 had become disillusioned with the exactions of the English royal officers. On Palm Sunday that year, Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd attacked the English at Hawarden Castle and then laid siege to Rhuddlan. The revolt quickly spread to other parts of Wales, with Aberystwyth Castle captured and burnt and rebellion in Ystrad Tywi in south Wales, also inspired by Dafydd according to the annals, where Carreg Cennen castle was captured.
Though he claimed not to have been involved in the planning, Llywelyn felt obliged to join his brother’s ill prepared rebellion. The Archbishop of Canterbury tried mediating between Llywelyn and Edward, and Llywelyn was offered a large estate in England if he would surrender Wales to Edward, while Dafydd was to go on a crusade and not return without the king's permission. In an emotional reply, which has been compared to the Declaration of Arbroath, Llywelyn said he would not abandon the people whom his ancestors had protected since "the days of Kamber son of Brutus". The offer was refused.
Llywelyn now left Dafydd to lead the defense of Gwynedd and took a force south, trying to rally support in mid and south Wales and open up an important second front. However, on December 11th 1282, Llywelyn was killed in an ambush at Cilmeri. His leaderless army was routed shortly afterwards and English forces moved to occupy Powys and eastern Gwynedd.
Following these events Dafydd ap Gruffydd proclaimed himself Prince of Wales and attempted to continue the fight. However, the English encircled Snowdonia, systematically crushing any effective resistance, starving the local people and compelling Dafydd to move desperately from one fort to another. He was eventually forced to flee, living as a fugitive, sleeping outdoors and forced to keep moving from place to place to avoid capture. In May 1283 he is recorded leading raids from the mountains, but his forces were now in a state of disarray. On June 22nd, he was captured in the uplands above Abergwyngregyn, having apparently been betrayed, and it is said that he received serious injury while being taken. He was taken to Edward on the night of his capture, then moved under heavy guard by way of Chester to Shrewsbury where in October he was hanged, drawn and quartered. He holds the distinction of being the first person to be executed by the Crown for the crime of "treason." His children and legal successors were locked away and never released: his sons Llywelyn ap Dafydd and Owain ap Dafydd in Bristol Castle; his wife (another cousin of Edward, originally given in marriage to Dafydd when they were friends and allies), daughter and niece in separate convents for the rest of their lives.
It is by this means that Wales became "united and annexed" to the Crown of England as under the auspices of Llewelyn and Dafydd’s treason, Edward I was able to take possession of the lands and titles of the House of Aberffraw.
The Statute of Rhyddlan was issued from Rhuddlan Castle in North Wales, one of the "iron ring" of fortresses built by Edward I to control his newly conquered lands. It provided the constitutional basis for the government of what was called "The Land of Wales" or "the king's lands of Snowdon and his other lands in Wales", but subsequently called the "Principality of North Wales". The English Crown already had a means of governing South Wales.
The Statute introduced the English common law system to Wales, but the law administered was not precisely the same as in England. The criminal law was much the same, with felonies such as murder, larceny and robbery prosecuted before the justiciar, as in England. The English writs and forms of action, such as novel disseisin, debt and dower, operated, but with oversight from Caernarfon, rather than the distant Westminster. However, the Welsh practice of settling disputes by arbitration was retained. The procedure for debt was in advance of that in England, in that a default judgment could be obtained. In land law, the Welsh practice of partible inheritance continued, but in accordance with English practice:
The Statute would be in force until the early 16th century when it was superseded by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 when Henry VIII made Wales unequivocally part of the "realm of England".
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