Sieffrai, a yf osai Ffrainc,
Law was part of the education of a number of gentlemen and churchmen in the fifteenth century. The term y gyfraith ‘the law’ was used for various types of rules. The poets sometimes refer to tair cyfraith ‘three laws’, as for example in Guto’r Glyn’s poem urging Edward IV to restore order in Wales (poem 29.56). These are likely to be statute law, common law and Church (canon) law, though it is possible that the law of Hywel Dda (see Cyfraith Hywel) was counted among the three.
Many patrons of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century poets were officials with responsibility for administering the law in their different regions. At the end of the fourteenth century, the most famous amongst them was Sir David Hanmer, and his renown and his illustrious career lived on in the poets’ memories, as Guto notes in his praise poem for his grandson, Siôn Hanmer of Halghton and Llai (poem 75).
Guto refers to Dafydd ap Meurig Fychan of Nannau, Wiliam Fychan ap Gwilym of Penrhyn and the relatives of Elen daughter of Robert Puleston of Llannerch as being ar far ‘at the bar’ or ar fainc ‘on the bench’ (poem 49.32, poem 56.51 and poem 53.10). The suggestion seems to be that these individuals were involved in the law in some way and perhaps listened to legal cases in their own shires. But it is not impossible that some patrons went a step further and received a university education in the field of law. In a discussion of the education that the poet Ieuan ap Rhydderch may have received, it is suggested that after graduating in the arts a student would be able to go on to study civil and canon law. There is a strong suggestion in another of Guto’s poems that Sieffrai Cyffin ap Morus had some kind of legal education:
Sieffrai, a yf osai Ffrainc,
Sylfaen ac iestus holfainc,
Cyfreithiwr, holwr haelwych,
Coetmawr i’r Dref-fawr dra fych,
Capten i Fainc y Brenin,
Cyfyd cyfraith fyd o’th fin,
Pleder ar bob hawl ydwyd
Powls oll a’r Comin Plas wyd.
Sieffrai, who drinks osey from France,
a judgement-seat’s foundation and justice,
a lawyer from Coetmor to Trefor
as long as you live, a generous and great plaintiff,
captain for the King’s Bench,
civil law comes forth from your lips,
you’re a pleader in every cause,
you’re St Paul’s and the Court of Common Pleas entirely.
This passage refers to a holfainc ‘judge’s seat’ and to Mainc y Brenin, short for Cwrt Mainc y Brenin ‘Court of King’s Bench’. This court was originally held in the presence of the king and, accordingly, would follow him around the country. Guto also refers to the patron’s knowledge of civil law and to his wearing of the coiff, the special cap worn by lawyers:
Yng Ngwynedd yr eisteddych
O fewn coiff ar y Fainc wych;
In Gwynedd you sit
with a coyfe on the grand Bench;
Though some of the praise of Sieffrai’s legal career may be exaggerated, it may well reflect the important judicial role he played whilst serving as seneschal of the lordship of Chirkland. For further information on medieval Welsh law see Cyfraith Hywel.
Bibliography: See Barry Lewis’s note on poem 29.56.
: B.O. Huws, ‘Rhan o awdl foliant ddienw i Syr Dafydd Hanmer’, Dwned, 9 (2003), 45.
: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Ieuan ap Rhydderch (Aberystwyth, 2003), 140.
: See Eurig Salisbury’s background note for poem 99.
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