17: Tudor Order
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The Tudors—Henry VII., his son, Henry VIII., and his three
grandchildren, Edward VI. and Mary and Elizabeth—ruled England and
Wales from 1485 to 1603. Under them the people became united, law-
abiding, patriotic, and prosperous. The Tudor period is justly
regarded as the most glorious in British history, with its great
statesmen, its great adventurers, and its great poets.
The Tudors were loyally supported by Wales, by the military strength
of men like Sir Rees ap Thomas or the Earl of Pembroke, and by the
diplomatic skill of the Cecils. Under their rule—hard and
unmerciful, but just and efficient—the law became strong enough to
crush the mightiest and to shield the weakest. Welshmen found that,
even under their own sovereigns, their ancient language was regarded
as a hindrance and their patriotism as a possible source of trouble;
but they obtained the privileges of an equal race, and they were
pleased to regard themselves as a dominant one.
They obtained equal political privileges. The laws which denied them
residence in the garrison towns in Wales, or the holding of land in
England, came to an end. The whole of the country, shire ground and
march ground, was divided into one system of shires and given
representation in Parliament, by the Act of Union of 1535. It is
called an Act of Union because, by it, Wales and England were united
on equal terms.
Anglesey, Carnarvon, Merioneth, Flint, Cardigan, and Carmarthen had
been shires since I 284; and small portions of Glamorgan and Pembroke
had been governed like shires, so that some Tudor writers call them
counties. The chief difference between a shire and a lordship is
that the king's writ runs to the shire, but not to the lordship. The
king administers the law in the shire, through the sheriff; the lord
administers the law in the lordship through his own officials.
In 1535 the marches of Wales were turned into shire ground. The bulk
of them went to make seven new shires—Pembroke, Glamorgan, Monmouth,
Brecon, Radnor, Montgomery, and Denbigh. The others were added to
the older English and Welsh counties. Of these, those added to
Shropshire and Herefordshire and Gloucestershire became part of
England. Monmouth also was declared to be an English shire, for
judicial purposes; but it has remained sturdily Welsh, and now it is
practically regarded by Parliament as part of Wales. The whole
country was now governed in the same way, and Wales was represented,
like England, in Parliament. No attempt had been made to do this
before, except by the first English Prince of Wales, the weak and
unfortunate Edward II.
Of even greater value than political equality was the new reign of
law. The Tudors used the Star Chamber, the Court of Wales, and the
Great Sessions of Wales, to make all equal before the law. To the
Star Chamber they summoned a noble who was still too powerful for the
court of law.
But it was the Court of Wales that did most work. It was held at
Ludlow. It had very able presidents, men like Bishop Lee, the Earl
of Pembroke, and Sir Henry Sidney. Bishop Lee struck terror into the
whole Welsh march, between 1534 and 1543. Before his time a lord
would keep murderers and robbers at his castle, protect them, and
perhaps share their spoil. But no man could keep a felon out of the
reach of Bishop Rowland Lee. If he could not get them alive he got
their dead bodies; and you might have seen processions of men
carrying sacks on ponies—they were dead men who were to swing on
Ludlow gibbets. But, severe as Lee was, the peasant was glad that he
could go to the Court at Ludlow instead of going to the court of a
march lord, as he had to do before 1535. The shire had been much
better governed than the lordship. When the lordship of Mawddwy was
added to the shire of Merioneth in 1535, the officers of the shire
found that it was a nest of brigands and outlaws.
In the more peaceful and humane days of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Henry
Sidney became President of the Court of Wales. He was one of the
best men of the day; and he was proud of ruling Wales and the border
counties, "a third part of this realm," because his high office made
him able "to do good every day."
Besides the Court of Wales for the whole country, a court of justice
was held in each of four groups of shires; and these courts were
called the Great Sessions of Wales. So, though the law was the same
for everybody, Wales had a separate system to itself, partly because
there was so much to do, and partly because the central courts in
London were so far away. Much was also done to get wise and learned
justices of the peace, and fair juries.
By the end of the reign of Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors, one may
say that Wales rejoiced in the following:
1. There was no hatred between England and Wales; the Welsh gentry
served the Queen on land and sea, and the people were more happy and
contented than they had been since the time of Llywelyn.
2. There was no danger of private war between lords, to which the
peasant might be summoned. The brigands which infested parts of the
country had been cleared away.
3. The law of land had been fixed. It was determined that land was
to go to the eldest son, according to the English fashion. All the
land became the property of some landlord, and it was decided who was
a landowner, and who was not. The Welsh freemen were held to own
their land; the Welsh serfs, the descendants of an old conquered
race, sometimes became owners and sometimes tenants. They all
thought that Henry VII., the Welsh victor of Bosworth, had set them
4. The Tudors trusted their people, and called upon them to govern
and to administer justice themselves. The squires were to be
justices, the freemen were to be jurors; the shire was to look after
the militia, and the parish after the poor.
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