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Bibliographical Information
Legal Triads of Medieval Wales, The
Sara Elin Roberts
ISBN: 9780708321072 (0708321070)Publication Date February 2011
Publisher: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru / University of Wales Press, Cardiff
Format: Hardback, 234x156 mm, 352 pages Language: English Available Our Price: £49.99 
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This book is a study of the legal triads, an important part of medieval Welsh law. Triads were a feature in most medieval Welsh literature, and there are large collections found of various genres. It places the triads in their literary and legal context, gives a full edited text of the triads found in the law manuscripts as well as offering translations of the legal triads.

Astudiaeth o'r trioedd cyfreithiol, agwedd bwysig ar gyfraith Cymru'r oesoedd canol. Mae'n gosod y trioedd yn eu cyd-destun llenyddol a chyfreithiol, a cheir testun y trioedd wedi ei olygu'n gyflawn, ynghyd â chyfieithiadau a nodiadau.
Triads, the grouping of ideas or sayings in threes, are a feature of Celtic literature in general. They arose as a mnemonic technique when a large body of material had to be learned aurally and they are found in Welsh poetry, laws and medical lore. The medieval laws of Wales are attributed to the 10th-century King, Hywel Dda, but the surviving manuscripts date from the 14th–16th century. The manuscripts contain collections of triads laying down legal principles which had evidently been used, and added to, over many years before they were written down.

This edition presents the Welsh (and some Latin) text, along with its English translation, of three main groups (from Gwent, Dyfed and Gwynedd) with an indication of how the various collections relate to one another. There are extensive notes on the individual triads and their specialised vocabulary, with a glossary of the more commonly used terms. For scholarly use, Sara Roberts also provides detailed conspectuses, an index and a full bibliography. However, her admirably clear introduction and notes also make the material accessible to the non-specialist reader, and to such a reader the world revealed is fascinating.

Even those who have never studied the subject are probably aware that Welsh codes were different from English ones but they would probably be amazed at just how different they were in reality. Perhaps the most obvious difference is how the former are founded on ideas of value and compensation; life-price (galanas) and honour-price (sarhad), as opposed to physical punishment. This edition of the laws opens windows onto a medieval world which is both very strange and surprisingly modern. An unmarried woman, naming the father of her child, declared, ‘Let a snake be born to me,’ if she lied; men and women might be given as hostages; yet here we also find redress for sexual harassment, rights of property on marriage-breakdown and fines for domestic violence which appear more enlightened than English law before the 20th century.

Although there is much complex and obscure material (especially on land claims – a pretty universal case), the triads paint a vivid picture of medieval Welsh life – of rural labour, of war-hosts with spears, of hunting with hawk and hound, of the high status of smiths, priests and poets and, above all, of how belonging to a kindred was all important. Reading the triads gives us a sense of how this society (where blood-feuds, hostage-taking and raiding were part of life) strove for justice, social harmony and human dignity.

Sara Elin Roberts's scholarship will be mainly appreciated by fellow students of Welsh history and law but, in this book, she has also made an obscure and distant world much more accessible to all those who could never read the original texts.

Caroline Clark

It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Author Biography:
Dr Roberts is currently working as a research assistant on the Dafydd ap Gwilym project.
Further Information:
Medieval Wales had a separate system of law to that found in English, and the law has been preserved in several medieval manuscripts. Although the purpose of the law manuscripts was to explain the legal complexities, they were also works of literature, written in medieval Welsh. One aspect of the law manuscripts is the large collections of legal triads, basically sentences listing things in threes. These were probably composed for educational, mnemonic purposes, and offer a real insight into the workings of medieval Welsh law.

This book is the first full study of the legal triads, an important part of medieval Welsh law. Triads were a feature in most medieval Welsh (and, indeed, Irish) literature, and there are large collections found of various genres. The legal triads are probably the largest collections of triads found in Welsh, and there are triads for almost every aspect of medieval Welsh law. This book sets the triads in their literary and legal context, gives a full edited text of the triads found in the law manuscripts as well as offering translations of the legal triads. There are also notes for each triad found in the legal triad collections, and this book will be a
useful starting point for studying medieval Welsh law.
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