CHAPTER XVII - TUDOR ORDER
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 free.
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.