The municipal charters: Introduction and description

Pages 1-9

Cardiff Records: Volume 1. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1898.

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CHAPTER I. The Municipal Charters.

CARDIFF has been a place of note ever since the Roman legions subdued South Wales, and probably from a still earlier date. The written page of history tells us little about Cardiff prior to the Norman Conquest; but archæology attests the importance of the town under the Imperial governors of Siluria, and under the rule of their political heirs, the native reguli who became known as Kings of Glamorgan and Morganwg.

As far back as British history extends, Cardiff has been the capital town of a province rich in natural resources; and her inhabitants secured for themselves, at a very early period, definite constitutional rights, liberties or privileges. It may be safely surmised that these originated in Celtic tribal customs, subsequently recognised and systematised by Roman jurisprudence, and still later confirmed by the Anglo-Normans to the English and French traders and artisans who settled under the sheltering walls of Cardiff Castle, and to the few Welshmen who were content to live under the rule of the Norman Lords.

When the municipal rights of Cardiff were first formulated in an authoritative written document it is impossible to say. It is hardly likely that the oldest extant record of this kind was the first to be drawn up. This is a formal statement of the liberties and free customs said to have been granted by Robert and William, Earls of Gloucester, some time before 1147, to the free resiants or Burgesses of Cardiff and Tewkesbury alike. (See Charter I.) The terms of this document are most interesting to the antiquary, and seem, on the face of them, to be largely an embodiment of much earlier customs. Their general effect is to exempt the Burgesses from the more onerous of their feudal obligations to the Lords of the Castles of Cardiff and Tewkesbury respectively, as, for instance, the obligation to take all their corn to be ground in the Lord's mill. (This document is preserved among the Cotton MSS., and has been printed in Clark's "Cartæ.") That William, Earl of Gloucester, had granted or confirmed definite liberties and privileges to the men of Cardiff, appears from a Charter cited by Mr. Clark (Cartoelig;, II., 55), wherein Earl William grants to the Burgesses of Neath "all the liberties and customs which my burgesses of Cardiff have throughout all my burghs of England and Wales and throughout all my land of England and Wales."

Between Charters I. and II. I have inserted a few notes respecting the "Ancient Customs of the City of Hereford," because the matter directly concerns our chartered liberties. It appears that in 1284 the Burgesses of Cardiff applied to the Burgesses of Hereford for an exemplification of the municipal customs of the latter city. Although these customs mostly relate to the internal government of the municipality, some of them are obviously against the vested interests of the feudal Lord; especially the one set out at the end of my notes on John le Gaunter's Exemplification, which protects a fugitive bondsman against forcible recapture by his Lord. The importance of such immunities to mediæval burgesses must have been immense, and it is no wonder that charters and confirmations were by them purchased of feudal lords and kings for a great price. An examination of subsequent Charters will show that the Customs of Hereford were taken as a basis whereon the Cardiff burgesses framed their Particulars in applying for later grants at the hands of the Kings of England and the Lords of Glamorgan and Morganwg. (A translation of the above document is given in Johnson's "Ancient Customs of the City of Hereford.")

In Charter No. II., granted by King Edward the Second in the year 1324, we have the first Royal concession or confirmation of privileges to the Burgesses of Cardiff, though, as a necessary formality, it is expressed to be made in the first place to the Lord of Glamorgan and Morganwg, Hugh le Despenser. The gist of it is that the Burgesses of Cardiff, Usk, Caerleon, Newport, Cowbridge, Neath and Kenfig shall be exempt, throughout the King's dominions, from the necessity of paying to the King the customary dues in respect of the transport and sale of their goods: to wit, a percentage to the Lords of towns on the quantity of goods brought in; a tax towards the repair of town walls, bridges and streets; a payment for liberty to carry in loads of goods, encumber the ground and break it for the purpose of erecting booths; payment for liberty to weigh wool; dues on landing goods at quays or on the shore. These privileges are granted with the exception of the dues payable on the sale of certain specified articles whereon the Crown preserved a heavy royalty, such as wool, leather and wine. The above exemption was claimed by Cardiff dealers in various parts of England, in the first half of the nineteenth century, and was allowed on production of a certificate shewing that the claimants were Freemen of this Borough. (See Town Clerk Wood's Memoranda, post. This Charter has probably never been in the custody of the Corporation, and is known only from the recital of it in the Charter of 1359. See post.)

Charter III., of the year 1331 circa, is a grant from William and Eleanor la Zouche, Lord and Lady of Glamorgan and Morganwg, to their Burgesses of Cardiff, of a plot of land in High Street, whereon to erect a Booth Hall, or Town Hall. This concession was subject to the Lord's right to hold his Court and receive his tolls in the same building. The Guildhall or Town Hall of Cardiff occupied this ancient site until the middle of the nineteenth century. In some few old towns the municipal offices are still termed the Booth Hall This Charter has long been lost, and is known only from the recital of it in that of 1338.

Charter IV., 1338, is from Hugh le Despenser, Lord of Glamorgan and Morganwg, and is merely a confirmation of the last.

Charter V., 1340, is from Hugh le Despenser to his Burgesses of Cardiff. It first reiterates their legal immunity from toll, murage &c., granted to them by the Royal Charter of 1324, and then goes on to recognise the right of the townsmen to their municipal self-government. The Burgesses are to choose yearly certain of their number, from whom the Constable of the Castle (as representing the Lord) shall select and swear in a Bailiff, two Prevosts and two Aletasters, who are to receive certain emoluments and be responsible to the Lord for the good government of the town. Further, all merchandise coming into the town is to pay toll first to the Constable on behalf of the Lord, and afterwards to the Prevosts on behalf of the Burgesses. No Burgess shall be imprisoned in the Castle for ordinary offences, provided he can find bail. The Burgesses are to be tried only by their fellow Burgesses for matters arising within the Liberties of the Vill of Cardiff. They are not to be accountable to the Lord for any moneys, except those payable to him by the Bailiff in respect of the tolls and fee farm rent. They may freely sell victuals or any other goods, within the Liberties, and may freely bequeath all or any of their burgages and rents. They cannot be compelled to go outside the Liberties, which extend from Appledore near Llystalybont on the north, to the Broadstream in the sea on the south; and from Payne's Cross on the east, to the cross near the Dominican Convent on the west. Non-inhabitants may buy goods only of the inhabitants (except at the fairs and markets, and save that the gentlemen of Glamorgan may buy their own provisions as they please). No one shall keep a shop in the town unless he be made free of the town. Townsmen may form a trades guild. No Burgess may be distrained on for another person's debt, unless such Burgess is the actual debtor or a guarantor. Only the Constable and Bailiffs may summon, attach or distrain within the Liberties. The Burgesses are to have common pasture, brushwood and turf on the Great and Little Heaths, and may appoint a Cutter (or Commons Keeper). Non-burgesses found usurping common rights on the Heaths shall be presented by this officer, and fined in the Hundred Court. None may be mercers unless they inhabit the burghs of the Lordship of Glamorgan and Morganwg, and they are to sell their wares only in the markets of such towns. Merchants may travel with their wares only along the main roads, paying toll and customs to the Lord. The Burgesses of Cardiff shall not be obliged to keep watch and ward over fugitives who have taken sanctuary in any church, outside the town. They may fix the assize of bread, ale &c. They shall not be amenable to the Court of the whole Lordship of Glamorgan and Morganwg. They shall have their own Town Prison. They shall have a fair for a fortnight at Midsummer, at which the Constable shall daily hold the Court of Piepowder; and during that fortnight no merchant shall buy or sell, from the Rhymny to Pwll Canau, except at the fair. And the Burgesses shall have another fair, lasting two days (7 and 8 September) at the feast of the Nativity of our Lady. Ordinary pleas and plaints shall be tried in the Hundred Court of the town. The Constable shall hold the Town Court every fortnight, and he shall be Mayor of Cardiff.

Charter VI., 1358, is from Edward le Despenser, Lord of Glamorgan and Morganwg, and is confirmatory of the last.

Charter VII., 1359, is a confirmation by King Edward the Third of the Royal Charter of 1324.

Charter VIII., 1397, is from Thomas le Despenser, Lord of Glamorgan and Morganwg, to the Burgesses of Cardiff. It confirms that of 1358, and adds that pleas of forestall and homesoken (which the prior Charter had reserved to the Lord) shall in future be tried in the Town Court.

Charter IX., 1400, is a confirmation by King Henry the Fourth of the Royal Charter of 1359.

Charter X., 1421, is granted by Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Worcester, Lord le Despenser and of Burgavenny, Lord of Glamorgan and Morganwg, to the Cardiff Burgesses. It first confirms the Charter of 1397, and then provides that townsmen accused of felony shall be tried by their fellow citizens, at the Sheriff's Court of Glamorgan. Any Burgess charged with felony in the Court of one of the Members of the Lordship of Glamorgan and Morganwg, may be tried in the County Court of the entire Lordship; the jury to consist of six Burgesses of Cardiff and six out of the vicinage of the Lordship. The Constable of the Castle is to be Mayor of the Burgh. Twelve of the Burgesses shall be chosen, and sworn before the Lord, to govern the Municipality; these twelve are to be called Aldermen. Every Michaelmas the Aldermen and Burgesses are to choose four Portreves, out of whom the Constable shall select two to be Bailiffs of the Borough for the ensuing year. They are also to elect two Serjeants-at-Mace. The Bailiffs and Serjeants shall be sworn before the Constable to govern well the Burgh and to levy the tolls for the Lord. On the death of any Alderman, a successor is to be elected as above.

Charter XI., 1423, is a confirmation by Isabel la Despenser of the Charters of 1397 and 1421. It is known only by its recital in that of Elizabeth.

Charter XII., 1451, was granted by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, Lord le Despenser of Glamorgan and Morganwg. It confirms the Inspeximus of 1423, and goes on to concede to the Burgesses of Cardiff, as a reward for their having repaired the defences of the town, that the Town Court, presided over by the Constable and Bailiffs, shall have very extended powers of both civil and criminal jurisdiction, in matters affecting the inhabitants—even where such matters arise outside the Liberties. Also that no settler within the Liberties can be sued elsewhere than in the Town Court.

Charter XIII., 1452, is a confirmation by King Henry the Sixth of the Royal Charter of 1400.

Charter XIV., 1465, is a confirmation by King Edward the Fourth, of the last-named Charter.

Charter XV., 1477, by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Constable and Admiral of England, Lord of Abergavenny, Glamorgan and Morganwg, confirms the last-named Charter, and further grants to the Burgesses, at their special request, that the Bailiffs shall have power to "order and place" the Royal and Hundred Courts to be holden within the town on Thursdays; and that the Burgesses may, in the absence of one of the Bailiffs, for the time being appoint one of the four Prevosts to occupy his place in the Court. (fn. 1)

Charter XVI., 1581, is granted by Queen Elizabeth immediately to the Mayor and Bailiffs of Cardiff, without reference to the Lord of Cardiff Castle, the successor of the Lords of Glamorgan and Morganwg. It simply confirms all former Charters, and is known by its recital in the next.

Charter XVII., 1600, is a Royal Exemplification of the lastnamed Charter, granted by Elizabeth at the request of Thomas Bassett, gentleman.

Charter XVIII., 1608, is granted by King James the First to the Bailiffs, Aldermen and Burgesses of Cardiff, at the request of William, Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Cardiff Castle. The operative part of this document begins by declaring that Cardiff shall be a free town, governed by a Corporation, to be termed " The Bailiffs, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Town of Cardiff in the county of Glamorgan," with a Common Seal. It provides for the election of the two Bailiffs from the twelve Aldermen, and also for the election of twelve Capital Burgesses, to assist the Bailiffs in the Common Council. The Corporation may enforce its laws by fines and imprisonment. It may have a man of law, to be named the Steward (now Recorder), to assist the Bailiffs and Aldermen in the Town Court, to hold office during their good pleasure. The Constable, Bailiffs, Steward and Senior Alderman shall be Justices of the Peace, and they or any three of them (to include always the Constable and the Senior Bailiff) shall have full powers as a Court of Justice within the Borough—the origination of the Borough Quarter Sessions. The Bailiffs shall be Coroners and Escheators for the Borough. The Burgesses may hold a fair on Saint Andrew's Eve and on the feast (30 November), together with a Court of Piepowder and all other incidents of the said fair, but without prejudice to neighbouring fairs or marts. The Bailiffs are to hold the Court of Record for the Town every alternate Thursday. All former grants of privileges are confirmed in general terms.

Charter XIX., 1687, was granted by King James the Second. The original has long been lost, the last indication of its whereabouts being a note among the Memoranda of Town Clerk Wood, made 1825, to the effect that it was preserved with the other muniments of the Corporation in 1712. This Charter having been granted by the King but shortly before he left the country, it was not acted upon for many years after its date, and was commonly held to be void. It appears to have been gradually brought into operation during the second quarter of the eighteenth century, perhaps because it supported the claims of the Lord of Cardiff Castle, who at that time was strengthening his hold over the Corporation. This Charter contains little more than an almost verbatim reiteration of that of James the First. The most important addition is that the Charter of 1687 allows the Deputy Constable of Cardiff Castle to be ex officio a Justice of the Peace for the Borough—which practically enabled the Lord of Cardiff Castle to exercise the Royal prerogative of creating a Justice—and expressly provides that every high official of the Corporation shall be sworn before either the Constable or his Deputy. It establishes a fair on the 17th of April (which, however, has never been kept) and directs that the fairs shall be held in Saint Mary Street only; also that the Town Court shall always be holden before the Steward, whether the Bailiffs preside or not. This article was also never observed. James the Second's Charter reserves to the King power to remove any member or high official of the Corporation by an Order of the Privy Council; and finally, it saves to the Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Cardiff Castle, and to his heirs, all in general the rights and privileges used by his predecessors.

It should be recorded here that, in 1890, G. T. Clark, Esq., of Talygarn, (fn. 2) generously caused the original Charters to be repaired at his own expense. Also that, at the same date, the Marquess of Bute was so good as to present to the Corporation four Charters which were in his possession, namely, those of Edward III., Henry IV., Henry VI. and Edward IV. These Royal Charters, having been granted in the first place to the Lord of Glamorgan and Morganwg, had all along been in the hands of the Lords of Cardiff Castle. The late Lord Bute had presented translations of them to the Corporation, sealed with his armorial seal. The Charters belonging to the Corporation were for a long time in a very neglected state, being all rolled up together in a round tin box. It is said they were at one time kept in the tower of Saint John's Church. They had been deprived of their seals, by some gentleman with a zest for collecting curiosities, probably at the commencement of the nineteenth century or close of the preceding. Some of the Charters were translated for Mr. Clark by an official of the British Museum, and published in the "Cartae et alia Munimenta Glamorganiae" in 1891. These translations are not entirely free from inaccuracies, notably in the case of the Charter of 1340, where the bounds of the Burgesses' Liberties are misrepresented, through an obvious misreading of the original, "in parte australi" being rendered "at the east gate," instead of "on the east."


  • 1. This Charter is known only by a translation.
  • 2. News of the death of this eminent archæologist comes to hand as these pages are going through the press.