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Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542

Laws in Wales Act 1536
Long title An Acte for Laws & Justice to be ministred in Wales in like fourme as it is in this Realme
Citation 27 Henry VIII c. 26
Territorial extent Wales, Marcher Lordships
Repealed 21 December 1993
Other legislation
Repealed by Welsh Language Act 1993
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted
Laws in Wales Act 1542
Long title An Acte for certaine Ordinaunces in the Kinges Majesties Domynion and Principalitie of Wales
Citation 34 & 35 Henry VIII c. 26
Territorial extent Wales, Marcher Lordships
Repealed 3 January 1995
Other legislation
Repealed by Welsh Language Act 1993
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted
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The Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 (Welsh: Y Deddfau Cyfreithiau yng Nhgymru 1535 a 1542) were parliamentary measures by which Wales became a full and equal part of the Kingdom of England and the legal system of England was extended to Wales and the norms of English administration introduced. The intention was to create a single state and legal jurisdiction. The Acts were passed during the reign of King Henry VIII of England, who came from the Welsh Tudor dynasty.

Before these Acts, Wales was excluded from Parliamentary representation and divided between the Principality of Wales, and a large number of feudal statelets; the marcher lordships.

The Act declared the King Henry's intentions, that because of differences in law and language:[1]

"(4) some rude and ignorant People have made Distinction and Diversity between the King's Subjects of this Realm, and his Subjects of the said Dominion and Principality of Wales, whereby great Discord, Variance, Debate, Division, Murmur and Sedition hath grown between his said Subjects;
(5) His Highness therefore of a singular Zeal, Love and Favour that he beareth towards his Subjects of his said Dominion of Wales, minding and intending to reduce them to the perfect Order, Notice and Knowledge of his Laws of this Realm, and utterly to extirp all and singular the sinister Usages and Customs differing from the same, and to bring the said Subjects of this his Realm, and of his said Dominion of Wales, to an amicable Concord and Unity..."

- and therefore:

"That his said Country or Dominion of Wales shall be, stand and continue for ever from henceforth incorporated, united and annexed to and with this his Realm of England;"[1]


  • Names and dates of the Acts 1
  • Background 2
  • The Acts 3
  • Effects of the Acts 4
  • The Acts and the Welsh language 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8

Names and dates of the Acts

They are sometimes misleadingly known as the Acts of Union (Welsh: Y Deddfau Uno), but the legal short title of each Act since 1948 is "The Laws in Wales Act". They are also often seen cited by the year they received Royal assent, in 1536 and 1543 respectively, although the official citation uses the contemporary year in which the parliamentary session began. In the case of each of these Acts this date occurred between 1 January and 25 March, adding to the ambiguity in the dating because of the use at that time of the Julian or "old style" calendar.[2][3][4]


From the conquest of Pembroke, was made up of numerous small lordships, each with its own courts, laws and other customs.

When Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (descended from an Anglesey landowning family) seized the English throne in 1485, becoming Henry VII, no change was made to the system of governing Wales. But he remained concerned about the power of the Marcher Lords and the lawlessness and disorder in the Welsh Marches. To deal with this there was a revival of the Council of Wales and the Marches, which had been established in the reign of Edward IV. After the deaths of many of the Marcher lords during the Wars of the Roses, many of the lordships had passed into the hands of the crown.

Henry VIII did not see the need to reform the government of Wales at the beginning of his reign, but gradually he perceived a threat from some of the remaining Marcher lords and therefore instructed his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, to seek a solution. His solution was the annexation or incorporation of Wales which, along with other significant changes at the same time, led to the creation of England as a modern sovereign state.

The Acts have been known as the "Acts of Union", but they were not popularly referred to as such until 1901, when historian Owen M. Edwards assigned them that name[5] — a name some historians such as S. B. Chrimes regard as misleading, as the Acts were concerned with harmonising laws, not political union.

The Acts

This harmonisation was done by passing a series of measures between 1536 and 1543. These included:

  • An Acte for Laws & Justice to be ministred in Wales in like fourme as it is in this Realme (27 Henry VIII c. 26), was passed in 1536 in the 8th session of Henry VIII's 5th Parliament, which began on 4 February 1535/6,[2] and repealed with effect from 21 December 1993; and
  • An Acte for certaine Ordinaunces in the Kinges Majesties Domynion and Principalitie of Wales (34 and 35 Henry VIII c. 26), was passed in 1543 in the 2nd session of Henry VIII's 8th Parliament, which began on 22 January 1542/3,[2] and repealed with effect from 3 January 1995.

The first of these Acts was passed by a Parliament that had no representatives from Wales. Its effect was to extend English law into the Marches and provide that Wales had representation in future Parliaments.

The Acts were given their short titles by the Statute Law Revision Act 1948, s.5, sch.2.

Effects of the Acts

These Acts also had the following effects on the administration of Wales:

  • the marcher lordships were abolished as political units and five new counties (Monmouthshire, Brecknockshire, Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and Denbighshire) were established, thus creating a Wales of 13 counties;
  • other areas of the lordships were annexed to Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Merionethshire
  • the borders of Wales for administrative/government purposes were established and have remained the same since; this was unintentional as Wales was to be incorporated fully into England, but the status of Monmouthshire was still ambiguous in the view of some people until confirmed by the Local Government Act 1972.[6] For ecclesiastical (i.e. Church of England) purposes, several areas of England were part of Welsh dioceses until disestablishment of the Church in Wales in 1920, the area around Oswestry, Shropshire — part of St Asaph diocese — being the largest. (In 1920, those parishes falling wholly within England were transferred to English dioceses, though parishes partly in England and partly in Wales were allowed to elect either to remain in the Church of England or join the newly disestablished Church in Wales.)
  • Wales elected members to the English (Westminster) Parliament;
  • the Council of Wales and the Marches was established on a legal basis;
  • the Court of Great Sessions were established, a system peculiar to Wales;
  • a Sheriff was appointed in every county, and other county officers as in England.
  • the courts of the marcher lordships lost the power to try serious criminal cases;
  • the office of Justice of the Peace was introduced, 9 to every county;
  • each county or shire consisted of fewer than a dozen hundreds corresponding with varying degrees of accuracy to the former commotes.

These measures were not unpopular with the Welsh gentry in particular, who recognised that they would give them equality under law with English citizens. The reaction of many of the prominent Welsh of the day and down the centuries were very similar — gratitude that the laws had been introduced and made Wales a peaceful and orderly country.

It was only much later that some of the Welsh started to feel, in the words of A. O. H. Jarman, "that the privileges of

Despite historians such as G. R. Elton, who treated the Acts as merely a triumph of Tudor efficiency, modern British, and particularly Welsh, historians are more likely to investigate evidence of the damaging effects of the Acts on Welsh identity, culture, and economy. While the Welsh gentry embraced the Acts and quickly attempted to merge themselves into English aristocracy, the majority of the population could have found themselves adrift amid a legal and economic system whose language and focus were unfamiliar to them.

The Acts and the Welsh language

A sometimes selectively quoted example of the effects on the Welsh language is the first section of the 1535 Act, which states:

"...because that the People of the same Dominion have and do daily use a speche nothing like, ne consonant to the natural Mother Tongue used within this Realm, some rude and ignorant People have made Distinction and Diversity between the King's Subjects of this Realm, and his Subjects of the said Dominion and Principality of Wales, whereby great Discord Variance Debate Division Murmur and Sedition hath grown between his said Subjects;..."

The same section then goes on to say that:

"...all and singular Person and Persons, born and to be born in the said Principality Dominion or Country of Wales, shall have enjoy and inherit all and singular Freedoms Liberties Rights Privileges and Laws within this his Realm, and the King's other Dominions, as other the King's Subjects naturally born within the same have enjoy and inherit."

Section 20 of the 1535 Act made English the only language of the law courts and said that those who used Welsh would not be appointed to, or paid for, any public office in Wales:

"Also be it enacted by the Authority aforesaid,
That all Justices, Commissioners, Sheriffs, Coroners, Escheators, Stewards, and their Lieutenants, and all other Officers and Ministers of the Law, shall proclaim and keep the Sessions Courts Hundreds Leets Sheriffs Courts, and all other Courts in the English Tongue;
and all Oaths of Officers, Juries and Inquests, and all other Affidavits, Verdicts and Wager of Law, to be given and done in the English Tongue;
and also that from henceforth no Person or Persons that use the Welch Speech or Language, shall have or enjoy any manner Office or Fees within this Realm of England, Wales, or other the King's Dominion, upon Pain of forfeiting the same Offices or Fees, unless he or they use and exercise the English Speech or Language."

An effect of this language clause was to lay the foundation for creating a thoroughly Anglicised ruling class of landed gentry in Wales, which would have many consequences.

The parts of the 1535 Act relating to language were definitively repealed only in 1993, by the Welsh Language Act 1993, though annotations on the Statute Law Database reads that sections 18–21 were repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act 1887.


  1. ^ a b The Laws in Wales Act 1535 (A.D. 1535 Anno vicesimo septimo Henrici VIII c. 26)
  2. ^ a b c Fryde, Greenway, Porter & Roy, Handbook of British Chronology, Royal Historical Society Guides & Handbooks 2, 3rd Edn., University College, London 1986, p.573
  3. ^ "Laws in Wales Act 1535 (repealed 21.12.1993) (c.26)".  
  4. ^ "Laws in Wales Act 1542 (repealed) (c.26)".  
  5. ^ Davies, John (1990), A History of Wales, London, Penguin 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8, p232
  6. ^


  • Davies, John (1990), A History of Wales. London: Penguin 1994. ISBN 0-14-014581-8.
  • Williams, Glanmor (1993), Renewal and reformation : Wales, c.1415–1642. Oxford : Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285277-9.
  • Williams, W. Ogwen (1971), "The union of England and Wales". In A. J. Roderick (Ed.), Wales through the ages: volume II, Modern Wales, from 1485 to the beginning of the 20th century, pp. 16–23. Llandybïe : Christopher Davies (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-7154-0292-7.

External links

  • Raithby, John;
    • 27 Henry VIII c.26 An Act for Laws and Justice to be ministered in Wales in like Form as it is in this Realm
    • 34 & 35 Henry VIII c.26 An Act for certain Ordinances in the King's Majesty's Dominion and Principality of Wales
    scan) Google Books (Full text of the Acts as passed, from  
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