When Laugharne Corporation was created way back in 1290 it must have seemed like Christmas for the ordinary people of the place. They were now free men, they could elect their own leader – hundreds of years before this happened in the rest of Britain – and they shared in the use and ownership of the Corporation’s lands and properties.

Such was the quality of the Charter that set up these provisions that the Corporation has survived throughout history right up to the present day. I am proud to be a present-day member – a burgess – of the Corporation and to be the son of a former elected leader – a Portreeve – of the Corporation.

G Bryan, October 2010

Historic Events leading up to Laugharne's Charter

There has been much speculation regarding Guy de Bryan's motives in granting Laugharne it's Charter. Whilst it may never be possible to fully understand them, it is perhaps worth looking at the events of the time to see if or how they might have influenced his thinking.

5th Century
Since the departure of the Romans from Britain in the 5th Century, England was ruled by the descendants of the Angles and Saxons (the Welsh word for English people sais is derived from Saxon) and Wales was ruled by the Welsh kings and princes. Then, in 1066, everything changed.

1066 the Norman Conquest
When King Harold of England was defeated by the Norman King William at Hastings, life changed forever for the people of Britain. The Normans introduced the feudal system into England, whereby the King granted tenure of counties to his nobles in return for services at court, the provision of military forces (Knights) or whatever. This filtered right down to manorial level where strips of land would be granted to tenants in return for produce or services such as so many days of ploughing a year.

Wales was regarded as a large, empty, hostile country to the West of England. The Normans sought to bring it under control by treaties with the Welsh princes and by establishing Marcher Lordships. These were more closely controlled areas under the power of Norman Lords and covered areas of strategic importance - not just the borders with England but also the ports and routes of communication to Ireland.

Not surprisingly, after some 500 years of independence, the Welsh Princes were not too thrilled with this new colonising power and from time to time when circumstances became too intolerable they would rebel against their Norman overlords. The Prince Rhys ap Grufydd who had met Henry II at Laugharne Castle on Henry's return from Ireland in 1172, overthrew Laugharne and Llanstephan Castles when Henry died in 1189.

In 1215 Laugharne Castle was again taken from the Norman Crown by Llewelyn the Great (Llewelyn ap Iorwerth) after he had fallen out with King John. Llewelyn allied himself with the barons who forced King john to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. The following year Laugharne Castle was rebuilt by Sir Guy de Bryan (which would account for the Flemish styling).

Dafydd ap Grufydd rebelled against the Normans, was captured, and a year later executed at Shrewsbury.

The Statute of Rhyddlan extended the rule of English Law to the Counties of Wales - but this did not include the strategically important Marcher Lordships who retained their own autonomy and could choose English or Welsh Laws to settle disputes.

Rebellion in South Wales was suppressed by the following year.

Guy de Bryan gives Laugharne its Charter which effectively provides self determination for the inhabitants.

It is easy to forget that, in the days before rail and road, Laugharne was part of a strategically important communications route. It had a commercial and military significance. The hundred years leading up to the grant of the Charter had been a period of rebellion, war and political instability.

Was this the deciding factor in Sir Guy's grant of the Charter? Was he trying to shield Laugharne from the worst excesses of the troubles by allowing self determination? Or was he trying to find a way for Laugharne to run its own affairs so that he could live elsewhere?

But these conflicts were not the only factors that might have influenced his thinking. Perhaps in same way that people living in war zones today become desensitised to its horrors, the people of Laugharne had other, more mundane, problems to consider.

I shall look next at the legal and financial concerns of the period and how these may have contributed to the outcome.