Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542

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Laws in Wales Act 1535
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Acte for Laws & Justice to be ministred in Wales in like fourme as it is in this Realme.
Citation27 Hen. 8. c. 26
Territorial extent Wales, Marcher Lordships
Royal assent14 April 1536
Repealed21 December 1993
Other legislation
Repealed byWelsh Language Act 1993
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted
Laws in Wales Act 1542
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Acte for certaine Ordinaunces in the Kinges Majesties Domynion and Principalitie of Wales.
Citation34 & 35 Hen. 8. c. 26
Territorial extent Wales, Marcher Lordships
Royal assent12 May 1543
Repealed3 January 1995
Other legislation
Repealed bySale of Goods (Amendment) Act 1994
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 (Welsh: Y Deddfau Cyfreithiau yng Nghymru 1535 a 1542) or the Acts of Union (Welsh: Y Deddfau Uno), were Acts of the Parliament of England under King Henry VIII of England, causing Wales to be incorporated into the realm of the Kingdom of England.

The legal system of England and the norms of English administration including the use of the English language only were applied to a mainly Welsh-speaking Wales. This created a single state and legal jurisdiction.

Before these Acts, Wales had already been legally annexed by England in 1284 and was excluded from parliamentary representation. Wales was divided between the Principality of Wales and many feudal statelets called the marcher Lordships which were effectively unified under the laws. The English county system was also extended across all of Wales.


After Henry VIII made himself the head of the Church of England in 1534, Wales was seen as a potential problem which included some ambitious men unhappy with ethnic disadvantage in Wales and frustrated with legal complexities. Wales had also been the landing ground for Henry VII and was close to Catholic Ireland.[1]

Chief administrator to the English crown Thomas Cromwell, brought forward Acts to unify Wales with England. The first of the Acts came in 1536 and was later strengthened by the Act of 1542/43.[1] The Acts aimed to integrate the legal, political and administrative systems of Wales with England and make English the language of the courts in Wales, which was a mainly Welsh speaking country at the time. The preamble of the Acts suggests that legal differences in Wales led to discontent, which the English establishment wished to end.[2]

The Acts were the result of a long process of assimilation.[2] Wales had been annexed by England, following the conquest by Edward I, under the Statute of Rhuddlan of 1284.[1]


The two acts have the long titles An Act for Laws and Justice to be ministered in Wales in like Form as it is in this Realm and An Act for Certain Ordinances in the King's Majesty's Dominion and Principality of Wales. Together they are known as the Acts of Union. The aim of the acts were to incorporate Wales into what Henry VIII of England saw as part of his Tudor Empire, with himself as sovereign ruler.[3]

The acts were not popularly referred to as the "Acts of Union" until 1901, when historian Owen M. Edwards assigned them that name.[4] This name is misleading and the legal short title of each Act has since 1948 been "The Laws in Wales Act". They are also often seen cited by the years they received royal assent, 1536 and 1543 respectively, although the official citation uses the preceding years, as each of these Acts was passed between 1 January and 25 March, at a time when New Year's Day fell on 25 March.[5][6][7]

The Laws in Wales Act 1535 was passed in 1536 in the 8th session of Henry VIII's 5th Parliament, which began on 4 February 1535/36,[5] and repealed with effect from 21 December 1993. Meanwhile the Act of 1542 was passed in 1543 in the second session of Henry VIII's 8th Parliament, which began on 22 January 1542/43.[5]


The act declared King Henry's intentions, that because of differences in law and language:[a]

  • (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;[a]

The Laws in Wales Act 1535 imposed English law and the English language upon the Welsh people and allowed Welsh representation in the English parliament.[8] These Acts also had many effects on the administration of Wales. The marcher lordships were abolished as political units, and five new counties were established on Welsh lands (Monmouthshire, Brecknockshire, Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and Denbighshire), thus creating a Wales of 13 counties;[9] Other areas of the lordships were annexed to Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Merionethshire;[10] 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.[11] Each county or shire consisted of fewer than a dozen hundreds corresponding with varying degrees of accuracy to the former commotes.[9]

Wales elected members to the English (Westminster) Parliament,[12] and the Council of Wales and the Marches was established on a legal basis.[13] The Court of Great Sessions was established, a system peculiar to Wales,[13][14] with a Sheriff appointed in every county, and other county officers as in England.[15] The courts of the marcher lordships lost the power to try serious criminal cases,[9][13] all courts in Wales were to be conducted in the English language, not Welsh,[16] and the office of Justice of the Peace was introduced, nine to every county.[9]


In the Welsh Principality, assimilation had already been greatly implemented and so the 1536 and 1542/43 Acts in reality brought some legal consistency across Wales, effectively extending the Principality to the Welsh Marches and ending use of Welsh law.[1]

The legal simplicity made it easier for the English crown to collect tax in Wales. After the conquest of Wales by Edward I, the counties of Anglesey, Caernarfonshire, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Flintshire and Merionethshire were added to by the formerly Marcher counties of Brecknockshire, Denbighshire, Glamorgan, Montgomeryshire, Pembrokeshire and Radnorshire. This also formed a legal border with England.[1]

Although the poor people of Wales may not have been aware of the laws, the measures were popular with the Welsh gentry who saw the Acts as bringing legal equality with English citizens.[1][17]: 67  The Acts were also seen by the gentry as reducing the influence of the marcher lords.[2]

English was made the legal language in Wales, which was symbolically unjust for the majority Welsh monoglot population. Although the centre of political power was England, the Welsh language remained the language of the people and the land.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Johnes 2019, p. 65–66.
  2. ^ a b c Gower 2013, p. 153–156.
  3. ^ Williams 1993, p. 124.
  4. ^ Davies 1990, p. 232.
  5. ^ a b c Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, L. (1986). Handbook of British Chronology. Royal Historical Society Guides & Handbooks. Vol. 2 (3rd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 573. ISBN 978-0-521-56350-5.
  6. ^ "Laws in Wales Act 1535". The National Archives. 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  7. ^ "Laws in Wales Act 1542". The National Archives. 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  8. ^ "Public Act, 27 Henry VIII, c. 26".
  9. ^ a b c d 34 & 35 Hen. 8 c. 26
  10. ^ 27 Hen. 8 c. 26
  11. ^ "Local Government Act 1972". The National Archives. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  12. ^ 34 & 35 Hen. 8 c. 26 s. 50
  13. ^ a b c Marches in Wales Act 1534 (26 Hen. 8 c. 6)
  14. ^ 34 & 35 Hen. 8 c. 26 § 4
  15. ^ Justice of the Peace (Chester and Wales) Act 1535 (27 Hen. 8 c. 5)
  16. ^ 27 Hen. 8 c. 26 s. 17
  17. ^ Johnes 2019.


  1. ^ a b The Laws in Wales Act 1535 (27 Hen. 8 c. 26)


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