Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542

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Laws of Wales Act 1535
Long titleAn Acte for Laws & Justice to be ministred in Wales in like fourme as it is in this Realme
Citation27 Henry VIII c. 26
Territorial extent Wales, Marcher Lordships
Repealed21 December 1993
Other legislation
Repealed byWelsh Language Act 1993
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted
Laws in Wales Act 1542
Long titleAn Acte for certaine Ordinaunces in the Kinges Majesties Domynion and Principalitie of Wales
Citation34 & 35 Henry VIII c. 26
Territorial extent Wales, Marcher Lordships
Repealed3 January 1995
Other legislation
Repealed bySale of Goods Act 1994
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted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) were parliamentary measures by which Wales was annexed to the Kingdom of England, the legal system of England was extended to Wales and the norms of English administration were 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, and are sometimes referred to as the Acts of Union.

Before these Acts, Wales was excluded from Parliamentary representation and divided between the Principality of Wales and many feudal statelets called the marcher Lordships.

The Act declared 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[edit]

They are sometimes misleadingly known as the Acts of Union (Welsh: Y Deddfau Uno), but 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 this date was passed between 1 January and 25 March, at a time when New Year's Day fell on 25 March.[2][3][4]


From the conquest of Gwynedd in 1282–83 until the passing of the Laws in Wales Acts, the administrative system of Wales had remained unchanged. By the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 the territory of the native Welsh rulers had been broken up into the five counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon, Cardigan, Carmarthen, and Merioneth. Even though the five counties were subject to English criminal law, the "Principality" was the king of England's own personal fief and Welsh law continued to be used for civil cases. The rest of Wales, except for the county of Flint, which was part of the Principality, and the Royal lordships of Glamorgan and 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, though 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[edit]

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[edit]

These Acts also had the following 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;[6]
  • Other areas of the lordships were annexed to Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Merionethshire;[7]
  • 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.[8] For ecclesiastical (i.e. Church of England) purposes, several areas of England were parts of Welsh dioceses until disestablishment of the Church in Wales in 1920: the area around Oswestry, Shropshire — part of St Asaph diocese — was the largest. (In 1920, those parishes 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 to join the newly disestablished Church in Wales: 17 out of 18 voted to stay with the Church of England so there is a little area of England in the Church in Wales diocese of St Asaph, and larger areas of Wales still within Church of England dioceses.)
  • Wales elected members to the English (Westminster) Parliament;[9]
  • The Council of Wales and the Marches was established on a legal basis;[10]
  • The Court of Great Sessions was established, a system peculiar to Wales;[10][11]
  • A Sheriff was appointed in every county, and other county officers as in England;[12]
  • The courts of the marcher lordships lost the power to try serious criminal cases;[6][10]
  • All courts in Wales were to be conducted in the English language, not Welsh;[13]
  • The office of Justice of the Peace was introduced, nine to every county;[6]
  • Each county or shire consisted of fewer than a dozen hundreds corresponding with varying degrees of accuracy to the former commotes.[6]

These measures were popular with the Welsh gentry in particular, who recognised that they would give them equality under law with English citizens.[14]: 67  The reactions 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.[citation needed]

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[edit]

An 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 17 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 unless they used English when carrying out their work:

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.

This language clause laid the foundation for a thoroughly anglicised ruling class of landed gentry in Wales, which would have many consequences.

All remaining parts of the 1535 Act including those relating to language were definitively repealed in 1993, by the Welsh Language Act 1993, though annotations at read that sections 18–21 were repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act 1887. Most of the remaining parts of the 1542 Act were also repealed by the Welsh Language Act 1993, with the final remaining section 47 of the 1542 Act about market overt repealed by the Sale of Goods (Amendment) Act 1994.


  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 ed., University College, London 1986, p. 573
  3. ^ "Laws in Wales Act 1535 (repealed 21.12.1993)". The National Archives. 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  4. ^ "Laws in Wales Act 1542 (repealed) 3". website. The National Archives. 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  5. ^ Davies, John (1990), A History of Wales, London, Penguin 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8, p232
  6. ^ a b c d 34 & 35 Hen. VIII. c. 26.
  7. ^ 27 Hen VIII, c. 26.
  8. ^ "Local Government Act 1972". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  9. ^ 34 & 35 Hen. VIII. c. 26. § 50
  10. ^ a b c 26 Hen. VIII c.6
  11. ^ 34 & 35 Hen VIII, c. 26 § 4
  12. ^ 27 Hen. VIII, c. 5.
  13. ^ 27 Hen VIII, c. 26 § 17
  14. ^ Johnes, Martin (2019). Wales: England's Colony?: The Conquest, Assimilation and Re-creation of Wales. Parthian. ISBN 978-1912681419.


External links[edit]