The original charter of 1346 is lost but its text was cited again in the Charter of Inspection and Confirmation in 1424.
This was granted by Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, Lord Despenser, Lord of Glamorgan and Morgan, dated 20 October 1424. It recites and confirms four earlier charters, their contents are known only by recitals mentioned in 1424 and the Confirmation Charter was probably delivered due to the impact of the Black Death of the mid 14th century which took the lives of many of those original Burgesses of Llantrisant. It can be viewed here.
The earliest known Charters of the corporation was granted on 4 May 1346 by Hugh Despenser, Lord of Glamorgan. The next was granted by Edward Lord Despenser on 2 July 1358 and the third was granted by Thomas Lord Despenser on 18 February 1397, the great nephew of Edward Despenser. A final charter, granted by Richard Beauchamp came a decade after he married Isabel Despenser who became heir on the death of her brother.
None of these were royal charters but granted by Norman lords of Glamorgan. They held the sovereign rights in their marcher lordships and could not be arrainged for any crime other than high treason.
It has been argued that Gwrgan ab Ithel gave the lands of the Cymdda and Graig of Llantrisant to its burgesses before the coming of the Normans. In Taliesin Morgan’s history of the town he stated, “Amongst other privileges they had in their possession and control, long before the first charter was granted, rights of ownership over certain lands called the Cymdda or Ceimla and Graig.”
He traces those to several authors of an unknown Gwyr ap Rhydwal, Lord of Meisgyn in 1092 and a grant of Gwrgan ap Ithel. Although many of these claims were discredited as being the fables of iolo Morgannwg we can be certain that the rights of the commons were already established and ancient by the time of the 1346 charter. The commons were the most important of the burgesses privileges and one most jealously guarded.
In 1346 Hugh Despenser’s clerks set out in detail the existing privileges which he confirmed on the Burgesses of Llantrisant. We can be sure that from the inquisition taken at the death of Gilbert de Clare’s widow in 1307 there was a Hundred Court in existence.
However the opening preamble of the 1346 leaves room for controversy as to whether there was an earlier charter – “Know that we of our special grace have granted, and by this or present charter confirmed, to our beloved Burgesses of our town of Llantrisant that they and their successors should be free throughout all our domain, both in England and Wales and that they should have the same liberties as they were accustomed to have in the time of our ancestors, as our Burgesses of Cardiff have by our grant so that they should be free with their merchandise within our said domain and elsewhere.”
Furthermore Hugh the Younger’s confirmation Charter to Cardiff makes no mention of any earlier grant and yet earlier Cardiff charters existed. Llantrisant’s Charter came just six years after that of Cardiff and was the first in Glamorgan to receive one before Kenfig and Neath. This was possibly the case because it had never received a charter from the lord of Glamorgan since the days of conquest a century earlier; nor had its burgesses been included in the royal charter of 1324 releasing the burgesses of other Glamorgan boroughs from paying tolls throughout the realm.
We can be certain that by the time of the 1346 charter Llantrisant already had burgesses, a hundred court and all the necessary machinery in place for the government of the town.
A hundred years earlier in 1246 Richard de Clare created the military town of Llantrisant in the shadow of his castle and it is unlikely he could have relied for security on the natives of the Welsh lordship. Therefore he had to offer incentives for people to reside there. By using the town of Cardiff as his model many of the earlier burgesses of Llantrisant were probably Cardiff men. Cardiff itself had been based on the model of Tewkesbury.
Generally the presentment of a Charter took place after the petitions of the townsmen for which they would made a handsome payment. The granting of charters was a source of profit for the lord – in a sense a tax on the townsmen’s prosperity.
One of the most significant privileges enjoyed by the burgesses of Norman towns like Llantrisant was the absolute possession of their burgages, the equivalent of the freehold of today, which didn’t exist at a time when the land belonged to the king or in the case of Glamorgan to the Norman lord.
Not until the early 14th century had Llantrisant expanded to a size comparable with other Glamorgan boroughs and it was ready to receive the same liberties that Cardiff had enjoyed for years.
The Charter confirmed all its existing privileges among them including the right to hold a fair on August 1 every year.
It outlined a few elaborate details of government, except to make it plain that the Constable of the Castle was the lord’s chief officer, holding the hundred court every month and implementing the assize of bread and ale and that the reeve or bailiff was chosen from the entire body of burgesses.
It was at the hundred court they administered justice and the affairs of the borough independently of the lordship at large and of the manor of Clun adjoining the town. This hundred court would have been the principal guardian of their customary rights.