Something may have occurred to prompt the burgesses of Llantrisant to petition for a charter. It might have been an excess of burgess’ pride but more likely it was following some dispute arising from the interpretation of the custom. Quite possibly it was the abuse of a clause forbidding non burgesses from trading within the town without paying for the privilege.
It is also worth considering that Despenser was under pressure in February 1346 to raise troops for Edward IIIs army in France and may have impressed the townsmen to join his army. He wouldn’t have had the right to impress them for overseas service if the custom had been as the charter declared: “..and that the same our burgesses should not be constrained to leave the ancient liberties of our said town against their will for any reason.” However, Despenser certainly wanted to win favour with the burgesses of Llantrisant if their reputation as trained longbowmen was true.
Some of the privileges listed include:
- Burgesses shall be free throughout the Lord’s domain, and Wales and shall continue to enjoy the liberties they have been accustomed to have
- Burgesses shall be free to trade with their merchandise and foods, within the Lord’s domain and elsewhere, free from tolls and various other named dues.
- Burgesses may bequeath they burgages, both tenement and rents, from whomsoever they wish
- Burgesses shall not be constrained to pay beyond their ancient liberties and abounds, against their will.
- Burgesses shalt not be receivers of the Lord’s monies, only those arising from the bailiwick of the Reevship, but burgesses shall keep a stall, shop or tavern.
- Burgesses may form a guild amongst themselves, for their own profit.
- Burgesses may not be distrained for another’s debt, unless they had stood as surety
- The lords bailiffs may not distrain or summons, this may be done only by the Constable of Llantrisant Castle or by Bailiffs chosen by the Burgesses
- Merchants may not pass through boroughs, except by the king’s highway, so that the lord may not lose his tolls
- No burgess who can find bail may be imprisoned, except for the felony of stolen good or an offence again the lord
- In all inquests relating to property, the inquisitors are to be inhabitants of the borough.
- Burgesses may not be called upon to watch or guard any fugitives taking refuge in a church outside the town walls.
- Burgeses, through the lord’s constable, may make proclamations of the assize of bread and ale and other ordinances.
- The constable may hold hundred courts, monthly of all pleas and complaints, except the pleas of the crown and certain others.
- The witnesses of the charter amongst many others were mainly substantial men of the county led by the Sheriff at the time, Sir Matthew le Soor, Lord of St Fagans and Peterson. Amongst the knights was a Welshman, Sir Thomas ap Aaron. The two local welsh witnesses were Llywelyn Fychan ap Llywelyn ap Cynwrig, Lord of Radyr and Madoc ap Dafydd,
The important aspects of the Charter stated that no burgess could be forced to leave the borough or if he was a new burgess he couldn’t be reclaimed by his former lord. A burgess wasn’t liable for service as a revenue collector for the lord outside the borough. He could not be distrained if he provided a pledge instead, unless it were in a case of felony or involving the lord himself and he need not serve on juries or assizes outside the borough.
Commercially the Charter emphasised the freedom of the burgesses to trade throughout Despenser’s estates without paying tolls and further underlined the exclusiveness of Llantrisant’s trading position in the upper Ely Valley. A guild was to be established and the trade of the neighbourhood placed in the market place so that visiting merchants could buy and sell there on market and fair days and pay profitable tolls for the privilege.
The Charter was a recognition of Llantrisant’s achievement; it may also have been intended to protect the borough in an age of economic uncertainty. The only later addition of significance came from Edward Lord Despenser on 2 July 1358 when he allowed the burgesses certain rights in his pasture and timber reserves within the lordships of Meisgyn and Glynrhondda and the use of his mills in Meisgyn.
It could be argued that the lord of Glamorgan presented he charters to help his own failing fortunes by formally confirming his boroughs in return for payment liberties which were in danger of falling into disuse.
There were byelaws and ordinances for the administration of the town. The charter granted the powers for their making: “We have also granted to our burgesses that they may, by ordinance of our said Constable, freely make ordinances and proclamations of the assize of bread and ale and of other matters touching the said town whenever it shall be necessary, for the improvement of the town and the profit of the people, so that there shall be no proclamations of laws which have been made at any time within our county court of Glamorgan, we desire also that from henceforth our Constable of Llantrisant should hold all hundred courts of the town from month to month for all pleas and suits both hue and cry and bloodshed as well as tresspass, debt covenant as well as other diverse contracts, excepting please of the Crown, forestalling and homespoken and pleas of land.”
The hundred court of the town would have originally been fortnightly and conducted all the necessary regulations of town life as well as dispensing justice in most minor civil and criminal matters. Over time this court lost much of its jurisdiction to the county magistrates and quarter sessions. In Elizabethan times the Portreeve acted as a magistrate within the borough but ost that jurisdiction by 1800.
By the 18th century a body of alderman was in being, elected mainly on an hereditary basis. The alderman soon became a self-perpetuating oligarchy and there is ample evidence that the hereditary principle was an important one in the election of Llantrisant alderman.
The extent of the town is defined in the area which we now refer to as Beating the Bounds within which they had total municipal control of their own affairs. By defining the boundaries of those liberties from Llwyncrwn in the north to Brynrhydd (Lanelay Fach) in the south.
The 1424 Charter was actually recovered by the Llantrisant Corporation from London during the mid 1860s according to Clerk Taliesin Morgan. In May 1949 it was placed with the Glamorgan Record Office.
With thanks to J. Barry Davies, author of “The Five Hamlets of Llantrisant” and “The Freedom & Ancient Borough of Llantrisant”.