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National Library of Wales
Caernarfon court rolls

Reference code(s): GB 0210 CRNROLLS

Held at: National Library of Wales

Title: Caernarfon Court Rolls

Short Title: Caernarfon court rolls

Creation date(s): 1361-1402

Level of description: Fonds.

Extent: Fifty membranes (1 box)

Name of creator(s): Caernarfon Borough


Administrative/Biographical history: The borough of Caernarfon was founded in 1284 as the centre of Edward I's administration of the newly conquered Principality of Wales. Most of the population of the town was Welsh, but they were prevented from being burgesses. Real political authority was held by the English burgesses, who exercised a degree of administrative independence: the town elected its own bailiffs every year to preside over its own courts; the sheriff of the county of Caernarfon could not interfere in its affairs; and it commonly retained the proceeds of the courts and other revenues in exchange for a fixed annual payment, although the privilege was good only for a term of years and, if renewed, might entail a higher payment. The burgesses could not elect their own mayor, that position being held ex officio by the Constable of the Castle, but he played little practical part in town government, and the burgesses seem to have carried on their government without the aid of bodies such as the common councils and aldermen which boroughs in England generally required. Justice was administered by four courts: the Great Tourn, the Town Court, the Court of the Fairs, and the Court of Piepowder. The Great Tourn was held before the town bailiffs, who in fact were the chief municipal officers, elected by the burgesses from among themselves every year at Michaelmas. It was held twice a year, commonly in March or April and in September, and was concerned both with police business (such as assaults and affrays, thefts and offences in regard to weights and measures) and with matters affecting the liberties and property of the town. The jury at the Tourn was generally comprised of the chief burgesses. The Town Court was supposed to be held every three weeks, and dealt with ordinary civil suits for trespass, debt, common assault and the like. It, too, was presided over by the bailiffs and appears to have had a jury. By the later fourteenth century it was increasingly acquiring the competence to deal with offenders under the Assize of Bread (originally reserved to the court of Ponderacio Panis), dating from 1324 and 1325, which was intended to secure an adequate supply of provisions for the town and to ensure that necessaries were sold at reasonable prices and were of satisfactory quality. The Court of the Fairs exercised jurisdiction over the four fairs that were held each year (on 6th May, 25th July, 29th September and 25th November) from 1351 - previously there had been only two. The court was held before the bailiffs a day or two after each fair to deal with contracts, debts, trespasses, non-payment of toll and other matters relating to traders at the fairs, and, as at the Town Court and the Tourn, a jury was used when necessary. A similar jurisdiction was exercised in the Court of Piepowder, which was tenable on any market day; a market was held every Saturday, but the court did not necessarily sit that often. The relation of this court to the Court of the Fairs is not altogether clear, as it appears that the Court of the Fairs could sometimes count as a Piepowder Court. Both of these courts presented opportunities for settling matters in which travellers from a distance (Latin pede pulverizato, French pied-poudreux: 'dusty of foot') were concerned, and the procedure was relatively speedy so that such people might not be delayed in the town. Nevertheless, it is clear that dwellers in the town also made use of these courts.


Scope and content/abstract: Court rolls (town courts, piepowder courts, courts of the fairs, and great tourn courts), 1361-1402, of the borough of Caernarfon. The rolls were transcribed and translated (with an an introduction) by Gwilym Peredur Jones and Hugh Owen, in Caernarvon Court Rolls 1361-1402 (Caernarvonshire Historical Society Record Series No. 1; Caernarfon, 1951).


Language/scripts of material: Latin.

System of arrangement: Arranged chronologically following the pattern adopted in Gwilym Peredur Jones and Hugh Owen (editors), Caernarvon Court Rolls 1361-1402 (Caernarvonshire Historical Society Record Series No. 1; Caernarfon, 1951). Records of a particular court (town, piepowder, fairs, and great tourn) are contained together, for successive sessions, on each roll (see file level description for detailed list).

Conditions governing access: Readers consulting modern papers in the National Library of Wales are required to sign the 'Modern papers - data protection' form.

Conditions governing reproduction: Usual copyright regulations apply.

Physical characteristics: Repaired and flattened at NLW in 2008. The writing on some of the membranes is badly stained, faint, and illegible in parts. Portions of some of the membranes have been lost.

Finding aids:


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information: All records donated to the National Library of Wales have been retained.

Accruals: Accruals are not expected.

Archival history: Hugh Owen discovered the rolls in 1931 in a spare room in the office of an Anglesey solicitor. Together with Dr Gwilym Peredur Jones, he then set about editing them. This work was completed in 1950, and the rolls were then transferred to the National Library of Wales.

Immediate source of acquisition: Donated by Mr Hugh Owen, Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, Anglesey, 1950.


Related material: Court rolls, 1392-1393, of the Three Weeks Court and of the Court of Piepowder for the borough of Caernarfon are in NLW, A. Ivor Pryce Deeds and Documents 1413-7; The main body of Caernarfon borough records is in the Caernarfon Record Office. A typescript copy of Caernarvon Court Rolls is included among the papers of Hugh Owen at NLW (Box 3).

Publication note: Gwilym Peredur Jones and Hugh Owen, ed., Caernarvon Court Rolls 1361-1402 (Caernarvonshire Historical Society Record Series No. 1; Caernarfon, 1951)


Note: Title supplied from contents of fonds.

Archivist's note: Compiled by David Moore for the ANW project and updated by Alwyn J. Roberts. The following source was consulted in the compilation of this description: Gwilym Peredur Jones and Hugh Owen, ed., Caernarvon Court Rolls 1361-1402 (Caernarvonshire Historical Society Record Series no. 1; Caernarfon, 1951).

Rules or conventions: This description follows ANW guidelines based on ISAD(G) second edition, AACR2, and LCSH.

Date(s) of descriptions: January 2003; updated August 2010.

Boroughs | Law and legislation | Wales | Caernarfon
Boroughs | Wales | Caernarfon
Court records | Wales | Caernarfon

Personal names

Corporate names
Caernarvon (Wales : Borough)

Caernarfon (Wales)

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