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Whitland, Carmarthenshire. Here, westward from St Clear's, you can turn South, on a minor road for Tavernspite and Red Roses, whose names make them almost irresistible. But Whitland may demand more attention, not because of any surviving architecture or outstanding importance in its present quiet life, but because it is associated with one of the greatest figures in Welsh history and one of his major acts of state.

Much has vanished from Whitland; it was the site of a Cistercian abbey, founded in 1143 after the Norman had made his presence felt and a knight called St Clare had founded St Clear's. Of the Abbey little now remains; the wars of Owain Glyndwr and the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII have effectively reduced it. But more than 200 years earlier a White House stood at Whitland the Ty Gwyn ar Daf, where Hywel the Good, King of Wales, summoned clergy and laymen to approve his codification of laws. This was in 930. Parliamentary practice as we know it, and the concept of democracy it represents, grew out of the medieval assemblies that agreed upon the laws by which communities should live. Whitland represents one of the earliest of such assemblies within Britain.

Hywel appeared when both Wales and England had barely survived the Viking onslaughts. In 871 only his grandfather, Rhodn the Great, and Alfred of Wessex had been able to hold their territories against the Scandinavian invasion. The work of Rhodri fell to pieces after his death, and Hywel is first known to history as a petty ruler of a district called Seisllwyg, in 909. He slowly created a united Wales. He is said to have visited Rome in 928. and he appears to have laid the foundations for reconciliation between the Church of Rome and Celtic Christianity.

The code of laws made by Hywel at Whitland range from regulation of duties and precedence at court to repudiation of trial by ordeal for proof of evidence, and of simple accusation for formal statement on oath: from mutilation of thieves to enforcement to suretyship. So great was their effect that the 14th section of the Statute of Rhuddlan by which Edward I sought to settle Welsh affairs expressly accepts Hywel's code as the basis for future law in Wales.

What has earned Hywel a significant place in history is his attitude to Anglo-Saxon England when, in 937, a determined attempt was made by a league of the Scandinavian and Celtic peoples in Strathclyde, Scotland, and in Brittany to obliterate it altogether. The schoolbook picture, popular in the 19th century, of the Northman raids as a series of lusty piratical incursions overlooked the importance of Britain as a point of strategic control over the North Sea area if it fell under the influence of the new Europe emerging after Charlemagne into unity once more, the independence of the Baltic peoples was directly threatened. The question remained undecided until in 1066 William the Conqueror succeeded at Senlac Hill in seizing Britain when Harald of Norway failed at Stamford Bridge. If Hywel had decided to join the combined assault on England. it is doubtful whether the Anglo-Saxon kingdom could have survived. But he thought in terms of the unity of law and religion that Wales and England shared as European peoples, and not in those of Teutonic paganism. His refusal to join the Celtic-Northman alliance made him the subject of bitter satire from the bards. Had his decision gone the other way, the whole history of Europe might have been changed and not necessarily for the better.

The triumph of Athelstan at Brunanburgh over the powerful confederacy of peoples that confronted him is entered by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 938, and celebrated in a song of rejoicing that is one of the greatest pieces of early English verse. But there is no international monument to Hywel at Whitland. Perhaps there should be one.

Of the White House to which Hywel summoned his learned men, it is said that it was first founded as a chapter house, for that is the real meaning of the name; in old Welsh “gwyn” is not only white but also noble. Probably it was so set up about the same time as the White House of Bangor, in A.D. 480. The learned Leland knew it only as a monastery of Cistercians established by Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of the South, about 1143. But then Leland was writing under the commission of Henry VIII, who was as little sympathetic to the Celtic Church as he was to the Church of Rome. The place was certainly known to Gerald de Barn, and the tale he tells of it is a commentary on the idea of justice in the 12th century. When travelling to it. he and his Bishop were told that a young man who had set out to meet them with the object of enrolling for the Crusade had been set upon and murdered. They found his body by the wayside, and their escort was able to lay hands on the twelve archers of the Castle of St Clear's who had slain him. Some feud between castle and castle was involved. But the Bishop was not concerned with that. He prayed for the soul of the murdered man; and the twelve archers, by way of penance and expiation, were signed on for the Crusade.

Nearby towns: Laugharne, Narberth, St Clears, Tenby

Nearby villages: Amroth, Begelly, Blaenwaun, Clynderwen, Crunwear, Cwmfelin Boeth, East Williamston, Gelliwen, Henllan Amgoed, Jeffreyston, Kilgetty, Lampeter Velfrey, Llanboidy, Llandissilio, Llandowror, Llanfallteg, Llanglydwen, Llangynin, Llansadurnen, Llanteg, Llanwinio, Llanycefn, Login, Ludchurch, Maenclochog, Marros, Meidrim, Pendine, Reynalton, Robeston Wathen, Saundersfoot, Stepaside, Tavernspite, Templeton, Wisemans Bridge

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