Dr Sara Elin Roberts

Visiting Lecturer in Medieval History

(Email: sara.roberts@chester.ac.uk)

I am a historian specialising in the law, literature and culture of Wales and the March from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. In particular I am interested in questions of gender, governance, power and identity in post-Conquest Wales and the March, as well as in the manuscript culture that lay behind the extraordinary dissemination of medieval Welsh legal texts between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries. I have also worked extensively on the poetry of the fourteenth-century Welsh poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym.

 

 

Qualifications

BA (Wales), M. St. (Oxford), D. Phil (Oxford), FHEA, FRHistS

Overview

My determination to study Welsh law was sparked by a joke from my undergraduate supervisor to the effect that Welsh law was sorely neglected because only the brave (or foolhardy) would dare tackle it. I was hooked: the rest is history – specifically Welsh legal history. The medieval law of Wales, Cyfraith Hywel, is such a rich source for getting to grips with Welsh society and its relationship with the outside world in the central medieval period that working on this topic has led me into so many exciting areas of research, teaching and publications, from women’s rights in medieval Wales to the power struggles of the Wars of the Roses.

I studied for my BA in Welsh and History at Bangor University, before moving to St Hugh’s College Oxford for my Masters and Jesus College Oxford for my D.Phil, during which time I studied under Professor Thomas Charles-Edwards and the late Professor Sir Rees Davies. After completing my doctorate I spent four years in Aberystwyth as a research assistant on Swansea University’s Dafydd ap Gwilym project. This ambitious project re-examined the work of the most important poet in Wales and, arguably, Europe in his day, and spawned a brand-new edition of his poetry (available at www.dafyddapgwilym.net). After that, I held a lectureship in the School of Welsh at Bangor University, and then a Welsh Medium Teaching Fellowship in the School of Law at Bangor.

I joined Chester as a Visiting Lecturer in 2012, and I divide my time between Chester and Anglesey, where I live with my husband and two young children.

Teaching

I contribute to the teaching of the following undergraduate modules:

  • Europe and the Wider World: Turning Point in History 1000-2000
  • The Mystery of History
  • Debates in History
  • The Crusades

Research

My research takes an interdisciplinary approach to medieval Welsh history, using the many surviving lawtexts, in Welsh and Latin, to illuminate life and society in late medieval Wales and the March. Ranging across social, cultural, political and intellectual history, my investigation of the law-texts not only sheds light on the activities of the intellectual elite (lawyers, churchmen, poets, etc), and their participation in a precocious native literary culture, but also gets at the preoccupations and mentalities of the ordinary people of medieval Wales.

I am currently working on several projects that bring these interests together. Within the field of Welsh law I am working on a full examination of the neglected and rather misunderstood ‘additional material’ in the law manuscripts and their contribution to the make-up of the law texts as a whole. Linked to that project, I am also looking at the law, legal texts and society of the March of Wales after the Edwardian Conquest of Wales of 1282. I am also working on a wide ranging project, provisionally entitled ‘Truth and Power: Oaths, Testimony and Witnesses’, which examines the relationships between people, legal participation, power and forms of control in medieval Wales and the March, by through an exploration of oaths, witnesses and legal testimony. In April 2015 Dr Rachel Swallow and I ran a major conference on the medieval northern March here at Chester, the very gateway to the northern March. The proceedings of that event will be published in due course.

In addition to my work on Welsh law and medieval law in general I have also begun an investigation of English power in Wales, and the devolution of that power, in the period between the Glyndŵr Rebellion (1400-1415) and Henry VIII’s Acts of Union (1536). This project involves an awareness of the dynamic interconnection between the two nations in this turbulent period, taking into account both sides of the conflict and the key players, as well as the broader European framework in which England and Wales went head to head. Questions of monarchy, the concept of power, and societal development during this period are also explored. Already this research has led to the publication of Jasper: The Tudor Kingmaker in 2015.

I am the Secretary of Seminar Cyfraith Hywel, a Council Member of the Honourable Society of the Cymmrodorion, and a member of the Selden Society, The Welsh Legal History Society, the Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club, and of Cymdeithas Morrisiaid Môn (an academic society focusing on Welsh culture and literature). I am also responsible for the Welsh law website, www.cyfraith-hywel.org.uk.

 

Published work

Monographs and Major Works:

Archwilio Cymru’r Oesoedd Canol: Testunau o Gyfraith Hywel [Exploring Medieval Wales: Law Texts from Cyfraith Hywel] (Texts and Studies in Medieval Welsh Law IV, 2015)

Jasper: The Tudor Kingmaker (Fonthill, 2015)

www.cyfraith-hywel.org.uk

Llawysgrif Pomffred: An Edition and Study of Peniarth MS 259B (Brill, ‘Medieval Law and its Practice Series’, 2010).

www.dafyddapgwilym.net  and Cerddi Dafydd ap Gwilym (UWP, 2010).

The Legal Triads of Medieval Wales (University of Wales Press, July 2007; 2nd ed January 2011).

Other publications (selected):

‘The Welsh Legal Triads’ (London, Selden Society, 2015). Also published as ‘The Welsh Legal Triads’ in T. G. Watkin (ed), The Welsh Legal Triads and Other Essays (The Welsh Legal History Society Volume XII, Bangor, 2015), 1-22.

‘More Plaints in Welsh Medieval Law’, Studia Celtica 48 (2014), 171-199.

‘The Iorwerth Triads’, Tome: Studies in Medieval Celtic History and Law in Honour of Thomas Charles-Edwards, ed. Fiona Edmunds and Paul Russell (Boydell and Brewer, 2011), 155-74.

‘‘Gwreic wyf fi’: Transition to Womanhood in Medieval Wales’, in Middle-Aged Women in the Middle Ages, ed. S. Niebrzydowski, (Boydell and Brewer, 2011), 25-36.

“‘By the authority of the Devil”: the operation of Welsh and English Law in Medieval Wales’, Authority and Subjugation in Writing of Medieval Wales ed. Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 85-97.

In preparation:

Forthcoming: ‘‘How many and how great have been the dangers and the inconveniences that he has endured in keeping us safe’: Jasper, the Kingmaker’, in Unexpected Heirs in Early Modern Europe ed. Valerie Schutte (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)

Forthcoming: ‘The Welsh Laws’ in K. Hurlock and E. Cavell (ed), A Companion to Medieval Wales (Brill, 2016)

Forthcoming: ‘The Long and the Short of It: Additional Material and Tails in Medieval Welsh Law’.

In Preparation: ‘Textual Development of the Welsh Laws – the Evidence of the Triads’.

In Preparation: ‘Creating the Ancient Laws – Aneurin Owen and the Welsh Law Manuscripts’.

In Preparation: ‘Siasbar Hir: y Beirdd a Siasbar Iarll Penfro’ [A study of the poetry to Jasper Earl of Pembroke]