Tuesday 1 March 2016

Putting the record straight ...

From time to time we are asked to confirm or deny a rumour about the safety of the Welsh in Chester - in honour of St David's Day we publish below the text of our longstanding stock reply ...

"Anyone who has lived in Chester for more than a couple of years will have heard the story that there is a law which allows anyone to use a bow and arrow to kill any Welshman found within the City after dark. As with all such tales, it is largely myth, but equally typically, there is a kernel of truth lurking at its heart.

At the beginning of the 15th century Cheshire and the Welsh borders were in ferment. In the year following Henry IV’s seizure of the throne in 1399, the Welsh rose in a rebellion which continued for several years. The situation was made much worse in the summer of 1403 when Henry Percy, up until then a loyal servant of the new king, joined the revolt and advanced south from Yorkshire, reaching Chester on 9 July. The rebels’ ranks were swollen by those loyal to the deposed King Richard II – rumours were rife that he was still alive – and an army of probably at least 14,000 men advanced towards Shrewsbury. Just north of the town they met the royal army on 21 July. The battle was long and savage but the royal army ultimately triumphed; Percy was among the dead. The work of pacification was not so easily achieved ...

On 4 September, just six weeks later, Henry Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester issued an order for the Mayor, Sheriffs and Alderman of the City to reduce the risk of trouble from dissident Welshman in Chester. Its provisions included the expulsion of all Welsh people – or people of Welsh extraction or sympathies – from within the walls and a ban on their entry before sunrise or their staying after sunset, “under pain of decapitation”, a ban on the carrying of arms by any Welshman, “apart from a knife to cut his dinner”, no Welsh person was to enter a tavern, and any gathering of three or more Welshmen was illegal.

So there was a ban on Welshmen staying in Chester, and severe restrictions on what they could do while in the City. But there is no suggestion of carte blanche for any citizen to take the law into their own hands, and certainly no reference to bows and arrows. As to the idea that the order is still in force, it is probably not the sort of edict which was formally repealed; more likely it was simply left to fall into disuse. Certainly, at the time of Perkin Warbeck’s rebellion in 1489 a similar order was issued to expel Welshmen and there was no suggestion that the earlier order was still “on the books”.

Whatever the case, the order as issued was part of the Palatinate jurisdiction of the Earldom of Chester, the last vestiges of which were abolished in 1830. So for at least the last 185 years, Welsh people have been able to sleep easy in their beds within the City!"

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