Medieval manuscript The Laws of Hywel Dda back from USA sold for £541,250

It is believed the book was taken to America by Welsh settlers in the 1700s

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One of the first medieval manuscripts to be written in Welsh has been saved for the nation after being sold at auction for £541,250.

It is believed the 14th Century pocket book, called The Laws of Hywel Dda, was taken to America by Welsh settlers in the 1700s.

The buyer was the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The book was expected to fetch between £500,000 and £700,000 at Sotheby's.

The London auction house said it believed the Boston Manuscript, as it is known, was back in Britain for the first time in at least 150 years.

Hywel Dda laws

  • Marriage was considered an agreement, not a holy sacrament.
  • Divorce was permitted by common consent.
  • There was no punishment for theft - if the sole purpose was to stay alive.
  • Illegitimate children received the same rights as legitimate sons and daughters.
  • You were allowed to pick up three things if you found them in the road - a horseshoe, a nail and a penny.

It was sold by the Massachusetts Historical Society of Boston.

Tenth century Welsh ruler Hywel Dda (Hywel The Good) created the country's first uniform legal system.

A sense of fairness ran through the laws, including how they dealt with the rights of women.

'True treasures'

Andrew Green, Librarian, National Library of Wales, said: "The manuscript now adds an important part to the picture we have of this period and this subject and it will offer an opportunity, not only to scholars, but to children and people of all ages, to view this treasure."

The manuscript will go on show at the library from 23 July to 10 August before being rebound and digitised, for a copy which will be available online.

The HLF provided a grant of £467,000 towards the purchase.

Dr Manon Williams, chair of the fund's committee for Wales said: "This auction was a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring home one of Wales' true treasures and I'm delighted that we were able to act swiftly and provide the required funding to make it happen."

She added: "The National Library of Wales is the natural home for this rare manuscript and experts can now study, and interpret it ensuring it is better understood for the first time."

Dr Tim Bolton, a specialist in medieval manuscripts at Sotheby's, said the lot was the first of its kind to be auctioned for almost a century.

Unlike most other Welsh medieval manuscripts, the Boston Manuscript has handwritten additions which show it was used as a working law text.

It is much closer to the reality and practice of the law at the time, and the library believes it offers scope for important new research.

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