Council of Wales and the Marches

Council of Wales and the Marches

The Council of Wales and the Marches was a regional administrative body within the Kingdom of England between the 15th and 17th centuries, similar to the Council of the North. Its area of responsibility varied but generally covered all of modern Wales and the English counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.[1]


The 15th Century

The Council was initially responsible for governing the lands held under the Principality of Wales, the lands directly administered by the English crown following the Edwardian conquest of Wales in the 13th century.[2] It was first established in 1472 by Edward IV of England as a body to counsel and act on behalf of his son, the infant Edward, Prince of Wales. King Edward had recently been restored to the monarchy during the Wars of the Roses, and he and his allies controlled most of the marcher lordships within and adjoining Wales. He established his son at Ludlow Castle, and appointed his allies from the Woodville and Stanley families as leading figures in the Council.[3]

The 16th Century

The Council continued after the death of Edward IV and the disappearance of his son. Under Henry VII, the Council was responsible for acting on behalf of his sons as successive Princes of Wales, first Arthur and then Henry.

The second Laws in Wales Act of 1542 gave the Council statutory recognition; it had previously been based solely upon the king's prerogative. The full Council was composed of the Lord President and his deputy, with twenty members nominated by the king; these included members of the royal household, some of the bishops of Wales, and the justices of the Court of Great Sessions. It continued to sit at Ludlow, and had responsibilities for the whole of Wales together with the Welsh Marches. These were initially deemed to comprise Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire; the City of Bristol was exempted in 1562, and Cheshire in 1569.[4] Worcestershire unsuccessfully attempted to free itself in 1576, and the Council's authority over the English counties was relaxed in 1606 but restored by royal decree in 1609.[3]

The legislation which gave statutory recognition to the Council did not specify its role, but declared that the President and Council should have power to hear and determine "such Causes and Matters as be or heretofore hath been accustomed and used". However, its functions were interpreted widely. It was to hear all suits, civil and criminal, which were brought by individuals too poor to sue at common law; it was to try all cases of murder, felony, piracy, wrecking, and such crimes as were likely to disturb the peace; it was to investigate charges of misgovernment by officials and the false verdicts of juries; it was to enforce the laws against livery and maintenance, to punish rumour mongers and adulterers, and to deal with disputes concerning enclosures, villein service, and manorial questions; it heard appeals from the common law courts; and it was responsible for administering the legislation dealing with religion.[4] A leading figure was Sir Henry Sidney, President of the Council from 1560 to 1586. According to historian John Davies, at its peak under Sidney and for a period thereafter the Council "represented a remarkable experiment in regional government. It administered the law cheaply and rapidly; it dealt with up to twenty cases a day and George Owen stated that the 'oppressed poor' flocked to it."[3]

The 17th Century

The Council was abolished on 25 July 1689, following the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 which overthrew James II (VII of Scotland) and established William III (William of Orange) as king. According to Davies, "when the Council at Ludlow was abolished...there was very little protest in Wales. Instead, the Welsh gentry embraced London..."[3] Its abolition ultimately led to Ludlow Castle's dereliction.[citation needed]

Presidents of the Council

Vice-Presidents of the Council


  1. ^ J. A. Ransome, This Realm of England
  2. ^ William Searle Holdsworth, "A History of English Law," Little, Brown, and Company, 1912, pg. 502
  3. ^ a b c d John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1993, ISBN 0-140-28475-3
  4. ^ a b Welsh Joint Education Committee: The Council of Wales and the Marches

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