By the laws of Wales (Leges Wallicae), a harp was one of the three things that were necessary to constitute a gentleman, or a freeman; and none could pretend to that character who had not one of these favorite instruments, or could not play upon it. To prevent slaves from pretending to be gentlemen, it was expressly forbidden to teach, or to permit, them to play upon the harp; and none but the king, the king’s musicians, and gentlemen, were allowed to have harps in their possession. A gentleman’s harp was not liable to be seized for debt; because the want of it would have degraded him from his rank, and reduced him to that of a slave.
Popular Music of the Olden Time, Vol. 1
1859, reprinted Dover, 1965
Source: The Wire-Strung Harp