Hywel Dafi, or Hywel ap Dafydd ab Ieuan ap Rhys, was Guto’r Glyn’s opponent in two bardic debates, poems 18a and 18 and poems 20 and 20a. Little certain is known about him. The reason for this lack of knowledge is, very simply, that no-one has ever studied Hywel Dafi’s poems in detail. A few have been edited here and there, but a complete corpus has never been assembled. (Dr A.C. Lake is preparing an edition of his work at present, to be published in the Poetry of the Nobility Series.) For that reason neither Hywel’s exact floruit nor the full extent of his network of patrons has yet been determined. Johnston (2005: 254–5) provides the most recent treatment.
There are poems by Hywel from north Wales as well as south Wales, but he worked most in the South-east. He has a close association with the Herbert and Vaughan families: indeed, Guto accuses him of spending all his time at Raglan (poem 20), which is certainly an exaggeration. It is believed that Hywel came from Brycheiniog (Johnston 2005: 254n102).
Hywel Dafi’s dates cannot be determined until all of his works have been collected. His bardic debates with Guto’r Glyn belong most likely to the 1430s or 1440s. Morgan ap Rhosier, patron of poems 18a and 18, flourished 1417–47/8. Poems 20 and 20a can be dated before 1454 if it is true that William Herbert’s mother died in that year. WB Online gives his dates as fl. c.1450–c.1480.
Hywel Dafi’s poems are urgently in need of editing. As Johnston (2005: 254) notes, he is the ‘most important poet whose work has yet to receive a full study’. One reason for considering him a poet of significance is the large size of the corpus of poems attributed to him: 157 are listed in MCF. Even if up to half of these are duplications, as is commonly the case with the records in MCF, we may suggest that over 70 of Hywel Dafi’s poems survive. The handful which have been edited to date suggest a witty, intelligent, skilful and varied poet, one who practised a wide range of different genres. Also of importance is the fact that so many of his poems survive in his own hand in Pen 67 (Huws 2000: 97).
Huws, D. (2000), Medieval Welsh Manuscripts (Cardiff)
Johnston, D. (2005), Llên yr Uchelwyr: Hanes Beirniadol Llenyddiaeth Gymraeg 1300–1525 (Caerdydd)