Syr Rhys was a poet-priest who was associated with both Whittington (Y Dre-wen) in Shropshire and Carno in the commote of Cyfeiliog. Only four of his poems have survived. However, Maredudd ap Rhys states that Syr Rhys used a variety of metres and composed both love-poems and, possibly, poems of praise (GMRh 3.19–36). He was, like Maredudd ap Rhys and as his title suggests, a poet-priest and belonged to a class of poets who are known less for their solemn piety than for their humorous revelry (Johnston 2005: 46).
Two prophetic poems and two debate poems survive in the manuscripts. One of the poems of prophecy was politically motivated and seems to have been composed between October 1470 and March 1471, and the other, probably composed after 1463, focuses on sin (GMRh 14, 28.18n, 29.19–22n). As well as his satire on Guto (poem 101a), Syr Rhys also composed another far less biting satire on a group of men who refused to give him sheep in the commote of Cyfeiliog (GMRh poem 30; GDLl poem 73). One of the culprits was the poet Dafydd Llwyd of Mathafarn, who replied to Syr Rhys (GDLl poem 74). Dafydd argues that Syr Rhys owned his share of lambs and that he had already received from Dafydd a big woolly ram on whose sustenance both Syr Rhys and his wife had lived for a long time. The following reference to Guto in Dafydd’s poem shows that the debate between Syr Rhys and Dafydd was later than the debate with Guto c.1465. The identity of the Dafydd mentioned in the first line is unclear, yet it seems that he, like Syr Rhys, was dependent on others (ibid. 74.33–8):
Arfer Ddafydd, ddu herwr,
A’i wir gamp a ŵyr y gŵr,
Megis am y wledd, meddynt,
Iddo a wnâi’r Guto gynt.
Er a gâi fyth gorwag fu,
Ei gynneddf oedd oganu.
‘The man knows Dafydd’s custom,
dark outlaw, and his true exploit,
not unlike the feast, so they say,
that Guto provided for him of yore.
Regardless of how much he received he was never full,
his nature was to disparage.’
In their replies to Syr Rhys’s satire, both Dafydd Llwyd and Guto focus on his ingratitude, yet it is unlikely that their mockery should be taken too seriously. Maredudd ap Rhys’s sorrowful poem to Syr Rhys when he moved from the Marches to the commote of Cyfeiliog shows that poets valued his company, and although no satire by him on Dafydd ab Edmwnd has survived, it seems that he can also be counted as one of the poets who lampooned him in turn (GMRh poem 3). Indeed, Guto calls Dafydd [c]or Syr Rys ‘Syr Rhys’s dwarf’ (67.46), and he is called Syr Rhys’s gwas ‘servant’ in Gwilym ab Ieuan Hen’s satire on Dafydd (GDID XXIII.2 and cf. lines 11, 24, 50–2; 66.49–50). The meaning remains unclear. His association with both Dafydd Llwyd and the boisterous group of poets who frequented Mathafarn is alluded to in a series of debate poems between Dafydd and Llywelyn ap Gutun. In Dafydd’s first satire on Llywelyn, Syr Rhys is named as a priest who granted Llywelyn forgiveness for his extensive begging (GDLl 69.21–34; cf. GLlGt At.v):
Da a geir, rho Duw i gyd,
Heb ei ennill mae’n benyd.
A gasgal am farch malen
Ni thy’ mwy na gwenith hen.
Meddai Syr Rhys, modd syréw,
‘Mae pardwn i’r mab byrdew.
O Garno hyd ar Gornwel
I geinioca’r dyrfa y dêl,
Am golli’i farch diarchen
A dalai swllt, dulas, hen.’
Haws i werin, mae’n sarrug,
Holl Gymru dalu gwerth dug,
Na thalu, ’m Duw a Theilo
A Chadfarch, werth ei farch fo.
‘By God entirely, wealth received
that is not then produced is a penance.
He who gathers on a restless horse
does not grow anything but old wheat.
Said Syr Rhys, wicked manner,
“There’s pardon for the short, fat lad.
From Carno as far as Cornwall
he comes to beg from the crowd,
because he lost his old, unshod, blackish-blue horse,
that was worth a shilling.”
It’s easier for all the people of Wales (he’s surly)
to pay as much as a duke,
than paying, by God and St Teilo
and St Cadfarch, his horse’s worth.’
It seems that Syr Rhys pitied Llywelyn for losing his old decrepit horse, yet Dafydd argues the horse was in fact priceless as it allowed Llywelyn to amass so much wealth in every corner of Wales. Syr Rhys’s willingness to provide forgiveness for greediness is echoed by Syr Rhys himself in his poem on begging for sheep, in which he offers forgiveness for those who behaved in a miserly manner towards him (GMRh 30.55–8):
O dygan’, er eu digiaw,
Degwm treth dau gwmwd draw,
Mi farnaf gerbron Dafydd
Bardwn i’r rhain, burdan rhydd.
‘If they take, because they were angered,
the taxed tithe of two commotes yonder,
I’ll determine before David
a pardon for these, free purgatory.’
Syr Rhys’s profiteering from granting forgiveness as well as composing poetry seems to form the basis of much of both Dafydd Llwyd’s and Guto’s satires on him. Llywelyn composed a poem in reply to Dafydd’s satire and Dafydd then composed another poem (GLlGt poems 13 and At.vi). Llywelyn’s reply to Dafydd’s second poem contains two references to Syr Rhys. The first is rather obscure (GLlGt 14.21–4):
Rhoist werth o arwest wrthaw
I Syr Rhys i’th lys o’th law
Er cywydd o newydd nod
I gymell arnaf gymod.
‘You gave a musical payment next to him
to Syr Rhys from your hand in your court
for a poem with a new aim
to entice me into reconciliation.’
R.I. Daniel (GLlGt 14.21–4n) argues that Dafydd Llwyd had provided a musical performance for Syr Rhys in his home in exchange for a poem of reconciliation which Syr Rhys had composed for Llywelyn. However, it is also possible that Dafydd’s aim was to urge Syr Rhys to compose a poem for Llywelyn in which Syr Rhys argues Dafydd’s case, and that he was willing to provide musical accompaniment for the poem in his home in Mathafarn (it seems that Syr Rhys’s poem in which he begs for sheep was performed in Dafydd’s home, GMRh 30.57). If so, Syr Rhys’s poem has not survived, yet his involvement in the debate is mentioned in the last part of Llywelyn’s poem, in which Llywelyn suggests that it would be a good idea to split the country into three parts so that the three poets could claim begging rights in their respective localities (GLlGt 14.45–54):
Ni a rannwn yr ynys:
Moes ran yma i Syr Rhys;
Dilid di dy wlad dy hun,
Dyrna, gwna Ddyddbrawd, arnyn’,
A dod Rys i’r deau draw
Yn un rhuthr i’w hanrheithiaw.
Minnau af yma’n un wedd
I ddinistr y Ddwy Wynedd.
Ag un hwyl dygwn helynt
Un brès â’r tair gormes gynt.
‘We’ll split the island:
give a section here to Syr Rhys;
you pursue your own land,
beat them, cause a Day of Judgement,
and place Rhys in the south yonder
in one great rush to plunder them.
I too here will go likewise
to the two Gwynedd’s destruction.
With the same course we’ll make our way
with the same press as the three oppressions of yore.’
Dafydd receives his homeland in Powys, Llywelyn the land of Gwynedd and Syr Rhys the south. No doubt Syr Rhys’s home in Powys would be his if Dafydd’s renown was not already paramount there.
The only information about Syr Rhys’s lineage is found in the hand of Wmffre Dafis in Brog I.2 (1599): Sr Rys ap holl’ dyrnor. It is likely, therefore, that Rhys was the son of one Hywel who made a living as a turner (OED Online s.v. turner, n.1 ‘one who turns or fashions objects of wood, metal, bone, etc., on a lathe’; GPC 3654 s.v. turniwr). He was not of noble stock and no more is known of his lineage.
His home and career
Current discussions on the regions with which Syr Rhys was associated have been rather inadequate. It seems that the belief that Syr Rhys was a curate in Corwen and lived in Trewyn before he became vicar of Llanbryn-mair and Carno is based on a note by the minister of Corwen in C 4.110 (after 1788) (GMRh 6, which follows CTC 378, and it is likely that Williams 1884: 263 is based on the same source). As well as Trewyn in Merionethshire, there is a Trewyn in Monmouthshire, Denbighshire and on Anglesey (WATU 215), yet none of these places correspond to the information found in Maredudd ap Rhys’s poem for Syr Rhys when he moved to Cyfeiliog. He states that Rhys’s absence has impacted on the commote of Nanheudwy, as well as both the sir oll ‘whole shire’ (Shropshire, in all likelihood) and the town of Oswestry (GMRh 3.41, 58, 62). Trewyn near Corwen is located in the commote of Edeirnion, yet Maredudd mentions only lands to the east of the Berwyn hills. It seems that the unnamed minister of Corwen tried to link his own region with a medieval poet by misreading y Dre-wen for Drewyn.
GGl 360 ‘Syr Rhys o’r Drewen’ follows most manuscripts’ reading, namely Syr Rhys of Whittington near Oswestry (GDLl 209). This theory was dismissed in CTC 378, yet it seems that the location of Whittington a short distance to the north-east of Oswestry corresponds closely with the information found both in the manuscripts and in Maredudd ap Rhys’s poem. It is likely, therefore, that Syr Rhys lived at Whittington in his youth and moved later on to the commote of Cyfeiliog. If it is correct that poems on rebuilding Hywel ab Ieuan Fychan’s home in Moeliwrch in the commote of Cynllaith were composed c.1425–50, it is possible that a young Syr Rhys, a native of that part of the country, was one of the poets who were present (Huws 2007: 110, 133).
He is named ‘Syr Rhys of Carno’ in a number of manuscripts, in all likelihood as he was associated with the commote of Cyfeiliog. However, only once is Carno mentioned in connection with him in the poetry, and even then it is an indirect reference (GDLl 69.27). Both Maredudd ap Rhys and Dafydd Llwyd of Mathafarn almost always associate him with Llanbryn-mair (GMRh 3.18, 50; GDLl 74.5–6, 43, where Tafolog, north of Llanbryn-mair, is also mentioned). Guto simply locates him in y canol ‘the middle’ in one of his satires on Dafydd ab Edmwnd (66.50). Was it only in old age, therefore, that Syr Rhys was associated with Carno, as it was there that he died?
Like other fifteenth-century poet-priests, such as Sir Phylib Emlyn and Sir Lewys Meudwy, Syr Rhys’s title shows that he was a priest without a university degree who belonged to a specific diocese instead of an ecclesiastical order (GSPhE 6). Both Sir Phylib and Sir Lewys belonged to the diocese of St David’s, but the vicarage of Llanbryn-mair and Carno was part of the diocese of St Asaph (Rees 1951: plate 33). However, he is not mentioned in Le Neve’s records (Jones 1965), and any information about his life must be gleaned from his poetry.
Dafydd Llwyd calls him a gŵr llên ‘scholar’ and an urddol ‘ordained cleric’ who owns [ll]aswyrau iesin ‘a gleaming rosary’, and Maredudd ap Rhys calls him [ei]n conffesor ‘our confessor’ (GDLl 74.1–2, 4, 39; GMRh 3.34; GPC 2152 s.v. llên (b)). Similar references occur in Dafydd Llwyd’s satire on Llywelyn ap Gutun, where Syr Rhys is one who gives pardwn i’r mab byrdew ‘pardon to the short, fat lad’, which is echoed by Syr Rhys himself when he offers a similar [p]ardwn ‘pardon’ to his detractors (GLlGt At.v.26; GMRh 30.5–8). Guto provides more information (101.13–16):
Galw Syr Rys, f’eglwyswr i,
’Y nghurad, i’m cynghori,
Offisial a chyffeswr
A meddyg ym oedd y gŵr.
‘I called upon Syr Rhys, my priest,
my curate, to advise me,
the man was an official and a confessor
and a doctor to me.’
It seems that [c]urad refers to a deputy or assistant to a parish priest (OED Online s.v. curate, n. 2 (a) and the note), yet it is unclear how Guto’s descriptions, in a satirical poem, should be understood. Furthermore, Syr Rhys is called a periglor ‘(parish) priest’ beside a copy of his satire on Guto in BL 31056, and an offeiriad ‘priest’ in LlGC 17114B. His knowledge of the mendicant friars is attested in the opening lines of one of his prophetic poems (GMRh 29.1–2), and his debate with Guto shows that he was welcome in the Cistercian abbey of Valle Crucis.
In CTC 379 it is stated that Syr Rhys was stripped of his ecclesiastical responsibilities for being either married or an unruly drunk. It seems that this accusation is based (although unspecified) on Richards’s (1954–5: 223) interpretation of the opening lines of Dafydd Llwyd’s reply to Syr Rhys’s poem on the subject of begging for sheep. However, there is no reason to believe that Dafydd was implying anything more than the fact that he was unimpressed by Rhys’s poem (GDLl 74.1–2, 5–6):
Mae gŵr llên yma gerllaw,
Urddol, drwg gwneuthur erddaw …
Bardd, wedi gwahardd ei gân,
Bryn-mair, mae’n brin am arian.
‘There’s a scholar here beside me,
an ordained cleric, to do anything for him is evil …
Llanbryn-mair’s poet, after prohibiting his poem
he’s short of money.’
As noted above, Sir (or Syr) denoted Rhys’s ecclesiastical office. It seems that Syr was almost always followed by an unlenited form, for the word had an English origin (TC 113). Accordingly, Syr Rhys’s name would be expected to appear as Syr Rhys, yet there is only one example of matching the consonant rh in Syr Rhys with another rh in a consonantal cynghanedd where one of the main stresses falls on the poet’s name, namely Os y rhain a gred Syr Rys (97.27). Nevertheless, the textual evidence in that case is strongly in favour of the form Syr Rys. This form is supported by other examples of matching the first consonant of Rhys with the consonant r both in Guto’s poetry and in the works of other poets:
The same is true with other men named Syr Rhys:
It is undoubtedly highly significant that r is used to match the first consonant of Rhys in all these examples, and no doubt Syr Rhys should be changed accordingly to Syr Rys (the only exception, GLl 24.56 Ŵyr Syr Rhys o Roser Hen, supports this argument). With regard to keeping an unlenited form following Syr, there may have been an exception in the case of the name Rhys, possibly under the influence of some English names which have R- as the capital letter and which are often preceded by the title Syr, such as Syr Rosier, Syr Risiart and Syr Raff.
As in the case of Syr Rhys, the first consonant of these English names is never matched with the consonant rh. There is, therefore, enough evidence to show that Syr Rhys’s fellow-poets referred to him as Syr Rys.
A poem of praise and counsel for one Tomas ab Ieuan of Llangurig is attributed by an unknown hand to a poet named Rhys in the only extant copy in Pen 82, 228 (the poem is attributed to Syr Rhys in MCF). According to RWM i: 537, the poem is attributed to A RRys or ARkys. The correct reading is S Rkys. There is no doubt that Rhys is meant and that there was a close similarity between -k- and -h- in Pen 82’s lost source. It is tentatively suggested that the single letter preceding Rhys is an extremely untidy S. Although it is unlikely that a poet-priest like Syr Rhys composed poems of praise, Sir Dafydd Trefor’s poems for his patrons show that there were exceptions (GDT). Sir Phylib Emlyn composed poetry for Tomas of Tretower and a poem to request a white horse from Rhys ap Dafydd of Blaen-tren (the son of Dafydd ap Tomas), a poem that possibly reflects the comparative poverty of the clergy during the fifteenth century (GPhE 11, poems 1 and 2). It is possible that other poet-priests had to expand their repertoire in times of need. Nevertheless, according to Bartrum’s system of generations, it is likely that the poem’s patron, Tomas ab Ieuan, was born c.1500 (WG2 ‘Cydifor ap Dinawal’ 4C), and there is no evidence that Syr Rhys lived to see the sixteenth century. Furthermore, the poem contains a high percentage of cynganeddion croes (73%), which suggests that it was the work of a poet who was active towards the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth. Is it the work of Rhys Nanmor?
Another poem attributed to Syr Rhys in MCF is an englyn with the name Rh’ S Rys in Pen 85 ii, 13. It belongs in fact to a series of englynion composed by Rhys Nanmor for Syr Rhys ap Thomas (Headley 1938: 240 (69.135–8)). In CTC 379, it is stated that Siôn Dafydd Penllyn (Siôn Dafydd Laes) composed a poem for Syr Rhys when he fell over drunk, and it is likened to the bibacious portrayal of Syr Rhys in Guto’s poem (this argument is followed in GMRh 8). In fact, it is Syr Rhys Cadwaladr, parson of Llanfairfechan, who is satirized by Siôn Dafydd Laes, and both were active during the second half of the sixteenth century (NCLW 65, 132). Likewise, it is stated in CTC 379 (following Rhys 1932: 55–9) that Syr Rhys is referred to in a series of debate poems between Huw Arwystl and Sir Ieuan of Carno, yet it is in fact Syr Rhys ap Morus of Aberbechan. The debate poems were composed towards the middle of the sixteenth century (Jones 1926: xxxiv–xlviii).
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