Two poems of praise by Guto for Wiliam Fychan have survived (poems 56 and 57), and to these we can add the following:
Bowen (2002: 77) argues that Gutun Owain composed a poem to request a horse from Wiliam, yet it is in fact unclear which member of the Penrhyn family is addressed by Gutun (GO poem X). It is noted in GRhGE 176 that Hywel Dafi composed poetry for Wiliam, and there are undoubtedly other unedited poems to him in the manuscripts. A great many poems were composed for his descendants. For poems to his ancestors, see below.
The genealogical tables below are based on WG1 ‘Marchudd’ 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, ‘Rhys ap Tewdwr’ 1; WG2 ‘Marchudd’ 6B1; see also Carr 1990: 2. Those named in Guto’s two poems for Wiliam are shown in bold print, and the names of his patrons are underlined.
As is shown above, Wiliam was a brother-in-law of one of Guto’s main patrons, Robert Trefor of Bryncunallt.
Wiliam was a cousin of Gruffudd ap Rhobin (the father of Wiliam of Cochwillan), and another of his cousins was the mother of Rhisiart Cyffin, dean of Bangor. Wiliam had seven children with Gwenllïan daughter of Iorwerth, namely Rhobert, Edmwnd, Wiliam, Marsli, Alis, Elen and Annes. Another daughter, Sioned, married Tomas Salbri ap Tomas Salbri of Lleweni, yet it is unclear who was her mother.
His family and career
Wiliam Fychan ap Gwilym was the most powerful landowner in north Wales in the fifteenth century. His father, Gwilym ap Gruffudd, had become extremely wealthy by amassing the forfeit lands of rebels following the failure of the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr, and Wiliam himself was similarly active in the strengthening of his inheritance in Caernarfonshire and on Anglesey. Carr (1990) provides a thorough review of Gwilym’s career and touches on his son’s, and Bowen (2002) discusses the poetry composed to both Gwilym and Wiliam. See further DWB Online s.n. Griffith (family), Penrhyn.
Wiliam was descended from a noble lineage that won renown in the thirteenth century, when Ednyfed Fychan ap Cynwrig served Llywelyn Fawr ab Iorwerth as seneschal. Elidir Sais composed an elegy for Ednyfed (GMB poem 18) and his descendants, through his son, Goronwy, were patrons of note on Anglesey throughout the fourteenth century (GGMD, i 11–12). By the second half of the fourteenth century, Wiliam’s grandfather, Gruffudd ap Gwilym ap Gruffudd (who died in 1405), held lands in Dyffryn Clwyd, Caernarfonshire and Anglesey as well as in the family’s traditional heartland in Flintshire (Davies 1995: 51–2). He fought against the Crown with his brother, Bleddyn, in the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr, and both had died by October 1406 (Bowen 2002: 60). According to Davies (1995: 51), at the height of his power at the end of the fourteenth century, Gruffudd was the wealthiest man in north Wales. He had keenly taken advantage of the ascendancy of English law in Wales following the Conquest to amass land through marriage.
By the turn of the century it is clear that Gruffudd’s sons, Rhobin, Gwilym and Rhys, had joined the revolt on Owain’s side. However, in August 1405, all three brothers surrendered to the Crown in gaol in Chester, along with four other Welshmen (ibid. 119; Carr 1990: 8–9). According to Carr (ibid. 5), Gruffudd’s lands in Flintshire went to Rhys and his lands in Gwynedd to both Gwilym (who settled in Penrhyn) and Rhobin (in Cochwillan). Gwilym, who was sheriff of Anglesey in 1396–7, was praised by Rhys Goch Eryri, Gwilym ap Sefnyn and Ieuan ap Gruffudd Leiaf, and Guto also claims to have received his patronage (GRhGE poems 2 and 3; Williams 1997; Bowen 2002: 73 footnote 27, 75–6; 56.19–20n). Gwilym’s first wife, Morfudd daughter of Goronwy Fychan, died early in the fifteenth century, and c.1413 he married his second wife, Sioned (or Joan) Stanley, daughter of Sir William Stanley of Hooton in Cheshire. Gwilym’s and Morfudd’s son, Tudur, lost most of his inheritance to Gwilym’s and Sioned’s son, Wiliam Fychan. Gwilym was undoubtedly a steadfast and uncompromising nobleman whose politics and treatment of his own family may not have been universally popular in north Wales. Nevertheless, his family’s influence and its patronage of poetry was both extensive and continued by his descendants (further on his career, see Carr 1990, summarized in GRhGE 158).
Gwilym died in the spring of 1431, yet Wiliam did not succeed him until 1439, when he was old enough both to claim his inheritance and to gain new status as an English citizen, free from the penance laws imposed on the Welsh following the failure of Glyndŵr’s revolt (ibid. 176; Carr 1990: 18). This new status can be compared with Gwilym’s altogether more incredible earlier attempt to gain citizenship, in which he appealed to be considered an Englishman on the basis that he had married an Englishwoman and that his lineage was almost completely English (ibid. 10–11). Furthermore, he claimed that he and his sons had been loyal to the English Crown during the revolt, a claim that was repeated by Wiliam to the same end (his relation, Wiliam ap Gruffudd, gained the same status in 1486). Wiliam was chamberlain of Gwynedd between 1457 and 1463 (56.12n) and some poets refer to him as the constable of Caernarfon (Bowen 2002: 76–7). By 1450–1 he was an esquire of the King’s Hall and Chamber, and in 1451 was a member of a commission in Merionethshire (ibid. 77). It seems that he received rewards from Edward IV in 1462 and 1464, and served on several commissions in north Wales during Edward’s reign (ibid.). He died in 1483 (ibid. 76). Guto refers to his death in the opening lines of his elegy for Gruffudd Fychan ap Gruffudd of Corsygedol (poem 52), who also died in 1483. It seems that Guto also composed an elegy for Wiliam in that year, yet it has not survived in the manuscripts. Wiliam was succeeded by his only son by Alis daughter of Sir Richard Dalton, Sir Wiliam Gruffudd.
Bowen, D.J. (2002), ‘Y Canu i Gwilym ap Gruffudd (m. 1431) o’r Penrhyn a’i fab Gwilym Fychan (m. 1483)’, Dwned, 8: 59–78
Carr, A.D. (1990), ‘Gwilym ap Gruffydd and the Rise of the Penrhyn Estate’, Cylchg HC 15: 1–20
Davies, R.R. (1995), The Revolt of Owain Glyndŵr (Oxford)
Williams, G.A. (1997), ‘Cywydd Gwilym ap Sefnyn i Afon Ogwen ac Afon Menai’, Dwned, 3: 83–95