databas cerddi guto'r glyn


Though some of the Welsh gentry were educated in England or beyond, Wales had its own centres of learning in this period.
'Roman de la Rose', NLW MS 5016D, f.28r, c.14th century (Digital Mirror).
An author at his writing desk
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There is evidence from the second half of the fifteenth century that Valle Crucis abbey (which provided Guto’r Glyn with a home in his old age) may have offered education to the sons of the local gentry.[1] Another important centre in the north-east was St Asaph cathedral, and its associated courts; it is likely that the poet Iolo Goch received his early education in a religious school there.[2] See further Abbeys: Tradition and culture.

A number of Welshmen, particularly churchmen and clerics, were educated in universities such as Oxford and Paris. If making a living on the battlefield did not appeal, pursuing an academic course provided preparation for a career in law or the Church. The arts curriculum in the Middle Ages included the ‘seven liberal arts’ (saith gelfyddyd freiniol), divided up into the Trivium and Quadrivium, as well as the ‘three philosophies’ (tair athroniaeth):

  the Trivium: grammar, rhetoric and logic
  the Quadrivium: arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy/astrology
  the ‘three philosophies’: natural philosophy, moral philosophy and metaphysics.[3]

Praise of a patron’s knowledge in these fields would suggest that he was particularly well-educated, though it is often difficult to know whether such references should be taken literally to mean that he had received a university education. The term art is used in the poetry to refer to the seven liberal arts and it came to be used in a more general sense to praise a patron’s learning (poem 31.57, poem 60.41). Guto’r Glyn mentions the arts education of Edward ap Dafydd of Bryncunallt, noting his knowledge of the civil law as well as art:

Salw yw bod Sul heb Edwart, 
Sofl yw gwŷr syfyl ac art. 
It’s pitiful that there is a Sunday without Edward,
the men of civil law and learning are like stubble.

(poem 104.9-10)

Churchmen were also praised for their learning, as in the case of Sir Hywel ap Dai of Northop:

Ordr a dysg a roed i’r doeth, 
Achau hefyd a chyfoeth 
Ynyr hil, un o’r haelion, 
Ednywain fry dan un fron. 
An ecclesiastic order and learning were given to the wise man,
ancestry also and wealth
of Ynyr’s stock, one of the generous men,
[and] Ednywain on high beneath one hill-side.

(poem 70.11-14)

We know that Dafydd Cyffin ab Iolyn of Llangedwyn studied at the University of Oxford and had a successful career there, being awarded the degree of Doctor in Canon Law in 1454. In a praise poem addressed to Dafydd, Guto refers to him, or to his great-uncle Hywel ap Madog Cyffin, as ‘the doctor’ (doctor), and praises Dafydd’s knowledge of canon law and civil law as well as ‘the languages’ (Latin, French and English):

Llyna eurwr llên eiriau, 
Llawer o ddysg yn lle’r ddau: 
Dysgu’r gyfraith a’r ieithoedd 
A dysgu art ei dasg oedd, 
A chwynnu sifl a chanon, 
Chwilio’r hawl a chloi ar hon. 
What an excellent handler of learned words he is,
there is much learning in the place of both:
his task was to learn law and the languages
and to learn art,
and to sift civil and canon law,
to examine the question and decide on it.

(poem 94.27-32)

Guto praises Morgan ap Roger of Gwynllŵg as an authority in ‘every kind of wisdom’ in a poem composed in response to Hywel Dafi’s accusation that he was a flatterer:

Mae pwys hwn ym mhob synnwyr 
A phob dilechdyd, Raff ŵyr, 
Cyfraith a phedeiriaith deg, 
Awgrym, mydr a gramadeg, 
Cerddor gyda’r cywirddant, 
Doeth yw ’ngherdd dafod a thant 
A mwya’ ystronomïwr: 
Ym mhob rhyw gamp mae praw gŵr. 
This man’s authority lies in every kind of wisdom
and all branches of dialectic, descendant of Ralph,
law and four fair languages,
arithmetic, metrics and grammar,
a musician with the tuning string,
he is wise in poetry and harp music,
and the greatest of astronomers:
in every achievement there is the mark of a man.

(poem 18.43-50)

Some of the subjects mentioned here reflect those on the medieval curriculum. Grammar or Grammatica was the first subject of the Trivium and the most important subject of all. It included more than grammar in the modern sense of the word, and embraced every aspect of literacy, interpreting literature, metrical rules and interpreting figurative language. Music was one of the four subjects of the Quadrivium, and also mentioned are cerdd dafod a thant, that is, cerdd dafod and cerdd dant, the traditional names for poetry and harp music. The mention of the cyweirdant (‘tuning-string’) calls to mind one of the twenty-four feats, namely ‘tuning a harp’.[4] Lastly, the reference to Morgan ap Roger as an ystronomïwr suggests that he had knowledge of astronomy, another subject that was included in the Quadrivium.


[1]: D. Thomson, ‘Cistercians and Schools in Late Medieval Wales’, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, 3 (1982), 76-80.
[2]: A. Parry Owen, ‘Gramadeg Gwysanau (Archifdy Sir y Fflint, D/GW 2082)’, Llên Cymru, 33 (2010), 1-31 (16).
[3]: R. I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Ieuan ap Rhydderch (Aberystwyth, 2003) 140-2.
[4]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Caerdydd (1950-2002), d.g. cyweirdant
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