databas cerddi guto'r glyn


Peniarth MS 57, the earliest manuscript with poems attributed to Guto'r Glyn.
Guto's work in a fifteenth-century manuscript.
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There was a growing emphasis on reading and writing by Guto’r Glyn’s day, and it may be that a number of poets and patrons learned a good deal about Welsh history and literature in the patrons’ own houses. Though the bardic tradition was still an oral one, there was a clear emphasis on reading in the poetry of the period. A number of monastic libraries and some gentry homes were richly endowed with manuscripts at one time, and there are occasional references to these in the poetry. Their subject matter varied, with historical works and prose tales receiving the most attention, along with every kind of poetry including love poetry and prophetic poetry along with the art of poetry and grammatical works.

There are plenty of references by the poets to their patrons’ fondness of reading and of written learning in general. Indeed, the word llyfr ‘book’ was used figuratively in poetry to refer to a source of learning or authority, such as the patron himself (see poem 104.43-4 for the learning of Siôn Trefor, and poem 6.14 for Guto’s reference to Abbot Rhys ap Dafydd of Strata Florida as aur loywlyfr ‘bright golden book’).

There are frequent references to reading books and discussing subjects such as poetry in patrons’ houses, and their understanding of languages, particularly Latin, English and French is also emphasized. Guto’r Glyn supplies a detailed description of the literary culture that was cultivated in the homes of one of his patrons in Glyn-nedd, in his poem in praise of Rhys ap Siancyn:

Caf roddi cyfarwyddyd 
Ym, dros ben, am deiroes byd, 
Brud fal y byriwyd efô, 
A’r cronigl, eiriau cryno, 
Buchedd seiniau ni bechynt, 
Bonedd Owain Gwynedd gynt; 
Bwrw rhif, ti a’th burawr, Rhys, 
Brenhinedd bro ein hynys; 
Dwyn ar fyfyrdod ein dau 
Drioedd ac ystorïau; 
Dysgu ym – llyna dasg iawn! – 
Dalm mawr o odlau Meiriawn; 
Clybod a gwybod o gwbl 
Gwawd Cynddelw, gwead ceinddwbl. 
I’ll be given knowledge,
what’s more, concerning the three ages of the world,
British history just as it was written,
and the chronicle, succinct words,
lives of saints who did not sin,
the lineage of Owain Gwynedd, long ago;
reckoning the number, you and your poet, Rhys,
of the kings of the realm of our island;
bringing to both our recollections
triads and histories;
teaching me – there’s a worthy task! –
a good number of the poems of Meirion;
hearing and knowing thoroughly
the poetry of Cynddelw, a fine double weave.

(poem 15.39-52)

Peniarth MS 23C, f.10: a Welsh translation of the 'Historia Regum Britanniae' by Geoffrey of Monmouth,  translated into Welsh as ‘Brut y Brenhinedd’ (‘History of the Kings’).
Brutus in 'Brut y Brenhinedd'
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This passage paints an appealing picture of Guto and Rhys spending hours together studying literary texts, with the patron educating his poet. The brud is named, perhaps referring to one of the Welsh translations of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history of the Britons, ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’, commonly known as ‘Brut y Brenhinedd’. Another possibility is that it refers more generally to history books. A ‘chronicle’ is also mentioned, perhaps the Welsh ‘Chronicle of the Princes’ (‘Brut y Tywysogion’) which follows on from ‘Brut y Brenhinedd’ in some manuscripts. The poet also notes that he has been taught about the lives of the saints, lineages, triads (a form of bardic lore), prose tales and the works of past poets, including the twelfth-century poet Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr.

Another patron who was fond of reading, according to a request poem by Guto’r Glyn, was Maredudd ab Ifan Fychan of Cedewain. A llyfr brud is mentioned, probably a book containing poems that prophesied the political future of Wales:

Darllain yng Nghedewain dir 
Llyfr brud, llafurio brodir. 
reading in the land of Cedewain
a book of prophecy, tilling the land.

(poem 39.15-16)

Love poetry is sometimes mentioned, too (see poem 42.48 and poem 52.51). Latin was the main language of learning at the time, and one of the best-known Latin love poets was Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ofydd amongst the Welsh poets. Guto refers to llyfr Ofydd ‘the book of Ofydd’, that was kept at the court of Dafydd ap Tomas of Blaen-tren:

 Ac aur trwm ger Tren a gawn heb gynnen 
52A diolch awen awdl a chywydd, 
 A llys ar ei lled y lleddir lludded 
 A lle efrifed a llyfr Ofydd, 
and I would get weighty gold without dispute by the river Tren
and thanks for the poetry of ode and cywydd,
and an open court where tiredness is got rid of
and a limitless place and the book of Ovid,

(poem 12.51-4)

It is unclear whether this was a specific book by Ovid himself (such as the ‘Ars Amatoria’) or, rather, some other book relating to love; perhaps it was a manuscript containing a collection of Welsh love poetry. This reference raises an interesting question which is also relevant to the poets’ references to grammar: were there books written in both Latin and Welsh, in the gentry houses? Bearing in mind that grammar was one of the ‘seven liberal arts’ (and perhaps the most important one) it is quite likely that the poets had Latin in mind, rather than Welsh, when referring to this subject. Grammatica was the medieval name for everything relating to learning the Latin language. Today, we call the medieval treatises on the art of Welsh poetry ‘grammars’ (‘Gramadegau’r Penceirddiaid’), but it is uncertain whether anyone called them this at the time when they were composed: the manuscripts describe their contents as ‘cerddwriaeth’ (the art of poetry), if they provide any name at all.[1]

Some of these treatises discussing the art of Welsh poetry are preserved in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscripts, and are often associated with poets such as Einion Offeiriad, Dafydd Ddu of Hiraddug and Gutun Owain.[2] One notable ‘grammar’ that has recently come to light is ‘Gramadeg Gwysanau’, which dates from the second half of the fourteenth century and discusses the principles of composing poetry and its correct transmission, including a discussion of spelling.[3]

As well as their importance as centres of learning, noted above, religious houses also had an important role in recording and copying literature. The custom was for the gentry to commission a clerk or scribe to produce a manuscript. For example, William Herbert of Raglan commissioned a man from the Netherlands to make a fine manuscript copy of the ‘Troy Book’, which he presented to Edward IV. The family of Siân Bwrch are associated with another important manuscript, the Clopton manuscript, which originated in the west Midlands. This manuscript, perhaps commissioned by her father, William Clopton, contains six Middle English texts, including a copy of the poem Piers Plowman, composed c.1360-1387.[4]


[1]: G.J. Williams and E.J. Jones (gol.), Gramadegau’r Penceirddiaid (Caerdydd, 1934), xli.
[2]: Williams and Jones (gol.), Gramadegau’r Penceirddiaid, xvii.
[3]: A. Parry Owen, ‘Gramadeg Gwysanau (Archifdy Sir y Fflint, D/GW 2082)’, Llên Cymru, 33 (2010), 1-31 (6-8).
[4]: T. Turville-Petre, ‘The relationship of the Vernon and Clopton manuscript’, yn D. Pearsall (ed.), Studies in the Vernon Manuscript (Woodbridge, 1990), 36.
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