Pob gorchest, ben-fforestwr,
Ten physical feats are listed among the 'twenty-four feats’. Six were regarded as feats ‘by the strength of the body’, namely strength itself, running, jumping, swimming, wrestling and riding, whilst the remaining four were feats ‘by strength of arms’, namely archery, fencing with sword and buckler, fencing with a two-handed sword and fighting with a quarterstaff. As well as their role as leisure pursuits such feats might also have a more practical application, for example in hunting, war or self-defence.
Running, jumping and riding are all mentioned by Guto’r Glyn in his poem to request a hunting knife from Gruffudd ap Rhys of Yale, all three skills seeming very appropriate in relation to his work as a forester:
Pob gorchest, ben-fforestwr,
A wnâi dy gorff, annwyd gŵr:
Neitio, rhedeg, naid rhydain,
Gyrru meirch dros gaerau main.
Your body, chief forester,
would perform every feat, the nature of a hero:
jumping a fawn’s leap and running,
inciting horses over stone forts.
Poets, too, could be accomplished at such feats - several, including archery and riding, are listed in Ieuan ap Rhydderch’s boasting poem ‘Cywydd y fost’. Likewise, prowess at various feats is ascribed to Tudur Aled in a poem of uncertain authorship:
Ymafel a wnaud, ymofyn – bar traws
A bwrw trosol celyn
Neu faen llwyth, nofio ’n y llyn,
16Neitio, rhedeg, naid tridyn.
You’d wrestle, fetch a solid bar
and throw a pole of holly
or a heavy stone, swim in the lake,
jump, run, a leap as long as three men.
Throwing a stone and pole
Throwing a heavy stone and throwing a pole were popular pastimes in Guto’s day, judging by the references in his poems and those of his contemporaries. Although not specifically listed among the twenty-four feats, both these activities were a means of displaying the first of the attributes on the list, namely strength. In his elegy for Hywel ab Owain of Llanbryn-mair, Guto says:
Nid â maen un damunwr
Mawr uwch gwynt ym mreichiau gŵr.
Ni thry mab nac athro maith
Drosolion a droes eilwaith.
No large stone of any contestant
flies above the wind in a stalwart’s arms.
No son or experienced instructor
will wield again the poles which he tossed.
Guto mentions the same two feats in his elegy for Henry Griffith of Newcourt, as well as jumping and archery (poem 36.43-8). In an earlier praise poem for Henry, he even provides a hint that watching such feats was popular with the ladies! And this same poem goes on to mention that Guto himself had a reputation for stone-throwing:
Och ym er dir a chymell
O bu ŵr â bwa well,
Na chystal, ynial annerch,
Ar y maen mawr er mwyn merch.
I minnau, gwarau gwiwraen,
Y bu air mawr er bwrw maen;
Hiroedl a fo i Harri
Y sydd i’m diswyddaw i!
May there be affliction for me on account of force and coercion
if there was ever a better man with a bow,
or one as good (address full of vigour)
at throwing the big rock to impress a girl.
I myself, very expert play,
have had a high reputation in throwing the stone;
long life to Harry,
who is putting me in the shade!
Guto’s youthful prowess at such feats of strength is also mentioned in Gutun Owain’s elegy for him (poem 126.15-18) and in debate poems between Guto and Dafydd ab Edmwnd (68a.15-18, 68b, 68.42).
Guto refers to his patron Henry Griffith’s prowess at the feat of archery in two different poems (see ‘Throwing a stone and pole’, above). Both shooting at targets and hunting with a bow were popular pastimes among the gentry and references in the poetry indicate that they were practised by patrons and poets alike. Even an abbot might be praised as a strong, skilled archer, as in a poem by Gutun Owain to Dafydd, abbot of Valle Crucis: ’Oes wyth o’r bobl a saetho / A blyka i vwa yvo? ‘Are there eight people who shoot who can bend his bow?’See further The battlefield: weapons: bows and arrows.
Though the original form of tennis or ‘real tennis’ is now most associated with Tudor times, the word tennis was used in English as early as the start of the fifteenth century - the earliest reference noted in ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’ is by John Gower around 1400. The game originated in France and was called jeu de paume or ‘palm game’ by twelfth-century monks. As suggested by the name it was the palm of the hand that was originally used to hit the ball, which would be made of sheepskin stuffed with sawdust or wool. It was played in the open air as well as in closed courts, and by the time of Henry VIII it had become very popular among the gentry.
Guto’r Glyn refers to tennis in his poem to Hywel ap Llywelyn Fychan of Glyn Aeron, where it seems he plays upon the idea of the ball, representing fame or praise, flying to and fro between poet and patron:
Gwarae mae y gŵr a’i medd
Tenis â chlod dwy Wynedd.
He who possesses it
plays tennis with the praise of the two Gwynedds.
Bibliography: H. Lewis, T. Roberts and I. Williams (gol.), Cywyddau Iolo Goch ac Eraill (second ed., Caerdydd, 1937), 387.
: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Ieuan ap Rhydderch (Aberystwyth, 2003), poem no. 3.
: E. Bachellery (éd.), L’oeuvre poétique de Gutun Owain (Paris, 1950-1), XXIV.33-4, and see also poem XXVIII.
: ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’, s.v. tennis, n.
: A. Hart-Davis, What the Tudors and Stuarts did for us (London, 2002), 111.
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