Ar fwlch tŵr a fu walch teg
Hawks and falcons were valuable creatures, not only because of the expense of acquiring them but also because of the effort needed to tame and train them. They were considered to have a ‘noble’ nature, and medieval literature abounds with comparisons of noblemen or brave warriors to birds of prey. There are numerous examples in Welsh poetry including many in the works of Guto’r Glyn, who would often refer to a patron as a ‘hawk’ or ‘falcon’ (gwalch or hebog, e.g. poem 2.26, poem 7.34, poem 9.8, poem 11.21). Guto himself is called gwalch cywyddau gwŷr ‘the hawk of praise cywyddau’ in a poem by Llywelyn ap Gutun (poem 65a.42).
In ‘The Boke of St Albans’, which was printed in 1486 and is attributed to Juliana Berners, there is a well-known list in which many kinds of birds are ranked according to the social status of those who might hunt with them, starting with the eagle which ‘belonged’ to an emperor, with the gyrfalcon of a king coming second. However, although reflecting the special significance of birds of prey in the medieval mind, this list should not be taken literally: it was in fact the fast, fierce and ‘noble’ peregrine falcon that was most prized by professional and aristocratic falconers alike.
According to the Law of Hywel Dda, the falconer (hebogydd) or chief falconer (penhebogydd) enjoyed privileged status in the court of a Welsh king. In the list of the officers of the court he is named either fourth or fifth, above or below the court justice, and particularly favourable terms are noted with regard to his horse, his food and drink and his place at table. The laws also mention the values of different birds of prey such as hebog ‘falcon’, hwyedig (apparently a smaller, male falcon), gwalch (‘hawk’, or more specifically a goshawk), and llamysten ‘sparrowhawk’.
Hawks and falcons were popular gifts within gentry society and are the subject of a number of request poems, including one addressed by Guto’r Glyn to Huw Bulkeley of Beaumaris on behalf of Rhisiart Cyffin, dean of Bangor (poem 60). He describes the bird as a gwalch (39, 57) and a gosawg ‘goshawk’ (43), mentions its ‘crooked beak’ (pig cam, 39) and juxtaposes the perch (perc) where it rests with the park (parc) where it hunts (44). Most attention is paid, however, to comparing the bird’s talons to the gauntleted hand upon which it sits, emphasizing the fierce nature of both:
Ar fwlch tŵr a fu walch teg
Fwy ei ’winedd ar faneg?
Ewin y mab a wna ’m Môn
Waed i’r gwellt adar gwylltion:
Y bwn neu ŵydd byw ni ad,
Na chrŷr, na chyw yr hwyad.
Pig a llaw debig, lle dêl,
I grafanc gŵr o ryfel.
Dau bigog a dybygwn,
Dwrn Huw a’r aderyn hwn.
Was there ever a fine hawk on the crest of the tower
with larger claws on a glove?
The claw of the lad will make blood of wild birds
to flow on to the grass in Anglesey:
a bittern or a goose, he will not let them live,
nor a heron nor a chick of a duck.
His beak and hand are similar, wherever he comes,
to a warrior’s claw.
We can compare two pointed objects,
Huw’s fist and that of this bird.
In his study on falconry in the cywyddau, A.H. Williams suggests that this bird was a peregrine falcon, comparing Guto’s reference to a tower (tŵr, 45) to the phrase ‘hawk of the tower’, which refers to a mode of flight typical of falcons (he argues that in the Middle Ages the word gosawg, used in the poem, could refer to a peregrine falcon as well as a goshawk).
It is interesting to note that two of the birds that Guto names as potential prey, namely the bittern and heron, are amongst the three ‘notable birds’ mentioned in the Welsh laws, along with the curlew or crane. The heron, curlew and crane are also named in a sixteenth-century manuscript, Peniarth 147, as delicacies to be offered at a ffest reial ‘royal feast’.
Bibliography: J. Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting: The Hound and the Hawk (London, 1988), 223-4.
: R. Hands (ed.), English hawking and hunting in 'The boke of St Albans' (London, 1975); Cummins, The Hound and the Hawk, 187-91, and R. Almond, Medieval Hunting (Stroud, 2003), 43-7.
: D. Jenkins, ‘Hawk and Hound: Hunting in the Laws of Court’ in T.M. Charles-Edwards, M.E. Owen and P. Russell (eds.), The Welsh King and his Court (Cardiff, 2000), 255-80 (262-4).
: D. Jenkins, ‘Hawk and Hound’, 264-5.
: See further the notes on poem 60. Similar imagery in other poems is discussed in A.H. Williams, ‘Y Cywyddwyr a’r Gweilch’, Dwned 15 (2009), 57-92 (72-6).
: Williams, ‘Y Cywyddwyr a’r Gweilch’, 65-6.
: D. Jenkins, ‘Hawk and Hound, 262-3, and see further Williams, ‘Y Cywyddwyr a’r Gweilch’, 69-72.
: D. Jenkins, ‘Hawk and Hound', 263, and T. Gwynn Jones (gol.), Gwaith Tudur Aled (Caerdydd, 1926), xxiii-xxiv (n. 7).
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