Milwr a gâr moli’r gwŷdd,
The important role of hounds in the hunt is reflected by their prominence in poems of request and thanks, where they are the third most popular animals (after horses and oxen) and often referred to as milgwn or bytheiaid. The milgi is also mentioned in the Welsh laws, which differentiate between it and the more valuable gellgi. The milgi seems to have been akin to the modern greyhound, with a special status relating to its wearing of a collar, whilst the gellgi, normally translated ‘staghound’, was larger and more powerful. The bytheiad seems to have been notable for its baying cry and its ability to follow a scent, whilst the olrhead was another kind of tracker-dog, judging by its name which contains the stem of the verb olrhain ‘to trace, track, follow’.
The laws also describe the duties and privileges of the pencynydd ‘chief huntsman’ (literally ‘head houndsman’), who was one of the officers of the royal court and with responsibility for a number of other huntsmen or houndsmen (cynyddion). The later poets also refer to the cynyddion, whose role it was to assist during the hunt as well as looking after the hounds. Guto’r Glyn begins a request poem for a hawk, addressed to Huw Bulkeley, with the words:
Milwr a gâr moli’r gwŷdd,
Merch a chŵn, meirch a chynydd,
A soldier loves to praise the wood,
a girl and hounds, horses and a huntsman,
In another poem Guto mentions that Joan Burgh and her husband John were ‘the best lady and the best knight / to supply a hunting dog and a hawk’ (Gorau merch, gorau marchawg, / I borthi helgi a hawg, poem 81.41-2). The idea that the gentry took an interest in breeding dogs as well as keeping them and using them for hunting is also found in Guto’s poem to request a hunting knife:
Hely weithian yw d’amcan di,
Cynhyrchu cŵn a’u herchi;
Arfer Siôn Hanmer yw hyn,
Un fwriad awn i Ferwyn.
Er bwrw cŵn ar Barc Enwig,
Ba les yw cŵn heb als cig?
Hunting now is your intention,
to breed and seek dogs;
this is Siôn Hanmer’s practice,
let’s go with one purpose to the Berwyn.
In order to let dogs loose on Enwig Park,
what is the benefit of dogs without a weapon to cut the meat?
It seems that Rhobert ab Ieuan Fychan of Coetmor may also have bred hounds, since Guto composed a poem to request two one-year-old dogs from him on behalf of Sieffrai Cyffin of Oswestry. Guto calls them cŵn ‘dog(s)’ (see poem 100, lines 32, 36, 39, 46, 60, 68, 71) and milgwn ‘greyhounds’ (46, 49, 56, 61) and even refers to them as bleiddiau ‘wolves’ (43, 69), perhaps in order to emphasize their fierce nature. Elsewhere they are described as dau gryf ‘two strong ones’ (66) and deugawr ‘two giants’ (67), and the poet claims that ‘they defeat stags’ (ceirw a faeddant, 57), so it seems they were particularly large and powerful.
They are also said to have slender ‘waists’ (boliau meinion, 44; archfain, 61) as well as deep chests (Dwy ddwyfron leision i lawr ‘two long chests to the ground’, 62). Guto makes much of their speed, saying that they are ‘swifter than the whirlwind towards the roebucks’ (Cynt no’r corwynt i’r ceiriyrch, 40) and ‘hawks or messengers of the wind’ (gweilch neu genadau gwynt, 50). Guto’s references to the hounds’ collars or ‘torques’ (tyrch, 36, 39, 52, 61) call to mind the emphasis on the collar of the milgi in the Welsh laws and there is also an interesting mention of grooming them with a comb (68).
The hounds’ coats receive particular attention in the poem. They are said to be curly-haired (cyfrodeddwallt, 65) and to have ‘hoar-frost-coloured skins, the hair is cotton’ (crwyn llwydrew / … cotwm yw’r blew, 41-2), and they are compared to ‘two lions with hair like the interwoven partition’ (Dau lew a’u blew fal y blaid, 63). Their coats are also compared to garments:
Rhoed pilis, rhwydau pali,
Rhita Gawr ar hyd dau gi,
Milgwn Ffrainc mal gynau ffris,
Meudwyaid, mi a’u dewis.
Rhita Gawr’s furry mantle was placed
across two dogs, nets of silk,
Judging by the references to the hounds’ size, shape and coat it seems that Guto is describing a kind of large, rough-coated greyhound or greyhound cross. ‘Greyhounds’ varied in size and in the nature of their coat, and some would have been large enough to ‘defeat a stag’, as in the poem. The dogs’ role in hunting deer is also mentioned in the poem’s last line, Ni bwyf unSul heb fenswn! ‘may I never be one Sunday without venison! (72), and there is a hint of another practical role they served, namely i gadw’r ŷd ‘to keep the corn’ (38). It seems therefore that they would kill or drive away deer or other animals that threatened crops - indeed, Bedo Phylib Bach composed a poem specifically ‘to request greyhounds to kill the deer that would eat the corn’.
A reference to the hounds as deuwas deg ‘two fair servants’ (37) reflects the need for obedience as well as ferocity, and another couplet in the poem, where they are said to be ‘fasting on bread and water lest they damage a tooth’ (Crefyddu … / Bara a dŵr rhag briwo dant, 57-8), may relate to the custom of feeding hounds on bread alone when they were not hunting.
The role of hounds in the hunt is mentioned several times in Guto’s satire on Dafydd ab Edmwnd. He refers to their ‘baying’ (ymgyfarth, 53), and there is also a suggestion of their being used to detect their quarry by scent:
Syr Rys, a gafas yr ôl,
Yw’n cynydd yn y canol.
Syr Rhys, who found the trail,
is the hounds-man in our midst.
In the debate poems between Guto and Hywel Dafi the idea of a hound hunting only one kind of animal is used as a metaphor for a poet praising only one patron. Guto says of Hywel:
Y ci ni helio rhag haint
Onid carw, hwn nid cywraint;
the dog which only hunts stags
due to some disorder, is not a skilful one;
Hywel replies that it is strange that some ‘chase a roebuck after chasing a stag, / changing spoor’, i.e. following a different scent (Helynt iwrch o helynt hydd, / Newidiaw ôl, poem 20a.4-5). He then adds:
Ymlyniad – llei moliannwyf –
Ar ôl mab Syr Wiliam wyf.
Nid af i newidiaw ôl
Syr Wiliam dros yr eilol.
Hyddgi da (hawdd ei gadw ef)
A ddilid yr un ddolef;
I’m a hound – where I may get to practise praise –
on the track of Sir William’s son.
I’m not going to exchange Sir William’s spoor
for any other spoor.
A good stag-hound (it’s easy to keep him)
always follows the same cry;
The writers of medieval hunting treatises, likewise, disagreed over the question whether or not it was wise to restrict hounds to a single quarry species, so it is hard to say which poet had the upper hand in this part of the debate!
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Bibliography: B.O. Huws, Y Canu Gofyn a Diolch c.1350-c.1630 (Caerdydd, 1998), 65, 231-2.
: 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 (269-71).
: D. Jenkins, ‘Hawk and Hound’, 271-2, and Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (Caerdydd, 1950-2002), s.v. olrhead and olrheiniaf, olrheaf: olrhain.
: D. Jenkins, ‘Hawk and Hound’, 269, 272.
: J. Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting: The Hound and the Hawk (London, 1988), 12-13.
: Huws, Y Canu Gofyn a Diolch, 89 (quoting from the Gwyneddon 1 manuscript, 77).
: Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting, 13, 26.
: Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting, 13, 26.
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