databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Hunting gear

A hunting scene carved in wood at Saint Melangell Church, Pennant Melangell, c.15th century.
A hunting scene carved in wood
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Hunters in this period used a range of different equipment. The hunter, his followers and his hunting gear are the subject of many medieval depictions, perhaps most famously in a series of tapestries known as 'The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries’, made around 1430-50, perhaps in Arras, and now forming part of the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Here in Wales we do not have any similarly fine tapestries but illustrations of hunting scenes have survived in other forms, such as the carved wood at St Melangell’s Church, Pennant Melangell, which depicted a hunter with his weapons and his hunting horn. Futhermore, the the interest of patrons and poets, including Guto’r Glyn, in hunting does provide a wealth of literary evidence.

The hunting horn
The main role of the horn in the hunt was communication: messages could be sent to others by sounding it, and doing so at the wrong time could lead to confusion and hesitation amongst the other hunters.

Hunting horns would be used to produce combinations of long notes, short notes and pauses, with each note having the same pitch.[1] Different combinations were played to convey different movements or information to other hunters, for example gathering the hunters together, urging the hounds to run, indicating in which direction and over which terrain they were to give chase or announcing the hunt’s successful outcome.

Guto’r Glyn composed a poem to request a hunting horn from Sieffrai Cyffin of Oswestry on behalf of Siôn Eutun of Parc Eutun (see Noblemen’s interests: Music: The hunting horn). He also mentions hunting horns in a satirical poem which depicts Dafydd ab Edmwnd as a ‘hind’ or ‘roebuck’:

Ymlidiwynt, canwynt y cyrn, 
Iwrch difwyn ni chyrch defyrn. 
Let them pursue, let them sound their horns,
an unlovely roebuck who does not visit taverns.

(poem 66.13-14)

Hunting could be a very noisy activity, often accompanied not only by the sounding of horns but also the baying of hounds and the cries of the hunters themselves. The English word ‘hue’, as in the phrase ‘hue and cry’, is thought to derive from the French huer, ‘to shout as in war or hunting’, which may represent a vocal attempt to reproduce the sound made by a horn.[2]. A comparable cry, Hw-a ‘Hoo-a’, is mentioned in a poem by Guto’r Glyn which depicts the soldiers of Matthew Gough of Maelor ‘hunting’ the French general, La Hire:

Heliant goed a heolydd, 
(‘Hw-a La Her!’) fal hely hydd. 
they hunt in forests and on roads,
(‘Hoo-a La Hire!’) like hunting a stag.

(poem 3.39-40)

The hunting knife
Specialized knives or sets of knives were used for hunting, and Guto’r Glyn composed a poem to request one of these from Gruffudd ap Rhys of Yale on behalf of Siôn Hanmer of Halghton and Llai. Guto uses a variety of different terms for the knife including baslart ‘baselard’ (poem 76.74), cyllell geirw ‘deer knife’ (41), gwaetgnaif ‘blood-knife’ (37), wtgnaiff, from the English ‘woodknife’ (37) and ’sgïen ‘knife, small sword’ (39). It is clear that as well as the main knife there are two smaller knives, all carried in the same scabbard (gwain):

Yn dair y mynnwn eu dwyn: 
Y ddu fawr a’r ddwy forwyn; 
Trillafn yn torri allan, 
Tri hydd ac yntwy a’u rhan. 
Tair ac un yn yr unwain, 
Trindod yr hyddod yw’r rhain; 
I would like to carry the three together:
the big black lady and the two maids;
three blades bursting forth,
three stags, and it is they who will divide them.
Three and one in the same sheath,
these are the trinity of the stags;

(poem 76.67-72)

Elsewhere in the poem Guto refers to the main knife as being pregnant and to the other two as ‘daughters’ or ‘shoots’, and even goes so far as to praise them as a ‘Trinity’ (41-2, 61-74).

Archaeological evidence and illustrations from England and continental Europe suggest that including an additional knife or knives in a scabbard was quite common. The extra knives were often used for eating, though in the case of hunting sets like the one in Guto’s poem the main purpose was to provide a range of differently sized blades to be used at the various stages of butchering the animal.[3] As well as mentioning stags, and ‘dividing’ stags, in the passage quoted above, Guto also refers elsewhere in the poem to cutting meat (lines 28, 31, 40 and 73), calls the main knife gelynes hydd ‘enemy of a stag’ (32) and even mentions its use with a chopping-block:

Yn llem ar ei hysgemydd, 
Yn hir i gymynu hydd. 
sharp on its chopping-block,
and long enough to cut up a stag.

(poem 76.51-2)

As well as being described specifically as hir ‘long’ (52), the length of the knife is also suggested by the use of the word llath (‘staff’ or ‘measuring-rod’, 31) and the idea of measuring two knives one against the other (35), and also by lines 53-4: Ar glun fy mhen cun y’i cair, / A disgyn hyd ei esgair ‘It will be on the hip of my chief lord / and extending down his leg’. It seems it was also broad enough to be compared to a ‘wing’ (asgell, 43) and an ‘eagle’s wing’ (adain eryr, 57), and sharp or pointed enough to be compared to a thistle (ysgell, 41). The following lines indicate that its blade had a ‘fat’, heavy back (i.e. that it was single-edged) and was curved:

Tenau ’n ei chorff, tew ’n ei chil, 
A’i gogwydd ar ei gwegil, 
Yn grom iawn, yn grymanaidd, 
Yn blyg fal ewin y blaidd, 
thin in the body, fat at the back,
with a slope at its nape,
very curved like a reaping hook,
bent like a wolf’s claw,

(poem 76.45-8)

The gogwydd in this passage could refer either to the curvature of the blade or to an angle or ‘stoop’ on its back, a feature often seen on hunting knives and single-edged knives in general.[4] It seems that the hilt had a grip made of horn (60), and Guto’s reference to the knife as an ysgell groesgam ‘thistle with a bent cross’ (line 41) suggests that it may have had a curved or asymmetric cross-guard.[5] He mentions the knife’s brightness several times: it is unlliw’r haul ‘of the same colour as the sun’ (50) and like glass (gwydr) or a mirror (drych) (43-4, 59-60).

Guto mentions knives only rarely in his other poems, though he does refer to Sir Rhys ap Tomas of Abermarlais as dagr y drin ‘dagger of battle’ (poem 14.31).[6] He probably had in mind a straight, narrow-bladed dagger of the kind that were commonly worn on the belt, perhaps akin to a large, two-edged example found at Swansea.[7]

Other weapons
A stag that had turned ‘at bay’ having been run to exhaustion by hunters and hounds would generally be dispatched with a knife, sword, spear or bow and arrow, if it was not first killed by the hounds. Another, particularly effective method of hunting deer was to use hounds to drive them towards hunters waiting with bows and arrows in a prearranged location, and bows and arrows were also used to hunt smaller prey, particularly birds.

According to Guto’r Glyn, Siôn Eutun needed a hunting horn to go with a bwa gŵr ‘brave man’s bow’ (poem 99.26) and other poets also mention the use of archery for hunting. Rhys Goch Eryri, in his request poem for a knife, says that he was accustomed to hunt stags with a ‘bow and swift hound’ (bwa a milgi buan),[8] and Dafydd ap Gwilym refers to ‘shooting splendid straight-running stags (saethu rhygeirw sythynt) in his poem ‘Basaleg’, in praise of Ifor Hael ('Dafydd ap', 14.36.)

In his satire on Dafydd ab Edmwnd, Guto describes a figurative hunt in which he ‘shoots’ poems (cywyddau) at his fellow poet:

Gollyngais a saethais i 
Ddoe i Ddacyn ddeuddeci: 
 saith gywydd y saethwyd, 
Ac yno y llas y gown llwyd. 
I let loose twelve hounds yesterday after Dacyn,
and I fired shots:
he was shot by seven cywyddau,
and the grey gown was killed there.

(poem 66.15-18)

For Guto’s references to target shooting and archery in warfare, see The battlefield: Weapons: Bows and arrows.


[1]: J. Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting: The Hound and the Hawk (London, 1988), 160-71.
[2]: Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting, 113, 169, and ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’, , s.v. hue, v.2 and n.2
[3]: M. de Neergaard, ‘The Use of Knives, Shears, Scissors and Scabbards’, in J. Cowgill, M. de Neergaard and N. Griffiths, Knives and Scabbards (London, 2000), 55, and see numbers 403, 414, 417, 418, 432, 464, 491; H.L. Blackmore, Hunting Weapons (London 1971), 13-14; 51-9, and H.L. Peterson, Daggers and Fighting Knives of the Western World from the Stone Age until 1900 (New York, 1968), 29, 31, 34-5, 43.
[4]: Blackmore, Hunting Weapons, 12, 50-1, and Cowgill et al., Knives and Scabbards, numbers 86-7.
[5]: See Blackmore, Hunting Weapons, 12-13 and 52 and plates 10-12.
[6]: See further J. Day, ‘ “Arms of Stone upon my Grave”: Weapons in the Poetry of Guto’r Glyn’, in B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen and D.F. Evans (eds.), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-Century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013).
[7]: D. Stewart, ‘A Medieval Dagger and an Iron Missile Point in Swansea Museum’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 31 (1984), 314-18.
[8]: D.F. Evans (gol.), Gwaith Rhys Goch Eryri (Aberystwyth, 2007), 5.11.
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