databas cerddi guto'r glyn

The nobleman's wife

Preparing feasts was a joint effort of the nobleman and his wife and, like other poets, Guto’r Glyn commends this partnership when he comments on their provisions of food and generosity (see poem 10.7-8, poem 49.25-28). However, the domestic side of the preparation was mainly in the hands of the wife.[1] This is evident in the poem to Joan Burgh of Wattlesborough (poem 81). Guto’r Glyn clearly states that Joan was responsible for the extensive choice of food and drink at the feast at Wattlesborough hall:

Ansawdd arglwyddes Fawddwy 
A fyn i hen fyw yn hwy, 
A’i gwledd hi a giliodd haint, 
A’i gwin oedd well nog ennaint, 
A’i llyn a’m gwnâi’n llawenach, 
A’i thân onn a’m gwnaeth yn iach. 
Lady Mawddwy’s delicacies
make the old live longer,
and her feast caused illness to retreat,
and her wine was better than a medicinal bath,
and her drink made me merrier,
and her ash-wood fire made me healthy.

(poem 81.65-70)

A wife holding a dish in the Welsh Laws of Hywel Dda, Peniarth 28 MS, f.22v (Digital Mirror).
A wife holding a dish in the Welsh laws
Click for a larger image

Of course, the wives themselves did not do the cooking; this was in the hands of the cook and his servants, and many court officials were responsible for serving the food and drinks. But according to household accounts, it seems that the wife was in charge of buying the produce beforehand.[2] Indeed, the wife took an active part in obtaining supplies, telling her officials exactly what to buy.[3] It is not surprising, therefore, that the poets praised the wives specifically for their provisions of food and drink. In his praise of Sieffrai Cyffin, Guto suggests that his wife, Joan daughter of Lawrence Stanstry of Oswestry, kept a watchful eye on the preparation of the feast:

Lliwio sew â llysieuoedd 
Llaw Siân ar y llysiau oedd, 
Llaw’n gog oll yn y gegin, 
Llaw ’n ei gwaith yn llenwi gwin. 
Siân’s hand on the herbs
tinged the broth with herbs,
a hand that’s altogether a cook in the kitchen,
a hand in her work that pours wine.

(poem 97.57-60)

Daughters and young brides were taught how to control this domestic aspect and were expected to be seen by the household as figures of authority.[4] For example, Elen daughter of Robert Puleston had distributed mead since she was a young girl (poem 53.2), and young Isabell, daughter of Joan Burgh, is as gifted as her mother in terms of offering food and drink according to Guto (poem 81.51-2). After the death of a noblewoman, Guto seems to be longing for her feasts. In an elegy to Gweurful ferch Madog of Abertanad, he express his sadness that there will be no more feasts at her court: ‘if she was buried, it was farewell to feasts’ (O chladdwyd, yn iach, wleddoedd! poem 88.36). References like these are made to emphasize the generosity and hospitality of the women.


[1]: J.C. Ward ‘English Noblewomen and the local community’ in D. Watt (ed.), Medieval Women in their Communities (Cardiff, 1997), 189; J.C. Ward (cyf.), Women of the English Nobility and Gentry 1066-1500 (Manchester, 1995). For the wife in medieval Wales see D. Johnston, ‘Lewys Glyn Cothi, Bardd y Gwragedd’, Taliesin 74 (Haf 1991), 68-77; S. Davies, ‘Y ferch yng Nghymru yn yr Oesoedd Canol’, Cof Cenedl 9 (1994), 3-32.
[2]: J.C. Ward, Women of the English Nobility and Gentry, 1066-1500 (Manchester, 1995), 170-81.
[3]: B.A. Henisch, The Medieval Cook (Woodbridge, 2009), 109.
[4]: B.A. Henisch, The Medieval Cook, 109.
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