Euro’i wregis cyn mis Mai,
Swords were important weapons throughout the Middle Ages, being used both on the battlefield and for self-defence in daily life. Fifteenth-century swords were generally stiff and tapering in form, with sharp, hard points so that they could pierce through chinks in plate armour. Most were of moderate size, but there were also some very large swords with long hilts that could be gripped in both hands. Swords were often used for ceremonial purposes and even carried a religious significance, reinforced by the cross-like shape of the hilt. There are a number of poetic references to patrons receiving a gold-decorated sword as part of the ceremony of being ordained a knight, as in Guto’r Glyn’s poem to Sir Roger Kynaston of Knockin:
Euro’i wregis cyn mis Mai,
Euro’i gledd a ryglyddai.
He deserved to have his belt
and sword gilded before May.
Swords are mentioned fairly often in Guto’s poems, using the words cledd or cleddyf. Many of these references are figurative, with the sword representing the patron himself, as in Guto’s poem to David Mathew of Llandaf where he declares ‘You are the key to Cardiff / and its splendid lock and its sword (Agoriad wyd ar Gaerdyf / A’i chlo addwyn a’i chleddyf, poem 17.9-10). Elsewhere a sword might symbolise a patron’s military prowess. In his poem to John Talbot, second earl of Shrewsbury, Guto refers to the patron’s gwyargledd sias or ‘blood-stained sword in battle’ (poem 78.2), and a common idea amongst the poets was that a sword won praise or renown (clod) for its wielder, as in Guto’s poem for Phylib ap Gwilym Llwyd of Tregunter:
Dawn i’m eryr dwyn mawredd,
A dwyn clod o dynnu cledd,
my eagle has the gift of bearing glory,
and bearing fame for drawing a sword,
Guto refers to his own sword in several poems. In his reply to Llywelyn ap Gutun’s satire he accuses the other poet of coveting his cloak (clog) and his sword (cledd) (poem 65.40), and in his poem to thank Rhisiart Cyffin, dean of Bangor, for a purse he mentions that this item is worn above his sword (poem 58.56). Likewise, in his poem offering thanks for a buckler (a type of small round shield) Guto states that he wore it upon his sword’s hilt or scabbard (poem 110.50). Swords and bucklers were often used together so it is natural enough that Guto should mention his sword several times in this poem - he even says that he would like to have both weapons carved on his gravestone (poem 110.63-6). His use of the words byr gledd (‘short sword’) and ysgïen, a term which could denote either a knife or short sword, suggests that this was a relatively small, light weapon (poem 110.43 and 59).
Light swords were often worn in this period as ‘everyday’ items for self-defence and as status symbols, so it is not surprising that Guto should have possessed such a weapon. It is also possible that he fought with a sword during his military service in France (see Guto’r Glyn), as did other professional archers.
(The above is based upon the more detailed discussion in: 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).)
Bibliography: K. DeVries, Medieval Military Technology (Hadleigh, 1992), 24-5, and E. Oakeshott (1964), The Sword in the Age of Chivalry (Woodbridge, 1964).
: A. Curry, Agincourt: A New History (3rd edition, Stroud, 2010), 71 and 255; A. Curry, ‘Guns and Goddams: was there a military revolution in Lancastrian Normandy 1415-50’, Journal of Medieval Military History, 8 (Woodbridge, 2010), 171-88 (179-80), and A.W. Boardman, The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, 1998), 136-7.
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