databas cerddi guto'r glyn


The spear or lance, comprising a long wooden shaft with a sharp head of iron or steel, continued to be used on the battlefield in the time of Guto’r Glyn as it had been for centuries previously.
A man holding a spear in a Welsh text of the Laws of Hywel Dda, NLW MS 20143A, f.41r, 14th century.
A man with a spear
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Throughout the Middle Ages spears were very often mentioned by poets, using a variety of terms including gwayw, paladr, dart, pâr, rhôn and glaif (for poetic references to spears up to c.1300 see J.P. Day, ‘Arfau yn yr Hengerdd a cherddi Beirdd y Tywysogion’ (Ph.D. Wales (Aberystwyth), 2010), 211-82, 466-74). The wood of ash trees (onn) was often used to make spear shafts and this is reflected in the term onwayw (‘ash spear’) used by poets (e.g. poem 10.8 and poem 51.51) and in Guto’s reference to a pâr onwydd (‘ash-wood spear’, poem 48.47). As well as using all of the other terms for spears mentioned above, Guto also uses a word not recorded anywhere else in the Welsh language, namely lownsgae, a borrowing from the English ‘lancegay’ which denotes a particular kind of light spear (poem 78.54).

Poets often mentioned spears in order to praise a patron’s prowess in fighting or defence, as in the case of Guto’s praise of Matthew Gough of Maelor, a prominent military leader in northern France during the final phase of the Hundred Years War:

Gwayw a chorff Mathau Goch hael 
A gyfyd Lloegr a’i gafael. 
The spear and body of generous Matthew Gough
will lift England and her inherited land.

(poem 3.11-12)

Sometimes an adjective is used to describe a patron’s spear. Sir Richard Gethin’s weapon is an ‘unbending spear’ according to Guto (gwayw uniawn, poem 1.23) whilst Henry Griffith of Newcourt has ‘long spears’ (gwewyr hirion, poem 33.21). The poet refers to a ‘blue-coloured spear’ (gwayw lliwlas) in his poem to Dafydd ap Tomas of Blaen-tren (poem 12.3), and in another poem uses the word gwaywlas (‘blue-spear[ed]’) to describe Wiliam ap Gruffudd of Cochwillan (poem 55.3). Although some spears might indeed be painted in different colours (particularly those used for jousting in tournaments), the word glas has a wide range of meanings and it is likely that it refers in these examples to the innate colour of the metal of the spear-heads, their brightness, or the paleness of the spear-shafts. Similarly, the lownsgae aur (‘golden lancegay’) mentioned in Guto’s poem to John Talbot, second earl of Shrewsbury, is probably best understood as a ‘splendid’ weapon as opposed to one literally adorned with gold (poem 78.54).

Red is the colour most often associated with spears in the poetry. Guto refers to Matthew Gough, for example, as a ‘badger with his red spear overthrowing a hundred men’ (Broch a’i bâr coch yn bwrw cant, poem 3.9). Gwaywrudd (‘red spear’ or ‘red-speared [man]’) was a word often used by poets when describing their patrons, and examples in Guto’s works are found in his poems to Henry Griffith of Newcourt (poem 32.7) and also Hywel ap Llywelyn Fychan of Glyn Aeron, who is called a ‘brave lord with a red spear’ (rhi dewr gwaywrudd, poem 10.21). The significance of the red colour, of course, is that the spear has been stained with blood as a result of the patron’s fierce and brave fighting in battle. This idea is extended in another poem where Guto portrays the patron (Henry Griffith again) as someone to be feared on the battlefield, and whose spear is not just red but ‘fiery red’:

Ni baidd neb yn wyneb Nudd 
At Henri â’r gwayw tanrhudd, 
No one dares, confronted with this man like Nudd,
to attack Henry with the fire-red spear,

(poem 33.35-6)

The image of the red, bloodstained spear was widespread in earlier poetry, as was that of the spear broken in combat - another symbol of the ferocity of a battle or of an individual’s courage and determination.[1] Guto himself refers to a spear in two halves (gwayw dau hanner) in his poem to Rhys ap Dafydd of Uwch Aeron (poem 11.34) and elsewhere praises Sir Walter Herbert’s ability ‘to break a spear, to challenge men’ (Torri gwayw, anturio gwŷr, poem 27.29).

The poets often used the spear as a metaphor for their patrons. Guto declares, for example, that Henry Griffith was ‘a spear in battle for Wales’ (gwayw ’mrwydr i Gymru, poem 36.39) and describes the five sons of Llywelyn ap Hwlcyn of Anglesey as ‘five tall spears’ (pum wayw hirion, poem 63.63).

The poets do not usually provide much information about how spears were used in combat, but one important exception is the poem which describes Gruffudd Fychan ap Gruffudd Deuddwr of Collfryn fighting against an Englishman:

Troi blaen gwayw, graen o’i grwm, 
Tua’i fwnwgl, tew fonwm, 
Treiglo’r anfad benadur 
Tros ei farch, pand trawsa’ fur? 
Canu yna, garwa’ gŵr, 
Gri a ‘mersi!’ o’r Marswr. 
Bwrw’r ail, ffyrf gynheiliad, 
Bwrw’r trydydd, cynigydd cad. 
He pointed the tip of his spear, terrible was he in his hunched posture,
towards his neck, the fat lump,
toppled the heinous lord
off his steed, was he not a most oppressive chief?
Then he from the March, roughest of men,
uttered a cry and ‘mercy!’
He struck the second, staunch supporter,
struck the third, offerer of combat.

(poem 83.39-46)

This passage describes jousting, i.e. the type of combat where two men on horseback charge at one another holding their lances ‘couched’ under the right arm. The throwing or unhorsing of one of the riders was a common outcome, often described by the verb bwrw, which could mean either ‘to strike’ or ‘to throw’ (another common outcome was the breaking of spears).

Other references provide further evidence that this type of combat was practised by the poets’ patrons. In two different poems Guto refers to a r(h)est, a projection attached to a jouster’s breastplate which served to help support the lance and prevent it from rebounding on impact (poem 3.16 and poem 98.44).[2] And spears and horses are mentioned together in a number of Guto’s poems, including his praise poem to Sir Rhys ap Tomas of Abermarlais:

A Syr Rys mal sŷr aesawr 
Â’r gwayw ’n eu mysg ar gnyw mawr. 
and Sir Rhys like the stars of a shield
with the spear in their midst on a great steed.

(poem 14.39-40)

This image of knightly combat was a powerful one but in reality, even before Guto’s time, new approaches to warfare and organizing armies (including the use of large numbers of archers) meant that even those who possessed war-horses would often dismount before going into battle, saving their jousting skills for the tournament or for minor skirmishes.[3] The poets’ continuing fondness for describing their patrons fighting with spears reflects the strength of the ‘chivalric’ ideal as well as the long-standing conventions of Welsh poetry.

(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).)


[1]: J.P. Day, ‘Arfau yn yr Hengerdd a cherddi Beirdd y Tywysogion’ (Ph.D. Wales (Aberystwyth), 2010), 256-63.
[2]: C. Blair, European Armour circa 1066 to circa 1700 (London, 1958), 61, and K. DeVries and R.D. Smith, Medieval Military Technology (2nd edition; Toronto, 2012), 77.
[3]: A. Ayton, ‘English armies in the fourteenth century’, A.Curry and M. Hughes (eds.), Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War (Woodbridge, 1994), 21-38 (35), and 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 (180).
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