databas cerddi guto'r glyn


The use of shields in battle became less common in the fifteenth century, as a result of improvements in armour. It is no wonder, then, that shields are not as prominent in the praise poetry of Guto’r Glyn as they had been in the works of earlier medieval poets.[1] He does, however, mention them several times, using the word tarian (the most common word for a shield in medieval Welsh) and also aes or aesawr (commonly found in the earlier poetry). Sir Rhys ap Tomas of Abermarlais is compared to ‘stars on a shield’ (sŷr aesawr) in one of his praise poems (poem 14.39), whilst in another, Guto describes John Talbot, second earl of Shrewsbury, as a ‘boar of steel shields’ (baedd dur aesawr, poem 78.47). The purpose of such imagery was to praise the patrons’ splendid appearance, courage and strength, but a metaphorical shield appears in a different guise in Guto’s praise poem to Sir William ap Tomas of Raglan, where it is compared to his ‘pure, merry heart’ (calon lon lân):

Moes weithian y darian dau 
I’w dwyn lle bu dy ynau. 
Nid erchi rhoddi rhuddaur, 
Nid tarian arian neu aur; 
Erchi dy galon lon lân, 
Arglwydd rhywiawglwydd Rhaglan; 
Un waith ydiw calon wych 
 tharian o waith eurych. 
Give now your shield
to be borne where once your gowns were.
I’m not asking for red gold to be given,
not a shield of silver or gold;
asking rather for your pure, merry heart,
O noble, flourishing lord of Raglan;
a fine heart is of the same manufacture
as a shield made by a goldsmith.

(poem 19.31-8)

This buckler dates from about 1540 and is from the Wrexham area.
A buckler (round shield)
Click for a larger image
This shield has further significance as a sign of the patron’s favour, an idea which may be connected to the custom of using a shield to display a heraldic coat of arms (see Status and Heraldry).

A particular type of shield that was popular in Guto’s time was the buckler or bwcled. The Welsh buckler was a small round shield made from leather reinforced with iron or brass fittings and was often used for fencing, being held in the left hand whilst the sword was used with the right.[2] Bucklers were a common subject of poems of request and thanks, and amongst these is Guto’s own poem offering thanks for the gift he received from Abbot Dafydd ab Ieuan of Valle Crucis (poem 110).

Guto provides a detailed description of this buckler.[3] He refers several times to its round shape, calling it an olwyn (‘wheel’, poem 110.25), a drych (‘mirror’, 27), a crondorth (‘round loaf’, 44), a lleuad (‘moon’, 51) and a desgl (‘dish’, 26). It is small (39), and has a boss in its centre behind which there is a snug place for his hand to grasp it:

Mae lle nyth i’m llaw yn ôl, 
Maneg wen mewn ei ganol, 
Annedd i’m bysedd a’m bawd 
Ar gefn dwrn rhag ofn dyrnawd. 
In the rear there is a place like a nest for my hand,
a white glove in its middle,
a dwelling-place for my fingers and thumb
above the fist in case of a blow.

(poem 110.29-32)

Guto describes the buckler as a ‘lattice of steel’ (clwyd ddur, 22) and as ‘the mottled weave-work of the blacksmith up above’ (gwaith gwe fraith y gof, 24). This ‘lattice’ was apparently made up of three circles (tri chylch, 27) along with metal ribs or ‘arms’ (breichiau) radiating from its centre like pelydr haul ‘sun-rays’ (33-4). Guto refers specifically to the buckler’s many nails, and even describes its manufacture:

Pennau ei freichiau o’i fron,  
Pelydr haul, plaid yr hoelion: 
Pob gordd yn pwyaw heb gam 
Pricswn y siop o Wrecsam. 
The ends of its arms stretching out from its breast,
sun-rays, a host of nails:
each hammer striking without fault
the musical notation of the shop in Wrexham.

(poem 110.33-6)

The area around Wrexham and Ruabon in north east Wales was an important manufacturing centre for bucklers from c.1440 to 1580, apparently producing them for export to London and other places as well as for use in Wales.[4] The craftsmanship of buckler-makers is also praised in other poems and one smith, Ieuan ap Deicws of Ruabon, is even mentioned by name.[5]

Guto’s description of the buckler in his own poem includes several mentions of his sword. He refers to wearing the buckler on the sword’s scabbard or hilt (50) and, in the closing lines of the poem, even states that he would like to have both buckler and sword carved upon his gravestone:

Mae Adda Fras ym medd fry, 
Minnau ’n Iâl mynnwn wely 
A’m bwcled a’m bywiocledd 
Yn arfau maen ar fy medd. 
Adda Fras is in a grave yonder,
I, for my part, would desire a bed in Yale
with my buckler and lively sword
as arms of stone upon my grave.

(poem 110.63-6)

Mentioning sword and buckler together was another common theme in poems of request and thanks, and indeed one way of introducing the request was to say that the poet or patron already had a sword and needed a buckler to go with it.[6] Similarities can also be seen in the imagery used by different poets to describe the shape and brightness of bucklers and their various features and fittings. [7]


[1]: J. Day, ‘Shields in Welsh poetry up to c.1300: decoration, shape and significance’, Studia Celtica, xlv (2011), 27-52; and for the shields in Guto’s poems 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).
[2]: I. Edwards and C. Blair , ‘Welsh Bucklers’, The Antiquaries Journal, 62 (1982), 74-115 (80, 100-1).
[3]: See Ann Parry Owen’s explanatory note, poem 110.
[4]: Edwards and Blair , ‘Welsh Bucklers’, 90.
[5]: T.G. Jones (ed.), Gwaith Tudur Aled (Caerdydd, 1926), poem no. CXV, and E. Rolant (ed.), Gwaith Owain ap Llywelyn ab y Moel (Caerdydd, 1984), poem no. 20.
[6]: See E. Bachellery (éd.), L’oeuvre poétique de Gutun Owain (Paris, 1950-1), poem no. XIV.
[7]: B.O. Huws, Y Canu Gofyn a Diolch c.1350-c.1630 (Caerdydd, 1998), 174-77, and see also Edwards and Blair , ‘Welsh Bucklers’, 74-115.
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