databas cerddi guto'r glyn

The helmet

Guto’r Glyn refers several times to helmets in his poems, reflecting the importance of wearing some form of head-covering in battle. He uses the adjective helmlas (‘with a steel-blue helmet’) to describe Meurig ap Llywelyn of Anglesey (poem 63.38) and refers in another poem to the helm gribawg ‘crested helmet’ of Robert Puleston of Llannerch (poem 53.6).

Other terms for a helmet in his poems are ysgŵl ‘(round steel) helmet, skulll(cap)’ (poem 73.22, poem 83.26) and saeled (poem 73.63, poem 78.53), a borrowing from the Middle English salet denoting a type of light helmet, sometimes with a visor, which curves outwards at the nape of the neck.[1] This was a new type of helmet in Guto’s day: having been developed in Italy early in the fifteenth century it reached England around 1430, becoming very popular by the time of the Wars of the Roses.[2]

In his poem to request a sallet from Wiliam Rodn ap Richard Rodn of Holt on behalf of Dafydd Bromffild of Bersham, Guto seems to liken it to a bishop’s mitre (esgob … o wisg ei ben ‘a bishop ... from his head’s dress’, 41), which suggests that it may have had a high, pointed crown like the ‘Coventry sallet’.[3] He uses architectural metaphors to describe the sallet, such as ‘house’ (poem 73.38, 56), esgopty ‘bishop’s palace’ (41), penty ‘chief house’ (44), neuadd ‘hall’ (49), eglwys ‘church’ (53), tŵr ‘tower’ (55) and cuddigl ‘cubicle’ (57) (for other architectural metaphors see Houses and Buildings: Architecture). In a similar vein, he also refers to the sallet as gwely’r pen ‘the head’s bed’ (46). Guto goes into particular detail when describing the sallet’s fiswr ‘visor’:

Neuadd i wallt nai Owain 
A’i pharlwr yw’r fiswr fain. 
Y dyn â’i glust wrth dân glo 
A roes porth a’r Siêp wrtho. 
Eglwys yw fal glas iäen 
 drws y porth ar draws pen, 
A hall for the hair of Owain’s nephew
and its parlour is the thin visor.
It’s the man with his ear by a coal fire
who put a gateway and Cheapside beside it.
It’s a church like a piece of blue ice
with the gateway’s door across a head,

(poem 73.49-54)

Later in the poem Guto refers to the visor as a trap i gadw’r trwyn ‘trap to protect the nose’ (58).

We learn that the sallet is made of dur gwyn ‘white steel’ (38) and its brightness is mentioned several times: it is called lamp i’r iad ‘the forehead’s lantern’ (39) and compared to glas iäen (‘a piece of blue ice’, 53), gwawr ddydd ‘the break of day’ (66), hindda ‘good weather’ (67) and haul ‘the sun’ (68).

Yet another reference to the sallet’s brightness is the line Golau yw’r ferch o Galais ‘The girl from Calais is a bright one’ (45). Perhaps, too, it is its brightness that caused Guto to describe it as Gwen ferch y gof ‘Gwen the smith’s daughter’ (62), since gwen is an adjective meaning ‘white’ as well as being a personal name. Another possibility is that the sallet’s ‘tail’ reminded Guto of a girl’s long hair! The smith (gof) is again mentioned in line 44 and alluded to in line 51, Y dyn â’i glust wrth dân glo ‘the man with his ear by a coal fire’, and his craft is mentioned in line 12, O dri thwyts rhwng dŵr a thân ‘from three touches between water and fire’ (see plate armour). It seems, then, that Guto held the blacksmiths’ craft in high regard, an attitude also reflected in his poem of thanks for a buckler.


[1]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (Caerdydd, 1950-2002), s.v. ysgŵl, sgŵl², (y)sgwl and saeled¹, saelet, saled².
[2]: D. Edge and J.M. Paddock, Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight (London, 1996), 99-100, 128, and A.W. Boardman, The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, 1998), 129-30.
[3]: C. Gravett, English Medieval Knight 1400-1500 (Oxford, 2001), 29, and Edge and Paddock, Arms and Armour, 114.
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