databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Court officials

A court official in the Welsh Laws of Hywel Dda, Peniarth MS 28, f.8v (Digital Mirror).
A court official in the Welsh laws
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The Laws of Hywel Dda, the native law of the Welsh, explains the order of the Welsh court during the Age of the Princes and before the Edwardian conquest.[1] Many court officials who were involved with the domestic arrangements of the court are named in the laws; some are even illustrated in Peniarth 28. Many political and social changes were made by the fifteenth century. However, feasting was still an important activity for the Welsh gentry, and they seemed to follow an arrangement quite similar to their ancestors. Names of the court officials may have changed but their duties were the same.

The officer in charge of cooking the food was named as the cog ‘cook’.[footnote:See Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru s.v. cog². Meat was prepared by the butcher and cooked by the cog and in the wealthiest houses, he had many other servants assisting him to create various dishes and delicacies. Rhisiart Cyffin, dean of Bangor, had a panter, an officer in charge of the pantry, to help his cook at the Bishop's Palace:

Tŷ’r gŵr a’i banter a’i gog 
Yw tridawn cwrtiwr oediog. 
the man’s house, his panter and his cook
are the three blessings of an old courtier.

(poem 58.15-16)

Most of the cooking would take place in the kitchen, as at the home of Sir Siôn Mechain in Llandrinio according to Guto’r Glyn where there was a pantri cegin, ‘kitchen pantry’ (poem 85.28); but meats were also cooked on roasting spits by the main fireplace (see Cooking utensils). Occasionally, the poets do praise the cook indirectly while commenting on the choice of food, as does Guto while praising the feast at Penrhyn, home of Wiliam Fychan ap Gwilym:

Seigiau, gwirodau gwridog, 
Saith gwrs a welais i’th gog. 
Dy blas ni welwyd eb wledd, 
Dy blaid, llonaid holl Wynedd, 
dishes, red liquors,
I saw seven courses by your cook.
Your palace hasn’t been seen without a feast,
your family is the fullness of all Gwynedd,

(poem 57.25-8)

Serving the food from the kitchen to the tables in the main hall was in the hands of the bwtler and the sewer. Bwtler, borrowed from the English ‘butler’ is a familiar word today. However, in the fifteenth century, the butler’s main role was to be in charge of the wine cellar and to pour drinks. Another officer called the cerfydd (or cyfrydd) was responsible for distributing ale and beer. The sewer would not only serve the food, he was expected to taste it too. The name is borrowed from the Middle English sewer ‘an attendant at meal’.[2].] These court officials who served and tasted the food and drink were all employed at Raglan castle as many poets note in their praises of the Herberts.[3]

Court officials who welcomed guests and escorted them to their tables are also referred to in the poetry. The isier, borrowed from the English word, usher, was a servant who admitted people to the hall, and the porthor ‘doorkeeper’ guarded the main door. These officers are listed in a poem by Lewys Glyn Cothi to Sir Richard Herbert of Coldbrook; a patron who was wealthy enough to have as many servants as he wanted to match the magnificent building described by Guto’r Glyn (see Coldbrook and poem 22).[4] Listing these officers was a way of showing the vast provisions of the patron himself, as well as his generous hospitality.


[1]: See T.M. Charles-Edwards, M.E. Owen, and P. Russell (eds), The Welsh King and his Court (Cardiff, 2000).
[2]: The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. [i:sewer . [n²
[3]: See especially D.F. Evans, Gwaith Hywel Swrdwal a’i deulu (Aberystwyth, 2000), poem 5.
[4]: D. Johnston, Gwaith Lewys Glyn Cothi (Caerdydd, 1995), poem no.114.40.
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