databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Mail armour

A mail shirt from the 15th century
A mail shirt from the 15th century
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Guto’r Glyn mentions mael(y)s ‘mail’ in a number of poems (poem 1.27, poem 79.37, poem 98.54) and refers in his praise poem to the five sons of Llywelyn ap Hwlcyn of Anglesey to a pais dewfael (‘tunic of thick mail’, poem 63.19). It is, however, uncertain whether mail armour in the modern sense is meant every time, since it seems that mael or mael(y)s, like the English word ‘mail’, could denote not only armour of interlinked iron rings but also a garment of cloth, canvas or leather reinforced with iron plates, such as the brigandine.[1]

One instance where mael(ys) clearly does denote mail armour is a request poem attributed to ‘Guto Powys’ and addressed to his uncle, John Abrahall of Gillow. Here the armour is referred to as a lluryg or llurig (poem 120 lines 16, 20, 48 and 66), mael(ys) (18, 54, 62) and cotarmer (52), and described as wybrawl rwyd ‘celestial netting’ (28) and rhidyll aer ‘the sieve of battle’ (66). Reference is also made to its dur cyfrodedd ‘interwoven steel’ (50), but the most detailed description is in the following lines:

Gwisgwyd i’m iôr gwasgawd maith, 
Gwe faelys, da ei gyfeilwaith, 
Gorau gwisg i ŵr a gaid, 
Gadwnawg i gadw enaid, 
Trŵn y gwart rhwng trin a gwyll, 
Twrn wydr, tyr wayw’n nawdryll. 
Manawl o beth y’i plethwyd, 
Mal rhew, a mwynawl ei rhwyd, 
Maglau a chlymau achlân, 
Mil filioedd, mael o Felan. 
A mighty covering was worn about my lord,
a web of mail, good was its weaving,
the best garment which could be had for a man,
wrought into chains to preserve a man’s life,
compass of protection between battle and nightfall,
glass fit for an exploit, it will break a spear into nine fragments.
Intricately has it been woven,
like ice, and its netting is delightful,
all loops and knots,
a thousand thousands, mail from Milan.

(poem 120.53-62)

All this seems very apt as a description of a mail shirt, made by linking each small iron ring to four others.[2] Sometimes special rings made from brass, silver or even gold were included in the mail. They might show the name of the maker or his town or form a decorative border, a feature which probably explains Guto Powys’s reference to the ymyl euraid (‘golden edge’) of the mail in this poem (poem 120.48).[3]


[1]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (Caerdydd, 1950-2002), s.v. mael³, maels², maelys ‘mail, coat of mail, armour, coat of armour’, and ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’,, s.v. mail, n.³ 2(a).
[2]: C. Blair, European Armour circa 1066 to circa 1700 (London, 1958), 20.
[3]: M. Pfaffenbichler, Medieval Craftsmen: Armourers (London, 1992), 59-60, and Blair, European Armour, 170.
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