Llywelyn ap Gutun was a poet-harpist who composed a satire on Guto in which he claims that his fellow poet had drowned in Malltraeth on Anglesey (poem 65a). The article below is based mainly on the preface of GLlGt, with reference to Guto’s descriptions of Llywelyn in his poem in reply to the satire above (poem 65).
Although Llywelyn’s lineage has not survived in the genealogies, the simple genealogy below is traceable on the basis of both Llywelyn’s poems and information written with those poems in the manuscripts:
Llywelyn composed a poignant elegy for his son, Gruffudd (GLlGt poem 1).
His home and dates
Guto locates Llywelyn’s home in Melverley (65.53), a parish and possibly a village to the south of Oswestry in Shropshire. The river Efyrnwy flows into the river Severn not far to the east of Melverley, near the modern-day border between Wales and England. His location is confirmed by Llywelyn himself and by Lewys Môn.
It is likely that Llywelyn was born between 1430 and 1440. These dates are supported by Guto’s descriptions of Llywelyn as a gwas gwych ‘brilliant lad’ and a mab ‘lad’ (65.10, 48). Furthermore, Guto describes himself as a lledrith hen ‘old spectre’ (32), and he is described by Llywelyn as capten yr henfeirdd ‘the old poets’ captain’ (65a.45). The strong suggestion is that Llywelyn was slightly younger than Guto and could therefore tease him accordingly. It seems that he died early in the sixteenth century.
As Guto shows in his poem for Llywelyn, his fellow poet was also a harpist. Both Dafydd Llwyd of Mathafarn and Syr Dafydd Trefor also mention this fact, and Griffith (1913: 246) claims that he also played the crowd and was Dafydd Llwyd’s personal crowder. According to some manuscripts, Llywelyn was the ‘harpist of Llwydiarth’, in all likelihood the court near Llannerch-y-medd, Anglesey (65.19n). Llywelyn probably learnt the harp first and then received training in the poetic craft.
His status as a harpist sets him apart from the majority of professional poets, whose main business was composing poems of praise. Llywelyn busied himself with both satirical and debate poems, and there are no poems of praise attributed to him. This reflects the fact that, for the most part, he could earn a living both playing the harp and driving sheep, yet it also reflects Llywelyn’s contentious character. As Daniel (GLlGt 6) suggested, his career as a poet can be summed up as a series of confrontations. He clashed with Dafydd Llwyd of Mathafarn on at least three occasions: in a series of debate poems with Dafydd and Gwerful Mechain; in other debate poems with Dafydd on the subject of driving sheep (in which he refers to the poet-priest, Sir Rhys); when Dafydd sent him on a futile errand to Bardsey Island.
Llywelyn was one of a number of poets who were associated with Dafydd Llwyd’s home in Mathafarn, and it has been suggested that it was there that he met both Guto and Owain ap Llywelyn ab y Moel (on whose behalf Llywelyn composed a poem to request a pair of spectacles and to request a pair for himself). However, as the connections of both Guto and Owain with Mathafarn are tenuous at best, it may be better to assume that Llywelyn came into contact with them in the homes of patrons in other parts of the country. It is possible that he first met Guto on Anglesey, for their satirical poems were performed on the island. Anglesey or Arfon was also where Llywelyn clashed with Rhisiart Cyffin, dean of Bangor, on whom he composed three satires on two subjects. One was an argument about driving sheep on Anglesey and the other was their lust for a girl named Alswn of Anglesey. On another occasion he praised the generosity of the people of Gwynedd for allowing him to gather sheep so that he could pay his debts in Merionethshire.
Daniel (GLlGt 11, 14) draws attention to the fact that Llywelyn’s career was markedly different from many other fifteenth-century poets, chiefly as he was, first and foremost, a harpist, but also as he coveted wealth to a higher degree than most and was a lively, bold and quarrelsome character. His poetry suggests that he was unconventional, colourful and individualistic, and although his skill as a poet was not as accomplished as some of his fellow-poets, in contrast to much of the staid poetic muses of his day, his assertive and exciting personality was a welcome presence.
Griffith, R. (1913), Llyfr Cerdd Dannau: Ymchwiliad i Hanes Hen Gerddoriaeth a’r Dulliau Hynaf o Ganu (Caernarfon)