databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Farming animals

Following the uprising of Glyndŵr, Henry V attempted to compensate for the stock lost, paying a substantial sum for buying cattle and sheep. By the second half of the fifteenth century, the aristocracy could breed good, very valuable stock, and steeling animals became a big problem. Such is the complaint heard in some of the poems asking or thanking for animals. Indeed, we learn from these poems that animals had an obvious and very important place in society since nearly half of them are requests or thanks for various creatures.[1]
Ox in NLW MS 20143A, a Welsh text of the Laws of Hywel Dda
Ox in NLW MS 20143A
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The animals mentioned most frequently in the cywyddau of request and thanks are oxen and bulls. Sometimes details are given of some colour or other characteristic of the animal, such as the red or black colour of a bull. For instance, Deio ab Ieuan Du sang a poem to Siôn ap Rhys of Aberpergwm for a red bull.[2] Llawdden too sang a cywydd asking for a red bull from Rhisiart ap Siancyn ap Gilbert Twrberfil of Llandudwg in Glamorgan so as to breed calves, and it appears that formerly brown cattle were common in Radnorshire and south-east Wales.[3] Interestingly, the oxen requested in the poems are usually black rather than red.

Oxen were used to work on the farm because of their strength, especially so as to pull big equipment such as a plough. Guto’r Glyn sang a cywydd to ask for eight oxen on behalf of Rhisiart Cyffin ab Ieuan Llwyd, dean of Bangor. Guto explains that the dean already has two ploughs, but that he needs a third one, and that he therefore needs eight oxen to pull, the eight arranged `four oxen side by side'. With customary exaggeration, the poet claims that the oxen could plough rocks if asked to. The man who drove the oxen when ploughing, Gruffudd ap Gwilym, is also named:

Eidionau ânt hyd Annwn 
A dyr y graig yn dri grwn, 
Fy nhorch a’m cynllyfan hir 
Yn did rhyngthun y’u dodir 
A gorau gŵr o’r graig ym 
A’u geilw, Gruffudd ap Gwilym. 
The oxen which go as far as the Underworld
split the rock into three ridges,
my collar and my long lead
will be placed as a chain between them,
and my best man, Gruffudd ap Gwilym,
will call to them from the rock.

(poem 108.59-64)

Cattle were important not only for their meat but also for their milk which was used to make cheese, butter, etc. They were also sold in markets and therefore an important source of income.[4]

In the poems sung to Sir Bened ap Hywel, parson of Corwen we learn more about sheep farming and the wool industry. The price of fleece during this century increased greatly, which was a substantial incentive for farmers to increase their stock of sheep and to invest their earnings in the wool industry. They had already seen that there was a demand for Welsh cloth following the establishment of fulling-mills throughout the country during the fourteenth century, and although the quality of the cloth varied, wool clearly sold well. The regions of mid Wales were famous for sheep breeding, creating lasting commercial links with wool merchants in towns such as Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Bristol and London. Some wool and cloth was then exported to Ireland and countries such as France, Spain and Portugal. It appears that churchmen like Sir Benet and Sir Siôn Mechain took extensive advantage of this industry. Both farmed sheep and lambs so as to sell them and obtain a good price for their fleece. Guto says of Sir Benet:

Heusor beunydd Syr Bened 
Fûm cywir iawn, ef a’m cred. 
Cardinal, cariad yna, 
Corwen dir lle ceir ŵyn da. 
I was a very true shepherd to Sir Benet
every day, he trusts me.
He is cardinal, an object of affection there,
of the land of Corwen where fine lambs are found.

(poem 45.3-6)

Creatures such as swans and peacocks which were bred by the aristocracy are less familiar to us today. Bee-keeping too was common in the homes of the aristocracy.[5] Guto's references to bees reflect the importance of honey and mead (e.g. poem 63.33, poem 116.13).

Referring to farm animals as metaphors for patrons is another characteristic of the poetry of the period. The strength and power of a patron could be praised by calling him an ych `ox' or an ych bannog, as Guto did in praising Hywel ab Owain of Llanbryn-mair as ‘the horned ox of great Cyfeiliog!’ (poem 40.6). Other familiar metaphors for patrons in Guto's work are oen `lamb' and tarw `bull', the one suggesting meekness and the other strength and power. Sometimes the animals in the metaphors would possess heraldic significance, and on other occasions, especially in the case of smaller animals, they were mentioned to disparage in satirical poems. A man who was subjected to ridicule was Dafydd ab Edmwnd. He is called a cat, an otter, a thin hare and a polecat (see poem 66): wild, small animals which emphasize Dafydd ab Edmwnd's physical diminutiveness and ferocity. The description by Sir Rhys of Carno of Guto'r Glyn as anair gul `thin heffer' (poem 101a.26) is also unflattering.[6]


[1]: B.O. Huws, Y canu gofyn a diolch c.1350-c.1630 (Caerdydd, 1998), 66.
[2]: A.E. Davies (gol.), Gwaith Deio ab Ieuan Du a Gwilym ab Ieuan Hen (Caerdydd, 1992), poem no. 15.
[3]: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Llawdden (Aberystwyth, 2006), poem no.28.
[4]: W.H. Waters, `Documents relating to the Office of Escheator for North Wales for the year 1309-1310’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, vi (1931-3), 363-4.
[5]: E. Crane, The Archaeology of Beekeeping (London, 1983), 171-6.
[6]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru², s.v. anner.
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