databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Hunted animals

The image is from the 'Tacuinum Sanitatis' manuscript, c. 1400.
Boar hunting
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A variety of creatures that could be hunted are mentioned in the Welsh laws, namely red deer, roe deer, wild boar, fox, otter, heron, bittern, curlew, crane and even a swarm of bees (the bees, along with the fox, otter and roe deer, are noted as creatures that could be taken by anyone).[1] Further evidence is provided by the mid-sixteenth century compilation Y Naw Helwriaeth ‘The Nine Huntings’, which mentions deer, roe deer, hare, fox, dringhedydd ‘climber’ (referring to a ‘wood cat’, polecat or squirrel), cock-of-the-wood (perhaps a pheasant or black grouse, or a general ‘game-bird’), salmon and bees.[2] Wild boar and even bears are also mentioned in this text, although they had become extinct in the wild in Britain long before it was compiled.

Several of the animals mentioned in the Welsh laws or Y Naw Helwriaeth also make an appearance in Guto’r Glyn’s satire on Dafydd ab Edmwnd, in which he portrays his fellow poet as a creature being hunted by himself and other poets:

Nid carw yw, onid cyw’r iâr, 
Nid cariwrch, onid coriar. 
Y rhai a’i gyrrai ar gil 
A wnâi fostfardd yn fwystfil: 
Y naill yw, ef a wna llam, 
Ai dyfrgi, ai Dai fergam, 
Ai cath, ai ’sgyfarnog gul, 
Ai ffwlbert a gaiff helbul. 
Llwynog Powys Fadog fydd, 
Llai nog âb – llyna gybydd! 
He is no stag, but a hen’s chick,
no roe deer but a bantam.
Those who would send him packing
would make a boastful poet a beast:
he is either an otter, he gives a leap,
or bandy-legged Dai,
or a cat, or a thin hare,
or a polecat that will encounter trouble.
He will be the fox of Powys Fadog,
smaller than a monkey – what a miser!

(poem 66.23-32)

Elsewhere in the poem Dafydd is likened to an ewig ‘hind’ (9), iwrch ‘roebuck’ (14) and gwadd ‘mole’ (35), and a dyfriar ‘water-hen’ is also mentioned (59). Several hunting methods are described, not only pursuit by hounds and shooting with a bow and arrow but also a rhwyd rawn ‘net of horsehair’ (38). Although nets were sometimes used for hunting large animals such as deer and wild boar, as well as for catching fish, birds, rabbits and hares, they were frowned upon by some as an ‘ignoble’ form of hunting, and so Guto may have mentioned the net in order to reinforce the idea that Dafydd makes a poor quarry.[3]

Other poets also mention humbler forms of hunting. Maredudd ap Rhys composed poems of request and thanks for a fishing net, Gruffudd ap Maredudd referred in a metaphorical context to using a trident (tryfer) to catch a young salmon (gleisiad), and Yr Ustus Llwyd mentions using a net to catch an otter.[4] Several methods of catching birds feature in Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poem ‘Conversing with the Woodcock’, namely shooting, trapping with a snare and, perhaps, the use of a ‘cockshoot’, which was a clearing in woodland into which birds were driven in order to catch them in nets (‘Dafydd ap’, poem no. 52.).
A deer in the Welsh Law of Hywel Dda, Peniarth MS 28, f.26v (Digital Mirror).
A deer in the Welsh Law
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It was the stag, however, that was widely regarded as the noblest quarry, and this is reflected in the poetry. In Guto’r Glyn’s poem to request a hawk, he refers to Rhisiart Cyffin ab Ieuan Llwyd, dean of Bangor, as a generous relative ‘who loves to hunt stags’ (a gâr hely hydd, poem 60.38), and in his poem requesting a hunting knife it is clear that butchering stags is the knife’s main role (poem 76). Likewise, his poem requesting a hunting horn mentions that it will be sounded pan fai’n ymlid hydd ‘when chasing a stag’ (poem 99.36), whilst the two hounds he requests in another poem are, he says, able to defeat stags (ceirw a faeddant, poem 100.57).

The stag, as a powerful, swift and magnificent animal, was also used in a variety of poetic comparisons. Guto compares horses and oxen to stags in request poems (poem 39.28, poem 51.40 and poem 108.56), and is particularly fond of referring to his patrons as a figurative ‘stag’ (carw or hydd; e.g. poem 1.10, poem 4.19, poem 8.4, poem 32.18 and poem 32.20). In his elegy for Siôn ap Madog Puleston he even refers to Siôn’s widow, Alswn, as a doe (carw moel, literally a ‘bald’ or hornless deer) and to their young son Siôn as an elain ‘fawn, young deer’:

Y mae elain ym Maelawr 
I garw moel a fydd gŵr mawr, 
There is a young stag in Maelor,
progeny of a doe, who will be a great man,

(poem 72.57-8)

Guto takes the stag comparison further in his poem celebrating the fact that Sir Richard Gethin has avoided capture by the French:

Na helied ein hoyw alawnt 
Gorgwn mân, garw gwinau Mawnt. 
Let the little lapdogs not hunt our merry gallant,
the brown stag of Mantes.

(poem 2.53-4)

And he uses imagery based on the form of a stag’s antlers to creative effect in his poem in praise of David Mathew of Llandaf:

Mae tyfiad mwy yt, Dafydd: 
Meibion fal cyrn hirion hydd, 
Fal na bydd na blaen na bôn, 
Addwyn ceirw, heb ddwyn coron. 
Carw i’th gwrt, cywir y’th gair, 
Hwyntau yw d’osglau disglair. 
You have a yet greater increase, David:
sons like the tall antlers of a stag,
of such a kind that no one of them
will fail to bear a crown, the stags are splendid.
O stag in your own court, you are found to be faithful,
they are the splendid tines of your antlers.

(poem 17.39-44)

An association between stags and crowns is also found in Guto’s poem urging Edward IV to restore order in Wales. Here the king is depicted as a ‘stag with the three crowns’ (carw â’r tair coron, poem 29.39), an echo, perhaps, of the reference to ‘a stag with ten branches, four of which will wear golden crowns’ in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Prophecies of Merlin’, as well as the Yorkist idea that the stag was one of the symbols of the rightful king.[5] In the same poem the king is described as a ‘stag awaiting antlers’ (carw yn aros cyrn, poem 29.45), which may reflect the poet’s desire that he should concentrate on his responsibilities in Wales before venturing to fight abroad.

Stags shed and regrow their antlers every year, and the size and number of tines of the antlers provides an obvious sign of their age and condition. They were generally hunted when the antlers had regrown and lost their coating of ‘velvet’ (24 June to 14 September according to ‘The Boke of St Albans’), and older stags with at least ten tines on their antlers were the most sought-after quarry.[6] The word helgarw in Guto’s poem in praise of Phylib ap Gwilym Llwyd of Tregunter (used as a figurative reference to the patron) derives from the stem of the verb hela ‘to hunt’ and carw ‘stag’, and so presumably denotes a stag which was suitable for hunting - that is, one that was mature and with magnificent antlers (poem 30.24).[7]

Another important aspect of the poets’ comparisons of their patrons to stags was the widespread belief that these animals had a particularly long lifespan: an Irish proverb, for example, stated that ‘three lifetimes of man equal the lifetime of a stag’ (Tri aois duine, aois faidh).[8] Poets often referred to stags when wishing their patrons a long life, as in a couplet from Guto’s poem offering thanks for the gift of a buckler:

Yno tyfo oed Dafydd 
Abad, hwy no bywyd hydd: 
There may Abbot Dafydd’s age increase
greater than the lifetime of a stag:

(poem 110.7-8)

Deer were also important in other literary contexts.[9] They were widely used in religious homilies and allegories, and in romance tales deer-hunting could provide a convenient means by which a hero was taken out into the wide world and drawn into his adventures. Deer and deer-hunting also provided symbolism for the literature of ‘courtly love’, in which a lover was often envisaged as a hunter in pursuit of a ‘hind’ representing the woman he desires. Similar imagery occurs in Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poem ‘The Dream’, in which the ‘hind’, pursued by the ‘hounds’ that are his love messengers, runs to him for sanctuary in the end, whilst in another poem he chooses the humble roebuck as a love messenger (‘Dafydd ap’, poems 46 and 79).[10]


[1]: D. Jenkins, ‘Hawk and Hound: Hunting in the Laws of Court’, in T.M. Charles-Edwards, M.E. Owen and P. Russell (eds.), The Welsh King and his Court (Cardiff, 2000), 255-80 (263, 273-5).
[2]: W. Linnard, ‘The Nine Huntings: A Re-examination of Y Naw Helwriaeth’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 31 (1984), 119-32.
[3]: J. Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting: The Hound and the Hawk (London, 1988), 235.
[4]: E. Roberts (gol.), Gwaith Maredudd ap Rhys a’i Gyfoedion (Aberystwyth, 2003), poems 7 and 8; B.J. Lewis (gol.), Gwaith Gruffudd ap Maredudd ap Dafydd, ii, Canu Crefyddol (Aberystwyth, 2005), 3.80, and B.J. Lewis and T. Morys (gol.), Gwaith Madog Benfras ac Eraill o Feirdd y Bedwaredd Ganrif ar Ddeg ynghyd â Gwaith Yr Ustus Llwyd (Aberystwyth, 2007), 21.55-6, and see also D.H. Evans, ‘Yr Ustus Llwyd a'r Swrcod’, Ysgrifau Beirniadol, xvii (1990), 63-92 (84-5).
[5]: M.D. Reeve and N. Wright (eds.), Geoffrey of Monmouth: History of the Kings of Britain (Woodbridge, 2007), 153, and A.R. Allan, ‘Political Propaganda Employed by the House of York in England in the Mid-fifteenth Century, 1450-71’ (Ph.D. Wales (Swansea), 1981), 409.
[6]: Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting, 32-3.
[7]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (Caerdydd, 1950-2002), s.v. helgarw.
[8]: M. Bath, ‘Some Ancient Traditions of Longevity in Animals’, Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 8 (1976-8), 249-58.
[9]: See Cummins, The Art of Medieval Hunting, 68-83.
[10]: See also P. Lynne Williams, ‘Cywydd “Y Carw” Dafydd ap Gwilym: Rhai Ystyriaethau’, Y Traethodydd, 155 (2000), 80-92.
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