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Abbot Dafydd ab Owain of Strata Marcella, fl. c.1480/5–d. 1513

Guto composed a poem of praise for Abbot Dafydd ab Owain, possibly at the request of Abbot Dafydd ab Ieuan of Valle Crucis (poem 115). Although there are no other poems by Guto for Dafydd, it is likely that he received his patronage on more than one occasion.

Dafydd was, in the words of A.C. Lake (GSH 119), the ecclesiastical patron par excellence for whom more poems were composed than any other. Like every other patron, he is praised for his great generosity, yet the great number of poems addressed to him to request horses suggests that he was a notable breeder. There are a total of twenty-three extant poems to him by at least fourteen poets. Tudur Aled composed more poems to him than any other:

  • a poem of praise, TA poem III; CTC 215;
  • a poem of praise, TA poem XV; CTC 62;
  • a poem of praise, TA poem XVII; CTC 83;
  • a poem to request a horse, TA poem C; CTC 69;
  • a poem to request a horse on behalf of Sir Lewys Sytwn, TA poem XCIX; CTC 208;
  • a poem to request a horse on behalf of Edward Salbri (it is unclear whether or not he was related to Tomas Salbri), TA poem CIV; CTC 81;
  • a poem to request a horse on behalf of Wiliam Gruffudd of Penrhyn (the grandson, possibly, of Wiliam Fychan ap Gwilym), TA poem CXI (the same poem is attributed to Lewys Môn and was edited in GLM poem LXVI; CTC 70).

Furthermore, it is likely Tudur composed another poem for Dafydd to request a horse on behalf of Lewys ap Madog (TA poem CVI; CTC 72). Gruffudd ap Llywelyn Fychan composed two poems for Dafydd:

  • a poem to request a horse, CTC 64;
  • a poem to request a horse on behalf of Huw Smith, ibid. 212.

Many poets have one poem for Dafydd:

  • a poem of praise by Wiliam Egwad, CTC 49;
  • a poem of praise by Hywel Rheinallt, ibid. 55;
  • a poem of praise by Ieuan ap Tudur Penllyn, GTP poem 44; CTC 57;
  • a poem of praise by Ieuan Deulwyn, ID poem XXXI; CTC 206;
  • a poem of praise by Ieuan Llwyd Brydydd, GILlF poem 8;
  • a poem of praise by Lewys Môn, GLM poem LXV; CTC 60;
  • a poem of praise by Rhys Pennardd, ibid. 51;
  • a poem of praise by Siôn ap Hywel, GSH poem 1;
  • a poem by Bedo Brwynllys to request a mantle on behalf of one Marged, CTC 214;
  • a poem by Dafydd ap Maredudd to request a horse on behalf of Ieuan ap Dafydd Fychan, ibid. 210;
  • a poem by Owain ap Llywelyn ab y Moel to request a horse on behalf of Sioned daughter of Hywel (note that Owain’s father, Llywelyn, was a cousin of Dafydd, see below), GOLlM poem 21; CTC 66;
  • an incomplete poem of praise of unknown authorship, ibid. 59.

Furthermore, it is possible that Dafydd was the patron of a poem of uncertain authorship in which Rhys Grythor is satirized (see below).

The genealogical table below is based on WG1 ‘Aleth’ 6, ‘Moel y Pantri’; WG2 ‘Aleth’ 6B.

Lineage of Abbot Dafydd ab Owain of Strata Marcella

As is shown, Dafydd was a cousin of the famous poet, Llywelyn ab y Moel.

His career
It seems that Dafydd was a native of Glascoed in Meifod. He was an Oxford graduate in canon law and Guto also mentions his expert knowledge of civil law (115.29n canon). He was provisor of St Bernard’s College in Oxford c.1495 (St John’s College today). It was once believed that he had been associated with John Tiptoft, first earl of Worcester (who died in 1470), but this now seems unlikely (115.40n). What is certain is that Dafydd was a Lancastrian who personally supported Henry Tudor, both financially and, possibly, as a soldier at Bosworth in 1485 (GILlF 8.39n). No doubt his allegiance aided his subsequent dazzling career.

The exact dates of his career are problematic. Dafydd was the abbot of three Cistercian abbeys, namely Strata Marcella, Strata Florida and Aberconwy (Maenan). The poets’ evidence suggests that he was abbot of these three abbeys successively, although it is also possible that he held more than one abbacy at a time. It seems that he was abbot of Strata Marcella between 1480/5 and the beginning of the 1490s, abbot of Strata Florida for a short period from c.1495 onwards, and abbot of Aberconwy from 1490/1 or 1503 until his death (Robinson (2006: 251) states that he was abbot there c.1503–13). However, the fact that Ieuan Deulwyn (fl. c.1460–88) composed the only poem for Dafydd when he was abbot of Strata Florida suggests that he was abbot there before c.1495, assuming that Ieuan did not live to see the 1490s.

Dafydd was advanced to the bishopric of St Asaph on 18 December 1503, which he held along with the abbacy of Aberconwy for the rest of his life. In line with the poets’ praise for Dafydd’s building work in the monasteries, he was also active in building projects in St Asaph, such as the rebuilding of the bishop’s palace and the erection of a wooden bridge over the river Clwyd nearby. Furthermore, he also oversaw the building of the tower of the parish church of Wrexham, and was appointed a papal judge-delegate between 1509 and 1512. He died on 11 or 12 February 1513 and was buried, it seems, in the cathedral on the south side of the altar. It is striking that there are no surviving elegies for him.

More light will undoubtedly be shed upon Dafydd’s extraordinary career following the editing or re-editing and examination of all the poems composed for him. See further DNB Online s.n. Dafydd ab Owain; CTC 297–304; GILlF 118–22.

Abbot Dafydd of Maenan (poem 122)
This patron is named as dan Dafydd ‘master Dafydd’ and abad ‘abbot’ of Aberconwy (Maenan) in a poem of uncertain authorship in which Rhys Grythor is satirized (122.21, 28). The poor, lean crowder is urged to request a ffaling, a fine Irish mantle, from the abbot. According to Williams (1971: 188), some five men named Dafydd were abbots of Aberconwy successively between 1482 and 1514. Slightly different information is provided in Williams (2001: 295), where it is noted that there were three abbots named Dafydd in Aberconwy between 1482 and 1513, with one abbot named Siôn in 1490. It is highly unlikely that the poet was referring to Dafydd (or David) Wynchcombe, who was abbot between 1482 and 1488 according to Williams, for he is not known as a patron of poets. Following Williams (2001: 66; 1971: 188), one Dafydd Llwyd was abbot in 1489, although it is noted that he and his predecessor, Dafydd Wynchombe, had locked horns as early as 1484. It is possible, therefore, that Dafydd Llwyd had succeeded Wynchombe before 1489, and it seems likely that it is he whom Ieuan Deulwyn names in a poem to request oxen from some of the most notable patrons of Gwynedd on behalf of Sir Rhys ap Thomas (ID 42):

os dechray llyfray û llann
û iay von yra yvaynan
lle cyntaf yw r maister Davydd
llwyd yn roi lladin yn rydd
abad may bywyd ym on
aber Konwy brig kanon

‘If it begins, the churchyard’s fountains of knowledge,
the great yoke will go to Maenan;
the first place belongs to master Dafydd Llwyd
who gives Latin freely,
abbot of Aberconwy, my life,
a spear for me, canon law’s pinnacle.’

It is unclear when Dafydd Llwyd’s abbacy came to an end as he shared the same name as his successor, Dafydd ab Owain (assuming that both Dafydds were not the same man). As is noted above, Dafydd ab Owain was abbot from 1490/1 or 1501 to his death in 1513. He is certainly the most renowned abbot of Aberconwy, if not indeed the most renowned abbot of all. It is possible that he was succeeded for a short period by one Dafydd Llwyd, but this now seems unlikely (Williams 1971: 188, 228; 2001: 295).

The patron praised in the satirical poem above can be identified as either Abbot Dafydd Llwyd or Abbot Dafydd ab Owain. The latter’s renown is no reason in itself to believe that he was the patron, but his proverbial generosity towards the poets may be significant. The problem cannot be solved by Rhys Grythor’s dates, for it is likely that he was active by 1499 and therefore falls within the possible dates for the abbacies of both Dafydds. In the last lines of the poem it is suggested that the abbot was a batsler cadeiriog ‘chaired bachelor’ and therefore a graduate of note. Nothing is known of Dafydd Llwyd’s education except Ieuan Deulwyn’s description of him as brig canon ‘canon law’s pinnacle’, but it is known that Dafydd ab Owain was an Oxford graduate in canon law and was provisor of St Bernard’s College in Oxford c.1494. Therefore, it is possible that the satire on Rhys Grythor should be added to the enormous collection of poems composed for Abbot Dafydd ab Owain.

Robinson, D.M. (2006), The Cistercians in Wales: Architecture and Archaeology 1130–1540 (London)
Williams, D.H. (1971), ‘Fasti Cistercienses Cambrenses’, B xxiv: 181–229
Williams, D.H. (2001), The Welsh Cistercians (Leominster)

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