databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Guto and the War

Guto’r Glyn’s name (Gitto Glyn) appears on a muster roll for the army that Richard, duke of York, took to Normandy in 1441, and evidence from within his poems suggests that he also took part in an earlier campaign in 1436.[1] Years later, Guto would recall that it was Henry Griffith of Newcourt who introduced him to the duke of York:

Dug fi at y dug of Iorc 
Dan amod cael deunawmorc. 
He took me to the duke of York
with the agreement that I should get eighteen marks.

(poem 36.23-4)

The name 'Gitto Glyn' on a muster roll
The name 'Gitto Glyn' on a muster roll
Click for a larger image
It is, however, his poems to Sir Richard Gethin, Matthew Gough and Thomas ap Watkin that provide the most vivid and informative portrayal of the fighting in France. (Other patrons who took part in the Hundred Years’ War were Sir William ap Thomas, his son William Herbert and, perhaps, Siôn Hanmer and Sir Benet ap Hywel).

Though his father may well have fought for Owain Glyndŵr, Sir Richard Gethin seems to have spent his entire career as a soldier in the service of the English Crown. He took part in the battle of Verneuil in 1424 (as did Matthew Gough) and continues to appear in the records until 1438. It is likely that he died not long afterwards. In the period 1432-7 he was captain of Mantes, a town on the river Seine between Rouen and Paris. The English lost Paris in 1436, after which time Mantes defended the border of their remaining territory.

Guto calls Sir Richard beili Mawnt ‘the bailli of Mantes’ (poem 1.6) and capten ac arglwydd mên Mawnt ‘captain and mesne lord of Mantes’ (poem 1.48). The French word bailli denotes an official responsible for a region of Normandy, whilst a ‘mesne lord’ was a lord who holds land under a higher lord.[2] In this case, the poet regards Sir Richard as holding Mantes under the authority of Henry VI, he being its rightful lord in the opinion of the English.

Sir Richard gave Guto a golden cloak. A poem by Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal, perhaps composed in between Guto’s two visits to France, describes him wearing the cloak as he travels around Wales singing the praises of his generous patron.[3] In a poem sung by Guto himself, perhaps in 1437/8, the poet laments that he did not see Sir Richard returning from France along with the other captains, but goes on to explain that he has important responsibilities there that bring praise and profit to himself and his followers:

Medd rhai, ‘Nid oes modd yrhawg, 
Nis gad y wlad oludawg. 
Cadw’r dref y mae ef ym Mawnt 
Er perigl aer aparawnt 
Ac ynnill â gwayw uniawn 
Gair a chlod goruchel iawn, 
Anturiaw, modd y daw dis, 
Ymwan Pyr ym min Paris, 
Pwyntiaw maelys, pwynt Melan; 
Pobl y gŵr, pob elw a gân’.’ 
Say some, ‘There’s no chance for a long while,
the rich country won’t let him.
He is holding the town in Mantes
against the danger of the heir apparent
and winning with unbending spear
fame and glory most exalted,
venturing, the same way as a die falls,
combat beside Paris like that of Pyrrhus,
piercing mail armour, a point of Milanese steel;
this man’s people, they get every profit.’

(poem 1.19-28)

The poem ends with a description of Sir Richard as one who holds (cadw) Rouen, Mantes and France. Rouen (Rhôn) was the capital city of Normandy, built, like Mantes, on the banks of the Seine. Between its capture in 1419 and its loss to the French in 1449 it was the centre of English power in northern France.

Rouen is mentioned in Guto’s poem in praise of Matthew Gough, along with three provinces, Normandy (Normandi), Anjou (Aensio) and Maine (Maen), and also Le Mans, the capital city of Maine. Maine lies to the south of Normandy, and Anjou to the south of Maine. Matthew is recorded as captain of Chateau L’Ermitage, near Le Mans, in 1425, and there is a reference to him as captain or joint captain of Le Mans itself in 1434/5.

Guto’s poem includes a description of fighting, near Rouen, between Matthew and the French general ‘La Hire’, or Étienne de Vignoles, and also mentions another of the French leaders, Jean Poton de Xaintrailles:

Pan fu ymgyrchu gorchest 
Ym min Rhôn a’i wayw mewn rhest, 
La Her a roes law i hwn, 
Felly gwnâi betai Botwn. 
Dug y gamp, deg ei gwmpaen, 
Dawns mawr ar hyd Aensio a Maen. 
When there was a trial of strength in battle
on the outskirts of Rouen, with his spear in its rest on his armour,
La Hire gave to him his hand,
he would have done so if he were Poton.
He excelled in the feat, his company is fair,
a great dance through Anjou and Maine.

(poem 3.15-20)

It is possible that this passage relates to an unsuccessful attempt made by La Hire and Xantrailles to capture Rouen yn 1436.[4] (Guto also mentions them both in his poem for Thomas ap Watkin (poem 4.35-8)).

Guto’s poem to Matthew Gough goes on to describe him as an ‘adventurous man’ who inspires his followers:

Un yw ef a wna ei wŷr, 
Anian teirw, yn anturwyr. 
Gŵr antur ydiw’r mur mau, 
Gwŷr antur a gâr yntau. 
Milwyr a fu’i wŷr efô, 
Main gwns tir Maen ac Aensio, 
Rhad ar eu dewrder a’u hynt, 
Rhyw flodau rhyfel ydynt; 
Heliant goed a heolydd, 
(‘Hw-a La Her!’) fal hely hydd. 
Mair a ro hoedl i’m heryr, 
Mathau, i warau â’i wŷr! 
He is someone who can make his men
ready to venture like bulls.
An adventurous man is my protector,
and adventurous men also love him.
His men were soldiers,
cannonballs of the lands of Maine and Anjou,
a blessing on their bravery and their passage,
they are like flowers of war;
they hunt in forests and on roads,
(‘Hoo-a La Hire!’) like hunting a stag.
May Mary guard the life of my eagle,
Matthew, so that he can play with his men!

(poem 3.31-42)

Though portrayed in this poem as exciting and enjoyable the war was, of course, both destructive and dangerous. Matthew Gough’s life was saved by William Herbert at the battle of Formigny in 1450, a deed commemorated in a poem by Lewys Glyn Cothi, and William himself was captured and imprisoned.[5] Matthew, too, was captured more than once, and Guto’s poem refers to the concern this caused:

Bu ar glêr bryder a braw 
Ban ddaliwyd, beunydd wylaw; 
Trefi ’nghyrch tra fu ’ngharchar, 
Trist fu i’r Cymry a’i câr. 
The poets were afflicted with worry and fear
when he was taken prisoner, weeping every day;
towns were attacked while he was in prison,
it was sad for the Welsh who adore him.

(poem 3.43-6)

It was common practice to capture important soldiers rather than killing them, because they could then be held for ransom or exchanged for prisoners taken by the other side. In another of his poems Guto refers to the worries that Sir Richard Gethin has been captured, though these turn out to be groundless. The French have been spreading lies, he says, and could never hope to catch Sir Richard except in their dreams!

Ni ddelir ac ni ddaliwyd, 
Nid âi er rhai yn y rhwyd, 
Nos dlos onis daliasant 
Trwy eu cwsg; nis anturia cant! 
He won’t be captured and he hasn’t been captured,
he won’t fall for certain men’s sake into the net,
unless one fine night they have captured him
in their sleep; a hundred men won’t challenge him!

(poem 2.41-4)

Lower-ranking soldiers were less likely to be spared, however. Nor were the dangers of warfare confined to those who chose to enlist. One of the characteristic English tactics of the Hundred Years’ War was the chevauchée, a rapid cavalry raid with the specific aim of pillaging and destroying crops, villages and towns and terrorizing the local population. Guto does seem to acknowledge the suffering of the French people in his poem for Matthew Gough where, having mentioned the cost of Matthew’s ransom, he suggests that it is they who will ‘pay’ for it in the end:

Gŵr yw o gorff ac arial, 
Gwerin gwlad Dolffin a’i tâl. 
He is a man of body and spirit,
people of the Dauphin’s land will pay the price.

(poem 3.51-2)

Even so, these lines cannot be said to convey much sympathy towards the local populace.[6]

Guto’s poems reveal little about his own experiences as a professional archer, despite his frequent references to ‘shooting’ metaphorical arrows of poetic praise (see bows and arrows). Indeed, in his poem addressed to Thomas ap Watkin and dating from 1441 or, perhaps, 1436, it seems he identifies not with the archers but with the men-at-arms, who were soldiers of higher status. Thomas has enlisted with the army of Richard, duke of York, which is going to France, and that Guto intends to go with him. He suggests practising for the battle, as it were, by ‘making war’ against Thomas’s wine and other drinks! The ‘Dauphin’, Charles VII, is represented by the white wine (gwin gwyn) and his two famous generals La Hire and Poton de Xaintrailles are the tonic or spiced mead (meddyglyn) and the ale (cwrw, see drinks).

Thomas captains the other side in Guto’s poem, whilst the poets are his men-at-arms and the humbler datgeiniaid (whose role it was to recite a poet’s works in his absence) are his archers:

Saethyddion rhwyddion yn rhaid 
Yt, gannwr o ddatgeiniaid. 
Y rhain ni chilian’ yrhawg, 
A’r eurfeirdd yn wŷr arfawg. 
Archers swift in battle you have:
a hundred reciters.
These will never flee,
and the brilliant poets are the men-at-arms.

(poem 4.39-42)

In this poem we also hear the war cries of the English and French armies, namely Sain Siôr (‘St George’) and Sain Denis (‘St Denis’).

Though we have no evidence that Guto’s military career continued after his return from Normandy, his poems give the impression that he thought of himself as a soldier-poet for the rest of his life.[7] He mentions his sword in several poems and, as an old man, composed a poem of thanks for a buckler given to him by Dafydd ab Ieuan, abbot of Valle Crucis, in which he even states that he would like to have these weapons carved on his gravestone:

A’m bwcled a’m bywiocledd 
Yn arfau maen ar fy medd. 
with my buckler and lively sword
as arms of stone upon my grave.

(poem 110.65-6)

Although Guto refers in this poem to both sword and buckler as weapons he would wear and use, his fighting days were surely over by this stage in his life, as he acknowledges in another poem he composed for the abbot at about the same time:

 Er bod talau â’r bateloedd 
 Wrth ryfeloedd ni thrafaeliaf; 
Though armies receive payments,
I will not journey on account of wars;

(poem 111.53-4)


[1]: E. Salisbury, Ar Drywydd Guto’r Glyn ap Siancyn y Glyn (Aberystwyth, 2007), 14-15, and B.J. Lewis, ‘Late Medieval Welsh Praise Poetry and Nationality: The Military Career of Guto’r Glyn Revisited’, Studia Celtica, xlv (2011), 111-30 (113-18).
[2]: For the meaning of beili see F.M. Powicke, The Loss of Normandy (1189-1204) (Manchester, 1913), 71-3.
[3]: D.F. Evans (gol.), Gwaith Hywel Swrdwal a’i Deulu (Aberystwyth, 2000), poem no. 24, and see also Lewis, ‘Late Medieval Welsh Praise Poetry and Nationality’, 117.
[4]: Lewis, ‘Late Medieval Welsh Praise Poetry and Nationality’, 115.
[5]: D. Johnston (gol.), Gwaith Lewys Glyn Cothi (Caerdydd, 1995), 111.27-30.
[6]: See B.J. Lewis, ‘Late Medieval Welsh Praise Poetry and Nationality’, 127-8.
[7]: See J. Day, ‘ “Arms of Stone upon my Grave”: Weapons in the Poetry of Guto’r Glyn’, in B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen and D.F. Evans (eds), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-Century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013).
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