databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Welsh soldiers

Many Welshmen served in the armies of the English Crown during the Hundred Years’ War. They could earn comparatively generous pay by so doing - much more than could be earned by labouring on the land - and no doubt many were also tempted by the prospect of adventure in a foreign land, and of booty or other rewards that might be gained by those who distinguished themselves in battle. To high-status soldiers, in particular, service in war provided opportunities to rise higher still.

Sir Hywel ap Gruffudd won praise and renown at Poitiers, for example, and indeed there is a tradition that it was he who captured the king of France there. He gained the nickname ‘Sir Hywel of the Axe’ and is said to have been rewarded by being given, amongst other things, a special ration of food for his axe.[1] Guto’r Glyn refers to this in a poem to Sieffrai Cyffin of Oswestry and his wife Siân, whilst praising a generous feast that they had provided:

Fal Hywel yn rhyfelu, 
Felly ’dd wyf, â’r fwyall ddu, 
A gâi unsaig o Winsawr 
Ac arall i’r fwyall fawr. 
Like Hywel waging war
with the black axe, so am I,
who received one dish from Windsor
and another dish for the great axe.

(poem 97.41-4)

Sir Hywel was appointed constable of Cricieth castle in 1359. Iolo Goch sang a poem praising him as the castle’s valiant keeper, which mentions that he was present when the king of France was captured: Pan rodded … / Y ffrwyn ym mhen brenin Ffrainc / Barbwr fu fal mab Erbin / Â gwayw a chledd … ‘When the bridle … was put on the French king’s head he was a barber like Erbin’s son with spear and sword …’[2]

But not every Welshman who took part in the wars of this period fought for the English Crown. Owain Lawgoch was a descendant of the princes of Gwynedd who is said to have fought at Poitiers on the side of the French, and later sought the aid of King Charles V to invade Wales and reclaim his hereditary rights. Many Welshmen were drawn to the idea of restoring an independent Welsh ruler. A poem by Gruffudd ap Maredudd, composed to gain further followers for Owain, urges him to return from France with an army: Casgl allu cywir o dir Dwlffin, / Cyrch Ros a Phenfro hyd fro Freiddin… ‘Gather a faithful host from the Dauphin’s land, / make for Rhos and Pembroke and as far as the land of the Breidden hills…’.[3] Though Owain never succeeded in mounting a successful invasion of Wales he continued to fight, sometimes for Charles V and sometimes for his own cause, until he was murdered by an agent of the English Crown in 1378.[4]

Owain Lawgoch’s life, and the manner of his death, may have helped win support for the cause of Owain Glyndŵr, a descendant of the princes of Powys and Deheubarth whose own revolt against English rule in Wales began in 1400. Earlier in his career, however, Owain Glyndŵr fought on the side of the English Crown. In 1384 he served in the garrison at Berwick-upon-Tweed under the captaincy of Sir Gregory Sais and, the following year, enlisted in the army assembled by Richard II for an expedition into Scotland.[5] Sir Gregory Sais, or Sir Desgarry Seys, was one of the most renowned Welsh soldiers of the time. He is mentioned by Gruffudd Llwyd in a poem addressed to Owain, which refers to him as Grigor, ail Sain Siôr, Sais ‘Gregory Sais, a second St George’.[6] Sir Gregory had served mainly in Gascony and married a Gascon heiress, but in 1377, when an invasion by Owain Lawgoch’s French allies was expected, he was given responsibility for the defences of the castles at Pembroke, Tenby and Cilgerran.[7]
The reverse of the Great Seal of Owain Glyndŵr.
Great Seal of Owain Glyndŵr
Click for a larger image

Like Owain Lawgoch, Owain Glyndŵr sought friends in France. In 1405 a French army landed at Milford Haven and, in alliance with Glyndŵr’s own troops, advanced into south-west Wales, meeting with considerable success. French involvement proved short-lived, however, and by 1407 Glyndŵr could no longer rely on their aid. In January 1408 a truce between the French and English came into operation which signalled the end of the Franco-Welsh alliance and, in effect, the beginning of the end of Glyndŵr’s cause.[8]

Henry of Monmouth, the future King Henry V, fought against Glyndŵr’s forces in his youth, having been made royal lieutenant in Wales by his father Henry IV. Even in 1415, when Henry V was gathering his army for his invasion of France, the men of north Wales were not called upon to serve because of doubts over their loyalties. His army did, however, include 20 men-at-arms and 500 archers recruited from the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan and the lordship of Brecon.[9] Amongst the men who were later killed at the battle of Agincourt was Dafydd Gam, esquire, the father-in-law of Sir William ap Thomas of Raglan and grandfather of William Herbert, first earl of Pembroke.[10] At least one Welshman was killed fighting on the side of the French, however, namely Henry, son of William Gwyn of Carmarthenshire, who may have been a supporter of Owain Glyndŵr.[11]

Dafydd Gam is mentioned in a poem addressed by Guto’r Glyn to William Herbert, second earl of Pembroke (son of the first earl). Guto refers to his descent from gwaed Dafydd Gam ‘the blood of Dafydd Gam’ and describes the Herbert family, along with their relatives the Vaughans, as Aml weilch Dafydd Gam a’i lin ‘abundant hawks of Dafydd Gam and his lineage’ (poem 25.17, 30). Another poem, addressed to Sir Walter Herbert, refers to Dafydd Gam in its opening couplet, along with the ‘three Williams’, namely Walter’s brother the second earl, their father the first earl and their grandfather Sir William ap Thomas:

Tyfodd gŵr at Dafydd Gam 
Trwy aelwyd y tri Wiliam, 
A man has grown to the standard of Dafydd Gam
through the home of the three Williams,

(poem 27.1-2)

Equally, though, Guto’r Glyn was not afraid to reflect other patrons’ pride in their family connections to Owain Glyndŵr. [personlinkn:s09::Siôn Edward] of Plasnewydd, for example, is described as:

Gŵr cadarn, gorau ceidwad, 
Gwaed Owain Glyn i gadw’n gwlad. 
A strong man, the best defender,
one of the blood of Owain Glyndŵr to defend our land.

(poem 107.45-6)

Guto even refers in to ‘Owain’, probably Glyndŵr, as a future redeemer in his poem for Sir Siôn Mechain, parson of Llandrinio:

A ni a gawn yn y gwŷdd, 
O daw Owain, fyd newydd. 
and if Owain comes, we who are in the woods
shall have a better world.

(poem 84.49-50)

Owain Glyndŵr is probably also the gŵr a ddaw â’r gwared ‘the man who will bring salvation’ in a poem addressed to the sons of Edward ap Dafydd of Bryncunallt, who were his sister’s grandsons (poem 103.24).

Guto’s own loyalties were, it seems, mainly personal rather than national or political.[12] We do know, however, that he offered his military service to the English Crown, during the final phase of the Hundred Years’ War, and that his patrons included some of the most prominent professional soldiers of his day (see Guto and the War).


[1]: A. Parry Owen (gol.), Gwaith Gruffudd ap Maredudd ap Dafydd, iii, Canu Amrywiol (Aberystwyth, 2007), 136, and A.D. Carr, ‘Welshmen and the Hundred Years’ War’, Welsh History Review, 4 (1968-9), 21-46 (29-30).
[2]: D. Johnston (ed.), Iolo Goch: Poems (Llandysul, 1993), poem no. 2.
[3]: A. Parry Owen (gol.), Gwaith Gruffudd ap Maredudd III: Canu Amrywiol (Aberystwyth, 2007), 1.1-2.
[4]: See further A.D. Carr, Owen of Wales: The End of the House of Gwynedd (Cardiff, 1991).
[5]: R.R. Davies, The Revolt of Owain Glyndŵr (Oxford, 1995), 146-7.
[6]: R. Ifans (gol.), Gwaith Gruffudd Llwyd a’r Llygliwiaid Eraill (Aberystywth, 2000), 12.44 and see also the explanatory note for this line.
[7]: Carr, ‘Welshmen and the Hundred Years’ War’, 30.
[8]: Davies, The Revolt of Owain Glyndŵr, 193-6.
[9]: A. Curry, Agincourt: A New History (Stroud, 2005), 66.
[10]: Carr, ‘Welshmen and the Hundred Years’ War’, 36.
[11]: Curry, Agincourt, 66.
[12]: See B.J. Lewis, ‘Late Medieval Welsh Praise Poetry and Nationality: The Military Career of Guto’r Glyn Revisited’, Studia Celtica, xlv (2011), 111-30.
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