Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch

Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch
(Gruffudd son of the Red Judge)
(fl. 1278–1283)
   One of the last great poets writing in the bardic tradition of the Welsh courts was Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch. Although he is also generally credited with having written five or six religious odes focused on Judgment Day, Gruffudd is remembered today chiefly for his celebrated lament on the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native prince of Wales. The lament, famous for the magnitude of its grief, has been faulted by some for its apparently uncontrolled personal emotion, but others consider it to be “the most powerful poem in Welsh literature” (Breeze 1997, 58).
   During the high Middle Ages, a courtly culture not unlike that of the rest of western Europe flourished in the three independent kingdoms ofWales (Gwynedd, Powys, and Deheubarth). This culture included patronage of poets, who were a highly trained and exclusive order of professional bards with specific duties addressed in the law codes of the time. But the elegant poetry of this age of princes came to a close with Llywelyn’s death on December 11, 1282.
   Llywelyn, last prince of Gwynedd, had been acknowledged prince of Wales by the English king Henry III in 1267. But his territorial ambitions had strained his relations with the nobles of southern Wales, and later with King Edward I.When Llywelyn’s younger brother David made a foolish, unprovoked attack on the English in 1282, Llywelyn came to David’s support and war began.While trying to rally support in southern Wales, Llywelyn was ambushed and killed near Cilmeri on the banks of the river Irfon by forces under the command of Roger Mortimer.His body was ultimately buried in the abbey of Cwm Hir, but the English beheaded his corpse and his head was taken to be paraded through the streets of London. With Llywelyn died the last hope for Welsh independence, a catastrophe suitably lamented in Gruffudd’s ode on the death of the prince. In 104 monorhymed lines, making extensive use of parallelism and powerful visual imagery,Gruffudd expresses his grief in passionate and personal language, with, as he says,“Heart cold in the breast with terror” (Clancy 1977, l. 1). He extols Llywelyn’s generosity, describes his wounds, and expresses his rage at the English who killed him. He describes the widows, orphans, and burnt and pillaged homes that he foresees for the Welsh without Llywelyn as their protector, comparing the situation to the British loss of King ARTHUR at the Battle of Camlan hundreds of years before:
   Many a wretched cry as at Camlan,
   Many a tear rolling down a cheek,
   With my prop cut down, gold-handed prince,
   With Llywelyn’s death, gone is my mind.
   (Clancy 1977, ll. 57–60)
   For Gruffudd the future holds no consolation. In words reminiscent of the Apocalyptic passage of Luke’s Gospel, Gruffudd foresees cosmic consequences for Llywelyn’s death, which has disturbed the natural order of the universe:
   See you not the ocean scourging the shore?
   See you not the truth is portending?
   Have you no belief in God, foolish men?
   See you not that the world is ending?
   (Clancy 1977, ll. 67–70)
   The poem ends with a reference to Llywelyn’s severed head, followed by 12 parallel lines honoring that head of his lord that had been taken to London to be dishonored.
   Gruffudd’s “Lament for Llywelyn ap Gruffudd” survives in a single manuscript known as the Red Book of Hergest (1375–1425) in Oxford’s Jesus College. It is still highly admired by students of Welsh poetry, and is also important for marking a turning point in literature.With the death of Llywelyn, the status of the Welsh bard, the poet of princes, had to change irrevocably, and with it the forms and subjects of Welsh poetry.
   Bibliography
   ■ Breeze, Andrew. Medieval Welsh Literature. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1997.
   ■ Clancy, Joseph P., trans. “Lament for Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.” In The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, edited by Gwyn Jones, 31–33. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1977.
   ■ Conran, Anthony, and J. E. Caerwyn Williams, trans. The Penguin Book of Welsh Verse. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1967.
   ■ McKenna, Catherine. “The Religious Poetry Attributed to Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch,” Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 29 (1981): 274– 284.
   ■ Williams, Gwyn. An Introduction to Welsh Poetry: From the Beginnings to the Sixteenth Century. 1954. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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