Lewys Glyn Cothi

Lewys Glyn Cothi
(Llywelyn y Glyn)
(fl. 1447–1486)
   A wandering Welsh bard of the late 15th century, Lewys Glyn Cothi was known for his Welsh nationalism during a period of oppressive British laws, and also for his partisan verse composed during the War of the Roses, during which he supported the Lancastrian side, but even more zealously supported the cause of Jasper Tudor and of his nephew, Henry Richmond, who became Henry VII.
   According to tradition, Lewys took his bardic name from the valley of Cothi in northern Carmarthenshire, where he was supposed to have been born.He grew up in a house called, no doubt satirically, Pwlltinbyd (“The Pit in the World’s Backside”). As an adult, he seems to have spent a good deal of time enjoying the hospitality of the noble manor houses of Wales. He especially praised the warm welcome he received in the island of Anglesey. But he speaks of many other noble patrons. Late in his life, for example, he seems to have been the guest of Sir Roger Vaughan of Tretower, for whom he composed two poems that he copied into the famous manuscript of the Red Book of Hergest (source of The MABINOGION), which happened then to be in Sir Roger’s possession. Lewys Glyn Cothi does seem to have returned to Carmathenshire to die at Abergwili, some time after 1486. One of Lewys Glyn Cothi’s recurring themes is his Welsh nationalism. He chafed against the English governors of his country, and at oppressive laws that the English had imposed. Outlawed, apparently for prophesying the ascension of Henry Tudor to the English throne, he fled to the city of Chester. Here he apparently married an English widow, in violation of a 1402 edict that forbade intermarriage between the English and Welsh. He was subsequently seized by the officials of the town, who confiscated and sold his property. The mayor banished him from the city, naked, he says, as a salmon. In a blistering attack on the men of Chester, Lewys laments his fate and begs for a blanket from his patroness Erin of Llwydiarth, who he fancies will send him a richly embroidered cover to keep him warm in bed through the winter. Lewys Glyn Cothi was a master of the awdl, a kind of long Welsh ode that used both alliteration and internal rhyme in one of 24 traditional bardic meters. One such awdl is a lament on the death of Edmund Tudor (father of the future Henry VII) that makes use of heraldic symbols in a kind of beast-ALLEGORY typical of medieval political poetry. The expression of loss at the end of the poem is profound, as Lewys decries the emptiness of a land without its leader, comparing it to a house with no feast or a church with no priest. Another nationalistic awdl of Lwys’s is devoted to Jasper Tudor, Edmund’s brother and the earl of Pembroke, and to his nephew Henry, the future king. Lewys also writes in the conventional bardic form of the cywydd (seven-syllable rhyming couplets with alliteration), as in his poem praising Niclas ap Gruffudd of the Shropshire town of Oswestry, whom he compares to Moses, to the Greek hero Jason, and to King ARTHUR’s nephew and, in Wales, the most popular knight, Sir GAWAIN. Lewys also writes in praise of the town of Oswestry itself, which he refers to as “the London of Wales.” He goes on to praise the town’s most important citizen, Meredudd ap Hywel, also in hyperbolic terms, comparing him to Hector of Troy and to Emperor Macsen from the Mabinogion.
   A comic poem, through which Lewys also satirizes the English, is one directed at the English citizens of Flint. In this poem, Lewys Glyn Cothi describes his attempt to entertain the revelers at an English wedding. The guests greet his song of praise with ridicule, and bring on one William the Piper to entertain instead. Lewys describes with disgust the noise of the bagpipes—which the guests seem to love—and when he is sent away with no payment, Lewys curses the town of Flint and its inhabitants. Aside from poems praising his Welsh patrons and denigrating the English, Lewys Glyn Cothi also wrote a number of religious poems. Among the best known are a cywydd on John the Baptist and a long awdl in 120 stanzas on the Trinity. But perhaps Lewys’s best-known poem among contemporary readers is his “Lament for Siôn y Glyn,” a poignant and emotional poem about the death of a child from the father’s point of view. Lewys enumerates the things that the boy loved—an apple, a bird, a bow made of a twig, and a wooden sword. Toward the end of the poem, the narrator recalls these images as he speaks of the boy himself:
   My lark, my weaver of spells,
   My bow, my arrow, my love,
   My beggar, O my boyhood.
   Siôn is sending his father
   A sword of longing and love.
   (Clancy 1977, 64, no. 39)
   Lewys Glyn Cothi was a poet of many moods, of variety and of passion. He remains little known among English readers, but offers a great deal to those interested in late medieval Wales at the dawn of the Tudor era.
   ■ Breeze, Andrew. Medieval Welsh Literature. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1997.
   ■ Clancy, Joseph P., trans. “Lament for Siôn y Glyn.” In The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English, edited by Gwyn Jones, 62–64. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
   ■ 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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