Chronicle written by a ‘British Tommy’ awarded United Nations recognition
One of Wales’s largely forgotten gems is one of six UK treasures that have been newly added to the prestigious UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register.
The Chronicle of Elis Gruffudd was written in Welsh, in 1550-52, by a soldier and administrator serving in the English garrison at Calais. It chronicles the history of the world from the Creation to his own time, and is the last great Welsh chronicle, combining history, a unique body of traditional Welsh legendary matter, and important eyewitness testimony of Tudor times.
Elis Gruffudd was born around 1490 in the parish of Llanasa, Flintshire. He joined the English army and fought in the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain as an ordinary soldier. By 1518, he was working in London, and moved permanently to Calais in 1530, which was at that time English-held territory claimed by the English Crown. He remained there for the rest of his days as a member of the English garrison, and it is there that he wrote a chronicle for the benefit of his own mono-lingual countrymen back home (‘this I caused to write down that the matter be not forgotten in Llanasa’). He may have been killed in the fall of Calais to the French in 1558.
Much of the contents of the latter half of his narrative is derived from sources – both written and oral – which were available to the author whilst he lived in London and Calais. It includes:
- observations of English military campaigns overseas during the first half of the 16th century by a Welsh commentator who served in the king’s forces
- unique eyewitness testimony of events such as the meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520
- scandalous gossip of adulterous conversations between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, as overheard by servants at the Royal Court in London
- insider information on the downfall of Thomas Cromwell, master of Wolf Hall.
His was an exciting world of cultural change and upheaval as encountered by an ordinary Welsh commentator writing in exile in London and on the English frontier at Calais. A Roman Catholic when he arrived there in 1530, Gruffudd became a convinced and committed Protestant, well in advance of the majority of his countrymen. In fact, he may well have been the earliest Welsh convert to Protestantism.
Pedr ap Llwyd, Director and Deputy Chief Executive and Librarian The National Library of Wales said:
‘The importance of this four-volume work cannot be over-emphasised. It is the most ambitious narrative chronicle ever to have been produced in the Welsh language, and is the longest extant continuous piece of prose in that language. It also represents the earliest known example of writing by a Welsh author, for a Welsh readership, written outside the United Kingdom (although, strictly speaking, part of the UK at the time!).’
He adds: ‘Although digitised in full, and published online by the National Library of Wales, this is a largely forgotten gem, overlooked by Welsh readers. The whole work has never been transcribed, translated or published in book form.’
Linda Tomos, Chief Executive and Librarian, The National Library of Wales added:
‘The inscription of Elis Gruffudd’s Chronicle on the UK Memory of the World Register this year is timely. Firstly, we are delighted that it has been included in the North East Wales Heritage Forum’s History of NE Wales in 100 objects project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Secondly, we are glad to announce that it will be displayed to the public, at the Library, in a special exhibition of treasures from Mostyn Hall, Flintshire between 30 June and 8 December this year. By means of an exhibition, public lectures, and an academic conference, we are determined that Elis Gruffudd, and his Chronicle, will receive the attention they deserve as national treasures in 2018.’
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Notes to Editors
1. About the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme:
- United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the ‘intellectual’ agency of the United Nations and was established in 1945.
- The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme aims to facilitate preservation of the world's documentary heritage, to assist universal access and to increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of this documentary heritage through both an international Register and individual country Registers. This globally-recognised status celebrates some of the UK’s most exceptional archive riches.
- The International Memory of the World Register recognises documentary heritage of global significance and includes UK-based documents such as Magna Carta. The UK Memory of the World Register honours documentary heritage of national and regional significance and includes documents such as the Death Warrant of King Charles I.
- Learn more about the MoW programme.
2. Wales and UNESCO:
Wales is home to a wealth of world class environments that have been formally recognised by UNESCO, in addition to its Memory of the World Collections. These include:
- three World Heritage Sites (Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal in Trevor, Wrexham , Blaenavon Industrial Landscape in Torfaen and the Castles and Town Walls of Edward I in Gwynedd in Gwynedd, Conwy, and Isle of Anglesey),
- one Biosphere Reserve (Biosffer Dyfi Biosphere)
- two Global Geoparks (Fforest Fawr Geopark in the Brecon Beacons and the Geo Mon Geopark in Amlwch, Anglesey).
- five other Memory of the World inscriptions (Hepworth Cinema Interviews, National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales, Aberystwyth; Neath Abbey Ironworks, West Glamorgan Archive Service, Swansea; Peniarth Manuscript Collection, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth; The Life Story of David Lloyd George National Library of Wales, Screen & Sound Archive, Aberystwyth; the Survey of the Manors of Crickhowell and Tretower, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth).
3. This year’s other additions to the UK UNESCO Register:
- The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Archive (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)
- The Cotton Collection of Manuscripts (British Library)
- Eton Choirbook (Eton College)
- The Base and Field Reports, and related Photographic material of the British Antarctic Survey and its Predecessors (British Antarctic Survey)
- Early Gaelic Manuscripts of the Advocates Library (National Library of Scotland).