Poetry by Lewys Glyn Cothi

Reference: Peniarth MS 109

Peniarth MS 109 is a volume of cywyddau by Lewys Glyn Cothi, one of the most notable Welsh bards of the 15th century. It contains 106 poems in the form of elegies to, and cywyddau (a metrical form of Welsh poetry) in praise of, numerous Welsh noblemen, written in the bard’s own hand.

Lewys Glyn Cothi (fl. 1447-89)

Lewys Glyn Cothi was one of the 'Beirdd yr Uchelwyr' (Poets of the Nobility) and his poetry is the only source of information about him. His date of birth is not known, but his earliest work is an elegy to Sir Gruffudd Vaughan of Guilsfield, who was executed in 1447. Although the full form of his name was Llywelyn, or Llewelyn, he also used variations of the name 'Lewys (or Lewis) Glyn Cothi' too, as well as 'Llywelyn y Glyn' (Llywelyn of the Glyn). It is believed that he took his bardic name from the royal forest of Glyn Cothi, in the parish of Llanybyther, and that his home was Pwllcynbyd, one of 4 portions of that forest.

Unlike the work of other 15th century poets which has survived, most of Lewys's poems are in his own hand. It seems that he was the first poet to keep copies of his work and arrange them into collections. Around 230 poems are attributed to him, with 76 of them in the form of ‘awdlau’ (odes), which is far more than what has survived by any other poet of his era. He wrote several columns in the 'Red Book of Hergest', and is believed to have written most of the 'White Book of Hergest' which was lost in a fire in 1810.

As well as poetry, Lewys was also interested in genealogy and heraldry and he decorated many of his manuscripts with illustrations of the arms of noble families. To earn his living, Lewys depended on the aristocracy for patronage, and one of his main patrons was Gruffudd ap Nicolas (fl. 1425-1456), who was Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1436. Lewys was alive during the Wars of the Roses, and perhaps due to his association with Gruffudd ap Nicolas, Lewys supported the Lancastrian side, though he continued to write for patrons who backed the Yorkists. Within his collection of poems and odes, Lewys gives praise to a large number of gentry from the counties of Carmarthen, Cardigan, and Radnor.

Little is known about Lewys Glyn Cothi's family life, although he is said to have married a widow of Chester. He had a son, Siôn, who died at the age of 5, and Lewys wrote a touching and renowned elegy about him: 'Marwnad Siôn o'r Glyn'. None of his poems can be dated later than 1489, and he is believed to have died before 1490. According to tradition he was buried in Abergwili.

Peniarth MS 109

This is a long and narrow volume, bound in leather. It contains 96 sheets in 13 folds, with one fold possibly missing. The recent pagination (1-192) was noted by J. Gwenogfryn Evans. The current binding dates from the 17th century when it was part of the famous Hengwrt library, in Merionethshire (when it was known as Hengwrt MS 52). In 1859 it was transferred with the rest of the collection to the Peniarth library, and in 1904 the whole collection was purchased by Sir John Williams for the National Library.

The manuscript’s contents

The volume contains 106 poems written by Lewys Glyn Cothi in the second half of the 1470s, as well as a poem by the poet Hywel Cilan. Some of the poems are unfinished, and others have been completed later. There is one column of text on each page and there are several pictures of the arms of noble families of Wales, some in colour and others are unfinished. Lewys is believed to have formed this collection in honour of Lord William Herbert (d. 1469) as he begins the book with a poem for him and another for his brother, Richard.

Further reading

  • A. O. H. Jarman & Gwilym Rees Hughes (Eds.), A guide to Welsh literature, Volume. 2, 1282 – c.1550 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997)