The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. I., ed. by J. Williams Ab Ithel, , at sacred-texts.com
We have entered upon this subject at some length, because the supposed antagonism between Classical Druidism and British Bardism, is one of the principal grounds on which our literary sceptics found their denial of the genuineness of our traditions, and hence it becomes our strict duty to examine how far their position in this respect is really tenable. It is to be hoped that our comparative analysis will convince every unprejudiced person that, whilst the apparent discrepancy, which existed between the two systems,
precludes the idea of one being considered as a mere copy of the other, taken in recent times, there is sufficient identity of principle observable in them both, subject to the qualifying character of the Gaulish tradition, to suggest a common origin. On this account, then, the tenets and usages of Bardism, as given in our pages, may well be considered as the genuine remains of Druidic lore; that is, if we have further reason for believing that they were effectually preserved and handed down through the different ages, which followed the introduction and establishment of Christianity.
The machinery principally adopted by the Bards for this purpose was, "the voice of Gorsedd," which is amply explained and described in these volumes. Under favourable circumstances, indeed, it might be considered as highly efficient; but such circumstances, we all know, did not at all times exist. Under the Roman domination, we may be assured, that the ancient institute of the country, opposed as it was, both in spirit and practice, to all foreign usurpation, would not be allowed to give public expression to its views. The Bards could not meet in Gorsedd without incurring great personal danger. Consequently, they would have recourse to "cyvail," which was the second "assembly of the Bards," and created especially to meet the requirements of the case; that is, a cyvail was a group of three persons, who met "where and when they could, for fear of the assault of depredation and lawlessness." By this means the old traditions might be preserved, though they would not be known out of the circle of the fraternity. That there were Bards and Bardism during this period,
is undoubted. All the Bardic privileges and immunities were recognized by law until the reign of Lucius, A.D. 173-189. Gorwg, son of Eirchion, two generations later, is described not only as "a very wise and religious king," but also as " a good Bard." 1 And it is supposed that Bardism formed the principal ingredient in the Pelagian heresy, which spread so rapidly and extensively among the people, towards the end of the fourth century.
About A.D. 383, when the Roman power was fast declining in the island, Macsen Wledig, (Maximus,) with the view of resuscitating the ancient system, submitted it to the verdict of country and nation, as in the time of Prydain, "lest the primitive Bardism should be lost and forgotten; when it was found in its integrity, and in accordance with the primary privileges and usages. And thus it was submitted to the judgment and verdict of country and nation, and the ancient privileges and usages, the ancient meaning and learning, and the ancient sciences and memorials were confirmed, lest they should fail, become lost and forgotten; and this was done without contradiction or opposition." 2
In the reign of Gwrtheyrn Gwrthenau, however, about a century later, Bardism was greatly corrupted, owing to "the divulging of the Name of God, introducing falsehood into vocal song, and distorting the sciences of Bardism." To remedy this state of things, king Arthur, in the sixth century, established the system of the Round Table, which was "an arrangement of the arts, sciences, usages, and privileges of the
[paragraph continues] Bards and men of vocal song; and improved, and committed to memory, where there was occasion, every thing commendable in what was old, and authorized every thing new that was adjudged to be an augmentation and an amplification of desirable sciences, with a view to the wisdom and requirement of country and nation." The two Merddins, Taliesin, St. Mabon, and others, presided at this Chair.
Upon the death of Arthur, the Chair of the Round Table was removed to the court of Urien Rheged, at Aberllychwr, where it went sometimes by the name of Taliesin's Chair, and sometimes by that of the Chair of Baptism. "Under the privilege of the institute of the Round Table, Gildas the prophet, and Cattwg the Wise from Llancarvan, were Bards, and also Llywarch the Aged, son of Elidyr Lydanwyn, Ystudvach the Bard, and Ystyffan the Bard of Teilo." 1
It remained at Aberllychwr about two hundred years; after that, it was transferred to Caerwynt, 2 where it continued for more than a hundred years. It was then removed to Maes Mawr, by Einion, the son of Collwyn; and afterwards by Iestyn, the son of Gwrgant, to the court of Caerleon-upon-Usk, which was held at Cardiff Castle. Here it was shortly disturbed, owing to the war that broke out between Iestyn and Rhys, the son of Tewdwr; nor was it again restored until the time of Robert, earl of Gloucester, grandson of the latter, "who endowed this Chair with privilege and maintenance in Maes Mawr in Morganwg, and gave the name of Tir Iarll, or the
earl's land, to the portion which he conferred upon the Bards for their maintenance, whilst he gave the other portion for the maintenance of the Monks.......The Chair of Tir Iarll was enjoined to investigate the ancient sciences of Bardism; and after the search, recovery, and confirmation, the primitive Chair, Gorsedd, sciences, privileges, and usages of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, were restored thoroughly and altogether." 1
Geraint, the Blue Bard, had, in the beginning of the tenth century, established a Chair at Llandaff, different to the one of the Round Table. It afterwards went by the name of the Chair of Morganwg, and enbosomed that of Tir Iarll, itself being enbosomed by (ynghesail) the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain.
This Chair, whether we call it the Chair of Tir Iarll, or the Chair of Morganwg, was well protected as long as the lords of Glamorgan retained sovereign authority over that territory; and the rights and immunities of the Bards were renewed from time to time, but always on condition that they should investigate and preserve the sciences of Bardism.
Llywelyn, the son of Gruffydd, was slain Dec. 11, 1282, and with him fell the ancient independence of Cymru, which henceforth became subject to the kings of England. In consequence of the opposition, which the Bards offered to the claims of Edward, they were rigorously persecuted by that monarch, and of course were prevented from meeting publicly in Gorsedd. Neither did they any longer enjoy the trwydded or
maintenance, which had been conferred upon them by their own native princes. Nevertheless, they kept up the old system, and from A.D. 1300, at least, down to Iolo Morganwg's time, they managed to hold a Gorsedd occasionally for Morganwg, as the following "Bardic Succession," or list of the Bards of the Chair of Glamorgan, and the order in which they were the Awenyddion, or disciples, taken from a manuscript of the late Mr. John Bradford, 1 will shew. The dates denote the times when they presided.
TRAHAEARN BRYDYDD MAWR 1300
Gwilym ab Ieuan Hen,
IEUAN TEW HEN 1420
IEUAN GETHIN AB I. AB LLEISION 1430
Gwilym Tew, or G. Hendon.
GWILYM TEW 1460
Huw Cae Llwyd,
MEREDYDD AB RHOSSER 1470
IEUAN DEULWYN 1480
IORWERTH VYNGLWYD 1600
LEWYS MORGANWG 1520
MEIRYG DAVYDD (died in 1600) 1560
DAVYDD BENWYN 1660
LLYWELYN SION (died in 1616) 1580
WATCIN PYWEL 1620
EDWARD DAVYDD (died in 1690) 1660
DAVYDD O’R NANT 1680
Hopcin y Gweydd,
SAMUEL JONES, OFFEIRIAD 1700
Rhys Prys, Ty’n y Ton,
DAVYDD HOPCIN, o’r Coetty 1730
SION BRADFORD (died in 1780) 1760
However, as their meetings were not always regular, and as the number of members was continually dwindling, there was danger that the traditions of the institution would suffer loss in consequence. Hence such of the Bards as were anxious for their preservation, began, more than before, to make collections of them in Books. We say more than before, because some few, like Geraint the Blue Bard, had previously
committed to writing many things concerning the Bards and their system. With a view to consolidate those collections, several Gorsedds were held from the beginning of the fifteenth century, under the sanction of Sir Richard Neville and others. One was held for that purpose in 1570, under the auspices of William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, the great patron of Welsh literature, and the founder of the celebrated Library of Welsh MSS. at Rhaglan Castle, which was afterwards destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. What was done at those meetings received considerable improvement at one held by Sir Edward Lewis of the Van, about 1580, from the arrangement of the venerable Llywelyn Sion of Llangewydd; and lastly, a complete revisal of the former collections was made by Edward Davydd of Margam, which received the sanction of a Gorsedd, held at Bewpyr, in the year 1681, under the authority of Sir Richard Basset; when that collection was pronounced to be in every respect the fullest illustration of Bardism. 1
Part of the said collection, namely, "Cyfrinach Beirdd Ynys Prydain," which is a most excellent treatise on the Ancient Versification of the Cymry, was published in the original by Iolo Morganwg, A.D. 1829. What is now offered to the public, it is but reasonable to infer, constitutes the remainder, or, at any rate, a great portion of the remainder, for many of the documents profess to have been taken out of the Books of Trahaiarn Brydydd Mawr, Hywel Swrdwal, Ieuan ab Hywel Swrdwal, Llawdden, Gwilym Tew, Rhys Brydydd, Rhys Brychan, Lewys Morganwg,
[paragraph continues] Davydd Benwyn, Davydd Liwyd Mathew, Sion Philip, Antoni Pywel, and principally Llywelyn Sion, Bards who flourished from the 14th to the 17th century. Llywelyn Sion tells us that he made his collection out of the Books of Taliesin, Ionas Mynyw, Edeyrn Davod Aur, Cwtta Cyvarwydd, Einion Offeiriad, Davydd Ddu Hiraddug, Sion Cent, Rhys Goch, and others in the Library of Rhaglan, by permission of the lord William Herbert.
There is no doubt that these Bards viewed the traditions of the Gorsedd as the genuine remains of Ancient Druidism; and there is every reason to believe that in their main features they were so. The variations observable in minor points would indicate in what direction, and to what extent, they suffered in their passage from the Christian era downwards.
But a question offers itself,--Did the Christian Bards receive and believe these traditions as articles of faith; or did they preserve them merely as curious relics, or specimens of the primitive theology and wisdom of the Cymry? We think that to act on the former theory was impossible, in the face of two facts. First, they were members of the Chair of Baptism, in which "no one had the privilege of a teacher, who was not baptized and devoted to the faith in Christ." For, be it observed, it was this Chair alone that enjoined its members to preserve the ancient traditions; and it was for that reason that we omitted all mention of other Chairs, such as those of Powys and Gwynedd. Secondly, several individuals of distinguished orthodoxy, piety, and position in the Church, were admitted members of Bardism from time to time. It is said that Arthur, when he was
about to institute the Chair of the Round Table, summoned to his aid three prelates, two of whom are mentioned by name, that is, Dyvrig, archbishop of Llandaff, afterwards of Caerleon-upon-Usk, and Cyndeyrn, bishop of Llanelwy, "lest he and his knights should do any thing contrary to the Holy Scripture and the faith in Christ........And Arthur enjoined St. Teilo to baptize the three Bards," Taliesin, Merddin Emrys, and Merddin Wyllt, who arranged its discipline and usages on the occasion. St. Teilo, Cattwg the Wise, and St. Pryderi, were members of the Bardic College, being "the three blessed Bards of Arthur's court." St. David, the patron saint of Wales, Padarn, the bishop of Llanbadarn, Deiniol Wyn, the first bishop of Bangor, and Gildas, were also Bards. So also were Geraint, the Blue Bard, supposed by some to be the same person as Asser Menevensis, about 900, Einion the Aged, domestic chaplain to Sir Rhys the Aged, of Abermarlais, 1300-1350, Sion Cent, priest, 1380-1420, Meurig Davydd, 1560, Thomas Roberts, priest, 1680, S. Jones, Bryn Llywarch, priest, 1680, and Bishop Burgess, who was graduated Druid by Iolo Morganwg.
We cannot conceive that these men, some of whom were ornaments to the Christian religion, should yet believe in tenets that were inconsistent with that religion. We may mention St. David in particular, as one who took a very active part in suppressing the Pelagian heresy, which in many respects exhibited the lineaments of Druidism. Padarn subscribed the decrees of the Council of Paris, which was held in the year 557, and is commended both as
an abbot and a bishop in the writings of Venantius Fortunatus, a Latin poet of Gaul, who was his contemporary; sure proofs that he also was sound in the faith. These considerations force us to conclude that the Bards in Christian times preserved and handed down the traditions of their institutes, merely as curious speculations, illustrative of the religion and philosophy of the primitive inhabitants of the island.
It may be remarked in addition that some of the Bardic Chairs were occasionally held in churches and religious houses. The Chair of Tir Iarll was at one time held alternately in the Church of Bettws and the Church of Llangynwyd. The Chair of Morganwg was held at Easter in one of the chapter houses of Llandaff, Margam, Glyn Nedd, or in the Church of Llanilltyd; at Whitsuntide, among other places, in the Church of Pentyrch; on St. John the Baptist's day in the Church of Llancarvan, and in the Monastery of Penrhys. Surely, the ecclesiastical authorities would never have allowed the inculcation of heresy to desecrate places that were pre-eminently dedicated to the service of the Christian religion. Bardism, then, was not regarded as constituting the faith of all who professed to know it.
We doubt riot, however, that individuals would be found now and then to cherish the traditions of the Bards as saving truths, just as in our own days there are persons, who entertain strange and erroneous doctrines, and yet have no mind to abandon their Christian profession. Llyr Myrini endeavoured to reconcile Bardism with Christianity, and to mould them into one system, but his efforts resulted in Pelagianism; and there are traces in our volumes of other developments
of a similar nature in respect of the Incarnation, which, however, took a Sabellian direction. It is not meant that the principles of Bardism were incompatible with the Christian religion; but that heresies, having arisen from the attempt to harmonize them, prove the attempt to have been made by individuals without the aid or sanction of the great body of Bards, who were, we may presume, good and honest Christians. In our opinion, the following Triad seems to express the judgment of Gorsedd on the comparative merits of the Bardic and Gospel dispensations:--
"There are three special doctrines that have been obtained by the nation of the Cymry: the first, from the age of ages, was that of the Gwyddoniaid, prior to the time of Prydain, son of Aedd the Great; the second was Bardism, as taught by the Bards, after they had been instituted; the third was the Faith in Christ, being THE BEST OF THE THREE."
The Bards believed that all things were tending to perfection; when, therefore, they embraced Christianity, they must on their own principles have viewed it as a stage in advance of their former creed. The more advanced in religious knowledge would, doubt-less, recognize it in its true character, as the fulfilment of Druidism, that is, as far as the latter was identical with the patriarchal religion of Noah--as "the mystery which hath been hid from ages, and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles." The Gospel of Christ is "the truth"--the realization of types and shadows; it is the "Truth against the world," which Bardism was continually
searching for. We, therefore, not only in virtue of our clerical office, but also as a Bard according to the privilege and usage of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, under the privilege of the Chair of Morganwg, embosoming the Chair of Baptism, beg to enter our most energetic protest (gwrthneu) against all attempts to impose upon any one as articles of belief the tenets of Bardism, where they are inconsistent with Christianity, as found in the Sacred Scriptures, and defined in the creeds of "the Holy Church throughout the world."
YN ENW DUW A PHOB DAIONI.
Alban Eilir, 1862.
lxxi:1 Gwehelyth Iestin ab Gwrgant.
lxxi:2 Trioedd Braint a Defod.
lxxii:1 Dosparth y Ford Gron.
lxxii:2 The Venta Silurum of the Romans.
lxxiii:1 See Preface to "Cyvrinach y Beirdd."
lxxiv:1 Cited in W. Owen's "Bardism," prefixed to his "Heroic Elegies of Llywarch Hen."
lxxvii:1 See William Owen's Bardism, prefixed to his Elegies of Llywarch Hen.