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The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. II., ed. by J. Williams Ab Ithel, [1874], at

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Barddas. Bardism

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Privilege and Usage


THIS is the Voice of Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, in which may be seen the Privileges and Usages of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, as originally exercised and confirmed. With them also are the Triads of the Bards of the Chair of Glamorgan,, and other matters intended for Bardic instruction.

The Cymry first came into the Isle of Britain with Prydain, son of Aeddan the Great. And when they were safely settled in the country, there arose among them three men, whose names were Plennydd, Alawn, and Gwron, each of them having Awen from God, and who consequently were Bards. These were the first who devised the Privileges and Usages of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, which they appointed for instruction, custom, and law in the Isle of Britain; nor were there any Bards previous to these men. The Bards maintained these usages, and improved them by means of Awen from God, so that the Bardism of the Bards of the Isle of Britain became the supreme learning and wisdom; and many of the wise men of distant countries desired to learn it, 1 but they impaired and corrupted it by means of

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[paragraph continues] Awen which was not from God, until at last there was no pure Bardism in any country or place in the world, but among the Bards of the Isle of Britain, who were of the nation of the Cymry. The following treats of the Privileges and Usages, which the Bards of the Isle of Britain ought to preserve by means of the memorial of vocal song, and to recite with the Voice of Gorsedd: that is to say;--

1. The principal usages of the Bards of the Isle of Britain are to 'maintain the memory and teaching of peace, truth, and justice in a country, and to bestow praise upon the good, and dispraise upon the bad; and all this by means of Awen from God.

2. They are not to bear a naked weapon in the presence of, or against any one; and it is not lawful for any one to bear a naked weapon where there is a Bard.

3. There are three kinds of Primitive Bards. The Bard positive, of original appointment, or a Poet, in virtue of discipleship, whose duty it is to preserve order and rule, in respect of the Privilege, Usage, and Voice of Gorsedd, so that Bardism be not lost, but be maintained and preserved, in right of original usage, uncorrupt and unchanged. And it is incumbent upon a Poet to sing praise and dispraise, according to what is just and requisite, and, by means of song and oration, to preserve the memory of the Privileges and Usages of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, and their appurtenances. A Poet is adjudged to be one of presidency after three Chairs, that is, when he shall have gained the privilege of three Chairs; and every office and employment, in respect of song and Bardism, are free to him in virtue of his Chair; and he may exercise the function of Poet, Ovate, and Druid, as he pleases, in virtue of occasion, without a degree, without a grant. In this particular he is the chief of the Bards, and no one can be made master of song who is not a presiding Bard. His dress is to be of serene sky blue, and unicoloured, for unicolour is of the same hue as truth, and the serene sky blue is of the same hue as peace, a Poet, or a privileged Bard, being a man of

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peace and truth;--he is also called a Licensed Bard, a privileged Licentiate, and Primitive Bard positive. Nor is it lawful for him to bear arms, nor for any one to bear a weapon, where he may be in his unicoloured vestment, by which he is to be distinguished. The second of the primitive Bards is the Ovate, and it is incumbent upon him to be acquainted with literature, that is, to read and write, and to know the kinds of arts which may be beneficial to Bards and to the world, and to exhibit them in their authenticity before a Gorsedd or Chair, or a Bard of presidency. It is incumbent upon him, also, to collect and to search for knowledge, and to impart instruction in it, after it shall have obtained the judgment and privilege of Gorsedd; he is not bound to do more, except in virtue of a degree and grant. The dress of an Ovate is to be green, being of the same colour as knowledge and learning, which grow like the green vegetation of spring; and in the attainment of knowledge the Ovate is the chief of the Bards. The third of the primitive Bards is the Druid, and it is incumbent upon him to teach, according to reason, nature, obligation, and choice, what he sees to be true, of the original learning, usages, and judgment of the Poets, as preserved in the memory and by the voice of Gorsedd, and of the learning, art, and attainment of the Ovate-bard. And his principal function is to teach divine knowledge, and justice, truth, and peace; and in respect of learning and knowledge, according to reason, nature, and obligation, the chief of the Bards is the Druid. From knowing how to sing and exhibit a song of his own composition before a Gorsedd, which shall confer upon it the privilege of a Chair, he will be entitled to the privilege of a Poet, that is, a Bard of privilege, without either a degree or a grant. The dress of a Druid is to be of unicoloured white, being thus of the same colour positively as the sun and light, and consequently of the same colour as holiness of life, purity of godliness, and sanctity. If he cannot com- pose a song, a Druid has nothing to do with the function of a Bard of Privilege, except by grant and courtesy; but he

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is privileged, without either a degree or a grant, to perform what may be necessary, and what may seem good to him, in the employment and office of an Ovate. Should a Druid be an original Bard of Privilege, he has no need of either a degree or a grant, but will act according to privilege. 1

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4. Discipleship is the instruction of a master, who is a presiding Bard; that is, he who desires to receive instruction and privilege in respect of song and Bardism, must apply to a presiding master, and put himself under his charge, and must attend every Gorsedd of song with his master. Those who seek instruction and privilege in respect of song are called Aspirants, Disciples, privileged Licentiates, and Protected, because protection will be afforded to them, that they should bear no arms, and that none should bear arms where they are. Aspirants have no more privileges, until they obtain a degree in right of a Gorsedd; and no degree can be conferred upon an Aspirant until the end of three years of discipleship, though in right of an Ovate he may have a degree sooner, where there is a presiding Bard, who will aver on his word and conscience that the candidate is competent to be a Bard. No man can be admitted into discipleship, who knows not his right hand, how to count a hundred, the names of the months of the year, and the four parts of the world, namely, south, east, north, and west, and who knows not his mother's tongue in such a way as it may be easy to understand him. When he shall have been a disciple for three years, he is privileged to become a candidate for the degree of a Primitive Bard Positive, if he has a beard; if he has no beard, let him wait until he has, or let him seek the degree of an Ovate. And when he obtains a beard, he is privileged to become a candidate for the degree of a Primitive Bard, if he has been a disciple for three years, or is an Ovate; and if he cannot at that time answer poetically and judiciously, according to the instruction of Privilege and Usage, a degree must be forbidden to him,

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unless he is better acquainted with his necessity, his feat, and his employment, in which case he is privileged to obtain a degree.

An Ovate is to be graduated, as before mentioned, in virtue of a presiding Bard, who shall aver on his word and conscience, that the candidate is competent to become a Bard, or according to the judgment of a Gorsedd, to which application has been made, or from having been a disciple for less than three years, if he can answer the questions put to him by an Ovate. An Ovate of privilege is a Bard of privilege, or a Druid, who exercises the vocation of an Ovate, or verifies the claim of an Ovate candidate, or an original Ovate; and there is no need to a Bard of privilege, or a Druid, of a degree or grant, since they are entitled by privilege to assume the office of an Ovate.

The privilege of grant, or privilege by the courtesy of Gorsedd, is that, when a Bard must needs exercise a function, which is not his by privilege and degree, as when an Ovate, or original Druid, in case of necessity, exercises the vocation of a Primitive Bard Positive, where that person is wanting; or when an Ovate, in case of need, exercises the vocation of a Druid. Some say, that an Aspirant of three years, can, in right of courtesy, and of the grant of usage, engage in the office of a Primitive Bard Positive, where there is none, or a sufficient number of such already; and in the same manner, engage also in the offices of an Ovate and a Druid. It is not lawful for any one to assume the office of degree and gorsedd, in right of the gift of courtesy, except where there is a deficiency of presiding Bards, or of Bards of institutional degree and privilege.

A person may share in the privilege of grant and courtesy, by giving notice of a year and a day; and unless an institutional Bard enters his protest against it before the expiration of that time, then all, who have enjoyed grant and courtesy, are entitled to the privilege of usage; this is the privilege of necessity, lest Bardism should be lost.

Where there are three presiding Bards, there is the privilege

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of an institutional Gorsedd. Where there are not three, there can be no institutional privilege, but the privilege of grant, or the privilege of courtesy, in virtue of a year and a day, when it becomes institutional, in case the claim has not been negatived.

Positive privilege takes place where there is only one presiding Bard, such being ordained lest Bardism should become lost. That is to say, the presiding Bard is empowered to confer the privilege of degree and gorsedd upon three persons, if he pleases, for the sake of holding a Gorsedd, which takes place at the end of an institutional year and a day; after that, they become presiding in right of three Chairs, or three Gorsedds.

Where there is not one presiding Bard, or chief of song, and hence there is a prospect of Bardism being lost, let those, who know the usages and privileges of the Bards of the Isle of Britain from the lips and voice of country, or from Book and Coelbren, or from a very old song, give public notice of a year and a day throughout the country, in the name of the Bards of the Isle of Britain, who are adjudged to be always living. And when the year and a day are expired, it is lawful for them to hold a Gorsedd, according to what is institutional, as indicated by the memory and voice of country, and the memorial of Book and Coelbren. And at the end of a year and a day after that they will be Bards of privilege and usage, according to claim and acknowledgment, and unless they are protested against before the end of a year and a day after that by an institutional Bard of Gorsedd, under the privilege of the primitive Bards of the Isle of Britain, then they will be privileged and institutional, as well as their Gorsedd, since they will now be Bards according to privilege and usage in virtue of the same notice, grant, and courtesy, which first of all conferred privilege and usage upon the Bards of the Isle of Britain, that is, the privilege of necessity.


11:1 p. 10 "Even now those who wish to become more perfectly acquainted with it, for the most part repair thither [to Britain] for the sake of learning it." De Bell. Gall. lib. vi, c. 13.

17:1 p. 16 The three Degrees here mentioned, Bard, Ovate, and Druid, are frequently alluded to in the compositions of the Poets, from Taliesin to the present day. To notice a few examples:


TALIESIN, 520-570.

Ef gwneif beirdd byd yn llawen.

He will make the Bards of the world merry.

Dysgogan Derwyddon
Tra mor tra Brython.

The Druids predict,
That the Britons will continue as long as the sea.

MEUGANT, 600--650.

Cred i Dduw nad Derwyddon darogant
Ban torrer Din Breon braint.

Trust to God that the Druids will not predict,
When the privilege of Din Breon will be violated.

BEDDAU Y MILWYR, about the 9th century.

Bet gwrgi guychit--
A bet llaur llu ovit
Yg gwarthav guanas gnir yssit.

The grave of Gwrgi the hero--
And the grave of Llawr, the Ovate of the host,
Are indeed in the height of Gwanas.


Ked bwyfy karyadawc kerted ouyt
Gobwylled uy nuwy uy nihenyt.

Whilst I wander as an Ovate, impressed with love,
May God prepare my latter end.

GWALCHMAI, 1150-1190.

Un mab Maredud a thri meib grufud
Biau bid beird weini.

The one son of Maredudd, and the three sons of Gruffudd,
Own the benefit of the administration of Bards.

Och Duw na dodyw
Dydbrawd can deryw

Would to God the day of doom were arrived,
Since Druids are come.

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CYNDDELW, 1150-1200.

Beirniaid am regyd beird am ragor,
A’th folant feirddion derwydon dor.

Bards are constituted the judges of excellence,
And Bards will praise thee, even robed Druids.

Mwyn ouyt y veirt y ueith goelvein rann
Meirch mygyruann kynkan kein.

As a gentle Ovate, to the Bards of the ample Coelvaen, he imparts
The fair, lofty coursers, and the harmonious song.


Mi ym detyf wyf diamrysson,
O’r prif ueirt ym prif gyfeillyon.

By my institute, I am opposed to contention,
Of the order of primitive Bards, who have been my early companions.

Dywawd derwyton dadeni haelon
O hil eryron o eryri.

Druids have declared that liberal ones should be born anew,
From the progeny of the eagles of Snowdon.

PHILIP BRYDYDD, 1200-1250.

Kadeir vaelgwn hir a huberit y veird
      Ac nyt yr goueird yt gyuerchit
Ac am y gadeir honno heddiw bei heiddit
Bod se ynt herwyd gwir a breynt yd ymbrouit
Bydynt derwyddyon prydyon prydein.

The Chair of Maelgwn the Tall was prepared for Bards,
And not to poetasters was it given to compliment:
And if, at this day, they were to aspire to that Chair,
They would be proved, by truth and privilege, to be what they really are:
The Druids, the chroniclers of Britain would be there.

MADOG DWYGRAIG, 1290-1340.

Yn nheir llys y gwys gwaisg ddygnedd nad byw
Llun teyrnaidd lyw llin teyrnedd
Balch y beirdd bobl heirdd hardded Hu.

In three halls is felt the oppression of anguish, that he lives not,
The chief of princely form, of the royal and proud line
Of the Bards, a dignified race, the ornament of His.

DAVYDD AB GWILYM, 1300-1360.

Ciliawdr còf neud wyf Ofydd.

The chaser of memory, truly I am an Ovate.

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Yma ’ddoeddem ni ddeuddeg
O Feirdd, un, sy fyw, ar ddeg.

Here were we twelve Bards,
Eleven are now living.



Yma o Brif-Feirdd ymbrofwn
O dair gradd i dorri grwn.

Here let us, the three degrees of Primitive Bards,
Try to break up a ridge.

LEWYS MORGANWG, 1500-1540.

Ba ddyrnod his ddoe arnom!
Beirdd Tir Iarll bu orddod drom! p. 19
Duodd gwawd ac oedd gadarn,
Diweddu Beirdd fel dydd barn.

What a blow befel us yesterday!
A heavy stroke fell on the Bards of Tir Iarll!
The song that was strong was overcast;
There was an end to Bards as in the day of doom.

Next: The Triads of Privilege and Usage