19. Moliant i Ddewi
edited by Eurig Salisbury
Rhisiart ap Rhys composed this poem both in praise of Saint David and as a request to Sir Rhys ap Tomas to avenge the death of one Gwilym, who died at the battle of Blackheath (or Deptford Bridge) on 17 June 1497. Rhisiart’s characteristically abrupt and obscure style is evident at times. Saint David is praised for 24 lines, in which many of his miracles are listed, before the poet turns his attention unexpectedly to Gwilym. Yet he continues to address the saint to the end of the poem as he recounts the last days of Gwilym’s life (ll. 27–46), and begs David both to look after Gwilym’s soul and to ensure that Sir Rhys ap Tomas will avenge his death (47–60). Along with Baron Daubeney and the earls of Oxford, Essex and Suffolk, Sir Rhys played an important part in the crown’s victory at the battle of Blackheath (Griffiths 2014: 48), and Gwilym was doubtless a member of his retinue. Cornish rebels rose against Henry VII in May 1497 as a result of the high taxation levied to finance a war campaign in Scotland against Perkin Warbeck. A force of some fifteen thousand men marched through southern England and reached London in June, massing on the open plain of Blackheath on the eastern outskirts of the city. Some five thousand men had deserted the cause by the morning of the battle. The rebels were thoroughly routed by an army of about 25,000 professional soldiers, and their leaders were quickly executed (Rowse 1969: 124–8).
The scant evidence concerning Gwilym’s lineage strongly suggests that he was of the same stock as Sir Rhys ap Tomas and lived in the same vicinity (46 Gronwy lwyth ‘Gronwy’s tribe’, 47 Dinefwr waed ‘Dinefwr’s blood’, 54 [t]olwyth y frân ‘the raven’s household’; see the notes). The genealogies name one Gwilym, a second cousin to Sir Rhys’s father, but a contemporary of Sir Rhys’s, who died without issue (see WG1 ‘Einion ap Llywarch’ 4, 7, 8; WG2 ‘Einion ap Llywarch’ 7A3, 8D). This Gwilym lived in Tre-gib, in the parish of Llandeilo Fawr on the southern side of the river Tywi near Llandeilo, and was, like Sir Rhys, a direct descendant of Gronwy ab Einion. His uncle, Rhys ap Gwilym, was active in the administration of Dinefwr and the surrounding countryside in the first half of the 15c. (Griffiths 1972: 250–1). However, Hywel Dafi composed a poem of praise and an elegy for Gwilym (GHDafi poems 77, 78). Unfortunately, they do not contain much useful information on Gwilym, and it is unlikely that Hywel Dafi was active after c.1485 (ibid. 56–8). As this poem was written soon after 1497, it is possible that it was composed for another unknown Gwilym from Sir Rhys’s family who fought in his retinue at Blackheath.
Very few of the king’s soldiers died in the battle. According to one source, eight lancers died as they attacked Deptford Strand, where the rebels had placed cannons and bowmen to prevent the enemy from crossing the river Ravensbourne (Rowse 1969: 126), but many more doubtless died during the fierce fighting on Blackheath moor. Sir Rhys ap Tomas was not the only Welshman to win renown at Blackheath. Tomas Salbri of Lleweni was knighted after the battle (DNB Online s.n. Salusbury family), and his brother, Rhobert Salbri of Llanrwst (if he was Tudur Aled’s patron, see TA poem IV), was with him. Wiliam Herbert of Coldbrook, who may have been with his brother, Sir Rhisiart Herbert of Montgomery, may also have been knighted there (GLMorg 34.74n). Another was Owain ap Meurig of Bodeon on Anglesey (GLM poem VIII). There are poems of praise by Guto’r Glyn for each of their fathers (GG.net poems 22, 63, 71).
Soon after the battle of Blackheath on 17 June 1497.
GRhB poem 9.
Metre and cynghanedd
Cywydd, 60 ll. Cynghanedd: croes o gyswllt 5% (3 ll.), croes 62% (37 ll.), traws 18% (11 ll.), sain 3% (2 ll.), llusg 12% (7 ll.). Note that the number of cynganeddion sain is remarkably low.