Introduction Edited text Manuscripts Cymraeg

9. Moliant i Fwrog

edited by Eurig Salisbury


This poem by Gruffudd Nannau was composed in response to the imprisonment of Ithel and Rhys, sons of Ieuan Fychan of Pengwern near Llangollen. Rhys Goch Glyndyfrdwy also composed a poem on the same subject. The text of Rhys’s poem in Llst 122, 308 (c.1644–8) was printed by Bowen (1953–4: 120), but the extract below is taken from the earlier text of LlGC 3049D, 498 (c.1585–1636). Rhys Goch sent the moon to search for the two brothers:

imwybod ai byw meibion
bleidiav mawr a blodav mon⁠
ysbied chwilied yn chwyrn
gesdyll lloegr gosd dwyll llvgyrn.

‘so that I can know whether the sons
and flowers of Anglesey are alive, great families.
Look, quickly search, through England’s castles,
lanterns’ deceitful expense.’

The poet is hopeful that they are alive and echoes themes of prophecy as he foretells their swift return from Whittington near Oswestry:

dvw a ddwg in di ddigiaw
dav vnben or drewen draw.

‘God will bring to pacify us
two chieftains from Whittington yonder.’

The poet mentions both God’s ability to unify y ddwyblaid ‘the two factions/families’ in the context of bringing some sort of [c]ynddrygedd ‘strife’ to an end.

Gruffudd Nannau places the task of finding the two brothers in the hands of Mwrog, a saint whose churches are located in the north-east and on Anglesey, two parts of Wales associated with Ieuan Fychan, who was descended from the family of Penmynydd through his mother (cf. dav flaenawr maelawr a mon⁠ ‘two leaders of Maelor and Anglesey’ in Rhys Goch’s poem; cf. also the pre-eminence of Mwrog in Dafydd Nanmor’s poem to Henry Tudor, DN XVII.1, 76). But it is likely that the main reason Gruffudd calls upon Mwrog here, as noticed by Johnston (LlU 216, 312), is the fact that he was renowned for curing blindness, and could therefore enable the brothers to be ‘seen’ again. At the beginning of the poem the saint is praised firstly in connection with Ruthin, as his church is located at Llanfwrog on the outskirts of the town, and second for his ability to cure blindness and general illness (ll. 1–18). The poet then expresses his painful longing for Ithel and Rhys, who have been hidden from him by some dichellwyr ‘schemers’ (19–40). Like Rhys Goch, Gruffudd is hopeful that they will return o’r daith ‘from the journey’ but, unlike Rhys in his request to the moon, Gruffudd simply asks Mwrog to release the two brothers, rather than look for them. Indeed, Gruffudd is adamant that Mwrog knows where they are, namely Mewn castell ym machell môr ‘in a castle in an inlet of sea’, and he urges him to destroy the castle so that the two brothers can return from [G]wlad yr Haf⁠ ‘Somerset’ (41–8). Gruffudd assures Mwrog that, having completed the task, he will surely receive much praise and prayers (49–56).

It is obvious that both poems offer very little in terms of facts concerning their background. More light can be shed on the fate of Ithel and Rhys by way of a handful of notes found in the manuscripts. The earliest text of Rhys Goch’s poem, found in LlGC 17113E (middle of the 16c. (<1547)), bears the following title: I feibion Ifan fychan ap Ifan ap adda oedd ynghassdell y dre wen yngharchar drwy roi o Rys’ trefor ap edward dd … davyd ap dynyved gam ‘To the sons of Ifan Fychan ab Ifan ab Adda who were imprisoned in the castle of Whittington by Richard Trefor ab Edward [ap] Dafydd ab Ednyfed Gam’ (the same information is found in LlGC 3027E, LlGC 3037B, Llst 122 and, with minor differences, in LlGC 8497B). Significantly, the scribe who wrote this title and the poem’s text in LlGC 17113E, Siôn ap William ap Siôn, lived at Ysgeifiog in Flintshire, roughly half way between Llanfwrog and the substantial estate of Mostyn, which came into Ieuan Fychan’s possession at the beginning of the 1430s through his wife, Angharad daughter of Hywel. Siôn was also a genealogist, and Gruffudd Hiraethog referred to one of his lost pedigree books as a source in Pen 177, 198 (1544–61; cf. Bartrum 1989: 5). At the bottom of the next page, Gruffudd wrote an isolated note that makes no mention of Richard Trefor, but it both corroborates the information concerning the brothers’ incarceration at Whittington in LlGC 17113E and adds to it precise dates: Ithel a Rh meibion Ienn’ vychan ap Ienn’ ap athant [sic] I gastell ydrewen ddvw gwener gwyl gadwaladr y xii ved dydd or gayaf ac a vvant yno hyd difie kyn awst oed krist 1457 nev val hynn AD CCCC lviiIthel and Rhys, sons of Ieuan Fychan ab Ieuan ab [Adda], went to Whittington castle on Friday the Feast of Cadwaladr, the twelfth day of winter, and were there until Thursday before August, the year of our Lord 1457, or thus, AD CCCCLVII’. Siôn ap William was probably also the source of this information and, as noticed by Carr (1976: 37), the fact that 12 November 1456 was indeed a Friday lends the note some credence. It seems that what Siôn believed to be true in its entirety was that Richard Trefor had imprisoned the two brothers at Whittington from Friday 12 November 1456 to Thursday 29 July 1457.

The only certain reference to the brothers’ deaths appears above Huw Machno’s copy of Rhys Goch’s poem in LlGC 3049D, 498 (c.1585–1636), where he notes that it was composed for the sons of Ieuan Fychan a fwrdawyd yn i karchar ‘who were murdered in prison’, but he does not name its location. There is another copy of the poem in LlGC 8497B, 190v (1590s), by an unknown hand (named X128 in RepWM) who also recorded a copy of Guto’r Glyn’s poem of praise for Ieuan ab Einion of Cryniarth and his family ( poem 48) in LlGC 3051D, 150 (c.1579–1677). By the side of this poem’s text there is a note in the scribe’s hand which claims that Ieuan Fychan had been offended by what Guto had said in lines 37–8, which in turn prompted Guto to compose a poem to request reconciliation with Ieuan Fychan (ibid. poem 106). Furthermore, there is another similar note beside a copy of Guto’s poem to Ieuan ab Einion in Llst 30, 150 (c.1610–20), by a different hand to that which recorded the text of the poem, which refers specifically to line 38 Aeth eraill i’w merthyru: yr eraill hynny oedd froder Ienn’ fychan ap Ie’ ap Addaf ‘Others went to their martyrdom: these others were the brothers of Ieuan Fychan ab Ieuan ab Addaf’ (the same note, with minor differences, appears beside the poem in Pen 152, 161). The unknown scribe doubtless meant to write ‘brothers who were the sons of Ieuan Fychan’ (the error may have stemmed from the fact that both the father and his father shared the same name). The association of Guto’s poem to Ieuan ab Einion with his poem of reconciliation with Ieuan Fychan cannot be proven – indeed, it seems quite doubtful – but nonetheless these notes bear witness to the belief that Ieuan Fychan’s sons had been murdered. The belief is further supported by a note written by Edward ap Roger in Pen 128, 186r (c.1560–85), which notes that the two brothers’ nephew, Tomas ap Wiliam, had killed xii o wyr o ddial am Ithel a Rys i Ewythrydd meibion Ienn’ vychn’ ‘twelve men to avenge Ithel and Rhys, his uncles, the sons of Ieuan Fychan’.

There is no evidence to link the deaths of Ithel and Rhys with their imprisonment at Whittington. Indeed, if the two brothers had in fact been murdered there it is surprising that the note in Pen 177 does not mention it, instead of the non-committal a vvant yno ‘they were there’. It seems that the two things are linked for the first time in HPF iv, 147 (1881–7), whose sources were doubtless the manuscripts mentioned above: ‘Ithel ab Ieuan Fychan was slain at Whittington Castle on the last Thursday in July 1457 … Rhys ab Ieuan Fychan … was slain at Whittington Castle, together with his brother Ithel ab Ieuan, in 1457.’ It is claimed in Lloyd-Mostyn and Glenn (1925: 50) that the two brothers were killed ‘at the siege of Whittington Castle’ in 1457, and the statement above from HPF is noted as a source. There is no mention of a siege in HPF and, as noted by Carr (1982b: 25), there is no other evidence to support the claim (the discussion in Lloyd-Mostyn and Glenn 1925: 50–4 is awash with similar misconceptions, such as wrongly claiming that Gruffudd Nannau composed his poem in the persona of Ieuan Fychan).

The measure of detail in Pen 177 concerning the imprisonment of Ithel and Rhys gives it a degree of plausibility. It is likely that Siôn ap Wiliam or some other scribe had in his possession a source that dated the event and linked it with Richard Trefor. It is known that Richard was constable of Whittington castle in 1468 (LlGC Chirk Castle F 9878). In his poem of praise for Richard’s brother, Robert Trefor, Guto’r Glyn mentions that his patron had served Richard, duke of York ( 105.67–8), and Richard himself was also doubtless a Yorkist. Ieuan Fychan, on the other hand, was a second cousin to Edmund Tudor, father of Henry Tudor, and was doubtless a Lancastrian. As first noted in Lloyd-Mostyn and Glenn (1925: 50; cf. Charles 1966: 78; Carr 1976: 39–40; Griffiths 2013: 80), it is likely that the enmity between the two factions, as well as family disputes, played a part in the imprisonment of Ieuan Fychan’s sons by Richard Trefor. Rhys Goch’s reference to unifying ‘the two factions/families’ and ending some ‘strife’ may be best understood in this context, as is suggested by the fact that in LlGC 3049D Huw Machno recorded both Rhys Goch’s and Gruffudd Nannau’s poems to Ithel and Rhys after a poem of imprisonment by Gwilym ab Ieuan Hen, which can be easily linked to the Wars of the Roses.

Nevertheless, whichever way the trouble started, it is unclear why Rhys Goch called upon the moon to search for them through [c]esdyll lloegr⁠ ‘the castles of England’, if he knew already that the two brothers were being held at Whittington. Is it simply a poetic conceit? Or was Rhys relaying a rumour that they were probably being held at Whittington? What is certain is that Gruffudd Nannau had another view on the matter, namely that the two brothers were being held in a castle by the sea, possibly in Somerset. The most obvious location is Dunster castle near Minehead but, as noted by Williams (2001: 567 n413), Dunster was by then controlled by the Lancastrians. The previous owner, Sir James Luttrell, died at the second battle of St Albans in 1461, and his possessions were granted to William Herbert of Raglan and subsequently his son, who was styled Lord of Dunster (Maxwell 1909, i: 118–28; Evans 1995: 81, 92, 95–6; Thomas 1994: 24, 29–30; cf. GLGC 112.42; GHS 6.3–4n; further, see l. 48n ⁠Gwlad yr Haf⁠). More information may come to light but, until then, it may be worth considering whether Ithel and Rhys were moved in July 1457 from Whittington castle to another location. How plausible, in truth, is it to believe that Richard Trefor facilitated the murder of the sons of his second cousin in cold blood?

(This genealogical table is based on WG1Marchudd’ 11, 12, 13, ‘Tudur Trefor’ 13, 14; WG2Bleddyn ap Cynfyn’ 11C, ‘Marchudd’ 13A, ‘Tudur Trefor’ 13C1. Those named in the discussion above are shown in bold print.)

Soon after July 1457, see the discussion above.

Previous edition
ap Huw 2001: poem XXI; there is a rough translation of the text of C 3.37 by ‘Mr. Ifano Jones, the Welsh Librarian, Cardiff’ in Lloyd-Mostyn and Glenn 1925: 52–4; the text of Llst 167 was reproduced in LBS iv, 435.

Metre and cynghanedd
Cywydd, 56 lines. Cynghanedd: croes 30% (17 l.), traws 29% (16 l.), sain 23% (13 l.), llusg 18% (10 l.). Line 44 is deemed to be a cynghanedd sain gadwynog, but it could also be counted as a cynghanedd groes with a vocalic f-. Note the high number of cynganeddion llusg in such a short poem.